Thursday, 26 December 2013

8 Reasons Not To Live in a Castle

Christmas 2013 has been spent at Harburn House in West Lothian, a Georgian mansion set in 3000 acres of glorious Scottish countryside. It enabled twenty-one of us, from three generations of family, to all spend Christmas together in luxurious surroundings. All the young cousins could romp around together, and the adults could too, for that matter.

Sitting at my dressing table each morning with the four poster bed reflecting in the mirror made me feel like a character in a Jane Austen novel. Walking Kempy in such beautiful, tranquil countryside, with hills rising majestically in the distance, was dreamy.

So, before I get too carried away with the romance of the whole thing and decide that my real life is inadequate by comparison, I've decided to focus on all the reasons why I really, really wouldn't want to live in a glorious castle.

1. It is a very, very long walk to the nearest pub.

2. You get achy legs from having to keep going up and down colossal flights of stairs. Longer than four days here and I would end up with calves the size of large pheasants.

3. Hanging Christmas decorations becomes a life-threatening mission given the height of the ceilings.

4. There are so many bathrooms that choosing where to have a bath or shower becomes a major decision.

5. The drapes on one's four-poster-bed block out the light from one's bedside lamp, making night-time reading difficult.

6. There's no mobile phone signal, and fairly intermittent wifi, so it's difficult to boast about being here without constant access to social media.

7. Whatever you want is inevitably an awfully long way away from where you happen to be. On occasion I found myself three floors away from my slippers.

8. And, linked with number seven on the list, you have to shout very loudly indeed to be heard whenever you do want something.

But aside from those little niggles, it really has been a magical Christmas. Father Christmas managed to find his way here, alleviating the fears of the children. And though it didn't settle, we even had snow flurries throughout the day on Christmas Eve. I'll just try not to think too much about the journey home.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Road Trip

'Twas the night before our departure for five days away, and I found myself ramming 'stocking' presents into a hard-structured suitcase thereby crushing carefully wrapped Barbie doll boxes and bending unbendable tubes of smarties. "You - will - go - in.." I snarl threateningly at some inanimate and hitherto unobjectionable objects, regretting it immediately amidst the sound of sinister snapping sounds and as the foot of a dinosaur protrudes menacingly from cheap wrapping paper. It is an ominous start to a long night.

At nine am the next morning, Daddy proclaims that the car is full. I look on to see, with no small measure of alarm, that so is the kitchen. Full of bags that still need to go in to the car. And it is, of course, imperative that most of it is unseen by the children.

The sideways rain doesn't help. It comes lashing at you in waves, like a giant dog in the sky shaking itself off vigorously from side to side. Daddy on a step-ladder fiddling with the things in the roof box is making absolutely no difference to the space available, but quite a lot to his life expectancy. In the wrong direction. Now we are an hour late departing. The giant dog in the car, Kempton, is quaking with fear as she is forced into the boot alongside boxes of bags and tubes and packages. And well she might, since around the first corner most of it falls on top of her. A hasty pull in to a lay by and some significant adjustments later and we are off again. There is a repeat performance round the next bend and Daddy begins muttering about more bungee cords. This will continue until the motorway. Muted swearing and some gritted-teeth conversations take place.

Gilby asks about the language that is spoken in Scotland. He translates my definition for Eddie: "Yeah, so it's English, just not spoken properly." I look at the heavy sky. It doesn't help, or offer any inspiration. That wasn't what I said, nor what I meant. I shrug.

We stop at the printers to pick up photographs that had been promised but aren't ready. I grin and say that it doesn't matter and then promptly step in a puddle outside the shop, smashing muddy water across my clothes. Exactly what is not required at the start of a four hour road trip. More swearing. It turns out that I am quite cross about the photographs in spite of what I might have suggested to the shop assistant.

