Thursday, 18 December 2014

Diabolical drive

If I roll out of bed at 6am, and straight into the car, I can be with my parents in Cornwall by late morning.  That is at any rate the theory.
This morning however, the M4-M5 junction was shut and the tail-backs immense, so instead I navigated through Bristol.  All this took time, so I needed a rest break at Exeter.  If I hadn’t had the rest break, I wouldn’t have ended up stuck five cars behind a house.  Yes, that’s right, somebody was transporting a whole house on the back of a lorry, taking up both lanes of the A30.  I see I have already used the phrase “immense tail-backs” and I don’t want to over-use it. 
In addition, there were long stretches of M4 and M5 had been traffic-coned down to two lanes, often, it seemed, just for the hell of it as no roadworks were to be seen.
So it wasn’t until 1.30 that I arrived at the house where I was born.  After over seven hours of driving, you might have expected me to be wrecked, but instead I was ready to take my parents out for a stroll along the river. 
What had kept me in such good spirits? 
Carenza was with me, coming to visit her grandparents, stopping me from stressing with her desultory banter. 

And now we are side by side on the sofa in front of the fire.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The terrifying journey of the three wise men

From Mapshelfshire
 Carenza has arrived back from uni, but my term continues.  Left in the house on her own to put up the Christmas decorations, she appears to have got bored and texts began arriving on my phone.
"The terrifying journey of the three wise men:"
to the Bead Mines of Masterbedroomia

to the burning embers of Sittingroom 
to the frozen Jarstack of Fridge
to the seal colony of Mantelpiece
through the jungles of Windowsill
to the Herb Corridor of Death

Will those Wise Men EVER get there?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

End of Term

Whenever your term ends, it is the rule that you feel it should have ended a week earlier.  Those last few days stretch into eternity.
Is my throat sore?  I feel a bit achey.
Tell yourself you don’t!
 Swallow crates of vitamin C tablets and chug Echinacea.  The end of term is coming and you will survive.
Don’t picture the soft bed, the warm central heating, the decadence of a lie-in.  It will soften;  with near fatal consequences.
Instead, greet the predawn gloom, shunt the car into first gear and keep going. 
Oh, sorry.  Up until now, I’d been writing this piece for both commuting schoolteachers like myself and university students like my children, but I now realise I need to re-write that last bit for students:
“Instead, get up when it’s well and truly light.  On December days when this doesn’t happen, don’t bother to get up.
If you do get up, saunter along to the railings where you last chained your bike and discern whether it’s still there.  If it is, meander into lectures; if not, go back to bed (default setting).”
And this, my friend, is why a degree is a bad thing – it means that adult life never looks good, by comparison.  Never again will you have so much fun, or so many lie-ins.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mind the Gap

The other evening in the pub, about ten of us were sitting round, the majority of us parents of children in their late teens or early twenties.  Comfortably over our beer or J2O (driving) or white wine (just letting the side down, really), we agreed that there was less difference between ourselves and our children’s generation than there had been between us and our parents’ generation.

We reached a consensus on that.

But then, our children weren’t there. 

From a material culture point of view, the thesis stands:  Perran clacks through my CD collection more often than I do, and Carenza now rocks the few surviving frocks in which I once painted the town red.  Likewise, Pascoe has been sighted at parties wearing my kaftan which a friend brought me back from Syria in better days.

On the other hand, the current range of relationships now on offer bemuses me.  If somebody had been my “Friend with Benefits”, it would probably have meant a purely platonic relationship in which he allowed me access to his toaster, possibly his electric food mixer. 
When my children raise LGBT issues, I have to get past my confusion with BLT – a kind of sandwich, and certainly not the appropriate mental image.  Hopefully, they think the long silence is because I’m considering their point deeply.

So if you’re reading this, and you know of a point where communication between the generations is difficult, please do email me and let me know.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Feet under the table

When I started this blog, the twins were polishing their applications to apply for university.  Only two years on, I have just popped in on Perran who is now happily ensconced in Bristol at the top of a Georgian house full of students.  From his palatial room, he surveys the university he has come to love.  
He had not told us that he’d had the bravery to join the 150 dancers auditioning for a few places in the much-hyped Fuze fashion and dance event.  
But he did tell us once he’d been selected.
Meanwhile, Carenza had casually mentioned that she also had a fish to fry.  After harsh parental interrogation, she divulged that she had launched a bid to become president of the JCR at St Hugh’s College.  
Even to stand demanded grit.  She has published a focused manifesto and spoken at hustings in a packed and beery bar.  She also had to eat a punishing number of burritos (apparently). 
On the night when the votes came in, I was visiting my parents in Cornwall, Nigel was with his in Northumberland.  Perran was waiting in Bristol and Pascoe had joined Nigel in Northumberland.  Over the course of the evening, we each, in our separate locations, kept taking out our mobiles and frowning at them thoughtfully.  Finally, at around 9pm, Carenza sent us her news.  
She was president.  
It was only a text, but we could definitely hear the chink of champagne glasses in the background.
Two years on, the twins could be said to have their feet under the table.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


