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Archive for the ‘The Part You Throw Away’ Category

Stuff my kids will remember about their summer holidays - portrait

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[RIDING STABLES, EXT., DAY. MY FAMILY AND I ARE HACKING OUT AS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT TO MY MUM. THE HACK LEADER HAS JUST LED OUT AN ABSOLUTELY ENORMOUS HORSE, WITH A THICK NECK AND MASSIVE FEATHERY HOOVES.]

ME: Blimey. You’re quite big.

HORSE: Fear not, small human female. Although I am large and powerful and may initially seem more suitable to being ridden by Gregor Clegane, I am in fact a gentle giant. Did you happen to bring any offerings about your person, concealed perhaps inside this blue woolen outer-garment you wear?

ME: No snacks. Sorry.

HORSE [RESIGNED]: Ah. I thought as much. T’was ever thus. And yet still I permit myself to hope – perhaps if I look inside your hood –

ME: Aww, your nose is so nice and soft.

HORSE: Even though you failed to bring me a Polo mint, I will patiently tolerate your stroking of my nose, for lo, I am the nicest, most chilled-out horse in the stable. While you scramble up onto me and then ineptly adjust your stirrups for what seems like several years, I will stand like a rock and stare serenely into the middle distance. You are safe with me.

IMG_9213[1]

[WE RIDE UP THE LANE. IT IS QUITE MUDDY AND SLIPPY.]

ME: You’re not going to fall over, are you?

HORSE: What is this thing you humans call “fall”? I know it not.

ME: Fair enough. This is quite a steep downhill slope though. Are you sure you’re not going to –

HORSE [PATIENT]: I will not fall. I will not slip. I will do nothing to alarm you. The dainty mare your daughter rides may prance about and insist on leaving the yard before everyone else is ready, but I am above such foolishness. I am calm and unflappable. Were I to be sold, I believe the description which would be applied to me would be “bombproof”. Are you asking me to trot?

IMG_9203[1]

ME: Well, yes. If you wouldn’t mind.

HORSE: Although trotting did not feature in my plans for the afternoon, I shall oblige. Let us circle this field twice, then come to a gentle halt and await the arrival of your small son, who I see rides upon a pony whose legs are but short and stumpy.

IMG_9202[1]

ME: I can see a wind-turbine. Can you see a wind-turbine? Aren’t horses supposed to be scared of wind-turbines?

HORSE: I see nothing of interest.

ME: Well, okay then.

IMG_9214[1]

[WE DESCEND ANOTHER SLIPPY HILL]

ME: Do you want me to let you have your head, or do I have some role in steering you down this hill?

HORSE [REASSURING]: Fragile human female, be at peace. I have navigated this hill many times. I fear it not. It is of no – HOLY FUCK WHAT IS THAT

ME: What? What?

HORSE [SIDLING AROUND SHOWING WHITES OF EYES]: I SEE SOMETHING BLUE AND EVIL

forget me nots

ME: You mean the forget-me-nots?

HORSE: NOBODY SAID THERE WOULD BE FLOWERS

ME: You’re spooking at flowers? Are you serious?

HORSE: THIS WAS DEFINITELY NOT WHAT WE DISCUSSED

IMG_9226[1]

ME: Come on. Be brave. Walk past them. You can do it.

HORSE: DON’T LET THEM GET ANYWHERE NEAR ME. I AM SERIOUS

[WE MAKE IT PAST THE PATCH OF FORGET-ME-NOTS]

ME [TRYING NOT TO LAUGH]: Feeling better now?

HORSE: I feel splendid. As always. Why do you enquire?

ME: Hey look, I can see a rabbit. Can you see the rabbit? Is it frightening?

HORSE: I do not know the meaning of the word “frightening”. Let us discuss other matters. Perhaps we might trot again.

ME: And a blackthorn in blossom. Are we cool with the blackthorn in blossom?

blackthorn

HORSE: I have literally no idea what you are talking about.

ME: Or how about that primrose? Any problems with the primrose you’d like to discuss?

HORSE: I am a leaf on the wind; watch how I soar.

