Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Summer RIP

Feeling a certain fin de saison ennui (fear of dark evenings and autumnal chill/regret over the summer that never was), coupled with mild disgust with self. If I could have today all over again, I would have got Lily and me up and out of the house earlier, delivering Lily to the riding stables before the staff disappeared for lunch, so that she could have spent the afternoon mucking out instead of listening to story tapes in the car and running down the car battery while I was shopping, so that at 5.30pm, we would have been on our way home instead of waiting for the AA, and at 6.30pm the Aga would have been on and cooking dinner, rather than off and there being no dinner to cook, forcing us to decamp to the Coach and Horses, where we ate too much steak and ale pie and lasagne and chips.


On the bright side, Dusty seems fine today and my Endocrine Mender has arrived. Will start taking tomorrow. You have to do a Test Day, taking one capsule every hour until you are filled with a sense of well-being and supreme energy. Then on subsequent days you take the same number of pills in one go. Will be marvellous.

Miracle dog

A peaceful night. Dusty raises an eyebrow and gives a couple of wags as I feed her her Vivitonin in a ball of tinned dog food. I tell her to stay while I prepare the Eliza Stannah lift. 1. Put on protective jeans. 2. Put on protective jean jacket. 3. Beat Dusty to stairs. 4. Sit on step below Dusty, who is hovering at the top, ready to launch herself down. 5. Encourage her to step on to my lap, which, gingerly, she does. 6. Down we go.

She trots straight over to her bowl, but has to wait half an hour for the medicine to go down before golloping her hearty breakfast. Sits by door waiting for her walk. I put her on the lead and take her up the track. She is leading me. Pulling. Trotting. There's a barely perceptible Tesco-trolleyish skew to her gait, but I think she had that anyway. She pulls vehemently to go into the river. I deny her this pleasure, given the steep scramble to get out. Home again and she's now snoring at my feet. This is my kind of nursing.

Dusty the Brave

Tuesday, 30 August

Yesterday evening, Dusty ended her precarious descent of the spiral staircase in a somersault, landing on her back at the bottom. I rushed to her aid and she seemed to recover quite quickly. But it was not the first sign of something wrong. A week or two ago, Lily noticed her swaying and nearly falling over when out walking. She'd perked up and continued as normal. The village vet said she was stiff and arthritic, and that must have caused her to collapse. It happens in older dogs, she said. We put her on arnica and a herbal concoction, which Dusty refuses to eat.

During our trip to London, I heard a scrabble and a flump at the top of the stairs and found Dusty lying there, her paws over the edge of the top step as if she'd stopped herself in the nick of time. She looked affronted and bemused. I sat on the step below her, wrestled her 25kg onto my lap and bumped us both down the stairs, step by step. At the bottom, Dusty lay looking confused, eyes darting back and forth, popping and twitching. Next morning, I took her to our old London vet. She looked like she was drunk, I said, and keeled over and couldn't get up and her eyes were twitching like mad. I'm worried she's had a stroke, I said. Of course, she was fine again by the time he saw her, so he agreed with Village Vet, that it was most likely the arthritis causing the collapses and subsequent disorientation.

Last night, she had another episode, this time lasting longer, scrabbling to get up but swaying and falling, lying there looking crazed, head bobbing up in the air to left and right as if desperately seeking something, eyes bulging and threatening to pop out of her head. This morning, I called the town vet. They said come in at 4.30pm. Minutes after putting the phone down, Dusty went into a crazed spasm again. I called the vet back and said she was shivering and convulsing and in distress. Bring her in now, they said.

Lugging a 25kg convulsing dog with popping eyes is not something I'd want to do often. All I could do was grasp her around the waist and waddle along with her like a sack of dog food, her four legs sticking out at right angles. Somehow I transferred her to the back seat of the car. Her head was swaying up to the left, up to the right, as though she were blind and could hear a piercing noise and was desperate to find the source.

