27. Village survival – my new writing shed!

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He’d done it! Ted (my husband) had finally finished building my writing shed in the back garden! It had *only* taken him the best part of two years but there it was constructed and painted! I had always envisaged a cosy bolthole inspired by a Devon shepherd’s hut (with a log burner and daybed) but then I reminded myself that I wasn’t married to Amazing Spaces George Clarke. So I was grateful for Ted’s simple four sided ‘shed’ construction complete with a rusty window that we’d found in a skip. It was a lucky find because my skip searching or *skip skanking* as I call it was tentative at best. I didn’t dive in head first like Kirsty Allsop with her Kurt Geigers waggling in the air and just the hem of a Reiss coat discearnable amongst the detritus. I would take a furtive glance at the gubbins/tat/crap on the surface and have a *risk assessed rummage* to pick off (using the least amount of digits as possible) anything interesting on the top. If there was something of worth deeper in the mire I might send Ted in (well you don’t have a cat and crap in next door’s garden yourself do you?). My new writing shed also had a proper door! Our neighbours had given us their old wooden front door complete with a letterbox flap and door knocker! Small remittance, in my opinion, for their rutting cat’s usage of our garden as a knocking shop!

Now! I wasn’t going to go all whimsical and sit out there in my shed freezing my extremities off writing on an A4 jotter with a bic biro wrapped in a duvet so I needed power sockets and a kettle. I wanted to be snug in my writing cave, a place where I could sip good coffee and diligently tap away on my laptop. It wasn’t as if I fancied myself as Roald Dahl or Virginia Woolf or any other famous writers-with-writing sheds I just wanted a little place to call my own. Somewhere I wasn’t distracted by festering laundry or Poldark on demand. And so it was that I needed a qualified electrician. ‘Ryan’ the electrician as it goes (recommended by the door/randy cat neightbours) and after a not taking the piss quote we asked him to do the work. I think I knew he was a bit *needy* from the start but didn’t give it much thought such was my excitement at getting wired!

He started texting a lot, not in a creepy stalkery way but in a just plain old annoying way to keep me informed!  Of course it wasn’t just a case of running a cable from our house out to the shed, there were all kinds of boring details and guidelines to adhere to. You might want to stick the kettle on for this next bit –  you won’t be missing anything. Pop back in 5 minutes.

  • A qualified electrician should be employed to install a Steel Wire Armoured cable in a deep trench to provide mains power in your shed.
  • Your electrician will want to locate your fuse box and may need to upgrade it before your shed is wired in.
  • You’ll receive hourly texts from said electrician that you weren’t expecting – about your plug socket requirements; chrome? shiny or matt? bevel edged? Further text updates will be required on the progress and depth and your abilities to dig an adequate cable trench across your garden plus an abundance of other electrician- jargon loaded messages that will right royally get on your nerves.

It’s ok, you can come back now, techy stuff over.

The evening before day one of project Power up the shed Ryan texted me to say that he would be arriving at 7:30 a.m (ouch). Yes we’d be up and about and getting ready for school but actually it would be a right pain in the jacksy having a bloke lumbering around in bovver boots (my spell checker wants to say beaver boots! – I think that’s an entirely different type of boot all together) at that ungodly hour.

Day 1. He actually arrived at 7:20 a.m with a jaunty disposition – super jolly. He had no business being that jovial at 7:20 am with not one but two biros angled behind his ear and a bulging tool belt slung about his skinny frame like an undernourished Bob the Builder. His van was parked outside our cottage (he’d run over a lovely big pile of horse poo and it was nicely squelched into the tred of his left tyres) and as he unloaded it he whistled! Hold your effing horses! Whistling at 7:20 am in the morning? When is whistling even allowed anyway? Right, I’ve looked it up and whistling is only permitted after 2pm if you are a farmer and you’re trying to make your sheepdog herd a flock of sheep in a force 9 gale – that is officially the only time – glad I could clear that up. You’re welcome.

I went to make breakfast as he traipsed all his tools through the house to the kitchen-diner and plonked them next to the french doors leading to the garden. He brought in builder’s dust (from where exactly?) like a swirl of snowflakes as he persistently whistled through the house. Quickly I thought of a way of shutting him up – I’d make him a hot drink. I put the kettle on and offered him a cup of tea. It was then that he muttered six ordinary words in an ordinary sentence and yet they drilled ten bells of terror into my soul…..

“I’d love a coffee actually love!” it wasn’t his Devon accent (so thick you could stick a sandy wig on it and watch it run for president) that bothered me, I love a regional accent. Or even the toe curling use of ‘love’ in 2016.  It was the request for coffee and not tea! I had Devonshire Tea, Earl Grey, Chai, Green Tea with Camomile (for all you grass and cow piss flavour needs) and even some ancient Lapsang Souchong festering in the back of the cupboard. But my only coffee was my best Costan Rican Aromatic blend filter coffee (Fair-trade)  and it was all mine (even Ted knew to leave off) so there would be *swears* before *shares*. I could barely bring myself to do it but I plunged his coffee to the tune of his bloody persistent mouth music and the expletives in my head. Ryan and I had not got off to the best of starts and then to compound my 7:25 a.m irritation he replaced his whistling with slurping my coffee. Was there enough depth to drown myself in a milky bowl of weetabix I wondered?

coffee

After I’d dropped the children at school I came home and set about doing some writing. My romantic novel *Twelve Days and the Thatcher  (inspired by a hunky thatcher who had worked in the village) was coming along now and I really needed to focus focus focus! Ryan continually interrupted me to ask questions or give me fascinating updates on my router cables and other developments in my shed’s electrics. You’d think he was project manager at the Blackpool Illuminations not wiring up an outside office but at least he took his work seriously? So when Anna (best local friend) texted suggesting a jolly up to the local garden centre for lunch: a meander round viewing varieties of bird table fat balls, over-priced chimineas and end of line *sale* rattan garden sofas that were still priced higher than a family holiday to Florida. I  texted back that I’d be delighted to leave Ryan to his cables and drilling and pop out for a bit……

“Oh no! You can’t go out. I might need to ask you something about the job,” blustered Ryan seemingly hurt – told you he was #needy. One thing I liked about working from home was the freedom of movement (Ryan and Brexit seemed intent on completely bollocking that up). So you can imagine my irritation when I had to text Anna back that I was confined to barracks because of my overzealous lecky man. She didn’t mind swapping a nice garden centre toastie for a decidedly average one at my house and fully accepted that she wouldn’t get a cress salad garnish! I also asked her to grab a jar of instant coffee from the village stores on her way round. No probs said she…..

“He’s not a patch on *Thatcher Man is he,” whispered Anna unapologetically disappointed by the attractiveness of my electrician after her introduction to Ryan. In all fairness Ryan wasn’t a looker but there was no need to compare all skilled tradesman to Thatcher Man. A bit sexist in 2016 and like comparing all of us to Rosie Huntington Whiteley (Devon born super model off the telly and M&S adverts) such was the gorgeousness of Thatcher Man. “Oh and I forgot the instant coffee, soz!”she added. In my head *swears*.  

After Ryan had interrupted our decidedly average toastie lunch for the third time (we were discussing Anna’s errant husband and Poldark plot lines) Anna couldn’t help but comment.

“Err see what you mean by needy, he seems to require a lot of external affirmation and recognition – poor lad,” she lamented sympathetically.

“He’s just annoying,” I countered.

“Yeah, bloody annoying!”

Later that afternoon I called out to Ryan,”I’m just popping up to school to pick the kids up…is that alright?” Is that alright? What was wrong with me? Sorry I didn’t pick you up from school kids – I had to make expensive coffees and persistent bants with the electrician.

Just before I ran up to school, I would pop in the village stores and grab some of their instant coffee (unknown and suspicious coffee brand no one has actually heard of alert). When I got to the shop there was a sign up in the window saying that due to staff illness they’d shut early – please use the Post Office in Stockton Abbott. Oh arse.

“Cup of tea Ryan?” I asked – all faux jolly on my return with the children. Listen to my sing songy voice – I am only offering tea, that’s tea! You are allowed tea, only tea and if you could finish up one of my sh*te herbal teas mores the better……what is it about herbal tea that is so deeply deeply unsatisfying? Discuss.

Cup of tea

“I’ll have a coffee ta, and a coupla extra sugars wouldn’t go a miss love.” Ryan had very quickly and efficiently located my short fuse, he was obviously very good at his job. Annoyingly he downed the dregs and promptly announced that he was off for the day.  Luckily I noticed before he went home that he’d left a phalanx of drills and sharp looking tools next to the french doors. Each power tool seemed to be suggesting that a passing tweenager might like to impale themselves on it or lop off a limb on an unsavoury looking blade. Ryan huffily traipsed back through the house to put the most lethal Freddie Kruegaresque looking ones in his van till the morning.

Part 2, will Ryan ever power up my writing shed?…find out next week in the second exciting instalment! It’s ok, I wouldn’t put you through that. I’ll wind it up in this post.

