Saturday, 26 December 2015

Mystery Christmas Card

One of our Christmas cards arrived damaged.
Was that a bite out of the envelope?

Weirdly, when we opened it, it wasn't even signed.

But then I took another look at the shape of the bite mark and it all became clear.

It was obviously a Christmas card sent to Nigel by his beloved koi carp.  He had been forced to leave them behind in the pond of our previous house, but they had not forgotten him.

Of course the card wasn't signed - fish can't write!

Maybe lovely Geraldine - to whom they belong now- had helped them with the address. Thanks Geraldine.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Stockings

For years I gave the kids little novelties and scraps of this and that in their Christmas  stockings only to see them go straight out when we did the post Christmas charity shop trip. It has taken me time to learn that the enjoyment  we share over a wind-up hedgehog or (this year) a yodelling flamingo will already have peaked in the shop and will not be increased by our bringing the item home.

However, this year our Christmas stockings are showing TWO signs of my increasing maturity.

Firstly, this Santa has been planning to fill those stockings with truly useful items like socks and toothbrushes.  Hopefully nobody will be yearning after the yodelling flamingo or the windscreen wiper specs.
But the second sign of my growing “maturity” is not so good.  
Where is the bag full of everybody’s favourite toiletries?  Where have I hidden it? 
It was quite large.  It can’t just have disappeared. 
  Maybe I left it in the shop and never brought it home?

By this time next year my family may have packed me off to a residential home for Santas who can no longer remember where they parked their sleigh.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Christmas Drama

We have had a Christmas drama. I didn’t say much about it as I was ashamed of my own selfishness. 
At Christmas, the prospect of relaxing in your own sitting room is far more potent than the  idea of an exotic holiday.
But we have been having a chimney breast and wood-burning stove installed. 
Everything in our sitting  room has been covered in sheets of plastic as if we had  made the decor choice ‘murder investigation ‘.  
The Christmas tree was queueing outside the back door, the unused fairy-lights clustering  on the landing.  
I am so callous that in this era of displaced families and refugees I just really wanted my fireplace finished by the time that Pascoe, Perran and Carenza got home for Christmas.
The fireplace guy suffered various setbacks, becoming  grimmer as the weeks passed. Finally with Pascoe and Carenza already here and Perran on his way the woodburner went in last Friday. 
Okay, so the glass is broken and we can’t use it until  we get a replacement.
Okay, so there’s still a gap that needs filling down the side of the fireplace.
But the plastic has come off the furniture, the tree has gone up. We are home.

Now all that we need to do is not switch on the TV news.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Wise men follow the star...

Following last year's adventures when we were out of the house, the wise men have once again stumbled into difficulties, courtesy of Carenza.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Black Friday

I think of myself as an ex-shopper. 
I got caught up in the rampant enjoyment of shopping in the 90s especially as we lived near the new, glitzy and vast Gateshead MetroCentre.
I soon realised that the happiness gained from shopping is at best fleeting, and I stopped. 
But recently my girlfriends were reminiscing about a trip we made to the Cotwolds. 
“I liked Bourton on the Water.”
“Is that where Clare got the cake-icing nozzle?”
“No, that was Stow on the Wold.  Bourton on the Water was where she got that pottery dish.”
“I thought Stow on the Wold was where she got that metal sign to go on her house.”
“No, I can’t remember where that was.”
I listened in silence. Clearly still more of a shopper than I realised then.

And just in case I thought I was cured, along comes Black Friday.
I meant to support “Buy Nothing Friday”.  So much more in tune with my anti-shopping  ideals.
But the notion that I could be in town filling Christmas stockings at a huge discount was having its effect on me.  It was as if the shops were a giant magnet and I was wearing a brace on my teeth.
I whizzed in and bought five carefully-chosen items.  I was nearly back at the car park when I ran into Georgia who looked impressed and said
“Wow – you’ve bought loads.”
Not really, I thought.  But then, when I caught sight of myself in Wilko’s window -  I could see that the two bags I was carrying looked huge.  In fact, it was just two very bulky fleece blankets, not the dazzling stash of dozens of items that it appeared to be.