Town Vet said immediately she was having what we would call in human terms, a stroke. The darting eyes were a classic sign, he said. She's desperately trying to get her balance. For her, it's like she's had 12 Scotches and her whole world is turning upside down. So much for London Vet. As Town Vet talked me through the options (further investigations... is it worth it... quality of life... 15 years ago we would have euthanized... ), I was getting flashbacks to Dr Death telling us about mother's options as she lay in intensive care, dosed up to the hilt and having intermittent mini strokes. When Town Vet said that her (Dusty's, not mother's) gums were healthy, and her heart didn't sound bad, and she was 'a light dog' (not quite how I would have described her), and she quickly righted her legs when he placed them out of position, I was trying to work out whether this meant that she might recover completely, or that he was offering me a little shred of hope to cling on to in an otherwise hopeless scenario.

He remained equivocal yet encouraging, but kept urging me to call him the next day to let him know how she was. Which reminded me of the doctor who saw Lily when she was running a raging fever and urged me to call him later that evening; he later admitted he'd feared she had meningitis. Is the Call Me treatment a very bad sign? It seems so. When I left, TV handed me just enough Vivitonin for a week, and I said was this a short-term medication then?, and he said no it was long-term but he was being conservative, or some may say pessimistic. It was Dr Death all over again. So he's giving her a week at most. The problem is, Dr Death was correct in his assessment.

But Dusty is fighting back. What she needs now is nursing and TLC, said Town Vet. She hasn't needed anything different from normal so far. Food. To be let out. You may have to bring her food to her, said TV. At suppertime, Dusty was standing over her bowl, waiting expectantly.

And now, as I write, Dusty is trotting up the spiral stairs to her station at Lily's side. I, meanwhile, envisage a second night of broken sleep of the kind I haven't had since Lily was a baby, in standby mode, ready to spring into action when I hear pawsteps on the stairs. I'll have to get there first, to break any potential fall.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Lunch is a triumph!

Sunday, 28 August

Awoken by pawsteps on the stairs. That can only mean one thing at this hour. Dusty is descending from her night-time station under Lily’s bed to a) be sick or b) poo. I drag myself down the stairs and see a dark mound on the off-white shag pile.

‘Dusty!’ I growl.

Dusty is by the front door, looking mournfully at me.

I turn on the lights to discover it is b) poo.

‘Dusty!’ I scream. ‘How could you! Why did you do it here?!’ I am pointing furiously at the offending b) poo. 

Dusty doesn’t answer but lowers her head and shoulders to an appropriately humble level and stares at me meaningfully.

I bag up the poo, throw a jug of soapy water at the pooey patch and scrub until the shag pile is off-white once more. Off being the operative word. I try not to think about all the unsavoury things harboured at the base of the shag.

Hate entertaining. Why am I doing this? Why? I don’t even know how many people I’m catering for. The husbands all seem to be away and nobody knows which children will deign to come. What if it rains? Where are the children going to go? Where will we sit? There aren’t enough chairs anyway.

Alarm wakes me from a dream about cute little white foxes in the bedroom. Argh. Right! Action stations! We are giving a lunch party. Oh my God.

Ha! Thanks to my brilliant organisational skills and handy A4 To Do List, we are on top of lunch. It is all under control. Only a few final things to do once everyone arrives. I fold the A4 list in half and write a Refined To Do List on the back:

  1. Chicken out.
  2. Tarts in.
  3. Bread in.
  4. Tarts/bread out.

A grand total of 8 adults and 9 children are here, the sun has miraculously come out, we’ve put up a long trestle table and will eat en plein air under the ash tree in manner of French summer feast! Hugh and Jemima (who cancelled their weekend plans and suddenly were able to come after all!) have lugged over their garden chairs so we can all sit. Children help take food and plates out. Ducks are dabbling on the far bank. Looks festive and sun-dappled. Love entertaining!

Conversation and fizz still in full flow. Marvellous. Sally is grappling for the right words to tell Cass an anecdote.

‘I have discovered,’ I announce grandly, ‘there’s a name for what we’ve got. ‘Age Something-or-Other Attention Deficit Disorder.’

‘ADHD – Attention Deficit Something Disorder,’ says Franny helpfully. 'Most of Max's friends have it.'

'Hyperactivity,' says Giles.

'No,' I say. 'That's the whole point. We have the AD without the H. It's a special division of it for old people.'

‘But,’ says Sally, ‘soon we’ll be past minding about our brains going foggy because we’ll all have that thing – you know, when you’re so far gone, you don’t even know there’s anything wrong – that thing beginning with…

‘Alzheimer’s,’ we say in unison.

