Saturday, 28 March 2015


In December, Nigel and I travelled to Brighton to see the murmurations – the patterns formed in the sky by flocks of starlings as they ready themselves to roost on the pier.  The sunset was spectacular and the flock swirled, twisted and glinted in tight formation. 

Then, all of a sudden, as if at some invisible signal, the starlings poured into the space beneath the pier and stayed there.  I had not expected this and it made an impression on me.

This Friday, I was reminded of that moment when all my “starlings” converged on their home perch.  My own evening was supposed to be dinner with some women friends, but before it began, Carenza and I had already been to the station to pick up Will.  
During my dinner, Perran arrived at the station from Bristol Uni, and I texted him to get a taxi home.
After dinner, I drove again to the station to pick up Nigel (a business dinner in London), 
then twenty minutes later, back to the station to collect Pascoe, home from Edinburgh Uni.

But by the time the last family members had returned safely to their perch, the youngest had gone out again for drinks with other friends, also freshly returned home.

Not quite like starlings then.

Pascoe making his way across St Pancras.

Friday, 27 March 2015

How to Deal with a Canvassing Politician

Out hiking with my friends this morning , I was watching a lapwing through my binoculars when my phone dinged.

It was the family Whatsapp group.

Carenza, who is registered to vote and has particular political views had just encountered the local Tory MP with whom she has no truck.

“Ohhh guys I just had theeee cringiest moment ever: Anne Main knocked at the door canvassing and I couldn't be bothered to talk to her, so I pretended I was too young to vote (I said I was 17 really unconvincingly).
Then I remembered it was a school day so pretended I was off sick and no one else was home then she looked a bit concerned and asked what school I went to and I told her and she said that she was there yesterday doing a husts thing and asked why I hadn't been there so I coughed and pretended I'd been off all week SO EMBARRASSING OMG she KNEW I was lying.”

I was still pondering the first message when another came in:

“She kneeeeew.”

I turned to Dee, “Do they still have truancy officers?”

But Whatsapp dinged again immediately, and it said,

“But it’s okay – I’m sure Anne Main’s too busy canvassing to call Social Services.”

Carenza is clearly better at dealing with her mother than with Tory politicians.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Breaking Bad II

A few days ago, I blogged about how my old friend Rosie put the wind up Nigel and I by quietly letting herself into our house at 11pm when we weren’t expecting her.
She came round early on Friday morning so we could watch the eclipse together and we laughed about the incident.
Ha, ha, ha.
It was just the two of us as Nigel had been away at a work do the previous night and was catching the train straight from work to his parents’ in Northumberland that evening.
In the face of cloud cover, we gave up on the eclipse, stowed our colander in the kitchen cupboard; and had resorted to the telly and unrivalled views of Brian Cox.
“The picture’s gone a bit dark – I can’t see Brian properly.”
“Why has it gone dark?”
Then -
“Wait a minute, what was that?”
We had heard a sound from the front door. 
If only we still had that metal colander.
Make lots of noise to scare the intruder away.  Never corner them.
We BOTH got up and went out into the hall….
to find Nigel.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hello to you too.   I’m going to work from home today – thought I might need to take the car to Mum and Dad’s later, instead of training it.”

Phew.  For a moment there, I thought I was going to have a Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Friday, 20 March 2015


Pascoe captures the start of the eclipse
I  thought I didn’t really care about the eclipse that much.  I had vaguely noted that I could improvise a pinhole camera with a colander if I needed to.  (Although wouldn’t a colander be better suited to a sci-fi fantasy novel, where a planet might have many suns?)
Then the hype started and I wished I’d sent off for special specs (or at least, knew where I’d put the ones from last time).  But I went to the cupboard and checked.  My colander might be missing a handle, but it was still full of holes.  Everything would be okay after all. 
As a snapshot of my family: I invited Rosie over, but it was overcast, so we ended up ditching the colander and watching it on the telly.  Carenza and Nigel were both stuck on trains, also with nothing but white cloud overhead.   
Perran had not responded well to my advice to be careful what he did or he could go blind (which sounds like the kind of conversation fathers used to have with their sons a couple of generations ago).  Following the eclipse, he texted  “Don’t use a stoooopid colander, three pairs of sunglasses does the trick.” 
The triphids are waiting, Perran.

Pascoe, however, was not only the true scientist, but also the best placed of us, in Edinburgh and sent us these great photos.

Thursday, 19 March 2015


You could tell the life-stage that Nigel and I are at from the parts of the budget that made us prick up our ears.
There will be a lower cap on pension relief allowance. 
Pensions – when did we start being interested in pensions?  Yet suddenly we are.  Until the children left we felt we were living in the epicentre of our own lives, but now one of the big conversation topics  among our fellow empty nesters is “How long before I can retire?”
There is to be a new ISA designed to help first-time home buyers.
In the next few years, our children will start work, and may be joining the battle to get onto the property ladder.   
Suddenly our focus has changed toward making savings – both for our own decrepitude and also to compensate our children for the fact that they will have to earn their living and raise families in a world much less economically hospitable than we did.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering what part of the budget made my children prick up their ears and very much hoping it wasn’t that bit about a penny off a pint of beer.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Unexpected Mother’s day Gift

