Confessions (Part Two)

So, back to the boating holiday…

IMG_20190820_170543087

 

have mentioned, in passing, the Lock Operatives. Let’s not be coy here. Yes, a big hand, please, for Lindy and myself who, sporting equally stylish gloves (white with blue handgrips for the lovely Lindy and a very chic floral navy with EasyGrip for me), did a marvellous job of man lady-handling, nay, taming unruly canal-infused ropes with the expertise of snake charmers.

We mastered a hitch-knot in the time it takes to shout ‘Land ahoy!’ and took to the incorrect term ‘capstans’ – for the canal-side bollards – like ducks to water.

Between locks, we lounged on our sunbeds, as I mentioned, with ice chinking in our G&Ts, then as soon as we got the call to tie up, it took but a second to pop on our gloves, and sometimes deck shoes, and take up our positions.

Hugo became adept at leaping on to the bank whenever we needed to moor, and we became adept at throwing a coil to him, one from the front and one from the back of the boat, while he stood ready to catch. And with as much aplomb as we could muster, receiving them again after he’d wound them around the cap  bollards for safe-keeping.

Sometimes, a rope would fall in the dirty, dirty canal first and we’d have to fish it out, hand over hand, our gloves getting more and more saturated with eau de Midi.

Sometimes, he’d hit the jackpot and get it on board in one fell swoop.

And sometimes he’d hit us with its flaccid, wet tail.

In the face.

At Fonserannes is a magnificent lock spectacle. ‘Martin’ on Trip Advisor says:

It shouldn’t be but is always interesting to watch the boats rising and descending the seven locks of the Canal de Midi outside Beziers. Part of the fascination is awe at the incredible engineering feat which was put together by Paul Ricquet over two hundred years…

Thank you, Martin.

The Fonserannes Locks are a flight of staircase locks, originally nine, but now seven in a row. That day – I remember it well – I was wearing my skimpy orange and white striped bikini (the one I have cleverly disguised in the photo coming up shortly). I had no idea how much of a draw to tourists these locks were.

Or how much of a spectacle I’d be.

As we sailed into the first of seven, I took my place at the front of the boat as Hugo jumped off and I expertly tossed him the coil of rope. All I had to do now was wait until we had dropped into the next lock and pull it back in again…

Simple.

Most of the lock-keepers who operated the mechanisms were women. This lock was no different. Much to my dismay, I saw her pointing at me and shouting, ‘Deux personnes!’

Two people?

Mais, non. It had only ever required one man to get off, that one man being Hugo.

She was gesturing wildly at me to get off as well. I had no time to cover up. No time to fear the gap to be leapt.

No time!

To my utter embarrassment, I vaulted into the public arena in nothing but a bikini and a pair of floral gardening gloves and then had to walk the boat like a tethered donkey through all of seven locks which took about an hour. Every member of the crowd lining the banks, I might add, was dressed in the full repertoire of outdoor clothing. Some even wore coats. And hats!

How tourists love to take photos of the Fonserannes Locks.

I’ll sue, you know!

 

Orange dress

This is me in action when I was allowed to stay on board at a different lock (and, yes, I have painted in an orange dress to spare my blushes).

Parking Mooring was difficult at first. As Mike thrusted at the helm (come on, it’s a technical term), Hugo jumped from end to end like a gazelle, checking on angles and distances and letting everyone in hearing distance know what they were and how much  more to ‘THRUST, MIKE! THRUST!’ Oftentimes, we feared for his welfare as he teetered and grabbed at handrails as the boat bumped the bank.

And then the day came which we had all dreaded. From his screams, we knew that either he had been doubly amputated in his prime, or was about to become as thin as he would ever be as he was surely crushed against another vessel.

watercolour-2173846_640.jpg

I leapt from my sunbed (after carefully popping my pina colada into the drinks holder) and rushed down the stairs to the deck from where the blood-curdling screams emanated.

Would I be able to lift him back on board (the wet cushion had been a handful)?

Should I don my gloves (dirty canal water)?

Should we just bid adieu to Hugo as fondly as we had to the cap and book (see Part One)?

We found him on his back on the rear sun deck wearing the metal gang plank. He had slipped on the stairs and had rudely been assaulted by this menacing piece of equipment (obviously in cahoots with the wind – see Part One, again.)

All was well as we moored in a pretty village for a waterside evening meal under a fairylit canopy as the sun set. A disturbance in the water promised a wonderful wildlife encounter to top off the evening. Indeed, a large animal stuck out its head and made its way to the bank. An otter!