I used to have a face-painting kit and regularly appeared at school and church fetes to depict spider man, a tiger, or butterflies on chubby cheeks.    Conversation-wise it was as challenging as being a hairdresser,
“So, have you had a go on the tombola…?  I see.  No I wouldn’t want old bubble-bath either.  But you’ve had some sweets from the sweet stall then?  Lots of sweets.  Lots of sugary sweets.  Please do try to sit still for just a bit longer.” 
I’d have been very happy to continue face-painting – I thought I did it well.  But once my children reached eleven and left primary school, nobody asked me again.
The thing I had not realised about this art-form is that it is genetically determined. 

Yet just last weekend, I received solid proof that both of the twins have inherited a talent for face-painting.  

Friday, 31 October 2014

Are Pumpkins Essential?

Perran and a pumpkin of Yore.
Last year, the family pumpkin had hung around for a week with me muttering “must get round to that…” but not actually getting round to it.   
Finally, Pascoe heroically took up a Sabatier and hacked a toothy grin into the orange lantern, setting it outside with its candle just minutes before dusk fell.
This year, with our children all away at university, I didn’t bother with a pumpkin.  So not only did I not have to carve it, I didn’t have to pretend I enjoyed the pumpkin soup afterwards.
BUT, this evening, as Nigel and I tapped away on our laptops, we could hear outside the shrieks and giggles of children.  
I’d invested in sweets and put them by the front door.  But without the sign of the pumpkin lantern, the giggles passed by our door.  Nobody was knocking.
“How does one lure small children?” I asked Nigel.
“Perhaps a gingerbread house?” he suggested.
As we met eachother’s eye, we decided to stop.  After all, one doesn’t want to sound TOO much like a witch.
Instead, Nigel looked out some dinner party candles and set them ablaze outside.  Within seconds, tiny witches and skeletons had knocked at our door.  Within minutes, the first pack of sweets had gone and we were scratching about for more treats.   

And I was glad – who would want to miss out on so much fun?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pastimes Past

In the dark recesses of many lofts are musical instruments, hockey sticks, tap-dance shoes.
When did they get put there?
Often, the answer is during the owner’s time at university.
School days are packed full of parent-pleasing, CV building activities that get slotted into the routine.  Often Mum/Dad pays any fees, encourages practice, acts as chauffeur and proudly attends performances.
But one day, the youngster wakes up in their stoutly built undergraduate bed, nursing a hangover  and says,
“You know what, I’ve quite enjoyed playing the euphonium, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but it was really Mum’s idea, not mine. In fact, I think she projected all her own euphonium-playing hopes and aspirations on to me.  I’ve been living somebody else’s glittering dream.”
As they trudge to the kettle for their first cup of coffee, they realise that if they ditched the euphonium, they might have time for what they really want to do. 
Smiling to themselves, they cram the musical instrument as far into the back of their wardrobe as it will go, pack their fire-eating torch and box of matches into a hold-all and head off for Circus Skills club.

So it was with great pleasure that last weekend, Nigel and I went to Bristol to watch Perran in a performance of the Nutcracker, and discovered how much, after all these years he still loves ballet.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Downsize the house

Not really our house
Sometimes, during university term time, I walk into a bedroom and feel the fine strand of a spider web across my face.  It feels a little chilly and smells only of air-freshener. 
It makes no sense to pay a mortgage on space that we’re not using, so we’re downsizing  to smaller premises.  Friends who are a few years ahead of us warn,
“But they’ll come back – it’s tough to get on the property ladder nowadays.”
But we’re taking a calculated bet that not all three will want to live with us at the same time.  Risky, I know, but the parts of us that yearn to be greener are rejoicing.  We will consume less heat and take up less space on this crowded planet.
And the cleaning, the house maintenance, the lawn-mowing will all be delightfully lighter.
The to-do list pinned up in the kitchen could be halved, our free time doubled. 