‘That’s it!’ exclaims Sally. We all burst out laughing. So Sally has it bad. Yet she doesn’t seem to care! That is the way to go. Embrace one’s failing grasp on life.

After everyone’s gone, Lily puts on the soundtrack from Mary Poppins and we sing, ‘Oh, it’s a jolly 'oliday with Ma-ry,’ at the top of our voices as we stack the dishwasher, pausing every so often to polka around the room. Love parties. Love Lily.

As I put the final leftovers in the fridge, I spot my Refined To Do List magnetted to the door.  

Cass has written beneath my four items:

5. Dementia set in.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder

'Come on, Mum, we're meant to be cooking for tomorrow.' Lily is taking a breather from singing a non-stop medley from her old school songbooks. I am being distracted by emails.

'Come and watch this,' I say. Cousin Claude has sent me a video link. We watch as this tedious double-chinned woman meanders through her house, leaving a trail of undone tasks in her wake.  'Oh God, it's me!' I wail.

'Except you're not so fat,' dismisses Lily, going back to her medley. 'Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la.'

Had better do some cooking. Right. Tabbouleh.

Oh my God! Can’t believe how long that’s taken. All that precision chopping. Cutting and de-stalking the parsley takes about half an hour and then it all sticks to your fingers and then at the end of it, you don’t have four tablespoons of chopped parsley, you have half a tablespoon of chopped parsley.

Text Dan: ‘Argh! Too many people coming to lunch. Tabbouleh is a full-time job.’

He texts back: ‘Being the head of a bank would be a full-time job.’

Flower show horror

The worst bit about Lily getting third prize out of three entrants for her Six Jam Tarts on a Plate is when Dan points out afterwards that he and my chic neighbour Annie have been exchanging mirthful looks behind my back on hearing me complain about it in three separate tents.

I won't go on about my third prize out of three entrants for my village scene, tragically cropped to adhere to the rules and regs, when the first prize winner was four inches wider than the allowed dimensions.

'It's the entering that counts, though, isn't it?' Annie smiled initially, in an all-the-fun-of-the-flower-show manner.

'Yes, it's the entering that counts, isn't it, Lize?' goaded Dan. He's been doing this since he was born. Winding me up. Twisting the knife. Picking up the baton and running with it, mockery seeping from every pore.

No it is not the entering. It's not the winning either. It's Justice that counts. May the best jam tarts win. The judge hadn't even tried them! Hadn't even taken the clingfilm off! Wouldn't have even noticed if a tart were crack'd underneath or tasted like three-week-old anchovies.

'Thing is, Lize, you forgot the stars in the middle,' says Dan.

'It said nothing about stars in the middle!' I splutter. 'Look at Lily's tarts. They're the only six that are perfectly symmetrical and not overcooked.'

'No stars in the middle though, Lize.'

'I wouldn't mind if the judge had tasted them!'

'Didn't need to,' he grins.

I study him carefully. Are he and Lily in league? Maybe she's channelling through him?

Or maybe I'm just in a bad humour after the late-night printer/wifi debacle. But actually there's something else niggling me. Nobody wants to come to my impromptu lunch party tomorrow. Including Dan. As we watch the silver cups being presented, I tell him the rollcall of people who aren't actually doing anything else but have declined my kind invitation.

'They all say they're having a quiet day at home. I don't get it. If I'm not doing anything, I'm delighted to get an invitation to go out. I think it's a privilege to be invited out to lunch. I'd never think of staying in as the better option.'

'What about them?' Dan points to a pair of strangers. 'They look quite hungry.'

Ah, Hugh is striding towards us. I open my mouth to introduce him to Dan, but he pats me on the shoulder, swerves and speeds past. I follow his departing figure with my eyes.

'He thought you were going to ask him to lunch tomorrow,' says Dan.

Dusty, meanwhile, has wandered off, her lead trailing in the mud. We watch as a man, some 20 yards away, picks up her lead and ties her to the gatepost. We start giggling. Dusty looks at us as if to say, 'Why?'

'The trouble is when they call for her she won't be able to come,' we overhear the man telling his wife as he walks past to the tea tent. Dan and I are now jacknifing with laughter. We rescue Dusty and go home for tea.