Oh well, my reputation as a big shopper continues……

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Bird House

For some, coming home to a waggy dog is the perfect end to the day. For others, a cat which entwines itself.
As for me, I’m happy with my own company.
Since the weather got colder I have had a strong urge to put out the bird feeders.
And the birds, previously aloof, have been reminding me too. 
From my desk I see our local flock of starlings eating berries from our yew; the blackbirds from the cotoneaster.
Finally at the weekend, I hung out the birdfeeders.
The first time in our new home.
It took just one day for the birds to discover them.  To robins, blue tits, great tits and coal tits, we are now the local Tescos.
It also took just one day for two squirrels to unhook the squirrel-proof feeder (name on the pack – “the Fortress”), and then carefully unscrew the lid. 
They then scooped out the peanuts with their little hands.
BUT instead of eating them, they began to bury them in various parts of the lawn.
And now I’m sitting here worrying that it is a metaphor for something.
Maybe I should get a dog.

Sunday, 22 November 2015


I had plans for the weekend.
I had to cancel them.
After work next week, I was supposed to be driving to Cornwall for my mum’s birthday.
I’ve had to tell her that I’ve postponed.
By Sunday evening, I have even had to acknowledge that I am not going to manage to get up at crack of dawn and do the 45 minute rush hour drive tomorrow morning. I have rung in sick.

I have a cold.
I haven’t had a bad cold for ages.
I had begun to think I was invulnerable.  Working in a school of over 1,000 boys, I believed I had developed a cast iron immune system.
I was wrong. 
And now I am achey and shivery and sniffly.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Bedside Cabinet

Very conscious that Carenza is now in her third and last year of university, I took the opportunity to visit her.  I had asked her if I should bring anything.  The request was for a bedside table.  I obtained one for a tenner from Emmaus.  It was heavy.
When Carenza was a tiny baby, my friend Jennie asked “Where’d you get this little fairy one?”
It felt a bit like that as I followed Carenza round college.   I could see people wondering what this dark, stumpy woman had to do with Carenza.  I grinned at them in a friendly and witless manner.  But in the end I proved my worth, managing to purchase a sandwich in Hall in spite of a melee of Diwali celebrations and Indian dancing.  Nobody else could have done it.
But we still hadn’t managed to get the bedside cabinet up to her room.
Accompanying Carenza, I discovered the story of her day.  There had been the elections for the new president of the college.  I met the soon-to-be new president.  She was lovely.  Carenza’s time as president was nearly at a close.  And running the elections had been a great deal of work.
Her friend, Chris, told her to get a rest.
I said, “Umm.  There’s this bedside cabinet…”
He got it out of the back of my car and carried it to the lift.  The lift was broken.  He carried it to the third floor.  He even offered to carry with it the bottle of spirits I was clutching (long story).  While carrying the cabinet he also attempted to hold doors for us and was flawlessly polite.

Thank you, Chris.  While there are people like you, the Spirit of Hugh Grant will never die.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


One of my earliest non-dates with Nigel, back in the days when we were just good friends, was to attend a firework display together.  It was fun.  A year and a half later, Nigel and I started going out together around fireworks night (1983).  
We never missed a fireworks night.
Then we had babies.  
People said they would be terrified by the loud explosions and bright flashes.  
But we tried it.  
The twins in their backpacks and Pascoe caught safely by a mittened hand, they loved it, eyes open like saucers.
We used to go to the magnificent display at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, then, when we moved to the South East, to Verulamium Park. 
Then came the teen-age years.  
We had to find pyromaniac grown-up friends to go with as our children wanted to go with their mates.  Twice in the pitch black melee of thousands of people we found ourselves standing right next to an outraged Perran with his pals looking shifty.
Pascoe would still sometimes humour us and come with us, and we would hear through the (to us) impenetrable blackness, other youngsters calling “Hello Pascoe”.
Last night, he was back from Edinburgh and came with us again.  Dan travelled up from London and joined us too.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Stately Home

As becomes a couple of sad old empty nesters, Nigel and I have joined the National Trust
“Look at this one, he says as he peruses the website, “It’s got a knot garden and a Jacobean gallery,”
“But has it got a tea shop?” I ask anxiously.
“…and a corbelled garderobe and gargoyles…”
“What exactly are the opening hours of the café?”
Over the last two weeks I have visited five National Trust properties ranging from the woodland of the Ashridge Estate to the splendidly unchanged Chastleton House, used for filming “Wolf Hall”. 
“To think, that lovely Mark Rylance may have stood on this very spot.  I should think that he was as disappointed as I am that there isn’t a tea room!”