We shall have less, but we shall be and do more. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Count Your Chickens

Plans shift like the sands.
“Were we this bad when we were their age?”
Probably not, simply because before the advent of mobile phones, last minute changes tended to result in somebody being left standing on a corner in the rain.
On the positive side, you don’t even hear the term “stood up” so much any more because a person who has changed their mind about a date will often at least text rather than simply not turn up.
It is now so easy to change social arrangements that they swirl and shift like sands sculpted by the tide.
Having three young people in my family, I keep my diary in pencil only.  Who knows when staying in for a family dinner will morph into the youngsters going out clubbing until 3 am.
So when I heard that all three of them would be at home for a whole weekend, I did not count my chickens.  As it got closer to the weekend, those chickens were positively jumping up and down squawking “count me, count me.” Yet still I did not enumerate.
But actually, the weekend arrived and we reached the desired total of three chickens at home with us for one whole day.

It was lovely.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Family Walk

(To see the most recent post, click the Home tab, just below here on the left.)
On a Sunday afternoon, I used to say cheerily to the twins,
“Who’s coming out for a family walk then?”
Neither was enthusiastic.  In fact, they’d do pretty much anything to get out of it, only just short of cutting their own leg off with a blunt handsaw.
The other day, I came in from work:
“Hi, would you chaps like a little walk in the woods?”
“Yep. Fine.”
“Sure.  Just a mo. While I put my boots on.”
What was going on?  Were they being ironic?
Sadly not.  It was a sign of the times – family walks are now in such shortage that it is possible to be nostalgic about them and to look forward to them as rare and special occasions.
Sure enough, we had a rare and special family walk and I took some nostalgic photos.

Maybe we’ll do it again during the Christmas hols.

To see the most recent post, click the Home tab, just above this post, here on the left.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scottish Independence

Separation threatens.
I feel like a mother polar bear standing on one piece of an ice floe as her baby floats away on another. 
I recall the horrible time when Pascoe was only seven.  We were boarding a London tube train and he hung back.  Suddenly the doors shut and I was swept away. 
“Wait there!” I mouthed, and signalled through the window to my tiny son, his eyes enormous with fear as he was left behind on the platform.
And today?
In January, Pascoe went to Scotland to undertake his PhD, Edinburgh to be precise. 
He is asserting his independence as a young adult, living many miles from us.
His quest for autonomy is mapping precisely onto Scotland’s own rites of passage.
However, I have to say that although he enjoys substantial devolution, he has never attempted to cut all ties.  He agrees that our family, spread from Cornwall to London to Northumberland, to Edinburgh is better  together.
So Scotland, don’t go.  Don’t make me take a passport and foreign currency when I visit my son.
Stay with us.

Monday, 15 September 2014


All those worries we had about a year ago.
Would our twins feed themselves a balanced diet?
Would they attend all their lectures?
Would they hand in their assignments on time?
Would they resist getting completely slaughtered on the horrendous pressurised freshers’ drinking events?
Would they manage their finances sensibly?
You are probably expecting me to say that it was all fine, that they accomplished everything that we hoped they would.
But the truth is, I don’t know. 
I know they passed their end-of-year exams respectably, that they appear to be in good health and that they have good friends.
But the mistakes they’ve made, I don’t know about.  And that’s how it should be, surely.
The defining feature of being an adult is the power to decide who you enlist to help sort out your problems. 
There have probably been times when they locked themselves out, or were nauseous after one too many, or needed something to eat but their cupboard was empty.   Possibly all of these on the same night.
But they got through.
What will they do now in their second year?
Will they start to form ideas about their future careers? Will they take on new responsibilities within their universities?

I don’t know, and that’s just as it should be.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

And they’re off

As I write this, we’re driving down the M4 with a boot stuffed full of I’m-not-sure-what.  
Actually Nigel is driving, not me.  Typing on a laptop while coasting at seventy would probably be frowned upon by the traffic police.
Every so often, we pass a car where the back window is stuffed with duvets and cheap saucepans and a bike hangs off the back.
“There’s another one,” we chorus.
Another student going to university for the first time.  This is a big weekend for freshers.
Just a year ago, that was us.
Next year, we thought, we won’t have to take Perran quite so early because he’ll be a second year.
In fact, however, we’re travelling on the same weekend again.  I glance into the back of the car and catch sight of a brightly-coloured throw from Marrakesh, an earthernware plate from Spain.  Perran has had a good summer.
But although the car is very full of Perran’s belongings, Perran is not with us. 
He couldn’t wait to get back, and took the train earlier this week.  We’re just making sure his gear catches up with him today.

