Take The Stage

The children have gone back to school today. I have some writing to do, something that has needed finishing since the holidays started. My plan was, once I’d waved them off, to be full of inspiration and vigour, and sit virtuously at my desk, finishing the work.

Instead I have sat in the sun, finishing the delightful: ‘Our Spoons Came From Woolworths’ by Barbara Comyns. I have been allowed to do this completely uninterrupted. Nobody wanted permission to do something unsavoury, or for me to cut them a slice of bread, or for me to extract a splinter, or adjudicate a fight, or for me to take them somewhere, or pick them up from somewhere.

I have become so intoxicated by this that I now plan to have a bath, completely uninterrupted.

The heady heights of child free time. It is too dizzying for words.

It’s not that my children are particularly demanding, it’s just that they are always there, or always on their way here and there. I love having them around, but I also like being alone, and even when they’re quiet or busy with their own stuff, they are present, if you know what I mean?

I like solitude. I like my own company. I do not get bored. I don’t need entertaining. I am more than happy to entertain myself. I also, and people who know how much I talk find this staggering, really like silence. When I am on my own in the house I rarely listen to music, or the radio, or watch TV. I love the sounds of an empty house.

Anyway, before I get too enraptured and/or wrinkly with bath water, I must remind you of Tallulah’s debut festival performance again.

The festival is a small one, at an undisclosed location near Bath (you get the address when you book your tickets.)

It’s called Ladies Take The Stage and it’s being arranged by a wonderful lady called Annie who runs a company called Field Good Bar.

It runs from Friday 2nd September at noon, until Sunday 4th September. Tickets for the entire event are £30. Day tickets are £15. You can buy them by clicking on this link.

The tickets are a song, frankly, and the money is going to an amazing cause. You will be supporting the Women’s Aid charity that supports women who have suffered from domestic abuse. As refuges up and down the country are being forced to close due to the withdrawal of government funding, charities like these are more and more important for women and their children who need help and support in terrifying domestic situations.

The event has also been organised to promote equality for women in the music industry, which is something I am keen to champion, as the mother of a teenage girl who wants to be a musician.

Tallulah will be singing from midday on Saturday. She will be doing three or four numbers. It would be wonderful if people came to hear her. It would be wonderful if people came to enjoy a glorious weekend in Bath. It would be wonderful if people came to support women. Whatever reason you come is a good one.

We can only stay for the day, sadly, but intend to make the most of our time there, singing, celebrating and partying hard. It’s all for a good cause.

 

Killer

It is the last day of the holidays and it is a sweltering bank holiday Monday. We could be out, jostling with the crowds, living it up and putting off the evil that is school uniform/alarm clock hell by drowning our sorrows.

We are not.

We are lounging about in our pyjamas, reading books and watching telly, and occasionally shovelling toast into our mouths.

Last week was supposed to be a relaxing come down after our holiday. I pictured it as easing slowly back into routine, doing a few chores here and there, nothing too taxing, blah blah blah.

Instead we spent every day out with friends, or with friends coming to us, or with me delivering children to parties, play dates, job interviews etc. It was all good fun, but by yesterday we had all had enough. We were rather wild of eye and ragged of temperament, and doing nothing at all and having a proper lie in seemed like much the best thing.

As it is, all of this has been fulfilled except the lie in/sleep due to the chapter of my autobiography that I am entitling: ‘My wasp hell.’

When we were away, my mum and dad came to cat sit for us. On our return mum said that she thought there might be a wasp nest in the roof, somewhere between our bedroom and our bathroom. We agreed that as long as they weren’t a nuisance it would be fine to let them get on with being wasps until the end of the season.

Last week, poor Tallulah got stung twice on the arm by a wasp that flew into Tilly’s room and got her.

Tallulah (and I say this touching wood, and with all fingers etc crossed) is the only one of us who ever gets stung, and even then it has only been five times in the thirteen years of her existence, so upsetting and irritating though it was, I decided that incinerating an entire wasp’s nest off the back of the behaviour of one, deluded wasp was not an appropriate response.