[ENDS]

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[INT., MY HOUSE, 4.45AM. SHYCAT AND BOSSYCAT COME CHARGING INTO THE ROOM]

BOSSYCAT: It’s morning! Morning! Hello! It’s morning! Time to get up!

SHYCAT: Hello! It’s morning! Hello! We love you! You slept through your alarm so we came to get you!

Startled ringtailed lemur

ME: What? What? I slept through the alarm? Oh my God, what? How did that happen?

BOSSYCAT: Ha ha, not really. We fooled you. It’s not really morning at all! April Fool! Good thing we’re so cute! Bye!

SHYCAT: She made me do it. Bye!

[CATS GALLOP OFF DOWNSTAIRS. I LIE AWAKE UNTIL THE ALARM GOES OFF]

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It’s summer and it’s hot. When I get the kids from school, they’re cross and squabblish. So I take them down to our village beck and sling them in to cool off.

The beck with a duck

Our village beck is lovely. When the weather’s right we can all spend hours pottering around in it. Today, the weather is definitely right. Within about a minute of getting in the water, all three of us are happy and relaxed.

Becky in the beck

One of the kids’ favourite things to do is to prospect for treasure. For some reason, the river bottom is full of little fragments of dinnerware. Maybe previous villagers used to come down here and throw plates in when they were mad, I don’t know. Whatever: my kids love to dig around in the mud and the stones and find bits of plates and cups and so on, then carry them home in their socks with the plan that we’re going to make a mosaic with them. (To date we have never yet made a mosaic, but that’s okay. The joy is in the collecting.)

Playing in the beck 2

Playing in the beck

Today, we do loads better than that. Within minutes, my son comes bounding over to me brandishing a massive glass…thing…and begs me to interpret it. “It’s a lampshade,” I tell him, with no real evidence. He lays it on the side of the beck and returns for more treasure.

A lampshade, possibly

A lampshade, possibly

Within minutes, we find it. My daughter appears with a look of reverence on her face. “I think…” she can hardly speak with excitement. “I think I’ve found a glass bottle.” We rinse it off in the beck. I think she’s found a glass bottle too. Quite a pretty one. Today is a good collecting day.

Glass bottle, definitely

Glass bottle, definitely

Then my son comes back with something else. I can tell from the look on his face that he’s not sure about it.

“Look at this,” he says. “It looks like some sort of bone.”

Looks like a bone

Looks like a bone

“Goodness,” I say. “So it does.”

“So, what is it then?”

“D’you know,” I say, “I have absolutely no idea.”

We head home with the glass lampshade (possibly), the glass bottle (definitely) and the thing that looks like a bone. I wash them in the sink and then put them on the downstairs windowsill to dry. Then I sort of forget about them. The glass lampshade and the glass bottle and the thing that looks like a bone become part of the background.

Months pass. It’s next January and it’s cold. The British Gas boiler-man comes to service our boiler.

(Unsolicited plug for the British Gas boiler-man: he was ace. The boiler-man comes when he says he will, does everything he said he would, explains the paperwork, fixes our dodgy radiator for free with a part he happened to have on the van, tidies up after himself and leaves on time. This has nothing to do with the story and no-one is paying me to say this. I just mention it because it’s true, and it’s nice to acknowledge great service in public.)

Our boiler is in the downstairs bathroom. Naturally, this means the British Gas boiler-man spends time in there. Also in there are the glass lampshade, the glass bottle, and the thing that looks like a bone.

After he’s been there a while, I go in to offer him a cup of tea.

He is, as I mentioned above, ace. This is partly why I feel so bad when I see the look on his face. He is looking at the windowsill. Is he looking at the glass lampshade? No. Is he looking at the glass bottle? No. He is looking at the thing that looks like a bone. Rather belatedly, it dawns on me that there is a very good reason it looks like a bone.

Just like a bone

Just like a bone

He looks at me for a second, then looks back at the bone my son fished out of the river and which I carried home, washed and have kept on my windowsill ever since.