I grabbed a few chunks of bread from our table and wandered over to join the gathering crowd, only to be met by a pair of slitty eyes (which I imagined to be glowing red) in a sharply-pointed face and waving a very long tail, Indiana Jones-style. This was no otter! It was an enormous, rotund water rat that had obviously had a fair amount of bread in its time and could probably have made off with a five-year old, should the mood have taken him.

I ate the bread myself and ran.

Our boat, too, came with a smart blue canopy to give shade on the fun deck. There was nothing nicer of an evening than parking up and having an al fresco feast. We had already encountered a forest fire as seen from afar and had watched countless water planes to-ing and fro-ing to douse it, the blue sky billowing with grey above us. Little did we expect to see another fire much closer to home.

The sun had almost set as we had moored up for the night. We had taken our places under our canopy on our tied-up, bottle-weighted cushions and were just waiting for Hugo to return to the boat (he always liked to explore the vicinity of each bank) when he came running. There was a building on fire. Within minutes, we could see orange and we were engulfed in smoke. Large embers began to to rain on our canopy. We had no choice but to move. With military speed, we dissembled the canopy as it’s forbidden to drive with it up and pulled away in the dark… it was also forbidden to sail in the dark, but we had no choice. We could hear the sirens for a long time from much further down the canal.

It had been an awful night for someone.

IMG_20190910_110552029_HDR.jpg

In the time allowed, by the end of our holiday we had taken our boat as far dowthe canal as it was humanly possible, and on our final day, we had no choice but to take it back to base.

That was the day that the heavens opened.

Every cushion was wet through, and so were we. Cap’n Hugo was at the wheel and I was First Mate. With the strings pulled tight on the hood of my raincoat, and wearing a pair of trousers that I had fashioned from a bin bag, I co-piloted our vessel to the safety of the harbour. (OK – made a few comments about our position coming up to bridges) 

 

Our holiday was at its end. We’d cleaned the boat, eaten every scrap of food and were going to spend the last night letting the restaurant back at base do all the cooking for us. When we bowled up at the door, the lights were off and a small crowd of crestfallen would-be sailors were clutching their empty bellies.

They’d had a power cut. There was no food. Not even salad.

We went to bed hungry – but at least it meant we could still fit through our bedroom door.

Do you remember Claudette, the taxi driver (whose name I have changed) that had dropped us off? When she’d left us, we asked her to return on our leaving day at 7 am.

‘Non,’ she said. ‘I will come at eight.’

‘Seven,’ we said.

‘Eight,’ said ‘Claudette’.

We were ready well before eight and sat in the drizzle thinking about breakfast at the airport.

‘Claudette’ was late. Very late.

We rang her. She was bailing out her brother, she told us. He was also a taxi driver and he had had to wait for his first passenger to wake up, which had messed up all his pickups.

When she finally arrived, she was cross with us and there was not an apology in sight. Why were we panicking? Panic, panic, panic! Why are the British so stressed? Always so stressed. Always. Of course we would have plenty of time at the airport for one coffee, two coffees, three coffees… Stop panicking.

With a lack of food in our bellies, we chomped gum while ‘Claudette’ drove, told us off, took phone calls and wrote on a pad of paper, flicking through it to check her notes as she let the wheel do its thing.

It was a matter of survival – the gum and the car journey.

‘Claudette’ tutted. ‘You are chewing gum? Why? It is the morning. You do not chew gum in the morning.’ We were in her bad books all the way to the airport. To avoid being slapped again, we let her get out our cases from the car and didn’t touch her doors to show that we DO listen… and were also quite afraid of her. We had no time for three coffees, or two, or one. She had dropped us off in the nick of time.

But, oh, what fun we had! Bon voyage indeed.

 

And a final plug for my short story collection,

Confessions

Front cover jpeg

 

US link

Confessions

I know, I know. It’s been over a year.

But life gets in the way. I wish I had a better memory as lots of funny things have happened during that time.

Well, as the last post was about water, let’s stick with that theme, shall we?

Back in September, four of us – let’s call ourselves crew – had a hilarious time on the Canal du Midi.

IMG_20190909_132414747_HDR.jpg

At the tiny airport at Beziers, we took the only taxi in the area, a great big people carrier driven by the ‘Dont-Mess-With-Me Claudette‘ (I have changed her name for legal reasons…). She insisted on lifting all our luggage into the boot and reduced us to frightened rabbits as she barked instructions in French. When we arrived at our destination, Mike was immediately in trouble for attempting to shut the car door behind him. ‘Do NOT touch the door. I told you. You need to listen!’ she shouted, pointing at her ears. Then he got his hand rudely slapped as he tried to take out his case from the boot. More of ‘Claudette’ later.