So I guess I have nobody but myself to blame for waking up to a low but persistent buzzing noise at three this morning, which when traced, blearily by me, was coming from the bedroom curtains, which I made the mistake of pulling back, and allowing a large number of dozy wasps into the bedroom proper.

I had the main bedroom window open, and for some reason it was the perfect meeting place for a great many wasps, who were all busily doing whatever it is that wasps do at three in the morning.

I could not call to Jason for help, for he has spent the entire bank holiday weekend, camping in a field in Derbyshire, pretending to be a mage who runs a magical bank (as you do). I briefly considered screaming and running around, which is my preferred method of dealing with almost everything initially.  Then I figured that it would wake Tallulah, who would undoubtedly prove to be once more irresistible to wasp kind, and I would then have to stagger to A&E at half past three in the morning, and take the other children with me. I decided I’d prefer to deal with wasps solo.

My second thought was to shut the wasps in the bedroom and go and sleep on the sofa downstairs and deal with them in the morning, but as I could not shut the window due to wasp ingress, I decided that I might wake up to a room crawling with wasps, Tallulah would still get stung, and we would all have wasp related PTSD for the rest of our lives.

My third thought was ‘Fuck it. Now I am totally beyond awake and really bloody annoyed.’ It was at this point that I am afraid that my karma went out the window and I set about me with what I had to hand, which turned out to be the loofah from the bathroom.

There is a version of Jack the Giant Killer where the townspeople send a totally ill equipped tailor to fight a giant, because he has a very impressive waistcoat embroidered with the legend: ‘I killed 15’ or some other number. It turns out that he killed wasps, not giants, but was too embarrassed to tell the townsfolk. I think he ended up sorting out the dragon, which was lucky, and presumably required a much more fancy embroidered waistcoat.

I’m having a badge that reads: ‘I despatched 30 – with a loofah.’

 

The Great British Bake Off 2016 – Episode One – Cake Week

At the end of a fraught day/week/year you sometimes (always if you’re me) need something to soothe your soul. You need something simple, friendly, joyous, uplifting and sweet. You know what I’m going to say now.

You need The Great British Bake Off.

I am possibly, with the exception of my middle child, the most cynical woman alive, but when that music starts, and the tent flaps ripple in the breeze, and I spot the camera man’s wildlife of choice (pheasants this year) tarting about at the back of the shot, all my cynicism melts away and I find myself in my happy place, which happens to be in a large canvas tent with twelve amateur bakers, up to my eyebrows in icing sugar.

This year I was rather panic stricken before it began. I started to wonder if they were going to change it, tweak the formula, replace Paul with a robot and Mary with Craig Revel Horwood in drag. I wondered if they’d try to make it more competitive with, I don’t know really, the addition of obstacle courses created out of giant baking equipment or something. I just feared. The fear was real for me, because let’s face it 2016 has been an absolutely shit year up to now (with a few notable exceptions), and television networks are known for fiddling with perfectly acceptable shows when they’ve been running for a long time.

And the tension got to me rather, leading me to shout rude words at Angela Rippon and Gloria Hunniford as they wittered on about mosquito repellent on  the consumer advice programme that was on before Bake Off. I wasn’t the only one. My Bake Off partner, Nicki, texted me to say: ‘OH BOB OFF ANGELA!”

But as soon as Mel and Sue paraded up the grassy knoll, my heart filled with gladness and a bit of SQUEE.

It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. In the first thirty seconds one of the contestants said: ‘I have shouted at a pie.’ My heart then burst.

I have to confess to a moistened eye when I realised that all was well, and all manner of things would be well, because Bake Off is just Bake Off.

Let’s get down to it shall we?

Firstly it was cake week. One of my favourites. In fact I like cake week so much I secretly think they should do it twice. Once at the beginning when things are a bit dicey because everyone is under pressure, and once at the end when things are a bit tense because everyone is baking for victory. If it weren’t for the fact that they seem to end up cooking cakes 90% of the time anyway I’d probably write to the BBC about this.