Day 2. Was much the same, he arrived at the ungodlys whistling – mostly the X Factor theme tune and demanding coffee. Out came my best Costa Rican etc again and a small part of my soul dissolved into builder’s dust. If you’re a coffee lover this will not seem overly dramatic. Ryan had the electricity on and off all bloody day and when the power was on he seemed to be drilling and every time the power was switched off the internet died and then took an age to fire back up – just in time for him to turn the electricity off again. I couldn’t check my email or Twitter. Imagine how many Groupon alerts I’d missed! I couldn’t do any writing and to make matters worse I wasn’t able to bake any effing cakes for the PFA cake sale at school. I’d be shunned by Clare (PFA Vice Chair) when I didn’t show up with 24 Bake Off standard identical fairy cakes or a twelve slice Victoria Sponge.

Day 3. Picture me in my cosy, electric light filled writing shed drinking my Costa Rican  coffee, pouring over my laptop……………………………watching Poldark! Yes our wifi worked a flippin’ treat out there!

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Err excuse me, I think the Poldark series writers are missing a trick here, shouldn’t Ross Poldark have a devastatingly good looking cousin/long lost brother/smuggling pirate mate in Devon? Come on Poldark don’t just pass through on the A30 in your horse-drawn camper van……stay a while!!!!

As you were!

*Twelve Days and the Thatcher: gritty love story set in a Devonshire village and stuff. Starring a very handsome and buff thatcher called Marcus.

 

 

 

 

26. Village survival, baaake off!

 

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Last weekend heralded the arrival of the Annual Vertonbridge Produce Show. Two days of shuffling around in a stuffy marquee admiring scrubbed and bouffanted vegetables and displays of perfectly ripened seasonal soft fruits! There were of course numerous other delightful categories such as Flowers and Arrangements, Baking and Preserves, Children’s Classes and Handicrafts!

One of the excitements at the show this year was the ‘new’ Vertonbridge Bake Off Challenge – open to all ages! A recipe for carrot cake was published in the parish magazine and everybody had to adhere to it. The guidelines were very strict and unfortunately bakers were forbidden from going off piste – ergo they weren’t allowed to replace carrot for chocolate or any other more desirable fillings! But they were permitted to use their own design for the cake decoration (the organisers weren’t complete fascists??).  This was to be judged by June Nesbitt – local W.I baking expert and also best friend to the dastardly village baddie  Deirdre Snellon  (chairwoman of the horticultural club and dictatorship regime).

The Signature Challenge.

Lottie (my 7 year old) seemed very keen to enter the carrot cake bake-off, and although I’m not a lover of this root vegetable infused cake I was aware that there would come a time in the future when Lottie didn’t think it was cool to bake cakes with me. Or hang around in a tent with a load of rudely shaped vegetables so I decided to put my carrot in a cake prejudices to one side and enjoy a cooking session with her. We felt vaguely confident due to the spate of baking we’d enjoyed lately inspired by the Great British Bake Off. Lottie and I were both addicts for this warm muffin of a programmme and watched it avidly on demand whilst munching on something cake-ified. We then tried to do whatever they’d baked on the show that week…….

Cake Week – we baked a (collapsed in the middle) chocolate cake. Not a mirror glazed multi layered fruit infused genovese sponge.

Biscuit Week – we made gingerbread persons which were burnt underneath, not a 3D gingerbread extravaganza…well it’s not Christmas is it…not until John Lewis says so!

Bread  Week – we made bread rolls, no plaiting, corn dolls or fancy ingredients on display here. Move along.

Batter Week– we made bog standard pancakes which received a smothering of nutella, not lacy frilly ones ….nobody wants more hole than pancake!

BTW, telling Lottie that Mel and Sue would not be presenting the show anymore was akin to telling her that her guinea pig Golden Graham had passed away in the night. She was devastated.

“But who will say baaaaake?” she wailed, seemingly aghast. I had to somehow hide my own dismay and disillusionment. I secretly hoped that Paul and Mary would refuse to  defect from the BBC too and that Channel 4 had effectively acquired themselves a £25m tent. Since this was posted it would appear that Channel 4 have managed to secure the tent and er….Paul Hollywood! Well it won’t be the same without Mary, Mel and Sue – how can it be? They set out to prove that baking wasn’t boring. The show has had a very good rise in popularity but suddenly it seems battered and has the now *soggy* bottom fallen out of it forever?…. discuss.

Cupcake header

The Technical Challenge.

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks before the produce show, I was cornered in the village stores between the freezer and the toilet rolls by Deirdre and W.I baking expert June. I saw them before they spotted me so I ducked behind the ice cream freezer to tie my shoe laces (I was wearing Birkenstocks). I felt an ominous shadow pass over me, the air suddenly felt chilly – probs my close proximity to the freezer, let’s not be extra dramatic – as June and Deirdre loomed large. Admitting defeat, it would’ve been a real technical challenge to get past them unnoticed, I put my hands up like an accosted robber and I agreed to all their produce show demands. A clipboard was duly whipped out from June’s heavyweight William Morris adorned jute shopper and I was swiftly scribbled down on the rota for a stint in the tea and cakes tent. They also wanted me to judge the adult poetry class (all subjects, rhyming in any format, no longer than 4 verses). I think it’s because I’m the only writer in the village – but I’m no poet – so it would have to come down to my personal opinion. Luckily I wouldn’t be privy to who wrote the poems until I’d awarded the 3 rosettes – otherwise I might’ve been tempted to rate them in order of how much I like the poetical villager rather than the quality of their written word……because I’m totes proffesh like that!

So the marquee was erected on the village green and Lottie and I made our bake off entry  carrot cake. We couldn’t enter any of our homegrown fruit or veg because our pathetic offerings were not up to show standard, probably because local cats used our garden as a giant litter tray. If there had been a category for ‘Best dried out turd by next door’s cat’ we’d have been looking at the winner’s podium, rosettes, a shiny trophy and a plethora of sponsorship deals.

“Can’t we just buy some vegetables from Sainsburys and then put mud on them?” suggested Toby – Lottie’s brother, who had recently turned 9 and took a fleeting interest in the Produce Show before dismissing it as lame.

“Err no, that is in fact cheating,” I tried to sound apoplectically outraged and failed miserably. However we did have two undersized and wretched looking marrows that we’d grown accidentally, i.e they’d been seeded from next door’s garden (and probably aided and abetted by the free fertiliser from their crappping cat) so the children Lottie could turn the runty specimens into characters for the ‘Make a Marrow Creature’ class.

The day of the produce show was gloomy, the mist on the village green hung low and in turn this seemed to dull the moods of the involuntary ‘helper’s’ as we glumly set out tea cups and saucers and displayed cakes unenthusiastically. I remembered to take Lottie’s cake to be entered for the carrot cake bake off challenge, “just leave your named tin, we’ll do the rest,” barked a bossy show steward – one of June’s stooges. Anna (local best friend) had also been drafted in to help with the teas and cakes but was banned from entering the carrot cake bake off on account of her professional cake maker status. Another villager and a new mum at school – Linda Smith was sent as reinforcements. Linda brought with her two tins of cakes and diligently set to work laying tables with sugar and putting out chairs. The problem with being ‘on’ teas and cakes is that you just want to eat the wares all day. Anna had already purloined a piece of Linda’s carrot cake, “amazing bake!” she told Linda, and if Anna knows anything – she knows a good cake when she tastes one!

June Nesbitt, her dog Beatrix and Deirdre Snellon came by our stall to buy teas and to preorder their ‘cream tea’ in case their was a rush on later and we ran out. “You haven’t forgotten you’re judging the poetry at 3pm sharp have you Hillie? Anyway can’t stop to chat,” said June dramatically as I passed her a takeaway tea.”Beatrix and I are meeting Jo Sandelson, she’s officially opening the dog show – Jo is a famous blogger and cartoonist don’t you know! I’ll send her your way afterwards for a cream tea.”

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Moments later we heard cheering and barking so I stuck my head out of the tent just as the Vertonbridge Dog Show ribbon was deftly cut by cartoonist Jo. There were dogs everywhere in various states of slobbery excitement, wrapping their leads around hapless owners and show stewards, it looked like canine carnage to me. The tannoy hummed and screeched into life. “We’ll be starting the dog show with a parade of all the dogs and then the first class will be ‘Dog that looks most like it’s owner – fancy dress permitted’.” I imagined June and Beatrix -the Scottie dog, would win hands down with their duplicate tartan attire (June in an Edinburgh Wollen Mill finest skirt and Beatrix in a small plaid doggy coat). But what would seal their victory was the matching grey chin whiskers – June probably had a few more than Beatrix to be fair.

The Show Stopper.

The judging of the Vertonbridge Bake off ‘Carrot Cake’ was completed after lunch – people were standing about in a happy stupor having gorged themselves on hog roast and large doses of tea and cake from us. June Nesbitt and Deirdre Snellon (her judge’s aid) stood proudly up on the small platform with a microphone so that everyone could see them.

