Inappropriate Bank Holiday News

At a generic pet superstore buying supplies for the very demanding tortoise, we wander past a glass tank full of degus. For those of you not up on such matters, a degu is a small, rodent that resembles a well fed gerbil but with a longer, rat-like tail. They do not like to be alone, and live for preference in large herds. There were a fair number of degus frisking around in the tank.

I use the word frisking advisedly.

Oscar: ‘Look! Look! That degu is riding on that other degu.

Tallulah: ‘That’s hilarious. It’s riding him around like a pony.’

Oscar: ‘Mum! Look at them riding around.’

Me, absent-mindedly thinking about where one would put cuttlefish in a giant, pet superstore: ‘They’re not riding. They’re having sex.’

Oscar: ‘Argh!’

Tallulah: ‘But it looks like they’re riding.’

Me (inwardly cursing my own stupidity): ‘I know that. But that’s what degu sex looks like.’

Tallulah: ‘Ha ha ha!’

Oscar is just staring by now in beady eyed fascination.

The degu being ridden tires of either a) being looked at whilst having sex, b) having sex or c) and this is where I’d put my money if I were a betting woman, both.

Oscar: ‘Look! It’s bitten him!’

Tallulah: ‘Why has it bitten him?’

Me: ‘Probably because it’s tired of being ridden around like a show pony and it doesn’t want to have sex any more.’

There is a pause from us all:

Me, in a fuck it mood: ‘At least that’s how I tell your dad I’ve had enough anyway.’

We continue looking for the cuttlefish in silence.


Tallulah’s school is very heavily into drama at the moment. In English they are doing a recreation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They have been entrusted with the play within a play, where the mechanicals re-enact the tragic myth of Pyramus and Thisbe.

Tallulah is most excited about this: ‘Mum. I’m going to be Thisbe. It’s going to be excellent.’

Me: ‘I thought you’d have enjoyed being the lion (who eats Thisbe) more?’

Tallulah: ‘No! If I’m Thisbe I get to be a girl, pretending to be a man who is pretending to be a girl, and that means I can do all squeaky stuff with my voice. It’s brilliant. Listen…’

At this point we are subjected to a noise like a balloon being deflated with a thousand tortured mice inside it.

I think that I would have preferred it if she had been the chink (i.e. a non-speaking part).

She tells me about how they’re going to do it.

Tallulah: ‘We have to give it a contemporary setting. We’re doing it in Sainsburys’. It’s all going on in the yogurt aisle.’

Me: ‘Well, that could work. Will there be shopping trolleys.’

Tallulah: ‘Certainly there will.’

This cheers me up.

Two days later she starts to tell me about the latest rehearsal.

Tallulah: ‘We need some Mickey Mouse ears.’

Me: ‘For Sainsburys’?’

Tallulah: ‘No! We’re not doing Sainsburys’ anymore. It’s set in Disneyland.’

Me: ‘Oh, God.’

Tallulah: ‘Shut up, mum! It will be brilliant. I can do mouse squeaks as well, because I’m Thisbe as Minnie Mouse.’

Me: ‘Oh, God!’

Tallulah: ‘Shush now!’

Last night, before the pigeon incident at dinner:

Tallulah: ‘I’m being veal calf 24601 in the school play.’

Me: ‘I am so confused. In Disneyland?’

Tallulah, throwing me a withering glance: ‘NO! This is for a different play. We’re doing about battery farming and I am veal calf 24601.’

Me: ‘Who is veal calf 24600?’

Tallulah, throwing me withering look number two: ‘There isn’t one. It’s from Les Mis. It’s Jean Valjean’s prison number.’

Me: ‘I’m sure he’d be proud to be recast as a battery farmed veal calf.’

Tallulah: ‘Yes. Well, anyway. It’s very sad, and Lucy is being a L’Oreal rabbit who’s having mascara tested on her eyes. She has to cry and cry and say: ‘AM I WORTH IT?’

Me: ‘Yes. Well that is very hard hitting.’

Tallulah: ‘Not as hard hitting as the bit where Najmo is a chicken with no beak or feet and we drag her around the stage singing ‘How can you sleep at night?’ to the farmer.’

Me: ‘I can only imagine.’



Greasing the Lemon

There may be several posts today. The children made me laugh so much at dinner last night I had tears rolling down my face. Although I tweeted it at the time, I need something a little more permanent to remind me how wonderful they can be. This is for the times when I want to leave them in a box outside an orphanage with a ‘Please look after this bear’ tag around their necks.

During dinner, Tallulah said: ‘Look at those pigeons on the pergola. There are loads of them. Those ones are watching those other ones having sex.’

Naturally, all eyes swivelled to the pergola, where what she was describing was indeed happening.

Tallulah: ‘They’re having rumpy pumpy.’

Oscar: ‘Don’t you mean hanky panky?’

Tallulah: ‘Rumpy pumpy and hanky panky are the same thing.’

Oscar: ‘What? You mean ‘doing sex’?’

Tallulah: ‘Yes.’

Stunned by this information, Oscar turns back to observe the pigeons.

