Hillie: small village survival expert, mum and writer – currently working on her novel ‘Twelve Days and the Thatcher’- a gritty tale of forbidden love with a hunky Thatcher hero! Had a modicum of success ten years ago with her – Miss Nadderbanks Investigates series (ahem, nothing published since the kids came along).
Ted, Toby (aged 8) and Lottie (aged6): Hillie’s husband and children.
Deirdre Snellon: Chair of the Vertonbridge Horticultural Club (dictatorship).
Helen and Martin Richens: Hillie’s parents. Grannie-Helen and Granddad. Retired Librarian and Accountant.It had been raining for bloody days and yet still there was a (passive aggressive) reminder in the July Parish Mag to water our hanging baskets to avoid aridity! Avoid aridity, for crysakes, it had been the wettest June since records began! The Vertonbridge Village Horticultural Club and it’s bossy Chair Deirdre Snellon were expecting a visit from the Village in Flower Competition Judges any day now and no one was privvy to exactly when? They were like Ofsted but for floral performance. Would Vertonbridge Village be awarded outstanding, good, satisfactory or perhaps special measures? Well, my hanging baskets were woefully lacking with their wilting begonias (no hanging gardens of Babylon to see here, move along). And at best could be classed as ‘satisfactory’ but Deirdre’s ‘county show standard’ Fuchsias (upright and trailing) might well drag the whole village up to outstandingly outstanding. Struggling to care? So am I, but if Vertonbridge won the Village in Flower Competition it might just wipe that sour look (cat’s bum mouth) off of Deirdre’s face (have been waiting for my opportunity to write ‘off of’, sorry, I won’t do it again!).Anyway I didn’t have all day to fuss about my bloomin’ (not really) hanging baskets! It was Friday morning and I was in a hurry to get to Exeter St Davids Train Station to pick up my parents – who were coming to stay for the weekend. Yes, it had been several months since we’d seen them and they were travelling down from Herefordshire to brave/slum it in our not very fancy spare room. It’s an unloved and damp space where I hang the laundry and the wardrobe bulges with hatboxes (from all the weddings I went to in the numerous-nuptials-noughties). The walls are grubby magnolia because, as you might already know, I still haven’t got round to painting them Elephants Breath by Farrow and Ball (perhaps if I keep mentioning them I’ll get a free tin – Farrow and Ball, Farrow and Ball and if you will – Farrow and Ball!). Anyway Anna (local best friend) tells me that Arsenic Green and Rectory Red are the new go to F&B paints now… but I’m no slave to fashion – paint or otherwise, so I won’t get emulsional about it (soz). I’ll just gloss over that last bit (sorry again!).
I was always pleased to see my parents – my inner 5 year old excitement couldn’t be assuaged – but probably because there were such long time lapses between visits and I haplessly forgot how annoying they could be until they arrived. I was then reminded within 10 minutes! A bit like stupidly forgetting about the pain of giving birth the first time and then wrenching the midwife’s arm bawling -“GET ME AN EPIDURAL FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!”.
Before any visit from my parents I could be sure (and I mean sure sure – like that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west sure) that the following would happen:-
The state of….list.
1.The state of my car would be mentioned.
2.The state of my children’s eating habits would be mentioned.
3.The state of the spare room would be mentioned. Are you sensing a theme here?
4.The state of my writing career would be mentioned.
5.The state of my husband….actually my Mother loves Ted, she likes to fawn round him and even flirt a little #inappropriate. He was unlikely to come under any ‘grey bashing’.
6.The state of my shabby (and not in a chic way!) sofa.
7.Oh and because of the time of year – the state of my hanging baskets would be mentioned. Guaranteed!
My mother was standing outside the train station with Dad in what can only be described as lurid peacock on steroids green/blue ensemble? She always looks well coiffed (smart grey bob) and relatively glamourous. Mum also aspires to a little french sophistication with her attire. She was probably (disclaimer – I can neither confirm or deny) wearing a Jacques Vert suit with coordinating shoes and handbag with a pashmina. She was just missing a fascinator for the full Mother of the Bride look. My Dad, in contrast, was sporting his trusty ‘Regatta’ Mac and comfy cords and was struggling with all their luggage.“Darling, you’re late!”my Mother trilled out as I walked towards them.
“Yes, we’ve been standing here a whole 2 minutes,” said Dad, mocking my Mum and eye rolling at me.