“Err hmm, the judging of the carrot cake bake off – in all the three age categories, under 10s, under 18s and adults has been adjudicated and the results are in,” June barked officiously into the whiny mic.

“Cripes, its not the bloody ‘Strictly’ results,” commented Anna wryly in my ear. Ted (my husband) had arrived with Lottie and she was standing close to me, clutching my hand, eager to hear if her cake had been placed.

“However, I must draw your attention to a very grave matter first! We take cheating very seriously at this show, we expect every entry to be bona fide and of true provenance. So it is with great disappointment that we will be disqualifying Linda Smith for entering a shop bought carrot cake!” There were sharp intakes of breath form the crowd and audible tuts.

“That’s ridiculous, how can they possibly tell?” I asked Anna in hushed tones.

“They just can,” whispered Anna wisely.

“By way of extra confirmation, not one but two Waitrose carrot cake boxes were spotted in Linda’s recycling this morning.” Oh my god, June and Deirdre had even been checking village bins and recycling boxes for signs of malpractice….

By now Linda had thrown her hands to her cheeks and scurried out of the marquee in shame, bursting into tears as she hurried.

“I know a shop bought cake when I taste it even if the icing has been fiddled with,” continued June archly, narrowing her eyes menacingly “I didn’t earn the W.I cake baking expert accolade for nothing. I have years of experience and I can identify a fake bake in one bite!!” she finished her sentence with a forceful flourish. June was like the baking equivalent of Miss Trunchball from Road Dahl’s Matilda. The whole of the marquee fell silent for a moment (you could have heard a wren fart). The atmosphere was horribly tense but gradually murmurs began to softly permeate the canvased room.

“So!” June, composed herself a little, reining in her malevolence, “we’ve had a great variety of real carrot cakes to judge,” she heavily emphasised the word ‘real’ “and there’s been some soggy bottoms, floppy risers, and uncooked centres, not to mention some unconventional cake icing and what I call modern decorations, but Deirdre and I have picked our way through and tasted every one. We’ve left comments by all the cakes so that you can learn from your mistakes…. so let’s get down to business and award the top three spots to the real bake off bakers of Vertonbridge….”

Outside, at the dog show, the tannoy rang out again loudly with extra screechy static,”next in the arena – we have best bitch in show.

June would win that without her dog,” I hissed at Anna from the corner of my mouth. I think I’m so funny.

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Lottie and I didn’t get a rosette in the carrot cake bake off, ‘we’ didn’t even get, Highly Commended or a Commended! We just received a snotty hand scrawled post-it note about how we had over baked our cake resulting in a crusty bottom and lack of moistness. June suggested that we try a bit less baking powder next time and to use a better quality nonstick parchment! After that I left a disappointed Lottie looking at vegetables that look most like their grower with Ted while Anna and I abandoned the tea and cakes in search of Linda. We caught up with her outside the Huntman’s Inn where she was wiping tears from her eyes with her sleeve. So we dragged her into the pub. Cos we’re thoughtful like that!

“I baked a carrot cake for the bake off competition and bought two from Waitrose for the tea and cakes stall, I didn’t have time to make more than one cake, so I just put all three into tins and I must have entered the wrong tin for the competition,” Linda explained over a double gin and tonic. “June won’t believe me now,” she sniffed wiping her nose with a pub serviette.

“We’ll see about that,” said Anna, “I’ll have a word with the old bitch”.

As we were leaving the pub I noticed Jo Sandelson in a quiet nook near the woodburner, she was necking a pint of Guinness like a camel at an oasis. I went over and introduced myself and said something about loving her blog.

“I never asked for this dog show opening gig,” she said resting her pint for just a moment, “I’m on bloody holiday- staying in June’s daughter’s holiday let and they collared me to come to the show.” Jo took some more hefty swigs from her Guinness.

“I’ve got to get back to the dog event and judge best stud dog in show now, ” she lamented downing the dregs.

“Come back with us, ” I suggested, “we’ll get you a large cream tea to ease the pain.”

Back at the Produce show, I fulfilled my poetry class duties, it took me about 3 minutes to work out which poem I liked best but I had to stand around for ages looking pensive and serious as I considered all of the poetry entries.

This was my favourite and the winner of the first prize rosette by a Devon country mile!

When something is great! An ode to Bake Off.

Without Mel and Sue who will shout baaaake

before millions watch the contestants making a caaaake!

There’s the comedy welfare of the bakers and viewers at staaaake!

Losing Mary, Mel and Sue is more than the fans can taaaake.

Come on Love Productions you’ve made a giant mistaaaake,

Bring back Bake Off with Mel, Sue & Mary to the BBC for goodness saaaake!

By Linda Smith

As you were!

PS, Anna got hold of June and Deirdre and set them straight on Linda’s cake mix up. She also vouched for Linda’s carrot cake – the one she had tasted from the tea and cake stall and then insisted that the old bags apologise to Linda…..on the mic! As I’ve said many times before – Anna is my hero and probably Linda’s too now!

PPS, a big thank you to Jo Sandelson, amazing blogger and cartoonist for opening the village dog show! Sorry you had to deal with June – boo hiss! It’s not just the dogs in Vertonbridge who are barking!!

 

Life Love and Dirty Dishes
Prose for Thought
My Petit Canard
Mumzilla
Writing Bubble

25. Lottie’s 7th Birthday Pottery Painting Party….

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……….more than just a brush with crockery!!! Warning this post contains scenes of birthday party angst from the beginning which some viewers may find distressing.

I steeled myself for the question!

“Lottie, what would you like to do for your birthday party this year?” adding brightly,  “how about having a few friends around for a tea party?” I knew this would have a very high lame quotient (we’re probably talking 93%) but I thought I’d chance my arm anyway.

Sure enough this was met with one or Lottie’s best eye roll to camera so I waited for her answer.

“A Clippety Climb party!” Oh gawd really…again, we did that last year? Not a re-run of the claustro climbing walls, lack of daylight, dank breathy atmosphere and worse still chafing my hands to hell from ‘clipping’ multitudinous clambering and over zealous kids.  There was also the intense neck ache (akin to whiplash the next day) from looking up 2o feet of wall at a 90 degree angle shouting encouragingly ‘go on – you can do it’ and ‘good job, high five!’ all the while perspiring heavily in a high vis ‘clip team’ jacket for the duration. 

Blatantly ignoring her reply I continued haplessly.

“What about something outdoorsy…..in the woods?” I’m thinking you and four friends at the free playground in the forest with a picnic and therefore avoiding chafment of hands and  remortgaging to pay for it? “We could do a treasure hunt…….” I added trailing off unconvincingly. For a nano second I thought she might be actually entertaining the idea (it would probably require the deployment of of her new sparkly Frozen wellies after all). But no, her face very quickly crumpled into a look of disdain and she then shot me a suspicious look as if to say ‘have you completely lost your mind?’.

“A sleepover, can I have a sleepover please?” Oh no, no, not a sleepover – *Clippety Climb* suddenly seemed so much more appealing (perhaps I could wear gardening gloves and a neck brace). “How about pancakes for pudding?” I said heading her off at the pass with a known winner from my arsenal of distraction techniques.

 …………………………………….

“Lottie might like a party at that new pottery cafe on Pittcombe Beach Parade?” suggested Anna (local best friend) who dropped in the next day for a coffee unannounced and set about distracting me spectacularly from writing my novel Twelve days and the Thatcher. I didn’t mind, she’d brought supplies – Chelsea Buns and Refresher lollies. Anna also brought tidings of great joy about the real Thatcherman (the inspiration for my novel). Apparently he was coming to the village to re-thatch Anna’s neighbour’s house which served as another distraction – such were his ridiculously good looks. I’d enjoy eyeballing him on the school run!

The pottery painting birthday party idea was met with approval, nay, unbridled enthusiasm and star jumps from Lottie so I booked it up! She was about to turn seven. I’ll freely admit that I’m not a natural party planner slash giver. I tend to spend the week running up to the event with what feels like a heavy anxious and annoying ‘party planner’ orangutan draped over my shoulders. One that intermittently taps me on the shoulder with: have you even thought about the fillers for the party bags? Have all the parents rsvped – they probably haven’t seen the invitation in the book bag? You gave out the invites very late! What if the party is totally rubbish and you have too much time to fill? What if you lose a child? Have you bought the number ‘7’ candle yet? What if you forget to bring the cake or the pottery cafe burns down in a freak kiln fire before next Saturday?????  Here he is….orangutan-copy

Lottie and I arrived at the pottery cafe in plenty of time to welcome her party guests, ‘you’ll want to be early, what if there’s road works or traffic or the car doesn’t start’ banged on my overly officious orangutan. The weather that week had been particularly warm so I decided on a whim to do ‘party food’ at the beach after the pottery painting! Lottie was beside herself with excitement at the prospect of the presents seeing her friends out of school and an extra trip to play on the beach.

Here is the motley line up of party goers.

1- Amelia.The inappropriately dressed who one turned up in a prized bridesmaid dress that she had worn earlier in the summer and was now her best favourite bridesmaid party dress ever! Ahem, we were about to paint pottery ergo with paint and go to the beach which would then expose us to further hazards such as sand and sea???