My mother and my daughter
I was making conversation with some small boys in between lessons.
“So,” I asked wistfully, “What are you guys planning for Mother’s Day?”
“Do you think I should get her a present?”
“I’m sure your Mum isn’t expecting you to spend lots on her.  But she’d probably appreciate a home-made card.”
Of course, I was talking about myself.  So to whoever that Mum is who now doesn’t get an expensive present, Sorry.
For me, I had thought Mother’s day was a thing of the past.  It is cruel of the gods to place Mothering Sunday in the middle of university term time. 
Except of course, that some universities have ridiculously short terms. 
Last year, wonderfully, Carenza was home in time.  This year, however, she planned to stay on to do some work, which is exactly what I used to do.  So I had gathered my expectations up and locked them away in a bottom drawer.
But then, we got the text:
“Can you collect me on Saturday?  Want to come home for a break.”
Was that Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus I could hear playing?
I turned back to the boys:
“Breakfast in bed is good too.”
“I dropped mine half way up the stairs last year.”
“I didn’t even get out of the kitchen with mine.”

Again, Sorry.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Breaking Bad

For the first time, we’re doing the box-set thing and working our way through the great Breaking Bad. It is, after all, addictive.
It was eleven o’ clock on a Friday night and we had just watched a scene where Pinkman breaks into the creepy house of a junky couple, ending with a woman crushing her partner’s head under an ATM.
Then: “What was that?”
We have two front doors, an inner and an outer, and I thought I had just heard a noise at the outer door.
We turned the TV down.
Then we heard the inner door open and shut.
When suspecting a break in, make a lot of noise to signal to the intruder that the house is occupied.  Do not corner the intruder.
Nigel, unarmed, went straight out into the hallway to investigate. 
He immediately relayed the identity of the burglar.  Apparently, it was somebody called,
Luckily, there was simultaneously another voice going,
And I recognised the voice, the voice that was saying “I left a message on Clare’s mobile, and another on your answering machine….”
It was one of my oldest friends, Rosie, who mostly lives in New Zealand.  She is over in the UK helping out a sick relative, and a couple of weeks earlier I had given her the house key in case she ever needed a bolt-hole.  And then I’d forgotten all about it.

It’s just as well we didn’t have an ATM handy.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Death and the Vole

Doomed Vole
Yesterday, Cath, Cecily and I were missing Dee, so took yet another break from our rubbish attempt at the Ridgeway and went for a local walk. 

The light had a soft, hopeful gleam to it.  Somewhere George Harrison was singing “Here comes the sun.”  Cecily shed one of her numerous pullovers. 
Spring had finally arrived.   

In the woods were drifts of snowdrops. 
And rustling around at the base of a tree, a little vole.  We watched it bumbling about. 
“I wish the children could see this.”
In reality, none of our children are any longer at the vole-admiring stage.  Probably in fact, still sleeping off the night before in their respective digs.
“I miss them.”
“We all do.”
But then we noticed that the vole was limping and blundering about as if dazed.
“Oh dear.  I don’t think he’s a well vole.”
We left it in peace (or more probably to some nearby predator), and walked on to the pub.
“Mind you,” said Cath, “If the children had been with us, we wouldn’t have been allowed to leave a sick vole to die of natural causes.”
“No, agreed Cecily, we’d have had to take it home somehow….”
“….and watch it die slowly in the kitchen.”

“You know, I’m not sure I miss the kids so much after all,”  I said sipping my lime and soda and leaning back on the sunlit bench.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Like a Tortoise Mating with a Drinks Can

As we watch our darlings depart for university with their whole lives before them, many of us mothers are now starting to tango with the menopause.   I thought I should find out more and last summer I attended a seminar.  It was a hot August day and the room was crowded.  Pretty soon, there were a lot of very flushed middle-aged women fanning themselves.  The venue manager grabbed her mike and announced, “The heating is stuck ‘on’ and we can’t unlock the windows, but don’t worry – IT’S NOT YOU!”
One friend who told me how, as she queued to pay for cough mixture while the local pharmacist had a lengthy discussion with a rather deaf old lady, her eye was caught by a novel menopause treatment – magnets. 
Yep.  Magnets for your pants – “Attach them to the fabric to alleviate menopause symptoms.” 
Being game and perhaps just a little bit desperate, my friend bought these and duly positioned them.  She felt a lot better and all went well until her supermarket shopping trip, when she experienced a tugging sensation and discovered that her lingerie was being inexorably attracted to her metal shopping trolley.  Apparently it looked a bit like that YouTube clip of the tortoise trying to mate with the drinks can.

It’ll be some time before she can return to Sainsbury’s.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Quiz Night

This particular annual quiz between local churches has been a fixture in our diary for over a decade.  Church people are usually such nice people, except on quiz night, when they’re not.  
The event has a competitive edge so sharp it could slice steak.
The first time we went to this particular quiz, we had no idea.  We ambled in 2 minutes after the 7.30 start time to find that the questions had begun and that the rest of the team had already completed the table rounds.  I then disgraced myself by drinking two glasses of wine in quick succession which made my general knowledge go all blurry and limp.
Although this happened a long time ago, I have not been selected for our church’s A team since and I have dragged Nigel down with me.
However, I always hope one day to redeem myself, and had even trained this year by watching Pointless while visiting my parents at half term. (It actually turned out to be Two Tribes, but we just thought it was the same programme with slightly different rules.)

Last night, we were one man down as Nigel had a fever and things didn’t look good.  But we came a very respectable second and (most importantly) were a whole two points ahead of our church’s A team.