The technical challenge was a drizzle cake. Regular readers will know that using the power of technology (text messages) my friend Nicki and I collaborate in our Bake Off watching. We agreed that Nicki could do this round if we ever entered. We might enter as one, really tall woman called Kanicky (Nickaty?) wearing a huge raincoat. Between us we stand a chance. Drizzle cake is Nicki’s signature bake.

In terms of cake based efforts, Tom’s attempt to get Mary leathered before the technical by pouring seventeen litres of gin into a mould and baking it, did not go as planned. Mary likes a drink, as we all know, but even her eyebrows actually lifted up, flew around the tent and got trapped by one of the cameramen in the mistaken belief they were a really rare moth. It was fierce. Tom, it appeared, wisely learned from his mistakes, and only used fourteen litres of kirsch later in his show stopper black forest Genoise, at which point the Hollywoodinator said sternly : ‘You could have done with more alcohol in this’, and thus Tom learned the the third rule of Bake Off.

It’s more of a pet theory of mine actually, which is that the tent is actually parked in a parallel dimension in which normal baking rules don’t apply. Or possibly it’s pitched on ley lines.  Whatever you did at home won’t work here, sums it up nicely.

In other drizzles, mournful vicar, Lee, stared dolefully into his mix as it split into seventeen consecutive parts just as Mary hoved into view to point it out. It didn’t so much drizzle as pour for him. Candice of the startlingly precise lipstick bailed out the unflappable Selasi, who simply shrugged when he realised he hadn’t put his cinnamon in his cake. She suggested he put it in his drizzle syrup and Mary was wowed. Candice made rhubarb stodge, which although not drizzly enough for Paul, looked lovely to me, arch rhubarb fancier.

Special mention must be given to Louise’s orange drizzle cake. Opinion on our sofa differed as to whether the finished result, which was supposed to look like an orange, looked like Zippy’s head, a slightly porous Pac Man or the Death Star with a stalk. Basically, it was quite frightening, as cakes go.

Let us pause for a moment to talk about Val. Val is one of those contestants who is either going to soar to dizzying heights of previously unimagined baking prowess, or crash into a heap of icing sugar in round two. Here are some things you need to know about her. She cuts her own hair with her baking instruments in a style previously made popular by Alfred the Great. She chats casually to her cakes to see when they’re done, and what’s even better, listens to their answers. She also does aerobics whilst baking. Not, I hasten to add, in a Green Goddess, lycra clad way. More of a Victoria Wood, village hall sort of way. I am watching her career in the tent with interest.

The technical this week was Jaffa Cakes. Fiendishly difficult, unspeakably British. Who but us would dream of eating slightly stale cake/biscuits with orange jelly and chocolate on them? Who but us would use them in a ground breaking legal case to ascertain whether they are in fact cakes or biscuits and thus figure out if VAT has to be paid on them? Who but us still argues about it, even though the case has been over for years?

I think, given that they were included in the cake round, that should this thorny issue ever raise its head again, all the lawyer would have to do would be to produce a large, glossy picture of Mary Berry tucking into a Jaffa Cake while Paul glowers in the background. Job’s a good un.

What surprised me in this round was how few of the contestants knew anything about Jaffa Cakes. I don’t even really like Jaffa Cakes and I’ve polished off thousands in my time (they are very moreish). Yet still, contestants (Jane I am looking at you here) managed to put them together upside down. UPSIDE DOWN? No wonder this country is going to the dogs.

Let us move on to the show stopper. This was to create a mirror glaze cake with Genoise sponge.

I whimpered.

Regular readers will know that I attempted Genoise earlier in the year, and after making four that all looked like Candice’s frisbee’d offerings, I gave up. There is a knack for creating a Genoise. I do not have that knack. It appears that quite a few of the contestants didn’t either. Although they probably did before they went into the tent (see rule three, above). At one point, so many were going wrong it looked like a production line for those little carpets you get in car footwells.

Special mention goes to Michael in this round, a bit of a flavour maverick, who completely horrified Mary by using Matcha green tea powder in his sponge, and creating something that tasted like a slice of Glastonbury field after the second day of the festival. Also Kate, whose attempt to create a beautifully elegant, sky blue mirror glazed cake with chocolate swallows swooping across it, looked more like two flattened pegs holding together an alien’s skin just before it exploded.