In any reasonable country, he would ask me, “What’s the deal with the bone on the windowsill, missus?” and I would reply, “Damn, I only just noticed. Here’s how that happened…”

But we’re British, so we don’t speak of it. Instead, I say, “would you like a cup of tea?” and he pretends to think about it for a minute and then says, “Um…no, thanks, I’m fine. But thank you” and then he gets on with fixing the boiler and I go and hide in the kitchen and no further eye contact is made between us and the bone is never ever mentioned again.

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Eye of Sauron

Somehow it feels wrong that we found this at the bottom of an empty mug of tea. If there is such a thing as a sentient supernatural entity who is the essence of all evil on this earth, you’d think he’d pick a coffee-cup.

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You know that whole Horror-Movie trope where someone’s adorably off-beat child receives messages that warn of the imminent arrival of terrible dark forces bent on the destruction of all humanity holds dear? And, because horror-movie children seem to be Pictures people rather than Words people, they choose to express what they know through the medium of terrifying drawings? Only the parents choose not to act on it because they are busy cooking dinner or working on their tan or getting divorced or something?

Here’s what I found propped up on my seven-year-old son’s desk on New Year’s Eve:

Angel Devil Spiderman picture

My first reaction was “Ha ha, I hope this isn’t like one of those drawings in The Ring or Silent Hill or Children of the Corn or The Butterfly Effect and I am one of those dozy parents who completely misses the signs of horrors to come.” My second (possibly more rational) reaction was “Holy shit, I hope this really isn’t like one of those drawings in The Ring or Silent Hill or Children of the Corn or The Butterfly Effect and I am one of those dozy parents who completely misses the signs of horrors to come…better do some parenting here and see what’s going down.”

Extensive interrogation revealed the following:

1. The picture is of a devil and an angel
2. The devil has a pitchfork because he is bad
3. The angel has a halo because she is good
4. The thing in the angel’s right hand is a candle
5. Yes, he knows that being naughty isn’t a boy thing and being good isn’t a girl thing
6. Oh yes, and Spiderman. Spiderman is in it too
7. That, um, that blobby thing underneath. Can we talk about something else now?
8. The candle is because. [This was probed further, but no further information was forthcoming. Apparently the candle was its own justification]
9. It’s all drawn in black because it is
10. Because it is
11. Because it is!
12. This is all the information he wishes to share on the matter, or as he put it, “I think I’ve finished talking about this now, mummy. Let’s read The Faraway Tree and talk about Lego.”

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Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in an influencer campaign by Mumsnet on behalf of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

“I’d really like to try contact lenses,” my daughter tells me.

I look at her warily. She is eleven.

I got contact lenses when I was twenty-two. I’d just landed my first Real Job and was finally getting paid Real Money (unlike previous jobs, paying a special form of money that could seemingly only be spent on rent, food and cinema tickets). Contact lenses were my first grown-up purchase. I have worn them ever since. I’m not 100% sure, but it’s possible they would be my Desert Island Discs luxury item.

Desert Island

Nonetheless, when my daughter tells me she wants contact lenses, something very stern and determined inside of me says a firm No. I start trying to find ways to justify my position.

“They’re very complicated to put in,” I reply.

My daughter is too polite to say anything, but I can feel her disbelief. She’s seen me put my contact lenses in. She’s seen me take my contact lenses out. She knows exactly how much complexity is involved. Liquid eyeliner – now that’s a challenge. Contact lenses? We both know I can do it even when I’m not even awake enough to talk about cornflakes.

Woman asleep with head in toilet

“You have to use lots of different chemicals to keep them clean,” I offer.

“Do you use lots of different chemicals to keep your lenses clean?” Her face is very sweet and innocent. “Because I’ve never seen you do it. Can I watch you one time?”

Bollocks. She’s got me. I wear disposables. Furthermore, I have worn disposables for years. Now I come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I even saw contact lens solutions.

Oddly enough, nearly two decades earlier, my mother raised the same objection to me. To my mother, contact lenses were fiendishly complicated beasts requiring regular treatment with tablets and chemicals and split-second timing and, I don’t know, your own custom-built sterile lab space or something. I told her about one-step solutions and monthly disposables, but it was no good. Contact lenses worried her. Now I know how she feels.

