step i wi' my cromak tae the isles

Monday, 15 September 2014

C'moan ya ba'as.  See they feart folk wi' bag's ay plooms? 
Oo'll batter th' soor bastard English or oo'll git a beamer.*

By Friday morning, it will all be over.  I've been listening to this with equal joy and melancholy. Its utterly incomprehensible lyrics perfectly reflect the tangle in my heart.

I was born in Edinburgh and went back to Scotland most summers as I was growing up.  My year there at school was by far the happiest of my silly education and I still see the friends I made there.

I see most of them because they, too, no longer live in Scotland.

It's rather interesting that my extensive weeks of questioning have revealed two distinct camps:

1. Expat Scots who say 'No'
They feel that leaving the union would be hasty, imprudent, bad-mannered and economic suicide.

2. English Folk who live in Scotland and say 'YES! YES! YES!'
They are full of wind and whisky and feel it's time the Scots had charge of their own affairs. It is beyond annoying to the expat Scots that this camp get a vote and the first do not.

There are also some Scots who live in Scotland who have always referred to me as 'that forrin lassie' and who hate the English with a breathtaking vociferousness that Camp 2 must surely be aware of.  They have not responded to my questions, but are posting lots of misty photos of heather-coated wilderness and themselves skirling about in tartan.

I am blaming my advancing years. but the impending vote has reduced me to hot-eyed lumpy throatedness.  Today, I bought a huge expensive armful of grey-blue thistles that reflect my current spiky fragile mood of fierce nostalgia.

I want us to stay together.  Nobody north of the border gives a stuff what I think.

*Look, there are our neighbours.  Let us give chase, for they have fruit.  Our honour is at stake.

No friend as loyal

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

As well as indulging in the annual shout-and-sew-athon that heralds la rentrée,  I am in such a sunlit-and-lazy-buzz end of summer, wafting about ancient hedgerows with bowls of brambles, that I have no desire to escape to any other paper life.  Had I not misplaced my reading mojo, it is usually around this time of year that I re-read, for the hundredth time, these fabulous books.

Because the bots need to transmogrify from feral teenbeasts to shod and shiny schoolchildren, I also, very sadly, missed the annual Gathering of the Friends of Tilling, a gloriously eccentric day in Rye for those of us obsessed by EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia series.  This is what they promised, the teases.
The day will start with a walk to Benson's grave followed by a ploughman's lunch and a dinner in the evening. After lunch will be a reading of a brand new Tilling story "Humble Soup" by Tom Holt. This new story, written especially for us will be read by Nickolas Grace. During dinner Gyles Brandreth will host our annual Tilling Quiz and it will be followed by Un Po-di-Mu.
I was fleetingly tempted to throw nametapes to the wind and hunt out some appropriate scrub and hitum, but Tilling, as someone should have said by now, will always be there.

There's a new series, too, with Anna Duckface Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) about which I am thoroughly overexcited.  On the BBC this Christmas, as if there weren't enough gifts already.

For the Luciaphiles, further moments of happiness here and here.

an aching kind of growing

Saturday, 6 September 2014

We rented a Devon longhouse this summer, along with the Pretty One's family, some too-scarcely-seen cousins and a few friends for Rose to dilute the testosterone.

The ridiculous tropical weather burst the night before we drove down, so we panic-packed board games and all manner of wet-weather gear. We had planned a fortnight of sunshine and outdoor sports, and I envisaged gruesome, twisted teenage plots fermented under the dripping straw and tiny, leaf-blocked windows.

The weather was kind, though.  There was an ancient pitted tennis court set in a pewter-trunked apple orchard.  Those on ball-duty ate ruby-colored juicy apples and swatted wasps with the old rackets.  We knocked up for hours on end, trying to remember alternative tennis games we'd invented as children.  The husbands told of glory days jumping triumphantly over nets.  We thought about the distance to the nearest A&E and stuck to manly hand-shakes of congratulation.

Three of the children were awaiting major exam results and grew greyer and more dish-washing as the results day grew close.  They played table-tennis and swam and as soon as we took the dogs out, watched all sorts of unsuitable DVDs found in a cupboard.  We busted them spectacularly returning unexpectedly for a forgotten phone.  There were tidy rooms and laundry done all week.