In summary. Lee the sad vicar did not have his prayers heeded this week, and ended up being the first to leave the tent. Jane, despite creating the world’s first upside down Jaffa Cake, got star baker.

In terms of my contestant choices, I am loving Benjamina and am in awe of Selasi, who is so laid back he actually has to be picked up off the tent floor by a team of runners every time the camera pans off him. I have great hopes that either Tom or Andrew, or ideally both, will go a bit Heston on us as the series progresses. It is all marvellous as far as I’m concerned.

You can catch up with episode one, here.

Next week is biscuit week and I have already spotted Viennese Whirls. Be still my beating heart.

 

 

 

 

Rage – episode unnumbered due to too much rage

Today’s post was going to be about how my daughter has been asked to open a festival next Saturday in Bath, and how excited we are, and how you should all come (you should all come). I got slightly side tracked though.

By this article about how four French policeman, armed with guns, stood over one woman on a beach in Nice and forced her to remove her burkini, so that the Western world can be saved from Islamic extremists.

And people clapped and cheered. Which is good news for the future of humanity.

And I felt physically sick, and then wanted to cry, and then got really fucking furious, and then really sad. And I’ve been cycling through that for the last hour, and now I have a headache, and I really have to go out, but I have to write this out now, because if I don’t I might actually explode, and I’m not even wearing a fucking burkini. And please excuse any garbled bits, because this is just coming straight from the gut and I haven’t got time to tidy it up.

I posted on Twitter: I do not understand why it is powerful to force a woman to take off a Burkini on a beach at gunpoint. What does it prove to anyone?

A follower then posted footage of people being blown to smithereens and said: ‘because she could have explosives hidden under her clothing’. He then posted several more articles about how this sort of thing is common, and then blocked me when I said that it wasn’t common behaviour by all Muslims, which is why the great majority of Muslims condemn terrorism in the name of Islam.

So that was a good debate. I’m only sad he blocked me before I blocked him, frankly.

There are so many things wrong with this article, so many things that make me angry, it is difficult to know where to start.

What makes me most angry is that this ‘law’ banning burkinis is a sop. It has been enacted in some French towns because some members of the public are ‘uncomfortable’ with the sight of women in burkinis. That makes it alright then does it? Rather than address the prejudices of those who are uncomfortable, we’ll just give the thumbs up to draconian gun toting tactics that make women and children more vulnerable, and targets for hate shall we?

Rather than make any attempt to try to educate people, try to reach a long lasting, peaceable solution that could build a better future through destroying ignorance and bridge the differences between communities, we’ll just reinforce that ignorance and give it our approval by policing women with weaponry over their clothing choices?

Good one.

I find middle aged fat, white men with excess hair, nasty tan lines and a penchant for too small, lycra swimwear uncomfortable to look at. I suspect that there were far more of them on the beach in Nice than women in burkinis.  I also suspect there are a great many people who agree with me. Could we have someone to police them, please?

Did the people who blew up the airport in Brussels wear burkinis? Did the individual who mowed down those poor buggers in Cannes wear a burkini? No, they didn’t.

We are not going to get less terrorists by banning burkinis. We just aren’t. It’s simply something visible and easy that the French authorities can be seen to be doing, to up their approval ratings with idiots, and yet actually do nothing to deal with the real problem at all. It’s all smoke and mirrors and bull shit dressed up as action.

Another thing that really makes me seethe is that so much of the rhetoric around this is about ‘freedom’. People come to the west, apparently, in large part, for the freedom it offers, and yet what does that actually mean if people aren’t even free to express themselves through the clothes they wear? What’s free about that? Oh yes, you can be totally free as long as you’re free in a way that fits in with what we’re comfortable with and what we believe is right.

As a woman who steadfastly refuses to wear what people believe middle aged women should wear, and who dresses exactly as she pleases every day, even if that means wearing a ball gown on the school run (Oh yes), this narrow minded, bigoted nature of ‘freedom’ appalls me.  Mainly, I suspect, because if this kind of authoritarian clamp down on what exactly the right freedom is, is allowed to continue, I will be one of the first against the wall.