2-Lily. The tardy one. Only 51 minutes late into a 2 hour slot at the Pottery Cafe………

3- Isobel.The one whose Dad is a GP in our local Doctors Practise (Dr Merney). Therefore the avoidance of eye contact was necessary in the hope that he didn’t remember our last surgery visitation with Lottie’s brother Toby and his virulent (ten pence sized) multi headed verucca.

4- Jasmine. The one with the spectacularly snotty nose – a permanent green crust crystallised to her nostrils – hmm yes my gag reflex was in fine working order it turns out. But it’s ok because my annoying anxious party planner Orangutan reminded me that I’d need to bring a box of tissues just for her.

5- Sophie. The one whose parents gave Lottie a gift that represented hours of parental  involvement slash crafting and was probably something they were quite blatantly re-gifting.

6,7 The extras, Chloe and Beatrice, invited for school ‘politically correct’ reasons (I know you get me).

We were met by the pottery cafe owner Cheryl, a calm and composed kind of woman (the antithesis to fretty old me and my anxious pet party planner orangutan).  She was dressed in a floor length tie dyed dress with bright blue hair, and seemed to float about on a waft of serenity, she was renowned locally for being something of a pottery painting guru. Soft panpipe background music filtered from hidden speakers, it was actually *quite relaxing* – I felt safe in Cheryl’s hands, I could do this! But at the point when I needed guru Chezza most the cafe became inundated with other customers and holiday makers! She had barely briefed us about the paints and brushes before she went AWOL amongst the throng. I felt that biley anxiousness that only people who *can’t draw for crap toffee* feel when they have to be artistic in a pressurised environment and this wasn’t even on paper with a rubber either. It was *painting straight onto matte china* – there was no going back! Eight pairs of seven year old eyes looked to me for guidance???……. so I styled it out, adopting my best teacher voice and we all began sponging and painting away on cups and ornaments with gusto. I can report that there were no breakages or paint disasters apart from on my plate which made Jackson Pollock’s paintings look orderly (I tried again with a latte mug!). Amelia (the inappropriately dressed one) had been mummified, at my request, in adult sized aprons by Cheryl so that her face was barely peeping out over the top of them. She scarcely had use of her arms either but at least she didn’t get any unsightly and stainy (not a word) splash-backs on her best favourite party bridesmaid dress ever.

…………………………………

So after the pottery painting I met Ted (husband) at the beach, he was in charge of bringing the party food and birthday cake! He hadn’t forgotten either – things were going too well. Ted had also remembered our (rather flaccid looking) blow up dinghy which he set about pumping up.  The girls had brought swimwear and towels and were running around excitedly, apart from Amelia who wouldn’t be parted from her best favourite bridesmaid party dress ever and was climbing on the rocks behind us. Just as I had passed Jasmine (you know -the snotty/crusty nosed one) her 33rd tissue and I was unwrapping sausage rolls and other nutrient deprived party fodder, an old man pitched up next to us with his elderly German Shepherd dog! Great! I love a dog me, but not one that gets too close to my party picnic and not one that looks like it could possible have the arm off any of the 8 young girls in my care! It may have been arthritic but it still looked menacing and seemed to be baring it’s teeth. Sensing my concern the old man, who in complete contrast had no gnashers – removed a rack of false teeth from his pocket, wiped them down on his trouser leg and popped them into his mouth with an unsavoury cluck sound. He was then capable of offering up the ubiquitous dog owner statement…..

“Oh he won’t hurt you, Dexter here doesn’t bite!” At this point I always wonder if I’m meant to be grateful??? The old man explained that the teeth baring was actually just a canine overbite. I really didn’t need his life story or information on the dogs dental records, I had carrot sticks and mini rolls to lay out.

At this moment Amelia let out a bloodcurdling scream from behind me, terror struck, had she torn her best favourite bridesmaid dress party dress ever? Phew, she came hobbling towards me protesting wildly about an injured foot instead. On closer inspection there was a fish hook in her heel, ouch, but actually it had hardly broken the skin (no blood) and I whipped it out quickly when she wasn’t looking. I was just relieved that she hadn’t damaged her best favourite……you know the rest. I bet you didn’t even think to bring any plasters did you? – piped up my annoying anxious party planner orangutan! Actually I happened to have a small selection in my handbag – my own personal stash for blisters. I was glad that a small incident had befallen us and now we could get on and shut this party down…..

By now all the children, apart from Amelia, were in the sea shrieking and giggling as Ted dragged them about in the dinghy. The old man had let Dexter off the lead and he was throwing balls into the sea for the ancient dog to retrieve. I carried on setting out the party food on the blanket – time was ticking on and parents would be along soon to pick up the girls. I didn’t notice the commotion at first but Jasmine shrieked and pointed frantically, I looked up to see the old man shouting and throwing his arms about. Dexter the dog was well out of his depth in his quest to retrieve a manky old tennis ball and was experiencing difficulties! Alerted by the old man’s anguished calls, Ted deposited the girls on the beach and swam out to the dog towing the dinghy behind him (like a very naff version of Baywatch). He reached Dexter (who was drowning not waving) and managed to unceremoniously flip the great heavy sodden animal into the inflatable boat. Back on the beach, the old man, Ted, Lottie and all her friends crowded over the aged dog in the dinghy. Dexter didn’t look at all well, insofar as he wasn’t moving or indeed breathing (to the naked eye), the girls were horrified. Lottie, Jasmine and Isobel started crying (more tissues required) as they all stared at the motionless dog. How the hell are you going to come back from this? Chided my annoying anxious orangutan.

“Do you need a doctor?” said an authoritative voice behind us, Isobel’s Dad (Dr Merney of the big verucca shame) and her Mum Jan had arrived and they had witnessed the event unfold as they approached. Actually we need the SuperVet but you’ll do! Dr Merney did something medical looking……possibly CPR but without rescue breaths….I imagine he drew the line at giving the German Shepherd the kiss of life – especially with that overbite. Suddenly the dog raised it’s head, puked (in our now dingy dinghy) struggled up and proceeded to shake and splatter us all with wet-dog spray. The girls all cheered and the old man shed a few tears whilst pumping Dr Merney’s hand with gratitude. Then we all celebrated with cocktail sausages, crisps, party rings and birthday cake. And after the last of Lottie’s friends were picked up by their parents, I felt instant relief about my shoulders as the annoying party planner orangutan naffed off too………or until the next birthday party at least!orangutan-backOh sod off party planner orangutan!

As you were!

PS, I’m not showing you my rubbish Jackson Pollock inspired plate, but here’s my latte mug which worked out a bit better……..mug

PPS, Dexter the dog was given a clean bill of health from the vets and the old man popped into the surgery to let Dr Merney know. Isobel’s mum Jan passed on the good news to me at the school gates (just in case you were wondering…….probably not?)

Note to myself: The one about Lottie’s 7th Birthday Party

Life Love and Dirty Dishes
Prose for Thought

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24. Village survival, an interview with Execellent Magazine

 

Last week I was interviewed for Exeter’s Execellent Magazine. The article will come out in November, but here’s how it went. They were running a piece about local Mums working  from home and they wanted to chat to me about writing and blogging. I went along to their rather swanky offices in Exeter’s Southernhay. The decor was all sour lemon and steel greys and on arrival I was plied with barista coffee, San Pellegrino, chocolate cake and a goody bag (somehow I contained my excitement). I sat down and tried to make myself look comfortable (and not like a complete bumbling eejit) as my arse slid and squeaked on the high gloss canary yellow leather couch and I all but pitched my cappuccino over it.  execellent.png

My interviewer was Lucy, a bubbly and enthusiastic 20-something with the kind of unacceptable joie de vie that can only be maintained with a constant stream of; double lie-ins at the weekend, items of Whistles clothing in her wardrobe, regular impromptu after-work drinks and frequent European City mini-breaks. Her fresh faced cheeks hardly required the subtle pink blusher she had applied as she swished her fishtail plait. Her whole persona shouted young, on trend and *not tired*.  I didn’t feel terribly at ease and wondered if she was going to ask me any tricky questions and how my answers would sound? Fortunately, I wasn’t given any time to mull this over because effervescent Lucy got straight down to business.

“Hi Hillie, it’s really  great to meet you and have this opportunity to interview you.”

Cheers love, you hadn’t heard of me or my little old blog before last week but thanks for the effusive welcome.

-You are a Blogger and Writer, what is your Blog about? Chirpy Lucy was poised with a ballpoint over her notebook smiling expectantly.

“It’s about surviving living in a small Devon village, family life with my husband Ted and our two children Toby (aged 8) and Lottie (6). I also blog about my writing journey as I aim to get published again………….dot dot dot.” A tuft of ‘writing career’ tumbleweed wafts by.

-You are currently working on a new novel, what is it like being a working mum at home? 