I guess you’d call that a successful launch.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Autumn Makes Parents Essential

In the Autumn, long-legged spiders start striding across our walls and floors.  They are males and they are looking for mates. 
In the Autumn, our independent daughter who, over the summer, fixed passports currency and tickets on her own suddenly needs us.
In case you can’t read it, the note reads:
“I know I’m a bad person for leaving this spider here, but SHIT is it big and I just can’t face it on my own,,,
(a very frightened) Carenza xx"

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Twins Back Together

After a couple of months apart on student summer experiences, the twins are happy to be back together again.  So happy that Perran threw a bucket of icy water over Carenza and I almost filmed it.

Carenza succeeds where Obama failed - the Icebucket Nomination.

"Thanks SinĂ©ad for the nomination. I've done the ice bucket challenge and donated.
Due to a technical problem (my mum's iphone skills) there's a slight problem with the footage...
Ah well, get soaked PascoeLaurenHannahLilahBetsy and Bethany. Enjoy!"

Friday, 22 August 2014

Furry Kettles

Carenza, Lila and Hannah
Just this time last year, Perran and Carenza’s A level results came out.  Suddenly it was the end of suspended animation.   At last Perran and Carenza knew where they were going to study and where they would be living.  I felt like I had a licence to go out and by duvets, desk lamps and waste paper bins. 
It seems so much more than a year ago that the twins got their results.  In fact, it appears to have been a full generation ago – Carenza now has sons and daughters.  These are her “college children”.  Second year undergraduates, are assigned freshers to support with helpful advice (and presumably hangover cures). 
Carenza herself, when she was a new college daughter emailed a question which caused her college parents some confusion:
“Will I need to de-fur my kettle?”
De-furring kettles is an everyday problem in the hard-water area in which we live.  However, her college parents were not familiar with the challenge of hard water so Carenza’s query caused some consternation, especially when they shared it with lots of their fellow undergraduates.  People still mention the furry kettle today...

I wonder what unexpected questions Carenza’s college children will ask her.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Ben Nevis on a Unicycle 2

He got to the top!  Now waiting to hear that he has got to the bottom - but hopefully not too quickly.

Ben Nevis on a Unicycle

For Ben Nevis today (Saturday), heavy rain is forecast and temperatures of 5 degrees.  For Sunday, thunderstorms; for Monday, snow.
If, like Pascoe, you intend to attempt to climb the UK’s highest mountain by unicycle, today is probably the best day of the weekend then.
The trip says a lot about Pascoe’s time at the University of East Anglia, because his fellow unicyclists in the attempt are Caroline and Ian, his housemates from last year.  University should be the kind of place where you discover people you can unicycle up Ben Nevis with.
Meanwhile, as I write, Pascoe has already encountered his first obstacle.  He was told that unicycles weren’t allowed on the bus.  He overcame it with a highly devious ruse – he wrapped the unicycle in a black bin bag.  Apparently, odd, dog-bone-shaped parcels are allowed.
In all seriousness, the thought of my son risking his neck on the mountain makes me worried, but also proud, because he’s raising money for an essential fund:-

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe

John Kearns in his show 'Schtick'
One of the benefits of having children at university in other parts of the country is that you get to visit those places.  
Carenza and I set off on a girls’ trip to visit her godmother Charlotte in Glasgow and Pascoe in Edinburgh.  It was great to catch up with Charlotte and Robert, and when we reached Edinburgh, Pascoe with huge generosity gave us his room and bedded down in the shared sitting room. 
However, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival hijacked the trip.  
None of us had been before, although Nigel and I did once set off in a mini which broke down half an hour from home.  The Edinburgh Fringe is a matter of such complexity that at first we were overwhelmed by the multiple telephone-directory-sized programmes, the hundreds of venues, and the constant press of people shoving flyers into our hands.  
But we soon got the hang of it.
Pascoe is an obliging person, prepared to play along with a joke, so it was inevitable he would end up on stage:  I guess when you’ve been up in front of an audience, sitting on a bar stool, wearing a blonde wig, sipping a tia maria and lucozade with comedian John Kearns sitting on your knee you definitely can say you’ve been to the Fringe. 

Friday, 8 August 2014


Guess we'd better get rid of that plastic spear then.
Spending a year on my PGCE gave me the perfect excuse for avoiding my most hated task – clearing out. 
A day spent clearing out always feels like a day wasted.  And what do I have to show for an entire day of clearing? – a square foot of floor, or a yard of shelf. 
Curiously it is not only essential but also not worth it, both at the same time.
What makes the process last so long are the emotional booby traps.  Sandwiched between the strata of unloved school exercise books will be a hand-drawn fathers’ day card or a painting of our long-deceased guinea pig.  Little explosions of affection and nostalgia detonate in my heart.  My judgement begins to falter – how can I throw out anything from my children’s infancy when it was such a precious time?  I should treasure each sacred artefact.
But my nearly-grown-up children still come home and when they do, they don’t want to find their rooms like museums stuffed with ancient objects – they want somewhere to sling their rucksack and a shelf to store their shot glasses until next term.
So I scoop up another armful of physics notes and pile them into the recycling box.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Student Food Instagram