Mad Scientist

“I’m quite grown-up,” my daughter tries. Perhaps she senses my weakness. “I think I can handle them. I manage my brace all by myself.”

This is true. Since she was eight, she’s been subjected to a binator, which made her dribble and forces her jaw forward and required her to learn to speak with her teeth clenched together. Of course, it has also worked miracles on her overbite and protected her from a lifetime of dental issues. Nonetheless, it was a hell of a thing to take on. Without her commitment and cooperation, it would never have worked.

“But you can see just fine with your glasses,” I suggest, and then I have to stop.

I can still remember the astounding surprise of my first pair of contact lenses. Under the supervision of the optician, I put them in. Then I walked all around York town centre, being amazed, and seeing stuff.

No smears! Peripheral vision! It is raining and yet I do not care because the raindrops are not coating the surface of my glasses and interfering with my field of vision! I am Seeing-Eye Woman; hear me roar! It was like magic.

rain on glass

“I’d really like to try contact lenses,” my daughter tells me.

“Why?” I ask. Maybe if I can find out her reasoning, I’ll be able to talk her out of it.

“You see,” she says, “I don’t like having to wear my glasses all the time. Sometimes I want to look different.”

“But glasses don’t make you look ugly,” I say.

“I don’t want to wear them all the time,” she repeats.

Damn, I think. I suspect I’ve just found the problem. Her problem, and also mine.

I want my daughter to be comfortable in her skin. I also want her to love her skin, and all the rest of her, just the way it is. It’s a tension I know we’ll come back to many times over the next few years. Being honest, this is the easy end of it. She’s not asking for a nose-job or high heels or silicone implants. She just wants to have the option to leave her glasses off and not walk into stuff.

Woman walks into pole

Over the next few years, I’m sure we’ll argue about her appearance on a regular basis. The words You’re not going out like that are going to come up in conversation. Out of all the things she will Not Be Wearing as part of her quest to look her best, surely her glasses shouldn’t feel like such a big deal?

And yet, contact lenses still feel like a step I’m not ready for yet. Why is it such a problem? Maybe because I’m afraid that if I let her have them, I’ll be sending the message Actually yes, glasses are unattractive and you should ditch them as soon as humanly possible.

Yes, I think that’s it. I’m afraid that if I let her have contact lenses, I’m giving her permission to look down on all her glasses-wearing friends and classmates. Before I’m comfortable letting her have contact lenses, I want to be really, really sure she’s totally absorbed and fully internalised the knowledge that glasses do not equal ugly. (Also, the important truth that glasses let us see where we’re going – a privilege many of our short-sighted ancestors would have given anything for.) I feel as though, in letting my daughter have contact lenses, I would be cheating her of an important life-lesson.

"In your FACE, cows and pigs and sheep and chickens and goats!"

“In your FACE, cows and pigs and sheep and chickens and goats!”

Now I write that down, I can see how stupid it is. Even the most dedicated contact-lens wearer will still be a glasses-wearer too. I wear my glasses every single day. Sometimes I wear them all weekend, along with my pyjamas. But still, but still…

I promise I will think about it, and I do. In fact, I think about it for weeks. I am still thinking about it when a Mumsnet survey pops up about vision correction. I have a woo moment and decide this is a sign from the universe.

A lot of the questions are about self-esteem. Essentially what they’re asking me is, Do you think your child likes that they have to wear glasses? I find these questions uncomfortable to answer. It feels too much like an admission that we’re now in the territory of worrying about body image and outward appearance. How has this come around so soon? She still sometimes plays with little plastic animals, for God’s sake. But she’s also nearly old enough for secondary school. I finish the survey, then hesitate a long time. Do I actually want us to be chosen for the trial?

The hell with it, I think. She wants to try them. They might not even pick me anyway. Let’s see what happens. I press “send”.