“During term time I get lots of writing done while the children are at school”.  Err, flagrant disregard for the truth alert! After I’ve dropped the kids off I come home and put a load of washing on, read some blogs, think about cleaning the bathroom but then prevaricate by having coffee and biscuits instead. Next I’ll flick over social media, fanny about doing some ‘writing’ research and distract myself further by looking on Rightmove. Then after some lunch, I’ll put the festering washing (that I had forgotten) on the line or in the tumble dryer, procrastinate further by making a cup of tea and half heartedly tidying the kitchen before sitting back down in front of my laptop to write and *oh crap* it’s time to pick up the kids from school. “I love being able to take a step back over the summer holidays, write when I can (up to the ruddy small hours!) and just hang out with the kids. This year we had a great holiday in a gite near La Rochelle which refreshed us all”. Apart from the intense heat, the urgent trip to A&E with Ted’s septic hornet sting, and having to pay the exorbitant repair costs for bunging up the septic tank when Lottie flushed a load of wet wipes down the ‘no unflushables’ toilet. Full story available here at 23.Turning up in France.

-What’s it like living in a rural Devon village?

Let’s just say I spend rather a lot of time looking for a property in Exeter on Rightmove.  Often my darkest moments occur after the internet has dropped out for hours and I’m jittery with Twitter withdrawal shakes. Or Deirdre Snellon (from The Village Horticultural Club dictatorship regime) has popped around to helpfully inform me that my hanging baskets are a *bit dry* and would I *like* to sign up for a 5 hour slot in the Tea & Cake tent at the annual village produce show? “I feel very fortunate to be part of a small rural community. The village often comes together for events and celebrations which we all enjoy and the children love going to our little village school up the road”. Even bouncy Lucy looked like she wanted to vom in her mouth a little!

-What is the last book you read?

Oh arse, I can’t even remember the name of the *Airport Bilge-Lit* I read on holiday…was it… *Meeting Mr Right at Love Lane’s Blueberry Bakery Cafe Book Club After Sunset*? I’d better lie and come up with something highbrow, quick think Hillie….err…… I last read ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Coerr, I enjoyed the detailed historic elements to the story. Ahem, extra literary points methinks for it’s Pulitzer winning status! Lucy jotted it down but her nose wrinkle suggested that she could smell a rat or perhaps she’d clocked the sequel to my holiday read poking out of the top of my handbag *Leaving Mr Right at Love Lane’s Blueberry Bakery Cafe Book Club But Getting Him Back Again Of Course After Sunset*. She probably reads nothing but Tolstoy on her European mini break weekends in her Whistles outfits after a refreshing lie-in.

-What was your last music download?

You’re joking aren’t you! I don’t get anywhere near my iPad, Lottie last downloaded ‘Company’ by Justin Beiber but I’m not ‘fessing that! What’s that band they keep mentioning on radio 1? I stalled for time – sliding forward easily (like a bob sleigh) on the slippery couch to retrieve my mineral water from the coffee table, oh yes, it came to me…..“‘Tame Impala’, their latest album, err it’s…err great…….(fade to black)Bubbly Lucy didn’t look wholly convinced as she flicked her fishtail plait down her back, but mercifully she didn’t quiz me further on my blagged ‘cool’ music choice. I could have sworn I saw her jot down *probably Michael Buble* but I may have imagined it. 

-What do you love about our beautiful city of Exeter?

The main draw is that it’s a city for starters and not a ‘provincial village’.  There’s a lovely Zara – so I can feed my insatiable ‘Breton Tee’ addiction. I also like the fact that, during a few hours off from writing and parenting I can rock quietly in the John Lewis Cafe, sipping a latte, having spent half an hour previously stroking items in the handbag department that I can’t afford.  “Oh it’s such a great university city, the cathedral square is a lovely spot to sit and watch the world go by (boring myself now, sorry readers of Execellent). Exeter has fabulous restaurants and cafes and is a great transport hub too”. Sparkling Lucy looked up from her scribblings, expecting me to elaborate more about Exeter without sounding like I was reading aloud from the Lonely Planet guide, but alas she gave up sighing quietly – and came up with a new question for me instead.

-Devon Apple Cake or a Traditional Devonshire Cream Tea?

That’s like asking me which one of my children I love more……not really! If I’m eating cake I certainly don’t need any *apple* in it so it would be a Cream Tea everytime (the strawberries in the jam don’t count, everybody knows that). “Oh I do love a Devonshire Cream Tea, my children are also big fans of this teatime delight!”  

At least her line of questioning had lightened up a bit, what would be next? Snog, marry avoid a famous Devonian – with Josh Widdecombe (comedian), Sir Francis Drake (explorer) and Dermot Murnaghan (newsreader)?  Obvs, snog Josh, marry Dermot (he’s still got it) and avoid Sir Francis on account of his deadness, ridiculous frilly collars and outdated opinions! Bouncy Lucy continued with a slightly more sensible question.

-Name a famous Devonian who has inspired you?

That’s easy! “Who other than Dawn French- fantastically funny and female!”

-Let us into a secret, what’s your best Devon discovery? 

Oh gawd, ask me one on sport! Let me think, err…..“Devon has everything…from the dramatic moors to the stunning coastal paths. You can visit a spectacular waterfall, climb a tor and splash in the sea all in the same day. I was on a roll now with my hackneyed travel guide spiel, again bubbly Lucy looked a little bored at my cheesy answerMy favourite Devon discovery is Dartmoor. It’s fun to climb a Tor and get your picnic trampled by an erroneous wild pony or two. Or go for a scenic drive  on a day out recently we made a marvellous *discovery* – that there were tearooms at *both ends* of National Trust’s ‘Lydford Gorge’ ergo I was secure in the knowledge that I was never more than twenty minutes from a nice slice of cake/scone which made the walking so much more enjoyable and there are so many lovely tearooms  walks to discover on the moors. Devon really has it all!”.

execellent

As you were!

PS. Before I get any letters of complaint – I’m not dissing Devon Apple Cake, if you like fruit in your cake I urge you to try it with a dollop of clotted cream on the side, just don’t blame me when you realise it’s not as good as a cream tea. You have been warned.

Note to myself: the one where I get interviewed by Execellent Magazine.

 

Rhyming with Wine
Writing Bubble
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Life Love and Dirty Dishes
Prose for Thought

23. Village survival – turning up in France.

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We were going on holiday! The suitcases were packed (attention burglars) my laptop was well hidden because I had no intention of taking it with us or doing any writing on my novel while we were away. We had decided to swap one parochial village for another – in France. Anna (local best friend) had recommended that we stay at her Uncle Nigel’s gite in St Helene near La Rochelle (disclaimer, nowhere bl**dy near La Rochelle). Lottie looked eagerly over my shoulder as I booked the accommodation online.

“What’s a git?” she exclaimed excitedly.

“It’s pronounced ‘jsheett’,” I informed her, which to be fair sounded a bit like a swear too. The accommodation looked perfect so we emailed Uncle Nigel and booked a week. The facilities included a pool/piscine (pronounced piss-in of course, lets hope there was no piss-in?) and an outdoor pizza oven within a grassy jardin all in a provincial setting. Sounded like a home from home apart from the swimming pool, pizza oven and grassy jardin (ours is 99% dandelions)….err so just the provincial setting then!!

After an uneventful flight we arrived at La Rochelle Airport where we were welcomed by dazzling sunshine and a cobalt blue cloudless sky. It was 30 degrees and a glorious dry heat. We waddled over to the car hire portacabins with all our baggage to look for the Renault Megane that I’d pre-booked. There were rows and rows of Renault and Peugeot. Car nepotism/patriotism – whatever – we’d have been merde out of luck if we had fancied hiring a Honda. I queued behind all the other Brits who were sweating profusely and fanning themselves ineffectually with their passports while Ted took the kids to find some shade. Eventually I arrived at the head of the queue ready to be served by Michel with his bright yellow polo shirt and bored disposition. I spoke to him in French, Michel eyed me up slowly, and thought to himself….

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He had already sized up my inadequate French speaking abilities and he momentarily savoured his two choices. He could either continue speaking to me in French (speeded up of course) or switch to thickly accented but semi fluent English. He went French rapide, gabbling at me whilst flitting through the car hire form. He then marched me outside to view the vehicle and admire the shininess and complete lack of dents and scratches. On he gabbled, trilling away at me, of course by then My GCSE French had tapped me on the shoulder and said “Err non! I don’t think so love. You might have got a passable ‘B’ grade but let’s face it you were always crap at French Aural and what exactly does he want your credit card for?”  And so I had to revert to English shamefaced. Michel had won, he and I could smell his victory like Boursin on baguette (actually that was probably just his after-lunch breath). We packed up the Megane with all our baggage, it just wasn’t quite-big-enough but there was a complimentary air freshener (small wins). Anyway, to cut a long car hire story short, about twenty minutes down the autoroute we realised that…….