But the historic property where I had most fun was not National Trust at all.  It was the Red Lodge Museum in Bristol, where Perran took me.  The fact that there was no tea room there nearly ruined everything, but the day was saved by an unexpected opportunity to play Boogie Woogie harpsichord.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


We have not yet been six months in our new house.  But one of the things we couldn’t fail to notice was the wasps’ nest in the roof.  The other thing we couldn’t fail to notice was that we had a second wasps’ nest in another part of the roof.
In a time when bees are in short supply, wasps are useful pollinators.   Pollinators or not, we didn’t want to get stung.  So bravely I sent Nigel up to investigate.  The nests were within the construction of the roof and not in the loft space, and therefore not a threat.
We decided to leave them to thrive.  
We would plug the holes in the Autumn after they had left.  
And not eat any jam in the garden.  
It would not cause any problems.
However, the wasps were entering the house through a loophole in a window frame.  Quite soon, they died and dropped down without causing any trouble.  
Earlier in the summer, the wasps were tiny and quite cute. No threat at all.
But as the season draws to its close, the beasts have become more substantial with now record-sized wasps zipping about the house in an unpredictable and threatening manner.  
They behave as if they are outraged that mammals have built a nest in THEIR house.

I no longer feel quite so much of a conservationist.  
Now, where’s the Raid?

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Mrs Bean and the Greek Tragedy

As a birthday treat, Caroline kindly took me to a local production of the Burial at Thebes.
We carried drinks in plastic glasses to our excellent seats in the second row of the intimate studio theatre.
 Antigone was determined to bury her dead brother, but he had been a traitor so her uncle/ great uncle (sadly they were relations of Oedipus) threatened to execute her. Emotions ran high.

In the intimate theatre space, things began to get a little warm.

Creon and Antigone faced off, just inches from each other.  Just feet from us. Perspiration stood out on their foreheads.

I could feel a flush coming on.

Inch by inch I removed my jacket.  My chair-back put up a fight. Just as I thought I had succeeded, I kicked over my wine glass.  There was a plasticky clatter but I did my best innocent face.  It wasn’t only on stage that great acting was happening.

Creon was condemning Antigone to death.

Things were still too warm.  I felt in my back pocket for my hair band.  My seated position meant I couldn’t reach.   I squirmed in my seat as I tried to hook the hair tie.  People were beginning to look.

Antigone was saying she would rather be dead than betray her brother.

Finally I pulled the band out triumphantly and began to haul my hair into it when it snapped and pinged into the person behind me.


Antigone was about to be buried alive.  I would just have to put up with my flush.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Bake Off

Until now I have resisted it.  All my friends have been talking about it.  Many were visibly cheered when it reappeared. 
Finally, I gave in and watched it too.
The Great British Bake Off.
I assumed it would improve my baking.
It gave me something to talk about with friendly acquaintances.
It gave a heart-warming picture of multicultural Britain (a three-cheers, two-fingered salute to UKIP).
It offered an engaging picture of the different personalities involved.
When Nick and Jackie were coming to lunch, I thought about the delicacies to which I had recently been a spectator – chocolate soufflé, three-tier religieuse, macarons.
And I bottled it.
After all, even the mighty Nadia’s soufflé had not been fluffy enough.
I would just make something with which I felt comfortable.   Something which I had baked successfully many times before-
- I would use the apples Chris and Christine gave us and the blackberries we gleaned from the hedgerow and make a wholesome Autumn crumble.
I was so relaxed with my unambitious choice that I kinda forgot it was in the oven. 
Put it this way – I now have a new carbonised prop to use in my lessons about Pompeii and Herculaneum.
My baking actually appears to have become worse.

I don’t know if I can blame it on the Great British Bake Off, but I certainly intend to try.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Friday, 2 October 2015

Speed Awareness

I got caught speeding. 
Everybody always has a very good reason for why they got caught speeding, generously peppered with mitigating circumstances.
But my story is simply general dopiness, with a little joie de vivre thrown in.
At the speed awareness course,  I and my fellow criminals queued to be registered.  There was the low hum of restrained British indignation.  The Indian Summer sun pulsed through the hotel blinds.  To have to give up a day like this!
Several of us stole glances at an extremely elderly woman, bent with age and with very sparse soft white hair.  Speeding eh?
When the policeman/driving instructor (I never disambiguated) looked at my licence he said,
“Oh, a doctor, what kind of a doctor!”
And I heard myself replying,
“Well clearly I was on my way to an organ transplant when I got caught speeding.”
The guy was staring at me. 
Fearing that I might be clapped in irons, I quickly amended,
“Just an academic doctor.”
Obviously, I then got picked on to answer a few questions in the session.  Smartarse!
At tea break (criminals get tea breaks?) everybody switched on their mobile phone like divers coming up for air.  Except me.  I call it mindfulness.  My family call it inconvenient.
Oh, and except the very elderly lady.  She told me her story in a cut glass accent.
“I was just leaving a wedding when it happened.  I hadn’t had anything to drink, you know – well, not very much.  I just felt light-hearted.  Light-hearted.  I think that was it.”
We went on to discuss the beautiful weather, then time was called.
As we made our way, she smiled up at me and said,
“It is wonderful though, isn’t it?”
“What is?”

