Monday, 16 July 2007

Keep mum. Children about!

The sun is smiling on the Preselis today. Well, sometimes, at any rate, and the forecast is for sunny spells for the next five days. HALLELUIAH!!!

Yesterday’s gloom has mostly receded. I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m glad it has gone!

I was talking of a children’s party in the moaning blog. Whilst there I was chatting with another mum about children, what they say and how careful you have be about what you say in front of them. She recounted the tale of a child she knew would go home with the party bag and dad would look into it and say: “Oh, look, the usual rubbish”. At the next party, on receiving its party bag the child said (right in front of the hostess): “Oh look, the usual rubbish”! One very red-faced mother who couldn’t wait to get home and throttle her husband!

You do have to be so careful what you say in front of the children.

A colleague of mine used to live in a big house divided into three flats. She lived on the bottom floor with her daughter, then about six, and there were tenants on the two floors above. J always referred to the top floor tenant as being “not quite the full shilling”. So, one day there’s a knock on the door and J’s daughter runs to answer it. “Mum,” she yells from the doorway with the tenant. “It’s the one who’s not quite the full shilling!”

I don’t recall anything too embarrassing that my own children have said yet, save for the ritual humiliation of the public loo. Rosie, three, is quite fond of the embarrassingly intimate question in such a situation. I’ll spare you the details, those with young children already know what it is they say! If she has failed to embarrass me that way, she will fling open the door just as I’m pulling up my pants.

You learn, after a while, to attempt wild distraction when there’s a pause and small child looks up at you and says: “Mummy…” in a certain tone of voice. You shriek (frantically and maniacally): “Look Rosie! Look! Giraffe!” Rosie, then all grown up and sensible will say: “Don’t be silly mummy,” in a voice that could wither bamboo.

A couple of gems Rosie has come up with lately have included (on the swing): “Mummy, my tummy’s smiling,” and (in the car having just driven over a hump back bridge): “Mummy, my tummy’s laughing.”

Then there are the questions. How is pasta made, how is tomato sauce made, how are tomatoes made, how is cheese made, how are forks made, how are plates made? And that is just a simple spaghetti tea! Roast dinners are fraught with danger, lamb especially.
"Who is this?" they'll ask, or (worse): "Mummy, how do lambs get made?"
"Ask Daddy."

Hannah, now five, tends to get hold of a subject, like a terrier with a slipper, and worry it for days. Currently we’re on the subject of floods. Can you get flooded on a hill? Why does the water flood? Where does it go? When will it stop raining? (I wish I flamin’ knew!) Last week there was a flood in the village (about six inches deep and a few feet wide). Did people have to get air-lifted from that flood? Er, no, I replied, (inwardly vowing never to let the child watch Newsround again.)

Another time it was the hot water system. Hannah wanted to know where the hot water came from (easy to show her the tank in the cupboard upstairs). How did it get to the bathroom downstairs (it’s an odd, old house). Easy. See the pipes. How does the water get upstairs? Easy. See the pump by the boiler which heats the water.

Hannah thinks for a nanosecond: “So, the water comes in here in the bathroom, gets pumped upstairs to the cold water tank, back downstairs to the boiler to be heated, back upstairs to the hot water tank, then back downstairs again to the bathroom.”

“Yes, Hannah.”

Pause. “Why?”

I have no berludy idea.

Hannah is queen of the alarming (to parents) statement. For example, one day after school she announced: “Daddy, boys are scared of being kissed on the lips by girls.” How did she find that out? Don’t ask!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Stop raining! I'm going mad!

It is ironic, really, that my last blog was about ways to beat the blues, because for the past fortnight or so I’ve been feeling decidedly gloomy.
Under the weather might be more appropriate. The rain is really getting me down. I’m fighting a losing battle with slugs and weeds in the garden, my children are fighting and my husband always seems to be out at work, or planning socialising with people from work.
Me? I’ve demanded a pay rise and paid holidays. Actually any pay at all and even just one day of holiday would feel like a bonus at the moment, but until the government decides that stay at home mums do actually deserve some kind of recognition for their labours, I’ll just have to rely on the child tax credit.
Oh lawks this is sounding like a moan! But if I can’t moan in my blog, where can I moan?
It can sometimes be a very lonely job being a stay at home mum. All my socialising seems to revolve around what my children want to do, so this week I’ve had a day trip to the local children’s fun farm, which was a good day out, but it was in my role as mum, not as a woman out to have some fun and enjoy herself on her own terms.
Saturday was a birthday party. The bouncy castle sort in the garden of the birthday girl’s home. Lovely party food, a really tastefully done barn conversion set in a nice lawned gardens with lots of the chic sort of touches I hanker for. Great. But it was a fifth birthday party and most of the mums dropped their sprogs off and dashed off to football.
“I could go somewhere,” I thought and suggested it to my offspring. Result? Tears. So I had to stay. Which was fine, except there for a lack of people to talk to. Towards the end of the party other mums turned up and I did have a good time catching up with some I haven’t seen for a while, but then members of the village taffia turned up and started to speak Cymraeg, so I was out in the cold.
Annoyingly I can understand most of what they talk about, but haven’t got the mental elasticity in Welsh to join in. There’s a time lag in working out what they are saying and being able to respond, by which time the conversation has galloped on. And anyway, I don’t think I was intended to be included in the chat. The paranoid side of my nature thinks that they deliberately talk in Welsh to exclude me. The more rational side then points out that this is Wales, they are all native Welsh speakers and they talk in Welsh first because that is what comes naturally to them. But it still makes me feel shut out and lonely.
So, time to apply my own tips on how to clear these blues. This too will pass.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Five ways to beat the blues

I have been tagged by Cait for my five ways to beat the blues and the things I do to make myself feel better.
I haven’t always been 100% successful in beating the blues. I had a bit of post natal depression after both babies, although I didn't realise at the time what was happening to me. I also get mild seasonal depression and the recent prolonged spells of rain are definitely making me grumpy!
So, how do I deal with it?
My motto. This is the most important thing I do. I can’t remember where this one came from, but in times of stress the phrase “This too will pass” pops into my head. It is extremely useful when waiting for medical appointments or other uncomfortable situations, or black moods, even long, arduous car journeys. The ‘too’ is important as it reminds the brain that you have been in a similar situation before and it has passed.

Walking. Preferably a long walk for an hour or with a talkative friend. This is definitely a mood booster. Nearly as good is taking my dog Mido out for a walk, but he’s not such a great conversationalist!

Escape to the movies. I adore ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and have I and II at my disposal on DVD. Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport in the same movie are guaranteed to lift a gloomy mood. As is ITV’s recent production of ‘Persuasion’ with the delicious Rupert Penry Jones. For a quick fix: Shaun the Sheep.

A cup of tea and a biscuit (or three). Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the most difference. Or a bucket sized cup of cappuccino and a fabulous chocolate gateau. The unfortunate side effect of this is to make me put on weight, as it has done recently (I blame the rain).

Gardening. I love uninterrupted weeding where you completely lose yourself in the task, then look up to find two hours have sped by and the bed you’ve weeded looks fantastic. Looking at smiling flowers in the borders cheers me up, as do rows of lettuce. I never can grow enough. Perhaps I should swap the tea and biscuit for herbal tea and a lettuce!

There are other ways, such as dancing with my daughters, listening to music, Paul McKenna CDs and fantasy shopping on the internet, but the above five are the ones I use most often.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Rain and a big concert - that reminds me...

It is cold and wet. I’m going to light the wood burning stove later. We were in the mist yesterday – the clouds were so low we were shrouded in them for most of the day. This weather reminds me of when we moved here 22 years ago.
The date was July 12th 1985. The place was a large Victorian house set in 1.75 acres of ground with stables, adjoining woodland in rural Worcestershire. It was sunny and in the near distance I could see the Malvern Hills shimmering in the sunshine.
We were packing, Mum, Dad, my elder sister Jackie and me, then aged 18. The biggest removals van I had ever seen had inched its way backwards up our long, potholed driveway and two young men in sandy brown coats were loading all our possessions into its cavernous depths.
Eventually everything was loaded and the van set off. We put our assortment of goats, six ducks, two cats and three dogs into the horse trailer and Land Rover and Mum set off in the wake of the removals van, for West Wales.
Dad and I waved them off, my sister headed back to Birmingham University where she was training to be a dentist.
Minutes later the telephone rang. It was Mum, in tears. Somehow her beloved mongrel, with the incongruous name of Prince, had leaped from the back of the Land Rover, through the dog guard we had bought specially for the journey, over her shoulder and out of the window. The accident had happened opposite the veterinary surgery and the staff had rushed out to help, but there was nothing they could do. Dad sped off in our blue Rover and came back later with the body.
Mum continued on her way to Wales. Halfway, at Manordeilo, she telephoned, again in tears, to say how the journey was going. She arrived later that afternoon at our new home in the Preseli Hills.
I stayed at what had been our home, now echoingly empty, with our two horses and their luggage. Later that evening the new owners arrived with their most precious items that could not have been trusted to removals men and I annoyed them by helping to carry the items into the house. It was an eclectic mix – a Roman bust, a statue of an elephant, Persian rugs and various peculiar ephemera collected on their world travels.
That night, after Dad and I had buried Prince next to the lavender bush in the front garden, I took my sleeping bag on the floor of my empty bedroom and failed to sleep, lying awake listening to the noise of the empty house and feeling oppressed by the atmosphere of change.
We always said that house was haunted. It was Victorian red brick, and had been extended over the years. In the garden was an old slaughterhouse, complete with cobbled floor with channels for the blood. There was even the old water pump which would still give water if you pumped it for long enough.
The house had big fireplace surrounds with slate mantels, and one day we decided to unscrew the board which was hiding the fireplace in our dining room. Previous owners had boarded over the fireplace and installed an ugly wood burning stove instead. Its chimney fed through the board and up the chimney. We decided to see what was behind and started to remove the board.
As it came away clouds of black soot descended into the room. We wiped our eyes and in front of us was a black old fashioned cooking range, complete with oven. My grandmother was not impressed! She remembered such things from her childhood when her job had included cleaning and black leading such ‘monstrosities’. We were delighted! It was An Original Feature. We cleaned it up and used it instead of the wood burning stove. We cooked on it too. But it was then that we decided we had some sort of ghostly presence. Some mornings we would come downstairs to the smell of cooking – bacon or bread.
When Mum and Dad decided to sell, with the aim of moving to Devon, the house gave us some most unpleasant smells. It treated some of the early viewers to a smelly clammy coldness and they didn’t stay inside the house for long! The eventual buyers were greeted with a lovely warm, friendly smell, so whoever was haunting us obviously approved of them.
So I spent that final night in the house, with terrible mixed feelings of grief for our dog, a sense of finally bidding farewell to my childhood and nerves about the move, mingled with excitement.
The following day, July 13th, saw crowds flocking to Wembley Stadium for Live Aid. I remember desperately trying to tune my radio to hear the concert. I was – still am – a huge fan of U2 and was distraught that I would miss their spot on stage because of the move.
In the morning the horsebox came to take me and my horses, Jamie a 16hh bay thoroughbred and Jojo, a 15hh flea-bitten grey Welsh-Arab cross, to our new home. Loading them was ‘fun’. They were used to a trailer and did not much fancy the steep ramp and dark interior of the lorry. But eventually after much patience and a few rope burns to my palms, they were loaded and we set off.
As we approached West Wales the weather became greyer and wetter. There was no sign of the Preseli Hills; they were shrouded in thick mist. I remember, as we drove through Clynderwen, the driver handed me his business card, he said: “In case you want to go back.”
It did look pretty grim. Grey houses and grey weather. I had never been to the farm, so it was a fairly nervous journey and seemed never ending. We turned off the main road and wound round and around tiny lanes with the tree canopy meeting above to form a dark, damp dripping green tunnel.
Eventually we arrived, headed up the steeply sloping drive and I got my first look at my new home.
I was appalled. It looked awful. The house seemed tiny in comparison to the one we had left. It was damp, it was smelly, it was raining. I was homesick for Worcestershire. With a heavy heart I unloaded the horses and we led them to the nearest field, of the 22 acres we now had available, and opened the gate.
Now, these two horses had been used to Worcestershire clay. In the winter it sucked them in up to their hocks and there was lots of mud, but no grass. In the summer it was as hard as iron, with deep cracks and there was no grass. Apart from a brief period in the autumn when the sky rained cider apples and perry pears, their Worcestershire quarters had left a lot to be desired.
So Jamie and Jojo came tired and blinking out of the hated lorry and looked at their new field. They looked at six acres of rolling, south-facing lush greenness. They looked at each other and their faces lit up. They kicked up their heels and disappeared to the far corner, paused, galloped the perimeter, threw in a few bucks of joy and then put their heads down and started eating.
For days we were unable to catch them, or get anywhere near them. They were afraid that anyone coming into the field might be coming to get them and take them back!
We were too busy with unpacking to have much time for them anyway, but eventually we did manage to catch them and were able to saddle them up for long exploratory hacks around the lanes.
The sun did peek out from time to time that summer. Mum cleaned up the house, redecorated and put in a new kitchen and things didn’t seem so bad after all. We even learned to pronounce the name of the farm and the surrounding villages! This was the 1980s when most of the farms were still inhabited by Welsh people. We were in advance of the English invasion and have watched since as the countryside has gradually changed. I’m not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. The incomers have brought money and enterprise in many cases. Most have attempted to learn a little Cymraeg. Many have brought children and helped to keep the village school open. But 20 years ago we were comparatively rare, and were sometimes greeted with suspicion and ill concealed hostility. In the main part we received a warm welcome, and our new next door neighbours were English anyway. They invited us round to dinner and gave us a crash course on fitting in with the locals – I sometimes think that should be compulsory for all incomers!
So there we were in our new home. I managed to get a very snowy picture on my little black and white television to catch the end of the Live Aid concert – although I still haven’t seen U2’s famous performance!
Eventually the rain stopped, the mists cleared and the hills came into view. When my sister visited the tallest Preseli Hill always seemed to be under a mist or sea fog and it was years before she believed us that it really did exist.
After our first summer there I went off to college to study equine husbandry, then got a job back in Worcestershire, but it no longer felt like home and I ached to get back to the Preseli Hills. It took a few years, my parents’ divorce, and the death of Mum’s new partner, but I now live here with my family, and it would take a lot to make me leave it again - even if it does rain copiously at times and I haven’t seen the hills for days!