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By the time we reached the gite we had melted into the seats like portions of pungent brie and we were covered in a layer of grime from having to wind the windows down for the entire journey. The car Sat Nav had worked but only in French or Italian?? Again My GCSE French had had a strop –  but we just about managed….tournez a droite…what?…tournez?? – oh drat!!!  Ted was driving and I was distracted by the scenery. I was mesmerised by the fields and fields of delightful sunflowers and melons and other appetising delights. I couldn’t help wondering why people weren’t tempted to stop and pinch the odd melon or pick the occasional sunflower from the roadside and then I reminded myself…….

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We passed through St Helene, which was a pretty but sleepy medieval village (no shops, not even a Pharmacy) on the river Autize. On the outskirts we found the gite address; everything looked strangely quiet and the colourful shutters were firmly closed on the house as we pulled into the crunchy drive. We were just scraping ourselves out of the car seats when an elderly man came hobbling over from the house opposite. His name was Monsieur Fremont, a kindly old Frenchman with rheumy watery eyes and a front tooth missing. He explained that he kept a key to the gite and that he’d be on hand for our stay because Uncle Nigel (it seems that everybody called him that, perhaps he was a mafia boss or something) was holidaying in Barbados. Monsieur Fremont directed us around the house to the beautiful old barn which had been converted into the gite, and there we found the swimming pool, turquoise and glistening invitingly……

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Monsieur Fremont seemingly unfazed simply hoicked the lifeless bird out with an old broom. Nice. I was starting to wonder if we should have booked an all inclusive hotel in Nice. Old man Fremont chatted away in cheerful and thankfully slow diction (My GCSE French relaxed and chilled it’s arse a bit) and he gave us a welcome envelope of information.

The Rules: we were strictly forbidden to throw anything down the toilet except for loo paper and what came naturally but we were welcome to burn the place down by using the real pizza oven and rudimentary BBQ area. Inside, the gite had been recently done-up so everything was new and clean, the walls were horribly horribly white. The paint was probably called – Blanc de Snow Blindness – It was a potential parental nightmare. The kitchen glistened (hmmm, give Ted a couple of glasses of wine and a pot of bolognaise sauce) and the bathrooms were also white and pristine (give Toby and Lottie one bathtime). After Monsieur Fremont’s guided tour there was still a few hours of sunshine left so we unloaded the car, ransacked the cases for swimwear and pitched up poolside.

Le Van de Pain (or Pan Van) or indeed Le Pain in the Arse Van.

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pain van.pngdu pain, du van, du Boursin…..

Being in such a remote, peaceful and idyllic location (read- cut off from civilisation, and needing to drive miles to go anywhere or get anything) our information pack informed us about the Pain Van, it rhymes rather nicely Pan Van. Anyway, this rural service rattles around the local villages stopping here and there so that the residents can buy bread straight from the Pan Van Man! He had a distinctive klaxon hooter which alerted us to his arrival. The Pan Man, who went by the name of Henri had a neat moustache which moved like a hairy caterpillar on his upper lip and greasy hair slicked back with enough oil to pique the interest of fuel giant ESSO. 

So on our first morning I went in search of the Pan Van when I heard the sound of the  klaxon. My GCSE French was feeling confident, I was just buying bread so I dropped a casual, “du pain s’il vous plait,” which of course was met with a barrage of colloquial French from Henri and from what I could decipher – which bread did I require? Like seriously they all looked like baguettes to me, a van full of identical baguettes? I panicked and pointed, hurriedly gesturing the quantity with my fingers. I don’t think I was appreciative enough of his Artisan Pain! Henri shot me a withering look…….

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Every morning after that I would go out and buy fresh bread, and the Pan Van Man never parked in the same place twice?? So I had to listen hard for his hooter if I wanted to locate him. On one of the mornings when we wanted to spend the day at the gite and needed bread, I heard the familiar and distinctive call of the Pan Van and hurried to find my purse (which of course I couldn’t) so I grabbed some euros from Ted’s wallet and ran out towards the place where the Pan Van Man was last spotted. By the time I had found him, he had just finished serving the last basket-wielding local. I swear he saw me come running, waving my arms like a loon but he deemed it necessary to wheel spin off. “Oh gite!” We had no bread unless Ted or I made the 14 mile round shlep to Super U  – what a complete Pain in the arse.

Mind the….

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That day the weather was blissfully and unrelentingly hot. I could feel the sun rays seep into my bones and we spent most of our time playing in the pool. Mid morning Madame Fremont popped over to introduce herself bearing a freshly made and delicious looking Tarte aux Pommes. She had her twin grand daughters Elise and Elodie in tow. They were a little older than Lottie and after initial shyness they stayed to play in the pool. To combat the language barrier the children just shouted loudly at each other in their own languages…seemed to work?!?! Ted helped Toby and the girls drag over a garden slide from the Fremont’s jardin and they spent the whole afternoon sliding down it into the pool. I’m not sure we adhered to health and safety guidelines but Ted and I lounged about in view of them reading a book (owners of toddlers don’t hate me, you’ll have tweenagers one day).

Later that same afternoon, we were invited over to the Fremonts for an aperitif.

“Are they alky-holics Mummy?” Lottie wanted to know. Luckily their English wasn’t too merde hot or they might have been offended by this remark. Monsieur Fremont offered to give us a tour of their small holding.  I knew this would amuse the children because they love nothing more than heavy petting pooey farm animals (and then giving themselves stomach upsets before I could get anywhere near them with the anti bac spray). We were introduced to the chickens, sheep and the goats and taken to the impressive orchard. Rows and rows of apple, pear and soft fruit trees filled the paddock and the air buzzed frenetically with wasps. Well it was August! But…it wasn’t just wasps (les guepes) – let me introduce you to the super wasp – Un Frelon (pronounced Fraylon for anyone remotely interested) this is like an uber wasp, a large hornet if you will. These beasts were about the size of a big thumb! Monsieur Fremont proudly showed us one of his impressive frelon traps, made simply with a cut up plastic bottle part filled with white wine and sugar syrup. Darned waste of good vin blanc if you ask me. Just as I was gazing with morbid curiosity at the freaky frantic frelons incarcerated in the plastic trap I heard a howl louder than the Pan Van klaxon. Ted, in his flimsy flip flops had stood on a fallen rotting apple…one that a Frelon was feasting on and now he was hopping and cursing in agony. “Oh gite”.

Other Multifarious Holiday Moments Before The Great Frelon Sting.

The time we were invited by Madame Fremont to the village Fete de Champignons de la region street party…”What? so we have to go and eat mushrooms in the road?” Toby wasn’t impressed at all.

The time Lottie spilt my favourite nail varnish (of course that colour is discontinued!) on our ensuite bathroom floor. I thought she had been gone a while inside the gite, eventually she appeared poolside to ‘fess up’. She had tried to clear the mess up and I only needed to wipe the floor tile over with some nail varnish remover. At least she hadn’t pebble dashed the arctic white paintwork with Savannah Sunset Rouge. No biggy…….

The time Ted returned from Super U suffering from low level post traumatic supermarket disorder. The first thing that hit him was the shop odour – a heady mix of BO and rancid meat. Ted’s understanding of French (he did Spanish at school) was non existent but he got through the bakery and wine sections relatively unscathed – only to be bamboozled by the overwhelming choice of cheese and yoghurts. Onto the fruit and veg section where all the produce seemed to come with clods of earth and half the bush it was grown on and Ted completely overlooked the electronic weighing scales!  When he came to pay there were no bags – now this is a good thing, too many placky bags in the world etc but I hadn’t had the forethought to pack our…

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In order that he might collate his purchased goods Ted had to buy 2 jute effect Super U bags at an exorbitant price of €5 each – that’s 2 extra bottles of crap wine we could have had. The lady who served him at the till *Delphine* then gave him a good dressing down for having the temerity to bring the fruit and veg to the till unweighed. “Well, it certainly didn’t bring out the Super in U!” I quipped feebly on his return.

The time we had a good day out in La Rochelle. Anyone who had to study the Tricolore textbooks at school might remember learning that oh so useful phrase “Avez vous un depliant sur La Rochelle” – anybody? *Have you got a booklet about La Rochelle*.  Hah! I might finally get to use this seemingly useless phrase after all as I marched into the Office de Tourisme with purpose. Most thrillingly of all we ate out with the children near the historic harbour in what can only be described as an epic restaurant win. Toby and Lottie had – Steak Hache frites. A tasty slab of beef (we hoped) with fries served with neither salad nor any other form of vegetation, the children couldn’t believe it and when it was followed by an ice cream with no fruit components, they were over the moon. I wouldn’t be so smug when I was googling scurvy when we got home!

A slightly Septic Au Revoir 

The last evening of our holiday was spent in A&E! Ted’s Frelon sting had blown his foot up to Elephant Man proportions and it looked a little err….septic.  The nurses, who were very pleasant, tried conversing with us in french medical terms but My GCSE French soon stormed off in a right old huff.  The Doctor took one look at Ted’s grotesque foot and put him on strong antibiotics tout de suite. The following morning, after a fitful night’s sleep (Ted had moaned the duration) we were woken to loud protestations coming from the garden, I peered out of the window bleary eyed to witness Monsieur Fremont and another vaguely familiar man talking heatedly over the bubbling septic tank.