“Speeding!” she replied happily.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Into the Woods

The worst thing about decorating is thinking about it.  Just contemplating the upheaval  makes me feel like a lie down.
Carenza was very young when we decorated her last bedroom.  Together, she and I painted her tall bed lipstick pink.  Together we got drips and dribbles on tummies and sleeves.  Together we smeared it all around the house. 
For some reason, this time Carenza favours neutrals.
She picked colours more grown-up than I ever had.  We spent half an hour in Homebase squinting at paints which should have been called magnolia or cream, but, due to the vagaries of fashion, weren’t.
If only her father was as mature as she is. 

However, following touching scenes of Father-Daughter cooperation her new bedroom has been beautifully decorated.
Even the far end of her walk in wardrobe has been papered with trees.  Now all we need to complete the look is a lamppost, some snow, and Mr Tumnus.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Apple Surprise

When we arrived in St Albans it was an Indian Summer and we had inherited a bramley apple tree which showered us with its abundance.  I spent dreamlike weeks in the garden peeling apples and watching our three tiny children scampering about in the sun. 
Eight years later, we moved to another neighbourhood and we had an apple tree again, but it bore fruit only grudgingly.  Then Nigel pruned it and it began to flourish.
In October, we would sometimes have a dessert called Apple Surprise.  Apple Surprise was any pudding which actually contained no apples.  That was the surprise.
But this year we have moved again. 
As yet our garden is a featureless rectangle.  We are focusing on the house so the garden must wait until next year.
Except for one thing – the apple tree.  I came home last week to see a very long cardboard box on the drive.
Bert the Bramley had arrived and Nigel spent much of Saturday planting him. He then lavished him with compost and flooded him lovingly with water.
 But it will still be two or three years until we can eat apple surprise again.
Which is why it was particularly welcome when Chris and Christine appeared at our door on Sunday with a generous bucket of windfall apples.

Rest assured Chris & Christine, Bert the Bramley was watching and one day he will reward your kindness.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Friday, 18 September 2015


Ellie is surprised!
As you get older you are harder to surprise, but on the other hand, more and more people seem eager to try.
Last Friday, Ellie thought she was picking her mother up from choir practice to go for a birthday meal.  But we all jumped out from a darkened hall shouting “Happy Birthday”.
She was happy and astounded.  A successful surprise.
On Saturday, Chip, whose surprise we could not attend, went to the same hall to run through a church service.  Then everybody yelled “Happy Birthday”.
She was delighted and stunned.  A successful surprise.
We couldn't be at Chip’s because I had already booked yet another surprise.  This one was for my family plus old friends David and Carolyn. Would it be successful?
Photo ID was necessary, so Nigel guessed at the Houses of Parliament; Perran, a day out in Calais(!).  Those destinations sounded more interesting than what I actually had planned.  I hoped there would be no disappointment.
Then we took the tube into the City.  Carenza guessed we were going on a tour of ancient Guild Meeting Halls. Oh dear.
We gazed on the outlines of the Gherkin and the Cheese-grater and the Walkie Talkie.  Did we like them or not, dwarfing the much older surrounds?

Then suddenly, we were entering the Walkie Talkie.  Happy as we took the slick lift to the thirty-fifth floor.  Delighted as we poured out into the light of the SkyGarden, a lush public park high above London.  A successful  surprise then.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba



Wednesday, 16 September 2015


One disadvantage of middle age is that I sleep poorly.
I long for the far off days when I woke up to a sore ear  - I slept so deeply that I didn’t stir, and my ear would suffer from pressure.
I wake nowadays fractious and craving more kip.
My sleep is shallow and restless.
Or so I thought.
Today I have knocked on four of my neighbours’ doors  to apologise: my car alarm went off in the wee small hours.
Piecing together the neighbours’ politely tetchy comments, it went on for maybe two hours.
I wouldn’t know – I didn’t wake up.
And this is not the first incident: three weeks ago young Kit, who was staying with us, finished his late shift at the restaurant only to find he had no house key with him.  The neighbours heard him banging on our front door, but we didn’t. 
Nor the doorbell.
Nor our mobiles.
He cleverly used social media to locate a friend who was still awake and went to sleep at their house.
“Well,” I said to Nigel, “On the bright side, at least this means I must be getting more sleep than I realised.”