'So why exactly won't you come to lunch?' I ask for the fourteenth time as we tuck into Lily's perfect jam tarts.

'Because I was really looking forward to coming to the flower show.'

'Are the two mutually exclusive?'

'To be honest, I think there might be a chance that I've got jobs to do.'

'It's Sunday, the day of rest.'

'Yeah,' he sighs wearily, trying to think of something he could usefully be doing tomorrow instead of simply avoiding having lunch with his sister. 'Well, I have to make a fly-proof fence in order to protect my air-dried hams and salamis.'

Dan is a smallholder. Or, as he puts it, a tinyholder. Practically self-sufficient except for the contents of Waitrose's dairy counter which fill his fridge. He has recently slaughtered his Oxford Sandy and Blacks, which went by the names of Ordinary, Standard and Basic.

The phone rings. Sally. 'Sorry not to get back to you before,' she says cheerily. 'We've been away all week. We're just on our way home.'

'Are you coming tomorrow?' I ask over-eagerly.

'We'd love to,' she says, without a trace of irony.

'Ha!' I smirk, as I put the phone down. 'Sally and Giles want to come to lunch!'

'They've probably been trying to think of an excuse all day,' says Dan, standing up. ''Well, I must go and get the supper on.'

'You won't have to cook tomorrow if you come to lunch,' I point out.

'We'll have loads of leftovers.'

'Cook less and then you won't have any leftovers.'

'Thing is, Lize, lunch comes in a joint.'

The tart crack'd

Knackered. Eyes won't open. But I'm going to crank myself and that printer to life if it kills me. So to speak.

Argh! I can't believe the time expended on a competition that affords a £1 prize and probably resentment rather than hearty admiration from one's fellow villagers. Closing time for entries is 10am.

'Lily! Quick! Get your bike! You'd better go ahead with your jam tarts and your courgette man! Quick!'

Lily goes out to unlock her bike while I try and find a rigid basket to carry the Six Jam Tarts on a Plate in, so they don't get knocked and crumble. Fail. Right. Get dressed. Drive.

Racing to the front door, I spot a dog-eared print of my village scene kitchen pinboard. It's too big for the rules and regs. Unpin it and take a ruler and a kitchen knife to it. Hmmm. A travesty, but at least it's the right size.

As we walk into the church hall, Lily hisses, 'Mum, we need to hide the one that's broken underneath.'


I can't bear it. I was so delirious last night, I put a cracked tart on the plate. Out of all the perfect ones I picked a broken one! She'll get disqualified. The shame.

'Right. You go ahead with Courgette Man.' I  race back to the car, execute a high-speed three-point turn outside the church and speed back through the village.


That's it. The last time I'm ever entering any competition in my life, in particular any village flower show, fete or dog show. Oh, we got the entries in, but my nerves are in tatters.

Jam tarts and ****ing technology

How can something as benign and charming as a village flower show cause such angst and sleeplessness? And we’re not even entering our prize raspberries or dahlias. Thank God, since we were visited today by an almighty thunderstorm. Having queued to hand in our forms and 50ps per entry, Lily and I thought we were home and dry. I’d already taken my photograph of a village scene and merely had to print it out; Lily had already created her courgette and carrot character and had only to make six jam tarts. Which she has duly done and gone to bed, leaving me to sweep up the flour, wash up and take the tarts out of the oven.

Oh, there goes the timer. No, not quite done. I’ll give them a few more minutes. Back to the wretched wifi printer which will not connect over the airwaves with my wretched computer. Right, I’m going to switch everything off and start again.

As my mother always said, if you can smell it, it’s done. Or, in the case of jam tarts, overdone. Argh. Now I have to make a new batch of tarts. I’ll use Lily’s pastry, so hardly cheating at all.

Right, they’re in the oven. Now back to the wretched computer. Green lights are flashing on the wifi. Argh. Computer can’t find any wireless networks in range! Neither can printer! Argh.

Jam tart mission accomplished. Cooled, arranged on a plate, covered in clingfilm. Computer, printer and router, however, in danger of being flung on floor in fury. Photograph remains unprinted. There will be a hole in the display tomorrow. Entry No 77: scratched. The frustration and ignominy.