It turns out that the other man was Uncle Nigel back from his holiday in Barbados and – “Oh gite!” – Lottie had bunged up the Fosse Septique with the hundred or so wet wipes (unbeknown to me) that she had flushed down the loo when she had helpfully cleared up nail-varnishgate. Let’s just say we didn’t receive a very warm greeting from Uncle Nigel. Thankfully we were leaving that day as the septic tank groaned and belched out some more gloops of unmentionables……

We packed and made a swift getaway, thanking Monsieur Fremont at his gate and narrowly missing the Pan Van as we sped out of the village, arriving back at the airport in plenty of time for our flight. We found Michel at the car hire counter and handed him the keys to the not-quite-big enough Renault Megane  – complete with dysfunctional air conditioning. Thanks to Lottie I was wetwipe-less so I hoped he’d be pleased with the complimentary….

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More next time.

As you were!

PS, a big thank you must go out to Google Translate without which this holiday would not have been possible. And a also a mention to My GCSE French for at least having a go (mostly at me).

PPS, to the erroneous burglar who may be reading this – we’ve been away on holiday and come home now and this blog is fictional anyway you twerp.

PPPS This is not a review, I certainly don’t endorse shouting at the Pan Man “I’ll give you some French Stick,” when he wheel spinned off without selling me a baguette and I’m also not promoting Boursin, a creamy, garlicky, cheesy delight though it is. Have you tried stirring it into spaghetti – works quite well. Enough! No endorsements!

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Note to myself: The one about French Jsheetting!!

Very chuffed to be a featured blogger on Friday Frolics – c’est magnifique!!!🙂 x

Life Love and Dirty Dishes
Rhyming with Wine

Prose for Thought
Life Love and Dirty Dishes

 

 

22. Village survival, gone crabbing!

 

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Crabbing!

Every summer holidays we go crabbing! We know the perfect spot in a Devon village which has a small shabby harbour. It isn’t particularly touristy; this is probably because of the murky water, the pervading odour of rotting fish, and the array of scrappy and dejected boats – which look like the discarded props from the last Jaws movie.

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It’s a bit like a boat graveyard and the crustiest, most decrepit crafts get bailed out regularly by old-git-locals, otherwise they sink with their noses poking out of the water in a sinister manner. Let’s just say I haven’t seen this harbour on any Devon picture postcards!

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For all your creepy boat needs!!

So last week, I arranged to pick up Anna (local best friend) and her 9 year old twins Miles and Marcus and we set off on our crabbing expedition with my kids Toby and Lottie. *Only* 106 are we nearly there yets, a whole packet of Werthers Originalsand 2 separate picnic wees in 2 seperate lay-bys later and we finally arrived (we had covered a total distance of about 12 miles or 35 mins in journey time for crysakes). I parked the car in a leafy, shaded spot in the church car park which would ensure a Jackson Pollock-esque splat effect of woodpigeon poo on the roof and bonnet upon our return – a kind of unrequested birdpooey pimp my ride. We noticed that the church was advertising ‘Cream Teas this week’ in the village hall and graveyard  (where they had put out a selection of colourful and rickety looking tables and chairs!?!?). More like ‘Scream Teas’, would you like one or two paranormal sightings with your pot of tea and scones……???

Crabbily!

 As we approached the harbour and the thin and shambolic jetty, I was quietly dismayed to see that there was already a large family crabbing in our preferred crabbing spot. Anna and I exchanged crabby looks. But hang on, it looked like they might be packing up to leave…..

Crabbier 

We drew level with the family as they were exiting the rickety wooden pier. The Dad spoke up as they approached.

“I think you’ll find we’ve already caught all the crabs!!” he announced pompously, in a knobby and self satisfied manner.

Anna and I exchanged further crabby looks. Were they going to take them all home? Maybe try and eat them? Surely not, the crabs didn’t get any bigger than the size of your hand (including all pincery extremities).

“Yeah, we caught 31 crabs,” bragged one of the younger tweenagery girls who was  waggling a wet and slimy net about. A quick glance at their buckets assured me that they hadn’t kept the crabs, ergo they weren’t going to boil them up for tasty sandwiches (or indeed a nasty case of food poisoning). Next it was the turn of the Mum to say something.

“We always come every holiday – best spot for crabbin’,” she chuckled into my face (such was our close proximity on the narrow jetty).

“That’s right love, it’s great cos there’s no tourists,” added the Dad.

Apart from you’re a tourist???? – obviously the irony was lost on himI grunted a pleasantry, thinking all the time – enough with the showy offy backstory, move along – this jetty is quite narrow and I don’t want to fall in. We continued to inch past them, managing to do so without dying of boredom as they banged on with some extra ‘crabbing advice’ and then threw in some random anecdotes about their caravanning holiday too. I wasn’t aware I’d bought front row tickets to the ‘Crabbing Family Monologues’. Eventually we reached the end of the jetty, and there – obscured by a large orange buoy was a huge mound of crabs! They hadn’t even bothered to throw them back – how lazy and shellfish…….dot dot dot.

Crabbiest!

The crabs were huddling together, desperately trying to stay camouflaged in a frightened mass. By now there were seagulls circling above like vultures and they were intermittently raining crap upon us. The gulls sounded like toddlers playing pass the parcel at a birthday party “mine! mine! mine! mine!” they shrieked. It was only our presence that was stopping them from divebombing the all you can eat crab buffet!

“We’d better get them back in the water or the gulls will get them,” observed Anna calmly, seemingly transfixed by the great writhing mound of crustaceans. Toby was by now squatting over them with the twins and probing the teeming pile with the other end of his net.

“We have to do something! We have to do something NOW!!” squawked Lottie over theatrically (so thrilled that her Stagecoach classes had paid off then!). Lottie’s concern galvanised us and we decided quicksmart that we should do something now! Without delay we began what can only be described as…….

Un-crabbing!

They were not the easiest of shellfish to herd because the wretched critters were so terrified, disorientated or possibly just dim. Anna helped the children because I reserved the right to remain quietly freaked out by the sheer number of crawly, skittery legs and pincers. The kids used their nets to gently extract each one and then plop it back in the water. Above, the gulls were still swooping and screeching for crab meat, every so often we had to wave our nets in the air (like we just didn’t care) to shoo them off.

One of the largest and feistiest looking crabs suddenly made a bolt for the water and in doing so unwittingly skittered over my flip-flop bedecked foot. I shrieked, jumped two feet in the air and performed a very amateur impression of Michael Flatley’s Riverdance –  all the while cringing from the crabby sensation. This was all a bit too much action for the old (rotten) jetty – which was groaning and creaking ominously under all our movements. If we all fell in and drowned, the locals wouldn’t notice for days such was the turbidity of the rank water and the boat graveyardy atmosphere. To make matters even worse we were then interrupted by a bevy of dastardly swans – the lanky necked ringleader seemed determined to thwart our rescue efforts by thrusting it’s beak at us aggressively and hissing in a proprietary manner.

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Oh swan off!

Crabby!

Again we had to wave our nets to ward off both the swans and the seagulls (it was not unlike the gory scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds!). Some of the remaining crabs looked very dejected with pincers missing and limbs hanging off and a handful of larger ones had begun infighting, throwing their scissory claws about – intent on canibalism. Slowly but surely with coaxing, shoving, herding, refereeing and netting we got the last crabs safely back in the water. After that we persuaded the kids that it would be (taking the piss) unfair to catch them all over again so we bribed them with sugar and we repaired to the village hall for a cream tea. Of course all the tables inside were taken by a coach load of senior citizens so we had to sit in the graveyard. However, even a ghoulishly macabre (s)cream tea made Anna and I feel a bit less crabby!

More next time.

As you were!

PS, If you have you got any crabbing/fishing fails, bird harassment anecdotes or unusual cream tea incidents – do tell in comments…..I love a good yarn me! x

Note to myself: The one about the birds! the birds! and going un-crabbing!

Only went and got the #chucklemums Pants- wettingly funny blog! – get me!

 

Rhyming with Wine

Life Love and Dirty Dishes

21. A weekend Roman in Bath and on Safari (Park).

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The weekend before last (as the school term was drawing to a close) I arranged a family weekend away. It felt like a good opportunity to skedaddle before the M5 resembled an airport car park and the A303 became a clusterf**k of Caravans – that’s the official collective term for caravans by the way. Only joking – no need to write in! Tourists welcome – one and all.
We decided to go to Bath and Longleat Safari Park so we booked a night in a Bavelbodge. I tried to book a cottagey B&B complete with arsy middle-aged & prissy proprietor, chintzy decor/eiderdowns circa 1974, ineffectual lace curtains and comp-plimentary tea making facilities but it’s not easy to find one with a family room and when I did (within a 30 mile radius of our destination) it was fully booked of course. Bavelbodge it was then! I’ve no beef with a Bavelbodge, you get what you pay for and it’s not their fault that we had to go to sleep at 9pm with our snoring/farting/bedrustling tweenagers albeit in a large (where’s the carpet?) 4 person bed cram.