Uncle Sam pointing

My daughter doesn’t know about this yet, but when she does, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled. I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing, but at least I’ve finally got to the bottom of what’s bothering me about the whole contact-lenses-for-my-daughter question and faced its absurdity. It’s time I accepted that contact lenses aren’t a cosmetic enhancement – they’re a corrective appliance. We’re going to try contact lenses, and see where it leads us.

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So I just got home and turned out my pockets, and discovered that – alongside the more usual pocket detritus like a pen and a tissue and a trolley-token and an emergency 20p – I also have an extraordinary number of conkers.

Lots of conkers

Some additional observations on the subject:

1. These are not all the conkers I have collected this autumn. These are just conkers I have collected today.
2. These are not all the conkers I have collected today. These are just the conkers I collected today and didn’t instantly regift to someone more appropriate, i.e. my son, my daughter, or anyone else’s son or daughter who I happened to pass on the school run.
3. I have no plan for any of these conkers. I just want them. I see them; I stop; I pick them up. Because they are shiny and pretty and I can.
4. This must be what it’s like to be a magpie.

Lovely fat palm sized conker

Look at this conker. It’s one of my current favourites. It’s all lovely and round and fat, and as I walk along scuffing up leaves and stamping on empty beech-nut shells, I can turn it round and round inside my pocket and enjoy its asymmetrical nobbliness. It’s like stamping on bubble-wrap while twirling a stress-ball, only with all-natural materials. Yummy.

New shiny conker

I also really love this conker. In fact this conker might be the nicest conker I’ve found today. It’s an especially dark glossy colour, and the non-shiny part is so new and fresh it’s still a lovely clean white.

Conker twins

These conkers are twins. They came together in a massive fat uber-case, and I had to peel the spiny outside off to get them out, and it hurt a bit, but that made me feel a bit more justified in keeping the conkers afterwards. They have round tops and flat bottoms. They’re very tactile.

When I collect conkers, I like to imagine I’m taking part in the annual harvest of Nature’s glorious autumn bounty, but of course this isn’t true. Nothing I do with this conker will have any real value for either me or the tree. The proper thing to happen to a conker is for a squirrel to take it away and bury it, and then either a) go and dig it up later and eat it, thus contributing to the planet’s average mass of Squirrel or b) grow into a new tree, thus contributing to the planet’s average mass of Tree. “Spend up to a year in a coat pocket, then get thrown in a bin” does not form part of any rational food and / or reproductive cycle. If anything, I’m fucking up the annual harvest of Nature’s glorious autumn bounty. I am a horrid vampire scavenger in a stripey scarf and kick-ass Doctor Marten boots.

Autumnal selfie

Here’s a conker I don’t love any more. I don’t love it so much that I couldn’t even be bothered to centre it properly to take this photo. It’s dried out and the shell has cracked a bit.

Old dried out conker

I took a photograph of this conker, but I don’t feel anything for it other than vague puzzlement over why I still have it. Once I loved it, but not any more. Now it’s old and ruined. Soon I will throw it away.

The shameful truth is that I am a shallow, fickle person who ignores the fertile mysteries hidden within, focusing only on the exterior. I only love the conkers as long as they are new and shiny and beautiful. Once they dry out, I lose interest. I suspect that my attitude to conkers means I am not a good person.

The only way I can redeem myself is to save all the conkers I pick up and hoard, take them to a beautiful field somewhere with light sandy soil and just the right kind of drainage, and plant an entire grove of horse-chestnut trees to gladden the hearts of everyone and feed all the squirrels in the area with as many conkers as their adorably fat little middles can hold.

Horse chestnut grove

Like that’s ever going to happen. 😦

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Dear Shycat,

You are very cute. But you are not going to fit inside my boot. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to cram your fluffy self in there. There is simply too much cat to get into a size 6 mid-calf Doc Marten. Also, you are entirely the wrong shape.

Rihanna Doc Marten 1

Just so we’re totally clear on this one:

– Left boot vs right boot will not make a difference
– Pawing at the zip will not make a difference
– Walking away and coming back two seconds later will not make a difference
– Taking your head out, turning around three times, then coming back to try again will not make a difference
– None of this is my fault

Rihanna Doc Marten 4

Rihanna Doc Marten 2

Please find something else to occupy your morning.