Not a traditional wooden canal barge for us. Oh no! We went high-end. I like to think of it as a mini yacht. We were drawn to its sleek exterior, its sun deck/ ‘fun’ deck, its luxury communal areas, and it also promised two double bedrooms with en-suites.

IMG_20190907_121124599

 

Cropped boat

Hubs and I happily offered the larger of the bedrooms to Lindy and Mike, who had brilliantly sourced the holiday. And so it was that we found our sleeping quarters to be, well, a cupboard.

(You have heard how fish-eye lenses are used in brochures?)

Two side-by-side mattresses had been shoe-horned in beneath a sharply sloping ceiling. If an occupant’s shoe size had been larger than a 9, they’d be in serious trouble, but, hey, if it’s good enough for Harry Potter…

On the right-hand side was enough floor space to store an M&S Colin the Caterpillar cake, or for Darcey Bussell to walk en pointe, perhaps. Oh, but hang on a minute…

a) she’s too tall and

b) our life jackets had been squished there, well, half of their bulk; the remainder lay across my feet and rustled all night.

On the left-hand side there was an itsy bitsy window above a wardrobe…

‘Wardrobe’? Did I say wardrobe? Ha ha ha ha ha. I jest. It was exactly the right size to hang up six babygros.

Back to the window which was perfect, should there be a need, for posting letters on to the walkway which circled the boat; on a brighter note, it let in just enough air to prevent us from being slow-cooked overnight.

But please don’t fret. There was floor space – enough for one person to stand between the head of the bed and the minuscule shower room and toilet which, for some reason, had a sloping floor. How I like to test my balance when I visit the bathroom at night.

If Hubby opened the door while I was dressing, I’d have to launch myself on to the bed to get out of the way. The door opened outwards, fortunately, or unfortunately for Lindy and Mike whose cabin was blocked off every time we opened it. The opening was ‘snug’, shall we say. It’s just as well we hadn’t put on too much weight before the holiday; as it was, we had to practically turn sideways to get in. We’d still be wedged inside right now if we’d scoffed one baguette too many.

On a positive note, the beds were very comfortable.

IMG_20190908_160625440_HDR.jpg

 

Well, after a comprehensive instruction session, we set off, Cap’n Mike and First Mate Hugo at the wheel while Lindy and I (the lock operatives) made good use of the built-in sunbeds near the prow.

 

 

The sun blazed, but the wind turned out to be a bit of a wily fellow, and keeping our vessel on a course that was straight and true was proving difficult.

IMG_20190905_133057753_HDR.jpg

We made it safely under several modern bridges that spanned the canal, quickly picking up on canal boat etiquette: wave to absolutely everyone, even the animals.

It wasn’t long before we came to a picturesque medieval stone bridge in a village. As Lindy and I sipped our beverages, sunglasses and swimsuits on, one knee raised, we became aware of a slight panic at the helm. The boat would just not behave on the run up to the bridge, much to the amusement of the landlubbers who had stopped to watch events from the top of the bridge, the banks of the canal, medieval windows, shop doorways, and probably from passing aeroplanes too.

Back and forth we went. Back and forth. Back and forth. It was like some kind of recurring dream.

In the end, we just went full steam ahead… too late realising that we were at an angle, heading for stone, very old stone, at that. With the most almighty of screeches (just like a squealing pig) and loud cracks and deep rumbles, we eventually made it through to the other side (I’m afraid I can’t say entirely ‘intact’). Mike took a bow. The onlookers clapped. Lindy and I tried not to spill our drinks as we howled with laughter, or maybe it was embarrassment.

The first time for anything’s always the worst. We had a few more goes at destroying historical architecture before the holiday was out. At some point, we noticed that all the floats were missing from the left hand side of our trusty vessel, but as luck would have it, we managed to fish a fair few out of the canal as we went and tied them on to hide its shameful nakedness.

Our hook proved to be very useful, in fact. A seat ran all of the way around our fun deck and was lined with blue cushions. One particularly windy day, as we were all at the front, the wind rudely whipped one away and plonked it in the dirty water. We’d been warned against the water. Never swim in it! we’d been told. Another boat was behind us and tried its best to catch the fugitive, but it was a slippery specimen and resisted all capture. Like a demon possessed, Cap’n Mike threw her into reverse and somehow, we managed to fish out the scallywag before it drowned forever. We liberally hosed it down with our outside shower until every molecule of dirty canal had been erased.