“Yes.  And you’ll be needing it.  You’ve got another seven more neighbours to apologise to.  Off you go.”

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Sca Fell by Unicycle

Last Friday, Pascoe was leaving us for Cambridge where Caroline would pick him up in her car and drive him and Ian and Michael to camp at Wasdale Head in the Lake District. Camping at Wasdale Head would have been enough by itself for me, but they were planning to unicycle up Scafell with its screes and precipitous drops.
I had scheduled in some fretting, but barely found the time due to starting back to school where I teach Latin.

Confused dreams with Caecilius and Metella unicycling through Pompeii.

The unicycle ride should have been completed on Saturday, but belatedly we discovered that our heroes should never have ventured out in a vehicle with four wheels instead of just one – Caroline’s clutch had gone. 
A day later, they were able to set off again, but we at home did not know that.  Jolly big hills blocked the signal and strangely, internet was not available in the mountains. 

So it was a while before we discovered  that they had achieved their objective safely. 
I would like to say I had been on tenterhooks, but instead I had been worrying about how to explain Quintus’s very short skirt to my year sevens. 

Hopefully, he will never, even in my nightmares, attempt to ride a unicycle in that tunic.

Friday, 4 September 2015

At it Again

This time last year, I encouraged Pascoe in his attempt to ascend Ben Nevis by unicycle.  It reminded me of the TV Ripping Yarn, “Crossing the Andes by Frog”.
And then on the day when it actually happened, I sat and worried.  I had encouraged him.  And now his life was in danger.
But it was okay – he and Caroline and Ian survived.  Triumphed.
When he said that this year it was Scafell, I worried more.  England’s highest mountain is not as tall as Scotland’s, but it is more extreme.  There are screes, gorges, sheer drops.
I shall spend tomorrow distracting myself.
Probably by packing up a parcel of Pascoe’s possessions to send back to him.  Ten days ago he set off for camping with us at Greenbelt, then a conference, at which he was giving a talk about his research.  Then off to camp again in the Lake District.
Funnily enough, by the end of it, his various sets of clothing and equipment had got the better of him and now need posting.
The one thing he was adamant should always go with him was his unicycle – wrapped in a massive bag made out of a long skirt he got from a charity shop – apparently, buses don’t let one travel with a naked unicycle.
May God bless your unicycle, Pascoe, and all who sail in her.  him.  it.   whatever.

I pray it goes well tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Salt Smuggling

Caught with salt on his person
The other day, a friend put me to shame by saying that she had sat her nearly grown-up kids down and forced them to watch Midnight Express so that when they went travelling abroad, they weren’t tempted to try smuggling “anything” through customs. 
What a sensible idea.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?
Instead, when Perran went abroad, I had been concerned only that he ate a sensible diet.
He planned to cook for himself in hostels so I had entrusted him with my Magic Tupperware Box – a tiny receptacle which I take when camping.  It contains cloves of garlic, stock cubes, dried chillis, little plastic bags of garam masala, dried herbs, black pepper and salt.  Salt being, of course, a white powder.
Perran  returned home recently en route between Berlin and Bristol where he  is at University.
He told us all about his inter-railing adventures. 
All had gone well until he crossed the border from Amsterdam to Frankfurt.  He and Amy were clapped in cells and treated in a most unfriendly manner.  (That’ll teach them to dye their hair and have the odd piercing!)
Apparently the contents of the Magic Tupperware Box caused general consternation and were taken away for testing.
“Um.  But it was useful when you did your cooking?”
“Yeah.  The food tasted great, thanks.”

So that’s alright then.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Happy Wanderer

A Magic Bus will bring Perran home tomorrow.
It is a proof of the rapid passing of time that before I have even made time to blog about his departure, he will return.
He and Amy have been inter-railing in Northern and Eastern Europe.  

I never had a copy of their itinerary, but looking at my phone, have received messages from Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.  
There were also other cities from which I did not receive a text.  And the texts that I did receive were not from Perran, but from Amy, as his phone had stopped working. 

Perran is a vegan and will have had some interesting negotiations and compromises with local cuisine.  There was also the tricky question about how much money it was safe to carry, especially as travellers’ cheques are no longer in vogue.
However, I did not waste time worrying about Perran. 
I could say that it is because, at twenty, he is officially a grown-up now.