Day 1. Bath or Barth Spar (if you prefer).

Ted and I had had a couple of romantic weekends in Bath pre-children so my hazy and indulgent recollection of this beautiful city was of leisurely sightseeing, cosy independant eateries, and lie ins…..dot dot dot. Anyway here is my wishlist of events versus the cold hard reality. Guess which list won? (after a deciding arm wrestle).

Parking wishlist: Find the Park and Ride carpark and enjoy fun bus trip into Bath or glide into the city locating parking close to the centre for easy walk with *end of term tired* tweenagers.
Parking cold hard reality: “Oh shi* (the consonant ‘t’ was replaced of course with a p? n?) was that the turn off for the park and ride?”. A stomping argument ensued as Ted put a map app on my phone to find a car park in town. I couldn’t use the (swears) app (could I) and it kept dropping out. Cue shouting, gesticulating and sweatiness as we enjoyed a slow scenic tour of Bath in a very hot car trying to find parking (no need for the open top bus tour as we limped past ‘Pulteney Bridge’ and crept around ‘The Crescent’ completely accidentally). Finally we ended up in a multi story (at the very top) having only scraped the car three times on tight corners and twice on the pillar!

Sightseeing wishlist. Saunter around The Roman Baths, soak up the history and ancient atmosphere.

Baths

Sightseeing cold hard reality: We *enjoyed* the three Js. Being jostled, jockeyed and queue jumped left right and centre. Bath was busy – full to the Sally Gunnells with tourists and nowhere more so than at the star attraction – The Roman Baths. Every other person was taking a photo everywhere we went. We couldn’t help but ‘bomb’ international tourist’s holiday snaps  – I did try to do a different face in each one for variety! I’m currently appearing all over Facebook in Japan – gurning.  Anyway, we filtered around the monument, collecting elbow stab wounds as we went. Toby seemed to be taking the lead on pertinent questions – “what’s that floater?” he was rather perturbed by a large lump of something that kept bobbing up and below the surface of one of the baths. When explained it was just algae (type stuff) he was most disappointed that it wasn’t something more sinister (namely a dead animal or a poo – of course.)
floaterUnidentified and slightly unsavoury looking floater. Also available for children’s parties.  Is it just me or does it have a face?

The gift shop wishlist: Just walk through it (not hesitating at the tat fridge magnets) to the door and the light beyond……..

The gift shop cold hard reality: Lottie and I had reached the door (and ergo the light) unscathed and no fridge magnets had been purchased. I turned back and it was then that I witnessed Ted say to Toby, “If you’re not careful you’ll knock something off.” Within three seconds of this comment – Toby (who had giftshop wide-eyed mania) turned (nay- twirled around) and managed to knock off a nicknack – well actually more of a miniature Roman Amphora*souvenir. So Ted did the obvious thing – pretended to be Dutch and backed away from the shards of china quicksmart. No he didn’t! He went into auto British polite mode and duly trotted up to the shop assistant to blabbally (probably not a word) ‘fess up’. She was convinced enough by his contriteness to waiver the £9.95 recommended retail price! – lucky because as I’m sure you’ll know – gift shops don’t like a knocked off nicknack! Lottie and I were long gone and found two hours later trying on dresses in Zara (I wish!- we just waited outside cringing and pretending not to be related).

Eating out wishlist: Find an independent eating idyll, cosy, not too busy with a cool city vista and tweenager friendly food options ………

Eating out cold hard reality: So after an exhaustive (whingey/whiny) trawl around central Bath trying to find somewhere quaint to eat, we settled on a child friendly Italian chain  complete with children’s menu, colouring-in and activity sheet. A fist pump there for our independent restaurantal success. We had to sit outside because all the tables inside were taken. The family next to us promptly left (nothing personal I’m sure!!) leaving their table sky high in debris and left food. This was the point that a large seagull decided to swoop down. It slapped Ted and I on the back of our heads with it’s flappy wings and landed heavily next to us. The gull wobbled with the agility of a balance beam gymnast on the side of a bowl while it tucked into the leftover pasta flapping it’s wings theatrically. Great! – dinner and a show.  Being honorary Devonians, we’ve dealt with many wayward seagulls over the years but Lisa – our friendly waitress came out shrieking and shooed it off with a tea towel. She was happy to regale us with backstory about the galavanting gull. Apparently his name was Basil, he was ‘known’ to the restaurant for pasta pestering and could only be kept under control by Colin the hawk and his handler (name was seemingly unimportant) who were both employed to keep the centre of Bath bird-vermin free. Apparently Colin was on a tea break then! We’d be ready for him if he swooped again. Bring it Basil!!!

The morning after the night before at Bavelbodge. Because our chosen Bavelbodge wasn’t very large and didn’t have a restaurant we had to (well to be fair no one forced us but) have breakfast next door in another chain this time of the roadside eatery variety, let’s just call it Little Chafe for arguments sake! Naively, I thought that it might be a happy and fun experience for the children – pancakes and hot chocolate all the way. We ordered them a breakfast that involved one half pancakes and the other half ‘fry up’ (everyone’s a winner!). Wrong, the food was pallid, insufficient and wait for it…the eggs were slobbery! (no one likes a slobbery egg, no one) – so I ended up relinquishing my only slightly better looking breakfast to them. When my tea (finally) arrived (I’d selected Earl Grey – for breakfast? -don’t judge me) I was informed that it didn’t come with milk. This was the end of the conversation. The waitress was so formidably arsy and so surprised was I at said arsyness that I didn’t even challenge this milk disallowance…….. Little Chafe *rather an abrasive occurrence*.

Day 2. Longleat Safari Park.
The drive onto Longleat Estate was impressive as the great House came into view and stood proudly amongst the capacious grounds. Toby and Lottie both assumed that as soon as we drove down the ‘sweeping’ drive that we would start to see exotic animals. Small voices of alarm wafted through from the back seats, “Buffalo?! oh no they’re just cows!” and “Llamas?! but they look a lot like sheep.” Ted and I kept shtum (yes we were too busy shaking with silent laughter) until we had to fess up that we hadn’t got to the enclosures yet.

Our first stop was the African Village, where we could ‘walk through’ some smaller animal enclosures and have a final toilet stop before the Safari Drive or more importantly where I could get a #latte. Lottie was taking the lead today on pertinent questions with, “how come the Lemurs get such a good adventure playground?” thou shalt not covet a Lemur’s adventure playground!  Onto the giraffe and Zebra ‘field’ which was like a jurassic park moment, suddenly we were just feet away from several giant and majestic giraffes with a herd of zebra beyond. Lottie rather spoilt my quiet moment of reverence with her widely audible “I’ve never seen so much poo!”referring to the dung heap in the corner of epic proportions.

giraffeGiraffe Selfie (or Giralffie)

We went back to the car and set off on Safari (not before checking the car windows and central locking system were in full working order). There were many highlights to this tour, particularly braving the Rhesus Macaque Monkey enclosure and watching the Honda CRV in front being stripped back to it’s basic bodywork. All the time wondering how much depreciation was occurring on to our own car……..dot dot dot.

monkeyThe Lions were awe-inspiring, they looked so magnificent as they lounged about gnawing on beef steak or perhaps people whose electric windows didn’t work, but mostly lazing with their backs to us.lions x2                          Take a photo of my arse!                                     Beyond majestic!

But when one female got up and lumbered over, knowing that there was just a fairly thin piece of car metal between us was undoubtedly life affirming!
We carried on (still following the Honda CRV which was by now rattling and larger car parts were falling off.) I feared for their safety as we passed through the Tigers enclosure and then the Wolf Wood. We weren’t lucky enough to see the Cheetahs because as anyone who has watched a safari documentary will know, they are shy and evasive but it’s ok we didn’t feel cheetahed because over lunch we were treated to a ‘Sparrow Show’ in full technicolour (mostly browns actually). Spencer Sparrow (as we named him/her) flapped about on our table flauntingly and was happy to be snapped in any position for a few crumbs of burger bun or panini.

sparrowSpencer Sparrow: will do anything for your lunch!

More next week.
As you were.

I’m going to bang on about Mumsnet Blogging Awards again – much like the Rhesus Macaque Monkeys you can bypass this next bit by taking the slip road. Still with me? ok, if I’ve given you cause to howl(er monkey) or laugh like a hyena with my bloggingness – I would love nominations for the category ‘Best Comic Writer’. My URL is https://turningupindevon.com Thank you!

PS. This isn’t a review – obvs I love Bath with it’s impressive Roman Baths and anything that went ‘down’ including the miniature amphora souvenir was our bad. Longleat Safari Park is bloomin’ marvellous – this comprehensive and investigative reportage was brought to you by *Turning Up In Devon Destinations* (a new travel division – situated on the top floor next to the complaints department, probably not really….).

*Amphora – a Roman wine vessel.

Note to myself: The one about going away to Bath and Longleat Safari Park.

Rhyming with Wine
Mumzilla

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Life Love and Dirty Dishes