On another occasion, the same happened again, goddamit. Weary-worn, we just left it in the sun teeming with germs. I don’t think it dried all week.

Measures were taken. We used our spare washing line to tie down every blighter, and weighted them too with bottles of tap water once the fizz/pina colada/cider/gin had been consumed. (I might add that the Cap’n remained 100% sober throughout the trip. The lock operatives, as you can imagine, required sustenance in the face of physical exertion.)

Yes, the wind was a rascal. It wanted fun, and fun it had. As we pootled along, minding our own business, it snatched Hugo’s beloved cap off his head. RIP,  St.Kitts cap. We never set eyes on the poor thing again. At one lock, as luck would have it, however, there was a small shop with Canal du Midi caps for sale. Serendipity! Hugo bought a replacement, less cherished, of course (his love is not fickle),  but very much needed. Well, strike my knobbly knee with a well-worn mallet, guess what happened to that one? That wind, always wanting the last laugh… We did manage to fish it out with our trusty hook and dried it, complete with canal germs intact. Our standards had slipped.

We had been provided with a hefty book with a huge amount information about villages we would pass on our adventure and detailed maps of parts of the canal, advising us where to look for locks. Sadly, the wind was a murderous sort, and that also met with an immediate watery death.

Let’s call that Part One. There’s still a lot to tell…

 

Oh, and at this point I shall drop in a shameless plug for my new book ‘Confessions’.

Front cover jpegLet’s face it. Things go wrong. And we’re not always proud of what we do. Between these covers is a veritable confession box of revelations. Some might well be fictional. Others possibly… maybe… probably have a nugget of truth in them. But for legal reasons, let’s just call them stories, shall we? Wink, wink.

All at sea…

I met my husband for the first time in a punt on the River Cam. It was a time long ago, when the nearest thing to a selfie-stick was a black wand with silver tips as used by Sooty and a ‘mobile’ was something you hung from your bedroom ceiling. My punt was tied to his punt and there were lots of students and lots of wine involved. I didn’t remember his name afterwards; I just knew he was ‘one of the brothers’ who looked alike as they both wore glasses.

punting-2358042_1920.jpg

Fast forward to a marriage of many years, a brother-in-law who still wears glasses, two grown up daughters and an anniversary.

heart-1192662_1920.jpg

What better way to celebrate than back on the river, in a punt? We booked a weekend in Cambridge with our four friends, packed a picnic and headed for the river early. Punting can be expensive, but alumni with Cam cards are afforded the privilege of hiring punts for a lot less. As my husband was at Trinity College which backs on to the river and has its own little fleet of named punts, we were charged £10 an hour. Kaboom! Bargain!

Typically, tourists use their hour to move along ‘the backs’, i.e. the part of the river which flows directly behind college buildings. The architecture is truly stunning, but trying to manoeuvre is a challenge since the river becomes quickly congested. Punts bump into each other, drinks are sloshed and people fall in.

 

bridge-2216_1920.jpg

The Bridge of Sighs

cambridge-1423972_1920.jpg

The Mathematical Bridge

 

As we were ‘in the know’, we decided instead to take the punt away from the melee and head to Grantchester. To do this, you have to move from the lower part of the Cam to the Upper. This involves heaving the punt up a slipway of metal rollers, dragging it over a pathway and sending down a smaller set of rollers into the upper waterway.

There is a picture of the slipway on this Wikipedia page (on the right, lower down).

Well, we’re not eighteen any more, and despite six of us pulling and panting, it got a bit stuck. Fortunately, there was many a lithe, beardy, helpful student in the periphery, and we were soon on our way up a tranquil, tree-lined section of the river.

punt-boat-2173781_1920.jpg

Not us!

Hours later, we arrived at Grantchester, parked up and had our picnic on a rug.

On the way back, the punting was a dream as we were carried by the current. By now, we had consumed several bottles of champers, some beer, plus a packet of wine gums.

empty wine bottle
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

All we had to do to get back to where we started was to do the reverse of what we had done on the way there. We steered the punt so that it was parallel next to the bank and got out, taking all the bags with us, then we dragged it up the small set of rollers, across the path and positioned it at the top of the larger slope of rollers. This was late afternoon, and the crowds had thickened. The banks were lined with people wondering what on earth a bunch of middle-aged couples were doing lifting a big wooden vessel out of the water and lining it up for launch.