“Don’t you two start ganging up on me the moment we set eyes on each other,” she said, tutting and dragging me in for a couple of air kisses. She smelt familiarly like talcum powder (the type you win in a crap raffle).
I helped Dad with their numerous bags while Mum wafted her pashmina about ineffectually.
“Goodness gracious! Is that duct tape on your wheel arch?”. My mother sounded horrified as we reached my car. Boom – and there it was no 1 – the state of my car. My orange Mini was old – it wasn’t old enough to be vintagey-cool and it wasn’t young enough to look flash anymore.
“Just a bit of rust on the bodywork,” I said batting the comment off.
“It looks more like an old baked bean can every time we see you,” she added, pulling a face and then making a great big fuss about having to bend in double (with her hips) to get into the back seat. Dad was all for forcing the baggage in….no not my mother – the two overnight bags they had brought, so I jiggled them about and finally shut the boot.Once we had arrived at home, Dad couldn’t get out of the car quickly enough. A keen gardener – he was at my hanging baskets like a rat up a drainpipe.
“I’ll have to sort them out for you,’ he said, sounding resigned, like I’d brought shame upon the family, “perhaps run the hosepipe on them – they look a bit parched, the rain water just runs off you know – and I think they need feeding. Don’t worry I’ve brought some gel plant food.” Oh thank god! I hardly had a wink of sleep last night for worrying that my hanging baskets might be hungry??…..and bish bosh there was no.7.- the state of my hanging baskets!
I served up quiche and salad for lunch (the quiche was shop-bought, which was duly noted) but it wasn’t mentioned which means it would come back to haunt me. “Your father and I are thinking of going on a cruise,” Mum exclaimed during the meal.
“But you said you’d never ever go on a cruise!” I countered, surprised.
“Yes but Sylvia and Graham Blacksmith-Jones, you know from ‘Bridge’ have just got back from cruising the Rhine. A luxury ship of course! Wine tasting in Mainz and site seeing in Cologne. Quite a civilised affair by all accounts.”
You’ll hate it! #frittering my inheritance.My parents wanted to unpack after lunch and ‘settle’ into their room before school pick up and the onslaught of two overexcited children.“I see you haven’t got round to painting the walls in Hippopotumus Pant, or whatever the colour was? Farrow and Ball wasn’t it?”observed my mother. Well, that was no.3 ticked off nicely, the state of the spare room!
“Yes,” I said, “Farrow and Ball but I think you mean Elephant’s Breath!”
“Farrow and Ball you say,” added Dad, “I’m more of a Dulux man myself!”
I’m more of a – ‘let an interior decorator worry about the paint’. But that’s in my lovely parallel life where I am a multi million book selling author who is permanantly at the top of the Times bestsellers list! And I own an award winning vineyard and a second home in Barbados where Tom Hiddleston is my pool boy…..but hey I digress.Next, my Mother moved seamlessly onto – no.5 the state of my writing career.
“And darling, how’s your new romance book coming along – ‘A Thatcher for a fortnight’… or something isn’t it?
“Twelve days and the Thatcher,” I corrected her, “but I’d say it was more of a gritty love story than a ‘romance’.”
“So nothing like Miss Nadderbanks Investigates? “asked Dad, referring to the series of books that I had had published before the children were born..
“Oh yes, I always thought she was such a hoot!” Mum smirked, “anyway,” she continued, “as I’ve always said – you’re very talented and you’ve seen success with the Miss Nadderbanks series, so I’m sure your new novel will be brilliant,” she finished reverently. She smiled and held my gaze – almost long enough for me to have a warm and fuzzy but no………..
“And anyway I want something to brag about at Bridge! Did I tell you that Sylvia Blacksmith-Jones’ son is now with the Royal Shakespeare Company – she never stops banging on about it and of course her daughter is a very successful ‘down there’ Doctor in London,” my mother also found it necessary to gesticulate ‘down there’.
“I think you mean Consultant Urologist dear,” explained Dad wearily.
“Well anyway, let me know when you’ve written it, I’ll take a look at the manuscript for you,” she added officiously.
“You might find it a bit…errr,” I grappled for the right word “risque?” I said, slightly embarrassed.
“Oh you younger generations – you’re so pompous ! Anyone would think you invented sexual intercourse! How do you think your father and I did it – immaculate conception? A turkey baster, horse syringe?”.
MAKE IT STOP! #cringeathon. TMTI (too much to imagine) on an epic scale.