But probably it is really because I am getting better at being the mother of grown-ups.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Go Set a Scotchman – Edinburgh Fringe

Pascoe is undertaking his PhD in Edinburgh, so I took the opportunity to visit the Fringe. 
After last year’s close encounter with the excellent stand-up, John Kearns, you’d think I would have learned to sit at the back and stay quiet.  However, late at night, in the Banshee Labyrinth, I did find myself responding to the compere’s  plea and joining in a poetry slam where they were short-handed. 
Since I didn’t know I would be attending a poetry slam, nor indeed what one actually was, let alone that I would be taking part,  a veil is probably best drawn over my performance.
 And, Pascoe, although I said that it was an accident when I stamped on your phone, I have to confess that it wasn’t really. 
Never video your mother when she’s had a whole half of cider and decides to “do some poetry” in a public place.
Apart from that debacle, I was finding some of the comedians just too potty-mouthed.  It annoys me when a sparky, talented and devastatingly funny person has to resort to jokes about oral sex to feel sure of a laugh. 

Instead, Pascoe and I went to more shows this time, and loved Fable for its idealism, Bromance for its wit and incredible skill and The Night Watch, for an excellent performance from Sasoon Moskofian and colleagues.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Shooting Stars for Results Day

When I began this blog, it was all about myself and my three children applying for university.  So A-level results day loomed large in 2013. 
“Thank goodness that’s all over!”
But apparently it wasn’t.  
Our friends Mark and Adri  have gone to work abroad in Singapore leaving their son Kit in the UK to launch upon student life.  At the moment he is staying with us.  
He is hoping to study Product Design at Loughborough.
But last night was the darkest night, the one before results day. 
It was the kind of time when irritating adults tell eighteen-year-olds that although everything seems dark now, they should try to get everything in perspective and to see clearly.  There will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Fortunately, there was no need for us to do that to Kit.
Because a shower of shooting stars intervened.
When it was dark, we went out into the garden and lay on rugs, looking up at the heavens.
Because it was a clear night, we were able to glimpse the meteors zipping through the atmosphere.
The Perseid Meteor Shower certainly put everything in perspective.
The only drawback was that there was too much light at the end of the tunnel, and light pollution cut out many of the smaller meteors.
And the first piece of news this morning was that Kit had gained the place he wanted at Loughborough. 
He must have wished upon a star.


It was the very last day of our stay in Crete and we climbed up a hillside to the Diktean Cave – suitably spectacular for the birthplace of Zeus.  After that, Nigel planned that we would climb another mountain and visit Karfi, the melancholy  site of the last refuge of the Minoans. 
A fitting ending for our holiday.  
The idea was to drive up a dirt track and park by a tiny chapel on a higher plateau before making the ascent.  Except that my leg was aching and I was sure I couldn't make the 200m ascent.  And the walk had disappeared from the Lonely Planet website - had people had bad experiences? Just how rough was the dirt road?
As we rested at the inn, Nigel and Pascoe went out on the pretext of going to the shops.  They returned much later, enthused.  They had explored the first stretch of dirt road.  Although aware that I was unlikely to make it, I allowed myself to be persuaded.  Not least because there was the prospect of seeing the massive griffon vulture, with its wingspan of 2.8 metres.
In the evening light, the shadows of the mountains fell mauve.  There was the comforting mellow sound of sheep bells, the low croaking of ravens. Every so often, the breeze blew us the savoury  fragrance of wild thyme or Dictean oregano. 
All of this would have been enough by itself, and indeed, it might have had to be for although Karfi has been called the Machu Pichu of Crete, there is little now to see.  It was sad that the once great Minoans had been driven this last mountain stronghold while the rest of Crete was under Mycenaean rule.
But what about the griffon vultures? As we climbed, we had already twice been distracted by exciting birds of prey which turned out to be buzzards.
But now, just skimming the horizon, I began to see something else. A really large bird. I was never quick enough with my binoculars before it dipped from view. As we gained the top of the pass the sightings became more frequent.  There seemed to be three of the birds.  Seeing some ravens flying around them and dwarfed by them, I realised that we were looking at something very large indeed.  Finally I let myself believe it. 
'Vultures,' I yelled.
Soon, we were at the topmost plateau, and the giant birds were using the thermals it produced in order to rise, so they would swoop in spectacularly low and we could see their heads move as they checked us out. 
“Nope -  not carcases yet,”
Then as they caught the air current, they would soar high away.  Paragliders appeared, drifting through the air and one curious vulture circled them.  
'Can you imagine?' said Perran 'That would be so scary.'
Meanwhile, Carenza, followed by her brothers, climbed the high limestone pinnacles which were beginning to flush apricot in the sunset, getting even closer to the huge scavengers.  Nigel & I began to explore the tumbled walls of the ancient settlement, overgrown with all manner of thorny and aromatic plants.  Even so, it was hard to take our eyes off the birds and it was remarkable how swiftly their vast wings carried them on the breeze with scarcely ever a flap. 
Finally, when the vultures were no longer visible and the youngsters had descended to the ruins, we decided it was time to head back down to the car. 
But we threw one last look over our shoulders and there they were, approaching along the flank of the mountain - a flock of seven vultures, and heading in the opposite direction, just for scale, eight ravens. 
It was our own personal fly-past.
And when we got back down to the inn and the internet, we looked up a word we had never before needed to know –