At one end of the punt is a metal chain. We had a decision to make. Should we hold the chain and lower the punt down the rollers, or let the chain lead? The former option would, no doubt, yank the chain-holder clean into the river with the force of the punt sliding downhill. Pulling it down from below also seemed quite dangerous. Someone could get flattened!

 

 

Then, my hubby had an idea.

idea-2135480_1280.png

 

This is when amber lights should begin to flash and a siren should begin its plaintive wail…

His idea was to SIT in the empty punt as it slid down the rollers.

We held it back as he got in, looking very much like a garden gnome sitting right in the middle of his boat with his legs crossed before casting his line, hoping for a catch. He didn’t turn around… Poised is the word. I am reminded of a pinball machine at this point of the story.

We let go and, with an almighty roar, the punt shot down the ramp at a speed worthy of the log flume at Thorpe Park. For a moment or two, it seemed to fly over the river, but come down it must, and it seemed to be coming down head first. In slow motion, the front disappeared for a moment under the surface, then a tidal wave rose up, engulfing the gnome who still hadn’t turned around or uttered a sound. Over his head it curled, slapping his entire body with its watery belly.

The punt didn’t stop. It was on a mission and, having been launched with such ferocity, was heading full throttle into the distance, finally floating to a bob just in front of the picnicking crowds and their mobile phones.

Meanwhile, we had the punting pole with us, back at Slipway Headquarters. You need a pole to punt.

It’s very hard to see when your eyes are full of tears and you are bent double laughing hysterically, but my poor hubby had located the emergency oar and was paddling, Hawaii Five-O-style, back to his ‘Cam’-patriots.

It took a while. The crowds were delighted that the show was continuing. Many a phone was recording the event.

When he finally reached us, we realised that the punt had about a foot of water in it. The cushions were heavy with the weight of water so we stood them upright all around us to let some of it return to the depleted river. All we had to bail out with was a disposable champagne flute so two of my friends climbed in and took turns sloshing it back over the side.

 

flutes-771421_1920.jpg

 

We did continue on our mission, and, as expected, got caught up in the punt traffic on the backs. There were collisions galore and the odd splash as the less seasoned punters lost their balance, or their poles, and fell in. We returned our soaked vessel to its station.

Hubby spent the rest of the weekend in damp jeans – his only pair, and managed to leave one shoe behind at the hotel where it remains drying on the window sill. RIP shoe.

Our punt was called Haiku, by the way. Any poetic suggestions? Maybe a bawdy limerick would be better…

Four at Fawlty Towers

Do you ever wonder if there is a secret camera filming everything as it goes so unbelievably awry?pexels-photo-430208.jpeg

I do.

Often.

In fact, I was convinced that was the case on Friday night and spent some time peering at the restaurant ceiling to spot it.

‘I think we’re going to end up on Saturday Night Takeaway’, I whispered to my friend, L, making sure that I sported a perennial smile and showed my best side to the camera at all times – or would have if I could pinpoint its whereabouts.

pexels-photo-941861.jpeg

My three friends and I had decided on a meal out. There were several restaurants to choose from on the village high street, but having decided on curry, our choice was limited to three. As we had stopped outside one of the three to have our discussion, it seemed an easy choice to just walk straight in.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but for the purpose of this post, let’s call the restaurant ‘Cumin’.

pexels-photo-277253.jpeg

We were shown to a round table set for six by the window where the radiator was on full blast, so our first priority was to turn it off. We had walked all the way, and were already warm!

The first, older waiter arrived to take our drinks order.

‘A bottle of Prosecco, please,’ I said.

pexels-photo-313704.jpeg

He gave me a strange look.

Surely we didn’t look underage?

Then, having contemplated my words, and having possibly become overcome by confusion at the rareness of the request, or indeed the complexity –  I know not which – he opted out. Frowning, he said, ‘My colleague will come to take your drinks order.’

A few minutes later, said colleague arrived with a smile.

‘May I take your drinks order, please?’

This time I said it slowly: ‘Pro-secc-o, please. A bottle.’

No. He didn’t get it. There were questions.

pexels-photo-356079.jpeg

‘Large or small? What size?’

I gestured at the company and pulled my hands apart to give an indication of the shape and size of a bottle. ‘A bottle. A normal bottle.’

‘For three?’

‘No.’ I pointed at each member of the group. ‘For four, please. A bottle of Prosecco for four of us.’