It’s exactly the problem I have with people who insist that all women vote because women died for your right to vote. And yes, they did, but they were fighting for something much larger than that actually, and that was women’s freedom to do exactly as they fucking well want without being made into a scapegoat or a poster child, or a whore or a saint, and that includes the freedom to choose to do and be whatever they want. I don’t want to be ‘your’ version of free. I want to be truly free, like men have had the right to be for centuries, and if a woman wants to wear a burkini to feel free, then she should be able to do it without people running around and screaming and labelling her a terrorist.

And as well as the fact that this stuff is insulting to Muslims and freedom and conflates terrorism with all sorts of things terrorism isn’t and all sorts of things Muslims aren’t, do I even have to go into the whole woman question? Do I?

Apparently I do.

This last sentence to be read with a giant dose of weariness, a large pinch of for fuck’s sake and an enormous sigh.

Why is it that it is just women that this law is penalising? Why? Why are we not legislating against djellabas for example, if you want to take the ethnic clothing = terrorism trope to its extreme? Why are the men free to wear whatever they want, but it’s the women’s clothing that is dangerous, oppressive, deadly?

It’s just sexist, patriarchal shit again, and again and again.

Yes, I suspect if you really wanted to, you could hide a shit load of explosive under a burkini (as long as you didn’t swim in it, obviously because, you know, clingy issues, and why wouldn’t you swim in it, given that that is one of the things it’s designed for?) But you could equally hide it under a djellaba, or in a back pack, or a picnic ice cooler, or a fucking top hat if you wanted. You could hide it in a thousand ways that no French official is legislating against, most of which things are either male or unisex, but no, they legislate against women’s clothing, because, well?

You know, the last few terrorist attacks occurred on crowded beaches, perpetrated by women, pretending to sunbathe with their children.

Oh, that’s right. They didn’t.

I have to go now. I have things to do that don’t involve weeping, grinding my teeth and despairing at the ignorant, sexist, racist, religionist horse shit that pretends to pass for safety, common sense and protecting the future. A future I increasingly don’t really want to be a part of unless I can hold up a placard that says: ‘Not my idea. Sorry everyone.’

 

 

 

Obligatory Holiday Post

I’m not going to show you 4000 slides of what I did on my holidays, tempting though it obviously is. Instead let me give you a whistle stop tour of some of our highlights, and some of the less gripping things.

We love treasure hunting. We are forever in charity shops, flea markets, antique fairs etc, buying more junk, as my poor, beleaguered husband puts it. Our house is creaking with stuff. None of it is of any value whatsoever, frankly, which is what I think distresses Jason more than anything. If we had a house crammed full of Faberge eggs he would be more kindly disposed towards my hoarding. As it is, we mostly have four trillion dog eared books, out of date maps on the walls and shelves full of cracked and chipped pottery. Sadly for him, treasure hunting never loses its charm, and our ‘treasure’ remains stuff nobody else will touch with a ten foot pole.

On our holiday we spent several very pleasing hours at the Cheddar car boot sale, which takes place every Sunday, just outside of Cheddar. It costs the princely sum of £1 per car to get in. It has a proper market, a huge car boot and an inside bit with vintage/antique stuff. We had great fun. Tilly bought a rude drawing of a lady with no clothes on. I bought a doll with no face. Tallulah bought the world’s ugliest handbag. Oscar bought comics. We were all delighted. Jason was very patient.

We also trawled charity shops all week. I can recommend most highly, Whiteladies Road and Clifton in general (Bristol) for great chazzing. Also Southville in Bristol has some excellent shops. Despite a plethora of charity shops we found nothing in Weston Super Mare (unsurprising to most people I expect). Avoid Glastonbury charity shops in the main. Overpriced and rather dull. Winscombe has a couple of good ones. Cheddar has two that showed potential. I really should do a charity shop tour of the UK.