Tilly: ‘There are so many of them, it’s like a pigeon…’

Me: ‘Orgy?’

Tilly: ‘MUM!’

Me: ‘Well, what were you going to say?’

Silence falls once more as we watch the pigeons going at it like knives.

Tallulah: ‘In school we call it ‘greasing the lemon’ and vaginas are called fongitas (pronounced ‘fon -jeee-tah’ should you ever go to Tallulah’s school and need to use this information).  It’s brilliant, because none of the teachers know what we’re talking about.’

Oscar: looking at the pigeons again, in a dark tone: ‘Those pigeons are doing a lot of greasing the lemon.’



The bronzing of the ears

At the moment I am, as we know, very much using make up as a weapon of fear and surprise. It has been working well.

Over the weekend I felt rather poorly. This trailed into Monday and part of Tuesday and I went back to looking pale, ghoulish and baggy eyed because frankly, that was how I felt and it was far too much effort to pretend otherwise.

I had perked up by yesterday afternoon, and as I was due to go to the pub quiz later on, I decided to do the decent thing. Tallulah was keen to get her hands on me. I have recently acquired the Urban Decay, Naked 3 palette and she has wanted to play with it ever since I bought it. I allowed her to do my face for me.

She used to do make up and hair for me when she was very little. Mostly this was a terrible punishment as she was extremely fascist in her approach, and it involved lots of shouting and hitting you on the head with the hair brush if you so much as raised an eyebrow. There was no small talk, no  chit  chat, just endless, barked orders and pain.  It did, however, give me the excuse to sit down for half an hour, and sometimes even close my eyes, and in those days of the sleep deprived, infant wilderness years, it was worth the anguish.

Except that day when she coloured my face in with navy blue eyeshadow and even when I had washed it vigorously with hot soapy water, I still looked like I’d been in a fight…in a coal mine.

These days, however, she has raised her game as far as make up goes. She watches endless tutorials on Youtube and is completely switched on about such matters. I feel I can trust her enough for me to not have to worry about her sending me off to the pub looking like that clown from the Stephen King novel.

As she makes up my face, she chats to me.

This is what I like best. I love it when we get time together where she just chats, not when she has an agenda, or is in a rush to do something else, or is competing with her siblings. Just those times when she tells me what’s on her mind. Sometimes it’s serious. Sometimes it’s just nonsense. Sometimes it’s a bit of everything, but it’s really lovely.

And she never asks me where I’m going on my holidays.

Yesterday I ascertained that the school hawk business is still very much a live issue. She is still cross about it, and this crossness has been exacerbated by the fact that they were encouraged to talk about it and share their views on it in tutorial yesterday. She said what she thought and her tutor said that she should not be so negative. As she so rightly said: ‘What’s the point of asking your opinion if they don’t want to hear it?’ I feel like this a lot. It’s training them up for when they come to vote.

She also talks to me about her latest make up innovations and discoveries. Yesterday it was all about the bronzing and highlighting of my cheeks, apparently. She can be a bit flamboyant when it comes to applying powder, and I raised concerns yesterday that my ears were getting a lot more bronzed than I would necessarily like. She shrugged quite cheerfully and said: ‘Well, that’s what first attracted dad to you when you met. He loves a bronzed ear.’

At which point he appeared from the hallway to confirm that he did indeed find my bronzed ears a huge turn on, and were it not for the fact that I had a pub quiz to go to, he would have almost certainly had to whisk my ears away for a romantic tete a tete, or oreille a oreille as it should more accurately be known.

So, if you want to drive a man wild, bronzed ears are the way forward.

Conversations with N, One of our Best Ideas

N: ‘How are you?’

Me: ‘OK, thanks. Have been a bit poorly this week, but then, that’s lady bits for ya.’

N: ‘Bloody lady bits! I’m fed up of mine.’

Me: ‘Shall we not bother with them any more?’

N: ‘I’m sure we could sell them on E-Bay.’

Me: ‘I might bronze mine and mount them on a nice bit of mahogany.’

N: ‘Nice. Under a glass dome or wall hanging, like antlers?’

Me: ‘Like antlers for sure. Ovary antlers.’

N: ‘Yes! We could festoon our walls with them, a la Calke Abbey.’

Me: ‘Yes! Ancestral heirlooms.’

N: ‘A dedicated ovary room.’

Me: ‘I like it.’

N: ‘It’s one of our best ideas yet.’

Can We Always Have Emma?

After months of waiting, Belgian Waffling, AKA Emma Beddington’s book finally arrived on Thursday morning.

I carried it around with me from the moment it plopped onto the door mat in the hope that life would clear a small space for me to start reading it. I finally started it on Saturday and finished it last night. I’d have read it all in one sitting to be honest, but reality did impinge at times.

It’s called: ‘We’ll Always Have Paris: Trying and Failing to be French.’

I knew I would love it, and I did.

It tells the story of Emma’s belief that inside her, cloaked in the body of a moody, Yorkshire teenager was an elegant, French socialite, oozing sophistication, beautiful tailoring and perfect social ease. This body would also be draped in magnificently surly lovers, also French.  The book takes us through the years of her obsession with unleashing this inner being on the world, and all things French, particularly pastry.