The waiter and the bottle eventually arrived and he set about opening it, possibly a brand new experience for him. This was taking so much time, that he began to participate openly in our discussion, but all the while, quietly, he threw separate questions at me:

‘Do you have a man?’ (still pulling ineffectually at the cork)

‘Yes, I’m married.’

Still pulling…

‘I can provide you with complete satisfaction.’ (grimacing and pulling)

My eyes became wide.

‘Do you have children?’

‘Two. Grown up.’

‘I see you come in the restaurant a lot.’

Actually, no.

‘What’s your name?’ (sweating and pulling)

‘Helen.’

‘What’s your other name?’ (panting and pulling)

‘Laycock.’

‘I am going to find you on Facebook.’

Eeek!

german-shepherd-dog-pet-happy-62295.jpeg

 

 

Our tongues were, by now, hanging out, like dogs lost in the Kalahari.

 

 

 

‘Try twisting the bottle, not the cork,’ suggested my friend, G. We all echoed her suggestion and out popped the cork.

He then shook everyone’s hands around the table and introduced himself formally. He had had plenty of time to get to know us, and now it seemed as though we were old friends. As he practised our names, going round and round the table in a feat of memory, it seemed that we all now shared the surname ‘Badry.’

pexels-photo-951290.jpeg

He put the warm bottle on the table and left us.

Without glasses.

pexels-photo-840111.jpeg

 

 

A few minutes later, an ice bucket appeared at the side of the table.  I say ‘ice’ bucket; perhaps that should be ‘bucket’. There was water in it. I stuck my finger in. It was tepid.

 

 

 

 

Still no glasses.

Eventually, we asked for some.

‘Three?’ asked our friend.

I pointed at each one of us in turn. ‘No, four, please. There are four of us.’

Four huge goblets appeared. Our new friend poured a soupcon in each at such great speed that the fizz nearly overflowed. We asked him to chill another for later. When he left, we then topped up the glasses ourselves leaving the bottle empty.

pexels-photo-313715.jpeg

Next, we ordered food. We decided on a few sides and two main courses to share.

‘And we’d like onion bhajis,’ we said.

‘Three?’ he asked hopefully.

‘No. Four.’ I pointed… You know the drill.

‘How many poppadoms would you like?’

We suggested four, as there were ‘four of us’.

By the time the poppadoms had arrived (five of them), we had finished our drinks, so went through the rigmarole of ordering another bottle. It was colder than the first. Result!

‘Would you take a photo?’ one of my friends asked.

The waiter was thrilled, and manoeuvred himself behind us, putting his arms around us and beamed at the friend holding out her phone. Obligingly, she took one with him in it. Then someone else asked if he could take a photo, and he posed again, looking at her.

pexels-photo-744780.jpeg

‘We’d like YOU to be the photographer, not one of the subjects!’ someone eventually said. This seemed to upset him slightly.

The rest of the food arrived, and was very nice, as well as surprising. There was a chicken dish no one had ordered, and things we had ordered were not there. Our third bottle of Prosecco was perfectly chilled; the waiter seemed very pleased with himself.

At the end of the meal, we were the only guests left in the restaurant. Waiter One offered us free drinks. By now, they knew what Prosecco was, so a few of my friends had that. I had a limoncello. Then Waiter Two came and also offered us free drinks, so we had a second batch.

As we left, they gave us a great send off and asked us to come back the next evening.

‘We’ve still got three bottles of Prosecco left!’ they reassured us.

alcohol-glass-grass-drinking.jpg

Saturday was going to be someone else’s night!

 

Let it snow (as long as we have shoes)…

‘Let’s do something different for Christmas this year,’ I shouted through the wind as we sat on a balcony in Tenby last summer sipping G & Ts in our raincoats. ‘Snow! I want to see snow!’

DSC_0551

We all agreed that a White Christmas would be perfect, and after deciding that we would have too much luggage to fly anywhere (who wants to travel with a turkey in a rucksack?), we hit on the idea of the Scottish Highlands. After all, they seem to get the white stuff from the August Bank Holiday until, well, Midsummer, don’t they?

It took lots of planning. As self-appointed Chief Elf, I had found the perfect getaway – a log cabin nestled in the forest, just south of the Cairngorms.

IMG_20171225_125133

‘You won’t get snow below the treeline,’ a friend helpfully informed me.

‘Lalalalalala,’ I sang in my head, as I imagined chopping down a towering pine and dragging it back to the cabin on a toboggan (a very big one).