In terms of real, touristy things to do, we loved Tyntesfield, a huge National Trust property just outside Bristol. It’s a glorious building, restored by a previous owner to Arts and Crafts glory. We are members of the National Trust so I have no idea of admission prices, but I recommend membership if you can stretch to it. It’s great value, and they do amazing things with your money if you’re into history, conservation and ecology. The tea rooms are good, the flap jack is palatable and the house is great. There are 540 acres of grounds to explore and depending on when you go, all kinds of events. When we were there, some ladies were restoring the curtains and explained how painstaking it all is, without ever being boring about it. It was actually fascinating. There was an exhibition of some of the books from the library, including one of only two copies of Morte D’Arthur with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, and a fantastic story telling company in the grounds outside, showing people what living through WWI as a soldier would have been like.

We were lucky enough to be in the area when the Bristol Balloon Fiesta was on and spent a glorious Sunday evening taking nine billion pictures of the hot air balloons rising. It was surreal and beautiful and well worth seeing. The event itself is like a three day fun fair, with rides as well as live music, vintage stalls, a huge food area with everything from traditional hot dogs to Lebanese takeaway and tons of things for kids to do. It was crazy busy when we went, and when the balloons were about to launch we walked up through the park onto the hills behind and watched them from there, where there were much less people. It was glorious, the city was spread out below us, the balloons shimmered up through the trees and it was perfect.

Beach wise, we loved the National Trust beach at Brean. We’re not really sand/sea/sun people, so we went at about nine o’clock at night in a drizzle, and spent a great deal of time shouting to the sheep on the headland, falling in rock pools and arsing about. We had the whole beach to ourselves and it was most pleasing. I found a yellow spade. Treasure trove. I’m not declaring it to the Queen. She can buy her own. We also went to Sand Bay at the far edge of Weston Supermare one evening. It was quiet and lovely and not at all commercial.

We did Stone Henge on one day. We have been before, but not since the new visitor centre was built. It’s all very swish, but I wish we’d have had the stamina to walk to the stones instead of taking the bus with twenty Germans on a guided tour. It did spoil the ambience rather. I have to say that I much prefer all the barrows and mounds that dot the landscape. The urge to take a metal detector and a spade and go and explore one is strong. I suspect it’s probably frowned upon. Which is sad, because there might be real treasure, and Jason would be so pleased.

We also did Glastonbury. Every time I go, I like it less. It’s basically Disneyland for hippies. Everything you can buy there, you can buy in every other city in the UK for about half the price and with more good will and cheer on the part of the shopkeepers. Also, fucking patchouli gives me a headache. Having said that, I nearly bought a taxidermied creature which looked like a cross between a bat, a small bear and a hot water bottle cover, and which was moulting terribly. We also had a top notch fry up in one of the cafes. I’ve been to see the Glastonbury Thorn before, it’s ok. I’m too lazy to walk to the Tor, and also don’t want to do it with four million other people. If you want spooky stones, I recommend Avebury. It’s mental. Also Silbury Hill.

We went to Wells Cathedral, which is splendid. I love a good bit of church architecture and Wells is fabulous. It’s also a rather pretty place to visit outside the cathedral. And it has a fabulous reclamation centre, as long as you realise that 95% of the things they sell are about as old as my children. It’s good fun to poke around though, and it’s absolutely huge. Glastonbury reclamation centre is much more the thing if you want real architectural salvage. I was tempted by a pulpit and six, huge wooden pillars. I may start my own cult.

Foodwise, I cannot remember the name of the Glastonbury cafe, but it was just down from the Hundred Monkeys cafe, and was lovely. We had a great lunch at The River Cottage Canteen on Whiteladies Road in Bristol. We had a superb Sunday lunch at The Swan at Wedmore. The food was delicious, the staff were brilliant and accommodated us at short notice, and I had the nicest gravy I’ve ever tasted, ever. We had wonderful Thali at The Thali Cafe in Southville, Bristol. We had terrific fish and chips on the sea front at Burnham on Sea. We had a fabulous lunch at The Bath Arms in Cheddar, which was fun because they had a skittle alley and we whiled away the time before our food was ready playing terrible skittles and even worse darts.

There were loads more things we wanted to do but didn’t, because we did spend quite a lot of time watching films, sleeping and reading books, so we will definitely have to go back one day and tick some more stuff off of our list.