Now Lily’s awake. A combination of Dusty snoring and me swearing.

Sodding hell! I’ve pressed the wireless reset button on the router for so long I think I’ve lost my network altogether. I remember reading something about holding it for more than 15 seconds resets it to default, and the settings I want are not default, but Lord knows how to reconfigure it again. So that’s it. No prize-winning photograph. No email. No internet. No blog.

I can hear a faint tapping sound. Is it the router crackling back to life? I get closer and realise the sound is coming from upstairs. I rush up in the dark and fling back Lily’s bedclothes. Just as I thought. On the DS. I grab it from her and swear some more. This has turned into a very bad day.

Fuck it. I really have buggered the wifi. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Oh my God. I am a technical genius. I went on to Internet Explorer just in case it was secretly connected, and it said Congratulations on purchasing this SpeedTouch residential gateway and would I like to set up my connection. Ha!


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sentimental journey

We are at the Children’s War exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. Lily has raced on ahead to see the 1940s house but I am fixed to the spot, digging my nails into my arm to try and stop myself blubbing, reading testimonies from bewildered child evacuees, stiff upper-lipped mothers who waved their children goodbye, and foster parents who felt bereft when their wards went home. Separation and loss. All so utterly sad.

Why am I so sentimental? Maybe because I grew up with my mother silently sobbing to Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the Proms. Today’s soundtrack, a scratchy recording of Teddy Bears’ Picnic, is unbearably poignant. It was the little row of display boxes that started me off. You open the lid and inside is a lone exhibit – a little toy dog, given by a father to his child; a pair of children’s specs. Waaaaa!

I finally move on, bucked by a quote from a child’s letter: ‘They call this spring, Mum, and they have one down here every year.’

Now I’m in the 1940s suburban house and the tears are welling up all over again. It’s just so familiar. My mother’s childhood house was like this. Items of furniture followed us to my childhood house. The oak hallway dresser, the Lloyd loom chairs. Rental cottages I’ve stayed at in Cornwall and Wales – identical tiled fireplaces, lumpy wooden-framed sofa and chairs, utilitarian iron bedsteads, the only concession to modernity being an indoor lav and a semi-fitted kitchen. Oh the pain of nostalgia!

I find Lily in the World War One trenches, a sobering experience even for her. We emerge to the sunshine and sit on the museum steps with our polystyrene trays of chips.

‘Did you read some of the letters from the children who had been sent away to the country?’ I ask Lily.

She screws up her face and twists her mouth as she racks her brains. There’s a long pause as I wait and she scrabbles around in her tray. She makes a stab with her wooden fork and brandishes a three-inch chip. ‘Longest chip challenge!’

I find one of a similar length and hold it up.  

She measures hers against mine. ‘Draw.’

‘Did you listen to that telephone thing where that woman said, “We were pleading to come home”?’ I put on a sad face with downturned mouth.

Lily’s lips twist again and her eyebrows furrow. Then she stabs a half-inch square chip and displays it for inspection. ‘Shortest chip challenge!’

I root around for a short chip but can’t match hers.

‘I win!’ she laughs.

‘Darling, what did you think was most touching and moving in that exhibition?’

She sighs heavily, raising her eyes to heaven and leaning forward over her chips.


She resumes her stabbing and munching.

‘Didn’t you think it was quite sad all the children having to be sent away?’

‘Ye-ah!’ she agrees, picking around her tray once more. Up comes another specimen. ‘Crispiest chip challenge!’

I find a crispy sliver and offer her a test-bite. ‘Not bad,’ she concedes with a crunch. ‘But mine's crispier. I win!'

A pair of pigeons are moving in on us, hopping and flapping up the steps. We eat the rest of our chips in silence and head for home.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A fine man

Drop in for tea with Sally. Arthur lopes across the garden, his Calvins worn high, his shorts slung so low I am flummoxed as to how they stay up. He flops down beside me.

‘What are you up to for the holidays?’ I ask.

‘I’m growing a beard.’

I survey the golden wisps glinting in the afternoon sun.

‘Shouldn’t you shave every few days to make it come back stronger and stubblier,’ I ask, thinking of my legs.