It is more than this though. So much more.

Emma’s was one of the first blogs I started reading when I began my blog, way back in the mists of time, ten years ago. It is one of the very few that I still keep up with religiously and my love of her writing has never waned. She is clever, funny, wonderfully observant and has a great eye for the absurdities of life. If this was all, her writing would be fun, but not necessarily have enough substance to hold my attention for a decade. If this was all, it wouldn’t cause the frisson of pleasure I get when I find something she has written that I haven’t read before.

What keeps me coming back, and what is such a vital part of the beauty of her writing is that she is good at the darkness of what it means to be human. She excels at showing the sharp spikes of madness that punctuate day to day life, the bleeding edges of grief, the blankness of a life overwhelmed by so much that to feel nothing at all is devoutly to be wished. It’s all here, and it’s all real, and it touches the parts of you, the reader, who have felt those things too.

And I have,

and when she writes about these things I find myself feeling a little less isolated, a little less mad, a little less pushed to the edge of things. Just as when she writes about capybaras and the soothing comfort of patisseries and the irrational fear of the post office, I find myself laughing and feeling a little more connected, a little more together, a little more alive.

Emma’s journey of discovery, of her Frenchness, is not smooth by any means. Along the way she acquires a French boyfriend, but also endures a nervous breakdown. Along the way she acquires two, beautiful sons, but also loses her mother. Along the way she acquires the Parisian flat of her dreams, but also loses her self confidence. For every gain there is a loss, and the losses are often brutal and take much more of Emma than she can spare.

The book is an eloquent hymn to loss, predominantly, it seems to me, of self. There is a sense of restless searching that permeates the book from the start,. Just as Emma finds herself on reasonably firm ground, her identity is ripped away from her again and again. She finds herself as a mother, a daughter, a partner, an independent woman with a career, then it all tumbles away just as she seems to grasp it. It always leaves her trying to keep together and understand what is left after all that is gone.

The writing is brave and beautiful, funny and poignant, sad and yet finally redemptive. It is everything that makes me come back time and time again to the blog, and so much more. It’s wonderful.

Read it.


Have you seen her?

Sadly, we won’t any more.

Victoria, I’m so sorry that you are gone.

Like Pratchett, like Sue Townsend, the words of Victoria Wood held my teenage years together. They gave me the glue to stick it out. They gave me the humour to laugh about things that a lot of the time were unspeakably grim. They gave me brilliant, anarchic and yet kind role models that continue to be my yardsticks to this day, and will continue to be to the end of my life.

What Victoria gave me that was unique to her, I think, was not only that she was a woman, doing her own thing in her own way, in a world dominated by men, and who made it look easy, even though it mustn’t have been at all easy, but that she was about stuff I knew about.

She wasn’t being in your face anarchic. She wasn’t rebelling against the system. She was inside it, holding it up to gentle, loving, ridicule and pointing at it.  Like Alan Bennett, who I went on to discover much, much later, she talked about the world I knew. She talked about the real mysteries of reality; like why handbags and leotards get lumped together in department stores, and how you pronounce Spudulike, and what you do in a washeteria. She talked about the relentless trauma of nit combing a child. She talked about the absurdities of terrible day time television.

Most joyous of all, she captured the speech patterns and rhythms of the people I live amongst, the absolutely nonsensical one liners, the malapropisms, the beautifully timed remarks that seemed so naive and yet undercut all pomposity. She just handed it out joyfully, gleefully. She shared it all with you, and you were welcome to it.

Her phrases became my phrases, words that have been misquoted and polished and lovingly churned out time after time in my everyday life until they have seamlessly become part of our family history:

In a theatre sitting behind someone very tall/big, the urge to tap them on the shoulder and ask them if they wouldn’t mind losing four stone, is overwhelming.

On producing biscuits for tea, one must inevitably shout ‘macaroon?’ in the voice of Mrs. Overall.

Bad service in a restaurant if comical rather than infuriating always invokes: ‘Two soups?’

In a supermarket, looking for a price. Whatever it is, you hold it up, show it to your partner/mum/friend: ‘Red cabbage? How much?’ They look at it, put their head on one side, and in that quizzical way answer: ‘Red cabbage. No idea!’ Throwing their hands into the air with hapless joy.

Trying to convince someone that something is true, you always say: ‘It’s totally bono fodo.’

Spotting terrible make up: ‘Eyes are lookin’ up, while lips are recedin’

Looking for someone: ‘Ave you seen ‘er?’

On picnics, we always look for a nice pile of gravel chipping by the side of an A road in homage. Once, when my best friend and I were on holiday with her family in Cornwall, and we actually stopped in a lay-by, by the side of an A road, next to a huge mountain of gravel chippings, in sight of Goonhilly, my friend and I laughed so much we had tears running down our faces and could not even hold our sandwiches.

And, in our house, when someone dies, as a gesture of helpless sympathy: ’72 baps Connie, you slice, I’ll spread.’

I’ve dragged myself into the kitchen, Victoria. I’ll butter one for you.