 

 

Holiday Indulgence

Knowing we would already be down in Somerset for Lisa’s wedding, we decided to treat ourselves by turning what would have been a fairly manic weekend into a more chilled out week long holiday. It’s been a tough few months and we really needed a break. We knew we liked the bits of the county we’d already visited, so we were happy to make our base not too far from where Lisa was getting married, and make the time to explore the area a little more.

We wanted somewhere to stay that would fit our many and complex needs. Regular readers will know of previous holiday disasters and the fact that we are now absolute sticklers when it comes to things being right for us. We figure that if we only get a week or two a year’s holiday, and we want to properly relax, we want things the way we want them.

Even if that does make us sound like spoiled brats.

We’ve had too many ‘making do’ holidays where they ended up more stressful than staying at home, and we’ve toughed it out because well, holiday and all that. It’s a bit like that weird British phenomena of persisting with things like picnics in the teeth of a gale because it’s technically summer, even when you’ve gone blue in the lips and your child is actually frozen to a picnic rug.

We don’t do that any more. We made a pact. We no longer pretend to have fun in any situation because we ‘should’ be having fun. If we don’t like it, we come home, and put the kettle on.

We always rent a house when we’re on holiday because we’re much better at doing things in our own time, and to our own routine. We don’t want to get up for breakfast between nine and eleven. We don’t want to sit down for lunch between twelve and two. We don’t want to be awake at three in the morning, sitting wide eyed in the dark, waiting for everyone else to get up because there’s nowhere else to go.

In the house we want things like washing machines and tumble dryers, sharp knives, coffee pots and king sized beds, copious hot water supply, plenty of space to spread out so we don’t drive each other mental, and plenty of space to come together so we can all bicker furiously over the dinner table. We like warmth, and cleanliness, duvets and large towels, sprawling sofas, and other people’s interesting books to read.

We looked at all sorts of options, and in the end we plumped for this beauty via Airbnb. Loads of people had recommended Airbnb to us in the past, but this was the first time we have used it. I have to say that it couldn’t have been easier, and we will definitely be using it again.

The house is in a small market town called Axbridge. It’s an old, converted pub. The frontage looks Georgian, but there are parts of the house which are considerably older. The house was huge and sprawling, and yet it was not intimidatingly large or echoey and we never felt lost in it. There is room to accommodate twelve people, but we are loud, and busy, so the five of us easily made like a dozen.

The house is owned by Juliet and David, charming hosts who could not be more helpful. They live in a flat on the property so are available whenever needed, although we never felt overlooked or crowded. They were extremely helpful with the few things we needed, and their advice on places to visit was perfect for us and the way we like to holiday.

The house is decorated in a way that I love. It’s full of art, and vintage finds, and stuff, and yet it didn’t feel cluttered, and everything was usable and comfortable. The kitchen was better equipped than mine, and I’ve got a pottery/gadget obsession in full flow. There was a library full of books, proper books that have obviously been read and loved, and have not been bought by the yard just for effect. Each room has been put together with love, almost curated, although, as I said, not in a ‘don’t touch me’ sort of way. It felt a lot like home.

There’s a courtyard with a barbecue and cute, instagrammable lighting for eating outside, as well as a beautiful walled garden, higher up behind the house. We were encouraged to pick as many sweet peas and eat as many green beans as we liked while we were there, as both were in abundant supply.

For those of a practical bent, there is off street parking, and a washing machine and tumble dryer, as well as a utility room the size of a small town, replete with clothes airers (the pulley kind that you winch up to the ceiling. I can’t for the life of me remember what they’re called, despite having owned one or two in my time). There are two ovens and a microwave, a fabulous coffee maker as well as several cafetieres. Pots and pan wise there is everything from a milk pan to a frying pan you could actually serve up a toddler in it was so big. There are gallons of tea towels, towels and bed linen galore, all impeccably laundered. There is an iron/ironing board and so many cleaning products you could open a branch of Molly Maids. There are two bathrooms, one on the first and one on the second floor. A bathroom with a bath on the first floor and a wet room on the second floor. There is no loo downstairs, but that was the only even vaguely negative thing we could find to say.