IMG_20171226_144434

What had seemed like a simple idea became a military operation. I delegated shopping lists, which included seasoned logs, greaseproof paper and enough alcohol to souse the Scots in their entirety. I sent missives about gifts – just one small thing per stocking. I made meal plans and game plans and plans of plans…

Finally, we were off, and most importantly, all availed of the most essential of information: WE ARE GOING TO GET SNOWBOUND. BRING THERMALS. BRING HATS, GLOVES, SCARVES, LAYERS. BRING YAKS… No. Forget the yaks.

Travelling in two cars, the first meeting point was to be Yorkshire – at my mother-in -law’s where we would stay overnight ready for the second leg of the journey. What had not been on my plan was that my elder daughter, a medical student, just a few days before leaving, announced that she’d have to pop back to a Birmingham hospital where she had a piece of work to complete. She had left her ‘Scotland’ luggage at home so all we had to do was pack it, swoop by when we got to The Midlands, and pick her up. It was touch and go as to whether we would fit her in; Hubby had spent a long time early that morning packing every inch of the car – and the roof box – with Stuff.

We arrived at her student house, and as I was stuck in my seat with a huge, heavy hamper on my lap (one of three in the car to be relinquished in Yorkshire), Hubby got out to knock on the door. He walked around to my side of the car – I could only see his upper half. He stopped next to my window and looked down… for a long, long time. When he looked up at me again, it was with horror.

‘I’m wearing my crocs,’ he mouthed through the window.

‘Your crocs?’ I mouthed back. ‘Crocs?’

He loved those crocs and, as much as we’d always told him they were gardenwear only, he’d put them on at any opportunity; he’d slipped them on that morning for comfort while packing up the car.

I opened the door and looked at his feet.

‘You have packed other shoes, though? Boots for trudging through the snow?’

‘Did you pack any for me?’ he asked.

‘No…’

At that moment, my daughter scuffed her way to the car, wearing a pair of highly unsuitable fancy shoes which she had left undone to emphasise the temporary nature of their use.

She was followed by her sock-footed, pyjama-clad best friend.

More shoe shenanigans. I was all shoe-ed out.

‘Where are your shoes, Eve?’ I asked.

‘Packed. You’ve got them in the car somewhere. Have you seen the carrier bag I left for you to bring?’

We located it and she extracted another pair of (unfamiliar) shoes which she handed to her friend. ‘These are Anna’s.’

Anna scuttled off in her socks. Eve got into the car in her dolly shoes and Hubby pulled away wearing his crocs.

We had almost left the city when I heard a little voice from the back.

‘Uh oh. I’ve forgotten my coat.’

It was back at the student house. I sighed. We continued on our journey. We left the coat.

When we arrived in Yorkshire, we asked my mother-in-law if there was a charity shop in the village. There was! Eve and I hurried to get to it before it closed and, like a mirage, there appeared before us two coats, both of which fitted her. We bought the pair for about £10. Sadly, the only shoes for Hubby were a pair of football boots. We didn’t buy those. Plan B was to ask his dad who seemed to have a secret shoe shop in the back room. He brought in pair after pair of new shoes, various colours and sizes. The only pair which were a good fit was a brown suede pair.

‘Suede’s no good in the snow,’ I said.

Out came a couple of cans of waterproof spray.

Hooray.

The log cabin was wonderful.

IMG_20171224_155041

Two-coat Eve was warm and dry, and Mr Tumnus (our new name for Hubby with his new brown suede hooves) was able to walk without getting frostbite or trenchfoot. It was very (very) cold, but, sadly, there was no snow until the day after we left. On the eleven-hour journey home, however, I got a message from my friend at home:

‘We’ve got snow!’

IMG_20171210_091443

Typical.

 

Pug-nosed and perky

The squelching and snuffling coming from the opposite sofa yesterday evening was a sudden and stark warning:

Man Flu in the house! Man Flu!

Evacuate or succumb!

Man Flu!

Man Flu!

And I knew it would be a bad one as I could trace back its origins. This was going to be a three-weeker, and I didn’t want anything to do with it what with Christmas celebrations getting underway.

Hubby retreated to the bedroom first, and later I followed. He was still awake as I crept in. Listening to his mucus melodies, nasal trumpets and percussive sniffs was not going to bode well for my good night’s sleep, let alone the prospect of waking up healthy, so I opened the window ‘to let out the germs’ and told him to turn his back to me (and stay that way all night, I added mentally).

 

barf-2025163_1280

As tired as I was, I was afraid to drift off. What if we – perish the thought – turned to face each other whilst in the depths of slumber?

I racked my drowsy brain for a solution. I could sleep in another bed, but then I’d have to launder the sheets. Nah.

