Thursday, 24 July 2014


When Nigel and I were undergraduates, we made friends to last us the rest of our lives.  You know who you are.  Thanks for bearing with us.
One of those was Hugh.   
After university, we saw each other regularly including going to stay on the houseboat he was renovating in Cambridgeshire and where, for a time, the loo lacked not just a door but even a wall.
We got on well with his wife, Morag, and when kids came along, ours were a similar age to theirs.  In particular, Pascoe and Calum enjoyed making things together.  
Hugh’s work took them to Lyons where memorably one of our kids rode a bicycle down their apartment balcony (Why?) and knocked their carefully-aligned satellite dish flying.  How were they going to access BBC news now? 
But later, Hugh moved his family to “Silicon Valley”, California, (hopefully not just to avoid more home-wrecking visits from us, but for his work, designing microchips).  Hugh was no letter-writer and neither were we.
However, I’d thought we might catch up again now that we were becoming empty nesters.  It was on my To Do List.
But the other day, Morag sent us bad news.  Hugh had been overtaken by a fatal heart attack while out with his local hiking group. 

What can I say, except that if there is some dear old friend that you’ve been meaning to get in touch with, do it now.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Key

Often, the place where your child goes to university is a long way away; in order to deliver them there you will have driven several hundred miles using only your wing mirrors because the car is so full of belongings that the rear-view shows only a teetering heap of books about to fall on your child’s head.
So when you get there, you want to be able to pick up the key, and you want the key to work.

In early January, having driven to Edinburgh we called at the office where Pascoe had arranged to pick up his keys only to discover that it was so soon after Hogmanay that nobody had turned up.  It was raining stair rods as Pascoe ran from office to office. 
Finally he demanded that the accommodation department pay for a B&B for him until the key was supplied.  Magically somebody agreed to break into the office and extract his key.

When we dropped Perran off at Bristol in the heat of July, he picked up the key all right, yet when he tried to open the door, the lock revolved but nothing happened.  The office was now closed.  
Low on options, we stood on the baking doorstep with each family member in turn rotating the key.  Perhaps one of us had magic hands?
Then housemate Juliette arrived.  Would her key do better?  Nope.  Round it went without catching on anything. 
 After a couple of hours of phone calls and championship relay grumbling, we located the landlord and he came along. 
If he had complimented us on our sun tans we would have punched him.
His key didn’t work either, so he broke in.  It was disconcertingly easy.
For a moment, we were glad to be in the house, but the pleasure was fleeting.  It turned out Perran’s room was on the second floor and that was where all his things needed to be.  All his winter clothes are now in there, so let’s hope his key works in September.

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Friday, 18 July 2014


Today, I just squeezed on to a packed train to London.  I was crushed kneecap to kneecap with a bunch of other people… in the middle of a heatwave.  We eyeballed each other.  Either we could get tense and irritable…
 …or we could chat.
Luckily, three massive suitcases  on the floor created a slight clearing.  It turned out that two of them belonged to a family on their way to Istanbul and fellow passengers suggested they visit the Spice Market, the Blue Mosque.
But that still left one enormous suitcase unaccounted for.  A woman my age had her hand on it.
“Going somewhere nice?”
“Actually, there’s nothing in this suitcase,” she replied, “It’s empty.” 
People were listening now.
“My daughter has split up with her boyfriend.  I’m going to his flat to pick up her stuff.   Then I’m going to bring this case back on the train again, full.”
“In this heat?”
“What a horrible job.”
“Your daughter is lucky to have you.”

“These things happen,” she said.

When her stop came up, we all wished her good luck and watched her small figure trundling her suitcase resolutely up the platform.

I sometimes grumble about driving for two or three hours each way to shift the goods and chattels of one or other child at university.  I’m going to try to grumble less.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Bag of Poo