The exam results came out at dawn on the second-to-last day. Proud parents, we bought local fizz and fish and feasted outside on a long, humid evening full of overexcited relief, texts to friends and the surreal talk of college and universities; sixth form choices and who would pass the first driving test.

There was a secret garden next door filled with bursting yellow wasp-flecked plums.  I went in with a bag to scrump some for a spontaneous addition to pudding and listened to the buzz and laughter from the terrace.  It was a moment filled, like my mouth, with the bittersweetness of endings and beginnings and the certain inevitability of change.

much more serious than that

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Chocolate, waffles + beer = brave + forward-thinking talent

My grandfather was a professional football player; interest in the game skipped directly from the Northern Socialist to Freddie.  Though too many cold Saturday touchlines being excluded from the fun ("football's not a game for lasses") and being made to hang out the sodden mismatched team strips understandably turned me right off the game.

Notwithstanding my anathema, Freddie insisted we all chose eight teams each to support through the cup.  His were chosen based on years of studying form, following transfer and performance at various levels; Rose chose the teams with the most beautifully groomed players; I chose countries I had lived in; Edward was at work and sportingly accepted the rag, tag and bobtail dross he was given.

There is a chart filling a wall of the kitchen which we have all raced to fill in after each match. The boys wrote a list of rules, including no door slamming or blaming the ref if your team lose (years of observing Edward).   You were encouraged to wear your team's colours and serve drinks and snacks from that country.

I had no idea football was such bloody good fun.  I'm completely hooked, and I have watched more matches in three weeks than in almost fifty years. I found myself all alone up at midnight watching the Belgium/USA match, into extra time, three nail-biting goals and the best-natured managers I've ever observed.  I've been watching while they are all out, or after I've sent everyone to bed, shouting at my laptop like a yob and killing myself laughing at the Suarez Bite.

Rose's teams are all out.  I have one left, Edward one and Freddie the two most likely to win.  (There is money involved too.  I've just read the extra rules that appeared yesterday.)

Freddie has plans to fill the house on Sunday with long, awkward boys, order several huge pizzas ("Delivered, mum, not home-made, this is important") and settle in for a marathon.  He's asked Edward to take me out to supper.  Apparently football's not a game for mums either.

Run even faster

Monday, 16 June 2014

This is still, frequently, the view inside my head

When I was small, Sunday mornings were the most heavenly part of the week.  We kids were dropped off at a stable to go riding on the beach while my parents read the papers in the dunes.

I always had to ride Topper.  He was wiry and malevolent and his toes turned in alarmingly. He had a snappy mouthful of yellow teeth and stubbornly trotted until his legs blurred before he finally gave in and leapt into a canter that felt just like a ride on a rocking horse.

The pony I truly loved was a beautiful Palomino called Stardust.  He belonged to the stable owner, Val, a tiny, toothless woman whose hands and mouth were equally filthy.  She was brusque, and tough as nails, but she spoke to Stardust with a tenderness never wasted on any humans.

She never let anyone else ride him, though I begged every single Sunday.  I brought him carrots and whispered streams of love into his toffee-coloured ears.  I still have notebooks filled with stories of Stardust and I riding off alone on wonderful trips where we slept curled together under the stars and took turns to save each other from hideous danger.  He was my first love.

The ride was an eclectic mix of local regulars and tourists who'd tired of the majesty of the Lakes. The tourists were easy to spot by their bright kagouls and mouthfuls of Kendal mint cake.  We locals had grubby hand-me-down jodhpurs and gave our Polo mints to the horses. The tourists were always seen as the Enemy, and we would circle them at speed as they wobbled along on the older, slower horses.

One Sunday, we local kids took off, as we always did, at a gallop.  To my excitement, I fell off in the sea, grabbed the reins and leapt straight back on.  I heard Val calling me back.  I know she would tear a strip off me in front of the clean Southern riders, so I affected not to hear and used my crop on Topper, charging miles ahead and staying far from her scary orbit.

I was first back to the yard and dismounted, flushed with victory.  Val came in last, riding one of the ancient horses and there, on a leading rein was a tourist, a grown man, for the love of God, on my beloved Stardust.