Dear Bossycat,

Shycat is not trying to get into my boot because I have put some treats in it for her and not for you. She is trying to get into my boot because she is insane.

Fran on table

Please stop trying to kill her over treats that do not exist and go back to staring out the window and yelling about how you are somehow going to kill all the pigeons on next door’s ridgepole.

Rihanna in a bag Fran has rage because Rihanna is in a bag

Yours sincerely,

Your Owner
(Rather frazzled)
(And late for many, many deadlines)
(And yes, very aware of the irony of taking time out of a frantic schedule to pointlessly blog about her cats)
(Just kill me now)
(It’s probably kinder)

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I find it in the Display With No Name, in our local convenience store. The Display With No Name is a cornucopia of weird shit your kids beg you for. It’s the display where they will suddenly swear on their grandmother’s lives that they have “always wanted” (for example) a flour-filled balloon with a face on it – even though you’re pretty sure The Display With No Name is the first time they’ve ever even seen such a thing.

And today, I am that kid, because I see this, and I instantly want it:

bicycle horn

Being a grown-up means having the sense to ignore the voice in your head that’s insisting you should put the bicycle horn in your basket. Today, I am not a grown-up. I am a small child trapped in a grown-up’s body. The bicycle horn goes in my basket. The normally chatty young lad on the till (a cheery bloke who can normally maintain a bright stream of light conversation while scanning the bar-code on your san-pro) is struck dumb when he sees what I am buying. The entire transaction takes place in an atmosphere of respectful silence. I don’t care. Being a grown-up means never having to justify impulse-buying a bicycle horn.

Back at home, I abandon the rest of the shopping in the kitchen. The guinea-pigs will keep an eye on it while I look at my Giant Bicycle Horn.

I’ll admit it: it was the phrase “Giant Bicycle Horn” that initially hooked me. It’s the odd specificity of “Giant” that really makes it for me – as if seeing the actual life-sized object isn’t quite enough for you to accurately gauge its true size. But the more I look, the more I find to love.

bicycle horn (2)

For my money, “Beat It Buddy” is possibly even funnier than “Giant Horn”. But I appreciate it’s a personal thing.

And while we’re at it – what’s the deal with the mouse?

Beat It Buddy Crop

Possibly it’s related to the angry monster cat:

monster cat

What’s going on here? Is the cat trying to make the mouse run away? And if so, why? Why does a cat need a horn to scare a mouse? Mice are scared of cats all by themselves. Most cats I know spend hours of their lives trying to not let mice know they’re sneaking up on them. There’s even a phrase for it – “Playing Cat and Mouse with each other”. Honking a giant bicycle horn is pretty much the opposite of your average cat-mouse interaction.

Also, the mysterious shouty words scattered randomly across all the remaining blank spaces! Idiot! Get the Clown! Red! This baby’s got your back! Klaxon! Honk! There is literally nothing about this box that I don’t love. It’s an enigmatic design classic. I put in on a table so I can admire it.

And then, my son gets home from school.

“What’s this, mummy?” he demands, homing in on the New Thing in that unerring way small people have.

spock tricorder

“It’s…a bicycle horn.”

“But why is it here?”

Because it has a monster cat and a terrified mouse and a lot of shouty words and it uses the words “Horn” and “Beat it” and I have the sense of humour of a fourteen-year-old schoolboy.

“Um – I just thought it looked interesting. What are you doing?”

Son gives me the very patient look he uses when people he loves act like idiots.

“I’m getting it out.”

astonished cat

“No, let’s not do that -”

HONK.

“Cool! That’s really loud!”

HONK. HONK. HONK.

disaster area

“This is really good, mum.”

HONK. HONK. HONK. HONK. HONK.

“I’m going to use this as my new weapon.”

HONKHONKHONKHONKHONK.

“Let’s put it away, shall we?”

“But we’ve only just got it -”

Trekkie facepalm

I have been suckered by The Display With No Name and I have only myself to blame.

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