He laughs. ‘It’ll never get long enough. Anyway, as Homer said…’

I sit up, ready to be impressed by my godson’s literary genius.

‘… Odysseus’s son, what’s his name, anyway, he said, like, er, well…’

‘Arthur!’ I say, gratified. ‘It’s not just me and your mother. You’ve got early-onset Alzheimer’s too!’

He grins and after a few struggling attempts comes up with, ‘…something, er, like – similar to – you’ll be a fine man when you have a wispy chin.’

He disappears inside, reappearing moments later in the guise of the Phantom of the Opera wearing an inverted American football over his head with two Hoover hosepipes protruding from the top.

‘Do you like it?’ says a muffled voice. ‘I spent all day making it.’

‘It’s wonderful,’ I say. ‘What exactly is it?’

‘A Minotaur.’


Everything is conspiring to make me feel older, greyer, more redundant, hastening to my final demise. 

We have Cinder, Hugh and Jemima's young black Lab staying. Lithe, sleek, long-limbed like her mistress, full of verve, vitality and wonderment with the world. On the other hand we have Dusty. White-chopped, plodding, wheezing, snoring, divides her time between eating and sleeping. If you were a virile, handsome, alpha dog, who would you go for?

And yet Dusty is terribly dear. Those soulful eyes, her acceptance of what life throws at her, her dependability. Her very non-skittishness. Surely these are valuable qualities? Plus she does have her own personality and eccentricities, and an occasional single-mindedness to be admired. Her determination to get in that river. The way she nips into any open car boot or passenger footwell, so as not to be left behind. Her sneaky habit of climbing on the forbidden sofa if you go out and leave her alone for too long. It's her way of saying, 'I'm only saying...'

Indeed, Dusty is still adding to her vast fan base. Everyone loves her. Except Cass, which possibly dates back to the time she was sick all over her kitchen floor, and Dan, who says she's insipid, but that's just because he's jealous that she's more quietly intelligent than Digger.

Friday, 12 August 2011

SPOCs and swallows

‘How much cauliflower?’

Lily is making a vegetable curry, wearing my French linen apron. I’m in her fluffy pink dressing gown, staring at the computer screen.

‘Mummy, what time is it?  Because you know you really ought to be helping me.’

Lily looks over my shoulder.
‘Mum! You’ve got to put the dot thingies in, or else it looks like the date Seventeen Fifty Seven.’

I finally get to the end of my emails and other distractions and am about to close the laptop when I realise what I originally set out to do today: Tidy Up. First item on the Tidy Up agenda was to put away the camera. Before I put away the camera, I needed to download the photos. Which involved turning on the computer. And then I was lost. Sucked into the vortex. Watching the House of Lords gassing on, my noble Lords, about the riots. (How ridiculously quaint that they have to refer to the Commons as The Other Place, in the manner of Voldemort having to be called You Know Who.) Reading articles about only child psychology and menopausal mental health. Answering emails. A lost thread in a tapestry of communications. Oh my God!  Hugo and Jemima are coming to dinner soon and I haven’t washed my hair and the dog hasn’t been walked! Argh! 

I am sitting naked in the empty bath, washing my hair under the rubber hose, when the nozzle flies off the hot tap and boiling water pours on my foot. I shriek.
‘What?’ calls Lily from the kitchen.
‘I just burned my foot.’
‘Oooh,’ Lily sucks in her breath sympathetically.
As I dry myself I spot the loo roll, soaking wet, clearly sprayed by Lily when she washed her hair earlier.

I march into the kitchen swathed in towels.
‘I hate it when the loo roll gets wet!’ I accuse, plonking the offending item on the Aga.
‘So, it’s 6.30 and you’ve finally decided to get up,’ remarks Lily, who is chopping onions.
‘Don’t be mean,’
‘I’m only saying!’

It’s all Gitface’s fault. If he’d stayed and acted like a proper father, Lily would have been a child. Instead she’s my sibling rival. As well as my other half. I read it all online today in an article about SPOCs. Single Parent Only Child. Apparently it's typical for SPOC parents and children to bicker like siblings. It’s also typical for adult-child boundaries to become blurred and SPOC children to think they’re on a level with their parents. Exactly! 