Not the best photo, but then the butterfly was up a tree.
On Saturday afternoon, some of our friends were at weddings, others sitting in their in their summer gardens. But Nigel, Carenza and I were traipsing round a nearby wood, carrying a bag of poo.  Or rather I was.   Carrying, that is.  And before you ask, it was horse poo. 
We were on a butterfly safari.  Why the poo?  Because, although we appreciate all butterflies, we were after big game – the purple emperor.  And the purple emperor lives in the treetops, only dropping to earth for especially tasty morsels like carrion or poo. 
We walked to a bench in the wood, laid out an enticing sample and waited.  We saw a red admiral, ringlets, meadow browns, hedge browns.  And a man, lurking in the bushes.  
After a while, we strolled on and laid out another poo picnic.  This time, we saw a small tortoiseshell, a green fritillary, two different kinds of skipper and a marbled white.  And that man, lurking in the bushes again.  Like me, he had binoculars round his neck.
“Are you, um, looking for wildlife?”
“Yes.  I’m here for white admirals, but I haven’t seen any yet.”
So there were white admirals about were there?   Not quite as magnificent as the purple emperor, but still a fabulous creature.
After an hour, all the poo was gone.  
In a slightly rubbish way, we decided to give up and go home. 
And there, above our heads, perched halfway up a hornbeam, was a white admiral.  For some time we watched it chasing other butterflies out of its territory, then settling again, on guard.  This spirited, rare butterfly was very nearly what we had come for. 

But more than that.  If I ever get so old that I don’t fancy taking a chance on carrying a steamy bag of poo round a wood on a hot day, the end will be nigh.  It will mean I’ve grown up, and I so don’t want to do that.  

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Black and White

“You’d better hang on to some of that old uniform,” I told Carenza.
That was a year ago when she was gleefully bagging up the whole lot ready to pass on to younger inmates, er, pupils.
“White blouse, black skirt – could be useful for jobs like waitressing.”
Or, as it turns out, formal exams and getting “trashed” afterwards.

(Apparently the pointy hats weren’t part of the uniform.)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Beach Barbecue

In St Ives there were a lot of notices about things one shouldn’t do (see earlier post), so I wondered if barbecuing on the beach might be prohibited too.
In the local co-op, I asked the shop assistant,
“Is there any problem with having a barbecue on the beach?”
“Yes,” he replied, “You’ll get sand in everything.”
But a beach barbecue on a warm evening looks magical.  What could be better?   Usually, our family is fairly quiet about it.  It probably looks as if we are enjoying sunset over the waves.  In fact, the shop assistant is right - we are concentrating very hard on not letting our courgette kebab slither off our bendy paper plate and into the sand.
This time, we found some convenient flattish rocks and perched at the sea’s edge.  But we were a tad uncomfortable, aware that for the nearby diners in one of St Ives’ trendy, faux-casual seafood restaurants we were The View. 
And to add to our self-consciousness, we were pretty sure that a family we knew were in there looking out at us.
Bravely, I sliced up a water melon in mid-air.  One false move and it would get covered in grit. 
Perhaps we should have paid up and gone to the trendy restaurant too.
But as I stood up to wash my hands in the sea, I saw we had guests – two curious seals had arrived and were bobbing only a few feet away, regarding us with great liquid eyes. 

However good the ambience in the restaurant, it couldn’t compete with that.

Friday, 11 July 2014

School Trip Flashback

 We just had our family holiday in St Ives.  My schoolfriend Jennie came over to visit and we reminisced.
Our year at school had very few  trips. I like to think that it was because we got ‘lost’ in the process of going comprehensive.  Not at all that we had a reputation for being a bit “lively”. 
However, just as we were about to leave school, it was as if somebody had said,
“Hey – those sixth formers – why are they so pale and pastey looking?”
“It’s because they’ve never been allowed out.”
So at last we had a trip to St Ives.  We could go to the beach or the shops but there was just one thing we must not on any account do.
We must not take a motor boat out into the bay. 
Hadn’t Mrs Stansfield seen any horror movies?  As soon as she had said that, it became…inevitable.
It wasn’t me.  I was with Gill worthily visiting the newly opened Barbara Hepworth studio, where the thing that left the biggest impression on me was an enormous spider with an abdomen like an unripe cherry tomato which lurked in the conservatory. So much for Modernism.
Meanwhile, by the harbour a lifeboatman was donning his sou’wester.  Apparently a couple of schoolgirls had taken a motor boat out into the bay, the engine had cut out and they were in some sort of distress. 
As the lifeboat slid down the slipway, Mrs Stansfield stood by looking thoughtful.
“Has anybody seen Jennie recently?”
In fact, everybody who was watching the drama in the bay could see Jennie and her friend Sheila frantically attempting to restart their engine.

Since then, Jennie’s been on hundreds of school trips, but has never got into quite so much trouble again.  After all, she is the deputy head.