Then it came to me, in a bright and clear vision. When in Rome [read as Japan]…

I hurried downstairs and rummaged in the kitchen cupboard below the sink. There it was – a sturdy roll of J-Cloths. I unravelled a few and decided that three joined together would be perfect. Placing the middle sheet over my face and mouth, I tied the outer sheets together behind my head and, intrepid and determined to defeat evil, mounted the Staircase of Doom to the Chamber of Horrors.

It was a little tight, I realised within minutes. My nose was flattened, and there was every likelihood that I’d end up pug-faced. The bow at the back was a bit bulky to lie on, as well. Eventually, I fell asleep, but continually awoke, gasping for breath; I had felt close to suffocating.

Bit by bit, throughout the night, my mask unravelled, opening up until my eyes were covered too, but on I slept. I probably looked like a badly-equipped welder. Actually, there’s no probably about it.

When I woke up, I looked through the mesh and took a selfie (yes, I know my hair is barmy in the morning and the camera has obviously malfunctioned to give me neck rolls).

IMG_20171130_091139

But on the bright side, I cunningly evaded the germs and, as always, am happy to pass on the survival tip.

 

You’re welcome.

Weather Gremlins

Last night, I saw Huw Edwards briefly grimace at the News at Ten desk before the screen went blank and the Apologies for the break in transmission message came up on a red background.

I must confess, I was a little worried for his welfare, lest a bunch of Ninjas were under the desk tying his shoelaces together (hence the scowl) before maliciously pulling out the plug, much to the awaiting nation’s disappointment.

 

ninja-2108803_1280

This morning, I switched on Breakfast for news of Huw’s fate only to hear talk of several incidents of studio electrical shenanigans attributed to ‘the heatwave’, and when I did my voluntary stint in the library today, the computers were slow and the little blue slips were not being issued through the little silver slits in the little black machines. Again, I heard talk of the effect of The Weather upon the servers at computer central, which had subsequently affected our ancient library equipment.

 

So, I guess that explains why at 5.20 this morning I was boiling the kettle for morning tea whilst multi-tasking and emptying the dishwasher with the usual self-set challenge to get it done before the kettle switched off.

 

kettle-357178_1920

 

It doesn’t?

 

Then I’ll enlighten you.

I failed the challenge. Mid-stoop, with a sparkling clean Jamie Oliver frying pan in hand, I happened to glance towards said silent kettle at the point when it was just about to begin its contented purr, and in doing so, my line of sight skimmed the built-in ovens. I froze, puzzled, bent double and still clutching Jamie’s handle. Something wasn’t right. I stared at the oven clocks which both said 5.22. I stood up – that would surely help – and stared a bit harder.

Yes, 5.22.

By now, I had surely developed irreversible frown lines. What were these bizarre numbers doing on my oven clocks?

My trusty phone was charging on the worktop. My phone would not lie; we had been through a lot together. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the time on the screen: 5.22… so why on earth was I making tea and emptying the dishwasher?

Had I dreamed that the 7.20 alarm had rudely wakened me and that I had resolutely turned it off?

I forfeited the tea – which was easy as it was still only at the boiling-water-within-the-kettle stage – and slogged back up the stairs where, if there were answers, I would find them, godammit. Granted, I had felt unduly tired on the downward descent a few minutes earlier where, bleary-eyed, I had relied more on my sense of touch than sight to negotiate the stairs.

Back in the bedroom, Hubby was still sound asleep. I picked up my clock – an electronic thing which is meant to automatically attune itself to the correct time – and held it right in front of my face for scrutiny. Yes! In the hour column was a 7. Of all the sevens I had ever laid my eyes upon, this was a prime example.

 

clock-997589_1920

Not actual clock – quite evidently!

Still not quite convinced of the actual time, I checked the time on the house phone next to it. Maybe they would be in cahoots. But no, this device told me it was definitely 5 something.

I set the alarm on the house phone instead, and got back into bed, frightened to go to sleep for what might ensue. I could sleep until Friday if the world of technology had gone awry.

So, it seems that the heat has been affecting equipment willy nilly, my alarm clock being one of the casualties. At some point in the night, it had taken it upon itself to add on two hours and then trick me into getting up at the wrong time. And it still hasn’t righted itself.

I’m so glad it didn’t take two hours away; the reason I got up was to ensure that my daughter was up in time for her Physics A level exam this morning.

I just hope that if there were Ninjas underneath Huw’s desk, he didn’t get up in too much of a hurry.