Lily interrupts my thought processes. ‘Mum! You’re delaying Dusty’s walk.’

Did it mention SPOC children actually taking over the parenting?

Ah, it’s good to be out! The world is covered in a fine mist of what Lily calls rain too soft to touch. The stalks of barley with their extravagant mohicans have turned a tarnished gold. The sky is heavy and drizzle-grey. Dusty is panting and wheezing like an old harmonium. A pair of swallows dart down the track at ankle height, flit into the air as they reach me, then swoop down to continue their low-level reconnaissance.

I make it to the top of the hill before Lily flits into my mind. I left her tending a Le Creuset that came out of the oven and onto the hotplate. I warned her to remember it had come out of the oven. What if she forgets, picks up the cast-iron lid with her bare hand, drops it on her foot and is now standing there with third-degree burns and a broken toe?

‘Come on Dusty,’ I turn and jog down the hill. The pigs stop to stare at me – or perhaps at my bobbing Babington House-embezzled umbrella. When we reach the road, Dusty trots straight across the road purposefully.

‘Oh no, Dusty, surely not! Surely… Oh Dusty!’

But she has launched into the river. On a day like this! I wait for her and then quick-march home.

Lily looks up from the sofa where she is watching Calamity Jane. I glance at the Aga. No burning smells or lids bouncing and hissing.

‘Have you checked it’s not burning?’ I ask.

‘Yes,’ she says, getting up calmly to check again. ‘Fine,’ she says replacing the lid and returning to her relaxation station.

Everyone I know is calm, cool, collected, guilt-free. I, however, am like a swallow, flitting and darting hither and thither, achieving nothing but a massive guilt complex.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Lily triumphs again!

It’s according to my computer and I am still sitting in my nightie and Lily’s pink fluffy dressing gown which I put on to make her laugh after finding it on the bathroom floor a few hours ago. She, also in her nightie, doesn’t look up from the piano, on which she is determined to master Fur Elise. I’m so hungry that I can’t make a decision. Do I wash my hair now? Get dressed? Take the dog for a walk? Finish answering unanswered emails? Make breakfast?

I settle for making lunch.

Lily is reading her book of Myths and Legends. We are eating a healthy lunch. At least I am.
‘I don’t like this salad with those things in it,’ says Lily. ‘It’s too fishy.’
‘But they’re those little marinated anchovies that you normally love.’
‘Did you put them in the plastic thingy?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Usually you have to put them in that plastic thingy with the lid yourself.’
She’s so fly. I know what she’s getting at. Are they fresh is what she’s getting at, or did you pick some manky old ready-packed ones?
‘No they were already in it.’
'Hmmm.' She returns to her book.
‘You normally like them.’
‘Well I don’t like these. They’re too fishy.’
‘Well take them out and eat the rest of the salad.’

She glances up and catches me with baby leaf stalks sprouting out of my mouth like whiskers. ‘Mum!’ exclaims Lily. ‘Don’t put so much food in your mouth! Hypocrite.’

She has recently become the police, fighting back against hypocrisy, corruption and lawlessness in the home.

‘Mum! Look where you’re putting your feet!’ she said to me this morning as I tripped over the computer cable while looking at the iPhone as I walked to the window where I could get a reception. ‘Hypocrite!’

'You must get an early night, tonight,' I said to Lily yesterday as we drove home from Tesco’s.
‘Mum! You must go to bed early and not stay up till watching the riots!’ retorts Lily, her eyes wild and laughing. ‘Hypocrite!’

I separate the salad from the fish. The trouble is, she’s always right. These are not only ready-packed anchovies. These are old anchovies. They were clearly end-of-batch, shovelled from the deli counter into cartons and reduced. Plus they’ve been in the fridge for a fair while. I reckoned they'd last because they’re practically pickled, but they do taste a bit chewy and acidic compared to the fresh ones. 

She picks at the salad with disdain, not actually raising the fork to her lips.
‘They make the whole salad taste fishy.’
‘So you don’t want it? You’ve had enough lunch?’
‘I wasn’t hungry anyway.’
I eat the salad myself, then put the bowl with the anchovies on the floor for Dusty, who laps them up.
‘Dusty doesn’t think they’re too fishy,’ I point out.
‘She’s a dog!’