Special features of the house were things like the full sized pool table, which doubles as a huge dining table and also a ping pong table, the library (which I keep mentioning because you know me and books), the banging stereo system, complete with actual vinyl and turntable, and last but not least the Thirties style, Art Deco cinema.

Yep. You actually get the use of a 32 seater cinema, complete with ticket office and cocktail bar (including pineapple ice bucket – get in), and all the films you can shake a stick at. It’s called The Roxy. You can read about it here.

You can imagine why we didn’t really want to come home.

Wedding News

It has been a busy week. Firstly we had an exceptionally lovely wedding to attend, and then we had an equally lovely holiday to attend.

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I know, right? How do we manage to toil on, working through these days of painful relaxation, exhausting fun and the relentless effort we have to put into enjoying ourselves?

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Willpower, stamina and chips, my friends. That’s how.

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And a teeny, weeny, violin…

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Now, when I say an exceptionally lovely wedding I want you to understand what high praise this is coming from a curmudgeonly old bat like me.

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Jason and I are not particular fans of weddings. We mostly avoid them where possible. It took us several years to get round to our own and we actually had a vested interest in ours. Then, when we did get married we snuck off to Las Vegas with the children, Jason’s best friend and his sister. It was all over in ten minutes, after which we put on our best eating trousers (elasticated waistbands for the win) and went to a Mexican restaurant.

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We were eating to forget.

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The forgetting was so successful, I can’t actually remember if we’ve been to any weddings since then. Apologies if we came to yours and have forgotten about it. We’re just terrible guests. We admit this freely. We usually get put on the back table, near the fire exits, with all the people they don’t know what else to do with on the seating plan.

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Actually I do remember the last wedding we were invited to. We managed to turn up late, got lost, thought it was over, and then came home. No word of a lie. That is how good we are at celebrations.

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Hopefully this puts the praise of my sister in law’s wedding into context for you.

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Obviously, I’m incredibly pleased that Lisa and Bernard went to all that effort JUST to please us. That’s what brother and sister in laws should do, solely for my pleasure and entertainment.

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I will even forgive them for having managed to prove me wrong on two counts; the first being my contention that weddings are universally terrible and the second is that I never enjoy myself at weddings. Damn their eyes. I have now had to give the wedding five stars on Wedding Adviser (and a smiley face). I can’t even pretend that I didn’t enjoy it, because there is photographic evidence to the contrary.

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The day was glorious, the ceremony was romantic and funny and exactly right, and the meal/photos/party afterwards were relaxed and stress free for everyone, including (by the looks of it) the bride and groom. It all looked effortless. I’m sure that it wasn’t. To make things look that effortless, a great deal of hard work has to be done beforehand, but it was worth it.

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My sister in law looked particularly beautiful, and more important, particularly happy. My brother in law looked very dapper (also happy). Obviously he wasn’t as handsome as Jason and Oscar, but you know, he made the effort and scrubbed up well, and it was always going to be difficult to compete with the two handsomest men on the planet.

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Jason had to give his sister away and do the father of the bride speech, which he was very nervous about. Understandably so. Oscar was the ring bearer, Tallulah sang and Tilly had to recite a poem. They were all a bit stressed about the responsibility, but they all did an amazing job and I was so proud of them all.

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I didn’t cry, but I did have to think a lot about narsty things and pinch myself fiercely to make sure I didn’t get something in my eye a few times.

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All I had to do was make sure they all turned up on time, didn’t throw dinner down any of their clothes and nobody swore (too loudly). I achieved all of these things, wearing a large pink straw hat, which is a personal best for me. I don’t usually do family responsibility and accessories simultaneously.

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Also, my hip held up, thanks to hefty doses of pain killers and champagne, and grooving was achieved before bed time.

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It was really, really wonderful to be able to celebrate with two of the loveliest people we know and add to our small, but perfectly formed family. Bernard thinks that Lisa belongs to him now, but he has no idea how tight the Wheatleys hold onto their own. I’ve been trying to get out for twelve years,  and the future is still looking remarkably Wheatleyish.

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I’m glad to say.