apparently, the collective noun for a group of vultures is a 'wake'.
Photo by Carenza

Friday, 7 August 2015

Nissan Dorma

One of the mountainous roads the Nissan Dorma took us down.
Our car hire in Crete didn't start well. Aegean airways had altered our previously convenient flight so that we now arrived at 3 am. Nigel phoned Europcar to make them aware and they came up trumps. On the phone that is. When we actually arrived red eyed at Heraklion airport their office was in darkness and we had to hire not one but two expensive taxis to our hotel. 
Nigel had no hesitation in using their negligence to our advantage and we gained an up grade on our car and a free sat nav. Then we went back and swapped it for a sat nav that worked.
The car was an unaesthetic square-built Nissan although we never did determine of what model. Nigel called it the Nissan Dorma. It had a feature at first alarming, later endearing, of screaming like a Chelsea Socialite who has just seen that Bolly is on special offer at Harrods. It turned out to be the air conditioning.
Later when the air conditioning packed in altogether, we missed the screaming. We managed to get five adults and all their luggage for two weeks into it without trauma by insisting that everybody pack their chattels into soft-bodied bags. Oh , and by me forgetting to bring the snorkelling things and aqua shoes.
The Nissan Dorma served us well and introduced an essential note of tension to the holiday when half way through we scratched the roof trying to park in the shade of old olive tree.  Other tree branches are soft and give a little, but apparently not ancient olives. How much would we be charged when we returned the car?
However, it never came to that – faced with a long drive into the mountains and broken air conditioning, Nigel demanded a replacement, and the Nissan Dorma was retired and replaced with a Fiat Punto with never a murmur about the roof.

I hope that if there is such a thing as counseling for cars, the Nissan Dorma is now receiving it – carrying five adults, (with occasionally an extra person in the boot) and all their luggage in Cretan heat on Cretan roads cannot have been easy.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Snow and Crocodiles

At Amari Villas with the wonderful Mrs Reumi
We have been staying in the delightful Amari Villas, always caressed by a breeze which carries swallows and huge butterflies through the courtyard.
Manolis, our hospitable landlord, popped by for a glass of raki on our first night. 
“What is there to do around here?” we asked him.
He explained to us that the mountain which dominated the skyline was Mt Ida, where once the goddess Rhea hid her baby Zeus in a cave so that his father Kronos would not eat him.  And look - there, on its flank was a diamond of snow left over from the winter.
In these temperatures? But we goggled at it and nodded credulously.
Then Manolis told us about ancient Byzantine churches and mysterious Minoan archaeological sites and pointed them out on the map. 
“And there,” said Nigel, indicating a reservoir, “–isn’t there supposed to be a good walk?”
Manolis confirmed that there was but said that there might be a problem – a two metre crocodile had been living there, presumably an unwanted pet which had outgrown its tank.
Again we gaped and nodded.
It was only the next day that one of us said “Hold on…”
Snow in Summer, crocodiles in the reservoir – was it possible that Manolis had been having a little joke?
But as we were leaving the wonderful Amari, we saw that a local baker was also celebrating the crocodile.  
Perhaps not a joke then.

But by that time, we had already done the reservoir walk.