One more set of Kempy-calamity-avoidance adjustments are made and then we are really off. So far it has taken forty minutes to travel sixteen miles. Now we are nearly two hours behind schedule. Gertie is wedged uncomfortably between a box of Christmas crackers and an extra large bottle of cider. She has heard the exchanges between her parents and knows better than to complain. I am starting to suspect that the cider may not make it past Watford Gap. It wouldn't do a great deal to ease the congestion in the car, which is rammed to the gunnels and has begun to resemble the old woman's house in A Squash and a Squeeze. I don't even like cider. This journey seems more likely to arrive in divorce than in Scotland. But before that destination there is visiting Grandpa Mac in Derby.

The M25 is also congested, so now we are experiencing it both outside the car and in. We come to a standstill around Heathrow. The helpful picture of an upturned car reminds us of our own good fortune in merely moving slowly rather than having been part of a crash.

The first part of the M1 is, unsurprisingly, congested. This time due to 'pedestrians on the road'. Right. I speculate about what they might be doing there. Spontaneously liberating themselves from the stress of long car journeys, perhaps. We manage to successfully dodge them and continue to wend our way. It isn't long before we are heading for 'the North'. I feel like doing a celebratory air-punch.

Eventually we arrive with Grandpa Mac. No thanks to sat nav, who has quite distinct ideas about the best way not to get us to our destination. We have a good lunch, and somehow manage to negotiate the strange requirements of Sunday carvery in far-flung lands. The beer is cheap, and there is an ice-cream machine which delights the children. Though this provides more than enough sugar for one day, Grandpa Mac appears to have bought sweets in the kind of quantities that might have sunk the Titanic should an iceberg not have been around to do the job.

The kids turn hyper.

I drink lots of wine.

And consider the silver lining: I have learned some salutary lessons about the obscene levels of materialistic consumerism to which I have sunk, namely through the recognition of my inability to stuff all this stuff into the car (and I'm not even seeing all my family over Christmas, for chrissakes!), I have discovered that the Premier Inn in Derby is like heaven after that cramped and fractious journey, and I have inadvertently compiled some material for a blog post.

Three sleeps and three hundred miles to go!

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Very Hopeless Mother

This week I have managed to miss my youngest son's nativity, practically ignore Gilby's Christmas play, and cause Gertie's grandfather to miss her performance as the very hopeless camel.

Eddie didn't take part in his play because, well, it was scheduled on a day when he wasn't in nursery and I just couldn't get him there. I console myself with the thought that I don't think he has any awareness that he was missing out on anything. He's too young to remember it.

I missed Gilby's because somewhere along the way we simply didn't find out about it. I checked his book bag to see if I had inadvertently mislaid a letter, but no, apparently it was all done by word of mouth at the school gate. Fine if you are there every day; not so good if you are one of the two full-time working mums of the class. So nobody was at his first performance during the day, and we managed to get him rushed to the second, evening performance, with seconds to spare and a breathless father somewhere at the back having dashed there early from work. There was some talk of me getting there the following night; except that it transpired that this mythical, third performance only existed in Gilby's head. He was very disappointed. Never mind. It's only his first term at school. His first ever nativity. The first time of wearing the tea-towel on his head as a shepherd...

But on the Thursday, we were far more organised for Gertie's starring role in 'The Very Hopeless Camel'. We had grandfather on board to get her there early, and had managed to secure elusive extra tickets, presumably on the basis of having been entirely hopeless and missing out on everything else thus far. It didn't quite go according to plan, though. I neglected the fact that not everyone else in the world is used to flying through the world at an unholy pace. The car journey to school - seven minutes if you really put your foot down and take the sneaky corner parking spot that most other parents wouldn't dare to, and which I have to do each Friday when I fly out of my school with ten minutes before the bell goes for the end of the day at there's - takes much longer in the dark and the rain when you are in your mid seventies and unfamiliar with the route and the idiosyncratic parking arrangements. So Grumps missed his grand-daughter harrumphing around brilliantly hopelessly.

And my new year's resolution? To slow down a little. I am going so fast that I am missing the important moments.

Currently reading: In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore.