Tuesday 29 May 2012

The Diamond generation

Tom is clattering around in the kitchen, whipping up some red, white and blue muffins for Dolly's Diamond Jubilee garden party at pre-school tomorrow. And I think about sitting at my mum's hospital bed earlier today, and listening to her recounting memories of the Queen visiting our local town during the coronation year.

This is the town where she was born, the town where she is now being looking after, and the town where both my children were born.

My mum was six years old, and remembers having a prime view through the lounge window on the first floor of her father's watchmakers shop at 24 High Town (now a mobile phone shop).

She speaks about the lounge in impressive detail. It was very Victorian, she says, with a lovely three-piece suite, a wind-up gramophone, and a big gold ornate clock under a glass dome. There was also a beautiful piano that my grandpa would practice 'Fur Elise' on.

My mum and her brother sat on the window ledge in their dad’s shop, in 1952, legs dangling out, and felt very excited as they saw their young, new Queen, walk past.

Sixty years on, and the same Queen is visiting our town for a 'Diamond Day'. I plan to take Betty and Dolly along to share in the celebrations. We may even position ourselves outside 24 High Town, and have a look up at that window…

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Torquay, before and after kids

In 2003, just before Tom and I moved away from London, I attended an Indian Head Massage workshop in Torquay.

I drove out of London after work on the Friday evening, picked Tom up from Heathrow (he had been in Geneva for work) and we headed down to Devon.

We spent that night staying up very late, getting drunk on the marina, eating delicious food, holding hands, and playing the 'guess the line from the film' game; stopping every so often to watch the next stag or hen party spectacle enter the bar.  

I spent the following day massaging people's heads with a hangover, and Tom explored Torquay, read his book, and lunched while gazing peacefully at the sea.

That was the last time we had both been to that part of the country, until this weekend.  It was Tom who was on a course this time, learning how to grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, and build a profitable enterprise from it.

The main difference this time was that we had two little ladies in tow. So while Tom was on some farm in Totnes getting perhaps a little too excited about fungi, I was keeping the kids entertained.  

We went on a wildlife boat trip around the coast, but while attempting to buy tickets, Dolly shouted crossly 'I AM NOT TWO, I AM THREE!'  There was no charge for two year olds, but Dolly wasn't playing ball and successfully exposed me as a fraud and a liar.  

While on board, and still trying to get over the embarrassment, we had a 'naughty lunch' as Betty called it (she has since told EVERYONE that I only fed them crackers and chocolate biscuits all day).  

After the boat trip, I wrestled Betty and Dolly into their fabulous new wetsuits (very kindly supplied by MandMDirect), and they took to the icy cold waters of Teignmouth beach.  This photo doesn't show the Siberian chill that was blowing that day. But it does show that absolutely no one else was in the sea. 

Teignmouth beach
We then went onto the pier where they spotted rock for sale in the sweet shop.  We have been reading 'Lost at the fair' a lot, where the little mice eat rock, so I reluctantly let them choose a stick each and allowed them one little nibble (the rest is still knocking around in the bottom of my bag).  

Next on the relaxing itinerary: Betty and I had a massive argument about the lethal-looking, mile-high inflatable slide that I wouldn't let her go on.  She stroppily had a bounce on the 'baby' bouncy castle with Dolly, but soon cracked a smile when I opened up the world of Penny Fall machines to them in the arcade.  I'm not sure Tom would have approved, but he wasn't there was he.  

We were all absolutely knackered by the time Tom finished his course at 4pm.  So when Dolly informed me that she was not intending to leave the hotel room that evening, I was more than happy to stay with her.  

At 6.30pm, I was in my pyjamas, tending to a vomiting child, and watching reality TV, while Tom and Betty were out eating tapas and having a ball on that lethal-looking inflatable slide thingy. 

Sunday 6 May 2012

Chrysanthemum wallpaper and marrowfat peas

During my teens I had many arguments with my mum. I was fiery and stroppy and felt misunderstood.

When I was 16 and at sixth form college, I used to camp out in my granny's spare bedroom. Having left school, I really did think of myself as grown up, someone who knew everything. Staying with my granny a couple of nights a week sort of felt like I had left home and was independent.

My granny's spare room was fascinating to me. The 70s style garish yellow, orange and brown chrysanthemum wallpaper wasn't like anything I had seen before. My mum's walls at home were all white, my granny's were psychedelic.

She would give me an electric blanket, an ancient heavy feather eiderdown and a hot water bottle in a stripy pillowcase. She was quite tight with her Economy 7 heating, so wanted to make sure I didn't freeze.

I remember trying to write an essay about the Cold War sitting on this bed, staring blankly at the wallpaper, and counting all the petals on the chrysanthemums. I became distracted by all of my dad's old rock climbing and photography books, and the little pots he had made in his youth, which all sat on a shelf at the end of the bed. My essay was due in the next day, and it was a poor effort. I don't think I even finished it.

My granny would make me a corned beef and tomato sandwich on white sliced bread for my tea. This was all such a novelty to me. I wasn't allowed white sliced bread at home, my mum said it was like eating cotton wool. And as for corned beef, I hadn't even known it existed until my little visits to her house. Sometimes she would feed me marrowfat processed peas.

There was a very distinct smell in my granny's house, similar to how marrowfat peas smell before they have been heated up.

I loved the fact that when my granny caught me hanging out of the bedroom window smoking an Embassy No 1, she calmly handed me a mug of cocoa and said: 'If you're going to do that, just come down to the kitchen and do it in comfort'. I didn't ever do it again. It no longer felt rebellious.

Although I loved my little escapades to my granny's house, I would never stay for more than two consecutive nights. This was mainly because she wouldn't let me use her phone to ring my friends, and in the days without mobile phones and the internet, this was a big deal.

So I would go back home, give my mum a hard time about not having any 'cotton wool' bread or Frey Bentos pies in the house, slam a few doors, and run up a huge phone bill.