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Hari leads the dance

Hospitality was of huge importance to the Ancient Greeks: Homer’s Odyssey tells us so.  I have spent the last year teaching pupils about xenia (hospitality), but last night I experienced it for myself. 
We are staying in the Cretan mountain village of Amari, and a man from the village returned with his Argentinian wife to have their beautiful new son baptised.  Our landlord, Manolis, assured us we would be welcome.  We went along to the church, saw little Gerry dunked in the font, then raised before the crowd three times.  Afterwards, we sidled shyly into the village square where tables and chairs were laid out for the celebration and were about to sidle out again when a woman glamorous in a white jumpsuit addressed us:  
“Hello – I’m the kid’s aunt – come and sit here.”
Her name turned out to be Hari, and she had organised the whole event, more than usually challenging in a time of such economic uncertainty.  She made sure we were offered fabulous Cretan roast lamb and cheese and honey cakes.  Not to mention limitless wine and raki.  But most of all, conversation.  
Intermixed with the local people is a cosmopolitan array of internationals, some lotus eaters, others running businesses.  Everybody had an opinion on Greece's financial troubles.  
But it was not the night to discuss such grim matters. 

Pascoe joins in.
As the traditional music got louder, the whole community got up and danced as they had danced through the wars and invasions of century upon century.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Pigeon Stretch

A complete stranger who is unnaturally bendy.
Today was my last day at school.  I didn’t even return to my desk but walked straight out of my last lesson over to my car and home. 
Soon the holidays will start.  Sun and sand whisper to me.
There was just one thing left to do.  I cycled over to my Pilates class.
Alice is a great teacher and she inspires confidence in me.  Confidence which is sometimes misplaced.
The roll-downs, cat stretches, c curves and leg folds were all fine.  Then Alice said temptingly,
“And this is my favourite stretch at the moment….”
We were all ears. 
“It’s called the pigeon stretch.  If you slide your foot forward and then bend your knee and then slide your other knee backwards…then see if you can bend your head to the ground…”
As we struggled to un-crochet our over-stretched bodies, I felt sort of limp and spongy.
“I’ve never seen a pigeon do anything like that, Alice.”
“You’re not the first of my clients to remark on that, Clare.”
Next, we were to do quite a basic stretch but I declared that I couldn’t.
“That’s funny,” said Alice, “Because you managed that pigeon stretch just now.”
But a couple of hours later as I sit at home I have to confess that I have done myself a mischief.  When the rest of the family go on their summer hols they will have to carry me in a hold-all like an enormous rag doll.
Is it possible that Alice had misheard?  Had somebody else been complaining about “That pigging stretch!”

Monday, 13 July 2015

Red Letter Day

In the distance are little starbursts of fireworks and I am walking towards them.  I can hear snatches of Beethoven’s Pastoral getting louder.  Wafting towards me are the delicious scents of Summer barbecues next to the sea. 
The event that I am heading towards is the end of term; behind me is my first year of teaching in a secondary school.
It got more manageable, I got better at it.  I enjoyed it.  I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt in a year.
However, because I have been part-time, I have another year to go as an NQT.
The difference is that next year I shall not be moving house and I have a bank of work that I’ve already prepared.

Yes, definitely Beethoven’s Pastoral.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Unwise Purchase

Last time we moved, we rushed at our new house like a bull at a gate.  We took rapid decisions about expensive items.  Tilers, plumbers and builders flashed through.
Then we repented at leisure.
We even had to move a whole wall.
This time, I’m not rushing. 
Even modest decisions like which lamp to put outside the front door can be slept upon.
Nigel attempts to drag me to DIY shops but I abort the mission.
Until Saturday, when I saw something which I wanted for the garden.  At Chidwickbury Arts Fair, I discovered some gigantic copper flowers made by Christian Funnel.  They were witty, well-made and affordable, so I pulled out my credit card.
Luckily, Carenza and Will were on hand to carry them for me.  As we wended our way down the path to the car park, the people we passed gave us special smiles.  
Or smirks.
“Oh dear,” said Will, “It’s like those people you see on the televisation of the Chelsea Flower Show.  They went looking for a purple clematis, got stuck on the Pimms and ended up staggering home with an unwise purchase.”
Silly him – who wouldn’t want a giant copper flower or two?

He’ll be laughing on the other side of his face when they protect us from the imminent triffid invasion.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Homing Pigeons

We have moved house. 
In the Autumn we shall put out bird feeders and hope that blue tits and green finches find their way here.
Next summer we shall ensure that the garden brims with flowers and we will await the butterflies.

But for now, we have tried to make the kitchen comfortable and have laid in a stock of Doritos and Pringles.  
We wait with bated breath.  
Will they come?
“I think I hear a noise in the kitchen.  Could that be them?”
We creep down the corridor and peep round the door.

It has happened:  Perran, Carenza and their friends have returned home from university.  
Perran,Carenza and Sarah