She told me that she'd tried to call me back because the tourist couldn't handle his horse and she wanted me to ride Stardust all the way home. But apparently, I hadn't heard her.  She fixed me with her small eyes and said what a shame that was because she could guarantee it would never happen again.

I pleaded, shamelessly, I may even have cried.  She left me to untack and refused to discuss it ever again.

In January this year, the Pretty One and I walked out dogs up that beach and met an old man who told us that Val's business partner had swindled her not long after and she had been forced to sell the stables and all the horses and go and work in a jewellery shop in Workington.

She hadn't lived much longer.  I wasn't surprised to hear it.

we shall hear angels, we shall see the sky

Saturday, 7 June 2014

There's a beach near the bots' school where we have gone since they were small enough for me to see the tops of their heads or be in a room with them for more than eight seconds without their lips curling involuntarily and the klaxon in their brains shriek 'NOT LISTENING.'

I bought a painting of it last year at a local art fair; the artist told me how her life had cracked open and she and come here to start afresh.  This was the first view she had of her new home.  The painting shimmers and she told me her jeweller friend had given her a bag of diamond dust that she'd mixed  into the paint she used for the sea.

It's a perfect bowl of changing sky; beige sand and curving banks of navy blue shingle, huge oyster and mussel shells crunching underfoot.  When the tide goes out you can walk for miles on cool watery ridges.

The promenade is Victorian, offering careful pleasure in swan-shaped boats and swathes of stern forest-green bathing huts.  They cost as much as houses in the North.

On this beach, the bots have thrown off little stripy uniforms, free from the exhausting strictures of clapping and finger-painting and shot, chubby-thighed and squealing, into the sparkling sea.

They have played cricket here, had class barbecues, sand-sculpture competitions.  I'm sure they will also come here, furtively and tentatively believing they are the first generation to thrill to booze-fuelled disobedience and all the fun that brings.

They snorted in that teenage way when I told them that there was diamond dust in the painting and said I'd been ripped off and was a mug for a fairy tale.

I drove them in to do huge exams this week and went down to the beach with the dog.  She squealed excitedly, remembering the time before the cool detachment of the school bus when we came down every morning after drop-off and knew all the dogs.

I let her out in the bright early sunshine and she disappeared off across the flats, running up excitedly to friends old and new, sniffing them just to make sure.  I followed with a genteel tea and fistful of poo bags and looked at the spangled, glittering sea.

There's diamond dust there alright.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

When I was about 12, my most treasured possession was my little blow-up dinghy.  A give-away from a mosquito spray company, it transported me across the coral reef of the Caribbean in front of my house to the deep azure waters beyond.  In it, I could avoid the treacherous sharp coral, and more importantly, the black, spiny sea-urchins.  If you were unlucky or clumsy enough to tread on one, the black needles would poison before you could call for help and you would die a hideously painful, though mercifully swift, death.

I would skim across the reef, stiff as a board, with my toes pointed into the front, paddling furiously to keep as much of the bottom flat as possible.  My snorkel and mask were permanently welded to my head.

It was a strange song I heard diving out from the reef; the tuneful froth from my mouth as I dove, the scratching hiss of sand and broken shell moving rhythmically far below me, the squeak and hum in my ears as I sank deep below the water.

I took my little plastic oar with me to poke about and move things - we were not so ecologically careful in those days.  Or perhaps it was the innocent cruelty of childhood that led me to shove my oar, quite literally, into a dark hole.

It stuck and I pulled hard, my flippered feet swelling me urgently back and forth.  My breath blew like thunder.  It came free with a brown thing attached - I thought it seaweed, and brushed at it with annoyance.  It was the rubbery, prehistoric spiral of an octopus that followed angrily out and we hung eye to eye in the turquoise water as I realised what it was.  I had already lost an oar to casual beach thieves so my priority was to keep this one.

Lucky for me, the beast cared more about his privacy and huffily billowed back into the gloom, while I shot, bubbles rattling from my open mouth, back to the surface.

This week, I have written off a car, celebrated a birthday and negotiated a sticky, tricky conversation.

I'm whizzing back up to the sun now.  I think I've still got an oar about me.  And I know the urchins will only sting, not kill.