Typical Foodie Instagram
Just now, a meal in a smart restaurant begins not with tucking in your napkin or pouring a glass of water.  Instead, when your food arrives, beautifully presented, you are supposed to take a photo of it and upload it to Instagram. 
Some people are very scathing about this, others see it as a chance to celebrate some food art whose existence is fleeting.
I recently found a picture Pascoe took of some proper student food.  It is clearly a superior meal – exactly what the metabolism of the growing young male requires – a large heap of filling, brown-coloured food.    And as to presentation, I think the whole roast pigeon perched on top makes it look rather special – don’t you?

Student Food Photo

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Student Travel

This summer, Perran has plumped for travel rather than work experience.  He set off to Spain looking for a casual job.  In doing so he was unfortunately joining many thousands of Spanish people who are also looking for jobs, due to Spain’s economic down turn.

I have tacked a large map of Spain to the kitchen wall and whenever anybody reports hearing anything of Perran, I mark his rumoured location with a pin.
So far, I have reports of him from the following places:
Benicassim music festival

Why hasn’t somebody invented a GPS Teen-Tracker App for anxious parents?

Perran bought a cheap phone to take with him, but even so, communication is kept at a minimum, which in many ways is good as it means worry is also kept to a minimum, except for one occasion when there was a long silence. 
I checked with friends and family – nobody had heard from him more recently than five days ago.
When he finally replied to our anguished requests to let us know he was still alive, it turned out that, being unused to such a basic phone, he had not spotted that the memory had filled up and he was unable to receive more texts.

But later, my favourite text from him went:
“Off tomorrow to volunteer at a Hare Krishna, self-sustaining bio-farm in return for food and a place to stay.  You’ve just been out-hippied, Mum.”

Monday, 28 July 2014

Student Summer

There’s a clear agenda for student summer holidays. 
The most pressing goal is a holiday job to earn money so that there’ll be enough for the occasional night out next term (wry parental smile).
The next aim is to get work experience, or as it’s poshly known, an internship.  The student can start gaining CV points for their future career.
The third objective is to have an adventure, the kind of adventure that you can only have when you’re young and skint – after all, you don’t end up spending the night on the beach if you can afford a good hotel and you don’t accept a lift from a truck driver if you can afford a train ticket.

I know, as a parent, I should espouse the first two objectives, but there’s a part of me that most of all wants my children to have the third type of experience.  When in their lives will they ever again have such long summers?  And it’s also to do with being that particular age – if you set out one midsummer morning, you will meet other nineteen-year-olds to travel with, and older people will show you kindness.  Make the most of this charmed time.

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. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


From Google Images: Beast of Bodmin Moor Skit,
or should I say, Kit.
Sadly we didn't get a picture.
Surely the advantage of being on holiday in Cornwall with a husband and son who have biology degrees is that when you spot a British mammal, they will identify it easily.
In fact, we saw and admired a number of seals relaxing in the surf.  “Look,” we cried, “Seals.”
Then,  coming back late at night from the Minack Theatre, we had to slow down to allow a badger to chug across the road (appropriately, just outside the hamlet of Badger’s Cross).  “Look,” we remarked, “A Badger.”
But then on the footpath from St Ives to Zennor, we looked up and saw on a rise above us, about twenty metres away, a black creature.
 “What the hell is that?” we asked one another.
It was feline, but too large to be a domestic cat and had a big head and tufted ears.
Could it be The Beast?
Rumours have abounded for years that following closures of private menageries in the 1970s, some type of black big cat has been roaming wild in Cornwall where the climate is mild and there are stretches of untamed countryside.  Most publicity goes to the Beast of Bodmin Moor but I have also met two people who claim to have seen them near Zennor.
Whether we saw The Beast or not, I now at least have an explanation for why there are so few photos of The Beast – people are so busy trying to work out what it is that they are seeing that by the time the creature takes fright and lopes away, they still haven’t got their camera out.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The "Stupid" Pier

So when you live in a shared student house and hand-written signs start to appear in the kitchen, it's a sure sign that relationships have started to break down.
"Please do not take my food out of the fridge."
"Will whoever borrowed my cherry stoner please return it."
"Please make sure you turn the oven off when you leave the kitchen.  Please."
While on holiday in St Ives, we found another prominent case of relationship breakdown.
The notices on Smeaton's Pier made us ask "Who on earth would do that?"
"Holiday makers - that's who."