I sent my parents off to pick the children up from school (why have a dog and bark yourself). They arrived home far too quickly. I was hoping they’d spend at least an hour on the Village Green because I had just sat down with Devon Life and a cup of tea for a couple of minutes peace! They burst in noisily. Lottie has a cringy habit of asking my parents (usually the first thing she says) “When is your train home?” and this is not because she wants them to bugger off – she merely likes to get a handle on how long they are staying because she enjoys their company. My mother likes to take pretend umbridge, she enjoys taking her um to the bridge!
“Poor old Grannie Helen and Granddad! We’ve only just got here!” she said mock theatrically. Grannie Helen is a self styled name because my mother thinks that ‘Grannie’ on its own makes her sound old and unglamorous. So inevitably the children just call her Grannie to wind her up!
In fairness to my parents – they were jolly good at board games and seemed to have infinite patience to play them. Toby and Lottie busied themselves in the ‘games’ cupboard pulling out all manner of table top classics. Usually after school my children like to make a big fat fuss about what they can have for a snack. I try to dispatch something to eat fairly quickly so that no one gets hurt. They usually settle on some kind of cake-age or biscuitry.
“I’m sure we didn’t have such ‘snacking’ when you were a child! They won’t eat their dinner if they’re full of cake!” my mother chided, “I shan’t be eating anything until suppertime,” she added nobly. And tah dah – there’s no.2 the state of my children’s eating habits mentioned.
“Oh that’s a shame,” I said, “because actually I thought I’d make us all a cream tea!” This of course made the children whoop (the little Devonians).
“Shop bought scones like the quiche?” my mother enquired raising an eyebrow at the same time. Told you the shop bought quiche would bite me on the arse!
“Oh yes, fresh from the farm shop, baked this morning!!” I replied smugly.
My mother loves a jammy scone as much as me. Whenever she comes to Devon she feels it’s her touristic rite of passage to indulge in a proper Devonshire Cream Tea. A flash of panic passed over her features at the thought of missing out.
“I’d love a cream tea!” Dad said brightly, who always enjoyed our little exchanges and was smirking to himself as he let Toby beat him in a game of Connect 4.
“Perhaps I will have a cream tea after all, seems rude not to when you’re going to all that trouble,” my Mother blustered.
I was relieved when Ted (my husband) came home from work, he was a great way of distracting my mother who went into auto-fawning mode. She fixed him a gin and tonic and then plumped up a cushion for him – 1952 salutes you! Had he had a good day at work she enquired? How was work what with the political instability? Did he want his G&T refreshed! Dad wondered into the kitchen to escape the scattergun spray of smarming and offered to prepare the vegetables for dinner. I could hear my Mother still schmoozing my poor ‘friday knackered’ husband. But luckily for him he wasn’t required to participate in the ‘conversation’ anyway. “You shouldn’t have to sit on a sofa like this Ted, especially after a long day at work. It’s so uncomfortable. Put your foot down and tell Hillie you want a new one.” She was referring to our old leather sofa which had been cool when I’d bought it as a twenty something and now it was battered, ageing, sagging and sporting a plethora of stains and the word ‘bum’ written in small letters on one of the arm rests courtesy of Toby. Et voila – no.6 the state of my shabby (not chic) sofa.She had managed to nail the full ‘list’ in one day and we still had the rest of the weekend to get through!“I can hear her slagging off my sofa again!” I told Dad.
“Oh well, you know your Mother – she’s never been one to couch her opinions!” he said, snickering*.
More next week!
As you were!
PS Just because I mention Farrow and Ball (Elephants breath), fuchsia (upright and trailing) hanging baskets and cruises up the Rhine it does not mean I endorse them (unless I get a free one of course! – please don’t send me any frigging hanging baskets! Or a cruise up the Rhine but any Caribbean cruises will be gratefully accepted!)
*snickering – (lesser known definition) to consume a chocolatey and perhaps nutty bar of confectionary in the bathroom while your toddler is banging on the locked door with a Bob the Builder hammer or decapitated baby Annabel.
PPS It’s the Mumsnet Blogging Awards. If I’ve given you cause to snigger, chortle, giggle or even LOL with my bloggingness – I would love nominations for the category ‘Best Comic Writer’. My URL is https://turningupindevon.com Thank you! Every person who nominates me will be sent a dried out (but gel fed) hanging basket (probably not really). Ta x
Note to myself: The one when my parent’s visit.
Very chuffed to be a featured blogger on Friday Frolics 🙂 x