Clouds On The Horizon #writephoto

This week’s #writephoto prompt took me in a somewhat bizarre direction. I blame the weather…

Arturo Despot shuffled his feet nervously. He’d been sure he’d come up with a nailed on certainty, but pleasing Artemis Poltroon was not easy. Not easy at all.

‘What is that, Despot?’ The tyrannical Chief Executive squinted at the sky.

‘A cloud, sir.’ Better to stick to the basics until it was clear which way the wind was blowing, Arturo thought. The temptation to cower, however was almost overwhelming.

‘A cloud? Just a cloud?’

‘A feather cloud, sir. Very a la mode.’

The sigh caused a small localised depression to form over Arturo’s head, releasing an unpleasantly sticky drizzle to coat his hair. The supremely horrible one continued, ‘And why did you think a feather cloud would be appropriate?’

Arturo blinked. ‘The commission brief, sir.’

‘Remind me.’

Arturo experienced a momentary failure of his sphincter muscles as the low pressure eased unexpectedly and hinged backwards in order to stop an embarrassing evacuation to add to his already considerable misery. When he eventually righted himself Poltroon stared with a quizzical expression. ‘Yoga this early, Despot?’

‘No sir, I…’

‘You were about to explain how you concluded a feather cloud, a rainbow-branded feather cloud was the obvious outcome of this commission.’

Arturo lost the power of speech. In the silence Poltroon wrapped an arm around his subordinate’s shoulders. ‘We make weather to order, yes?’

Arturo managed a nod.

‘And the commission brief spoke about providing a suitable climatic backdrop that would showcase the pride our clients have in their electoral success, yes?’

The fast shrinking cloud engineer swallowed as he managed a squeaky acknowledgement of that truth.

Poltroon squinted at the sky. ‘So, let me guess. You saw the reference to pride and thought rainbow? Feathers?’

Another slightly more confident nod.

‘And the fact that the client has emphasised its recent rebranding as a more mainstream inclusive political force?’

Arturo straightened his shoulders. This was a test; the chief was just having a laugh, testing his ability to defend his creations. ‘It’s all about embracing diversity, about…’

‘They’re fascists, Despot. They don’t want colour. The only time they’d take the knee is if someone shot out one patella. They’re about as diverse as a cheese toastie. Now get a ladder, paint your cloud the blackest black you can source and pray.’

‘Pray sir?’

‘Indeed, use whatever method you have of appealing to a higher power. Just hope the stars don’t come out and twinkle. If your bloody cloud acts like a disco ball at their conference, it might be the last ball you ever see. Now hurry.’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The World of Merkel

A silly little ditty from a notebook, written I guess in 2018 or so…

Angela Merkel

The German gerbil

Dominated the world’s Rathaus.

She cleaned her whiskers

And bled her blisters

Caused by her love of Strauss.

Come on you chump

I’ll lead with trumps

Said the toe tapping rodent.

I find it’s the best

Way to road test

Which policies are the most potent.

If you only knew,

Said the pinched face shrew

Who pitched a wicked idea,

What the world really thought

About a rat without

A sausage and gassy beer.

The orange hued hamsta

More goon than gansta

Scoffed when told of her plans.

Sat on his white sofa

He fondled his gopher

And declared her ideas to be pants.

Just build a wall

To keep out them all

He declared with zero decorum

My ideas are a killer,

He addressed the chinchilla

Who chaired the NAFTA trade forum.

We’ll go it alone

He began to intone

And not plan but shoot from the hip

And we’ll play the white hat

And use a fat cat

To drive you rats from the ship.

Posted in miscellany, poems, poetry | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

The Secret Diary Of A FOF (revisited) Part Second

Readers of this blog may have picked up on the forthcoming nuptials for my son. Two years ago my daughter wed a delightful young man. In the run up to that event I imagined an alternate scenario which led to a series of posts, under the above title. In anticipation of this year’s event and maybe to bring back memories for anyone who has been the parent of a wedding, I’ve reworked the diary, though I’ve retained the fact it is a daughter whose wedding is anticipated. I hope you enjoy…

This is entirely fiction. Completely. Utterly. Except for any true bits

July 4th

9.02 am. Any idea that Independence Day might be enjoyed in this corner of Merrie Oldie England is shattered by First Of Her Name’s daily strategy call with First Born.

‘The Male Heir has a girlfriend.’

Normally this would be greeted with bunting and the ritualistic murder of an overweight porker because the Male Heir’s relationships have tended to the sort term viz measured in hours rather than days. Somehow the combination of First Of Her Name’s expression (hovering between ingested wasp and unanaesthetised root canal work) and her actions (evisceration of John Lewis cushion) indicates this is not so.

10.47 am. Still no clue as to best course of action. Cushion innards now joined by potting compost (from smithereened cactus pot), coffee (attempt no. 1 to mollify) and fourteen blueberries (from fist slam next to fruit bowl that followed coffee).

11.29 am. Three further calls between First Born and First Of her Name. I have (strategically) eavesdropped and ascertained the following:

1. New girlfriend is American;

2. She is not human;

3. She has aggressive bosoms and a weaponized fanny (sic: I think this is a reference to the American area of that name) on which canapes may be served; and

4. The Fiancé made a strategic mistake in his aural and optical appraisal of said girlfriend.

12.41 pm. First Born has announced the wedding is off.

12.42 pm. First Of Her Name is in tears.

12.43 pm. I am in tears. I may need to have my hand reset.

12.44 pm. First Born is on her way to see Male Heir. I am charged with ‘doing something’. Determine it will be safer if I follow First Born to the greengrocers where the Male Heir stacks beetroots.

1.23 pm. Arrive at same moment as police car. Assume altercation between First Born and Male Heir. Seek to place myself between forces of law and order and warring children.

1.24 pm. Appear to have assaulted police in the act of buying his lunch viz pushed him into a display of novelty tomatoes. As I’m led away see First Born and Male Heir laughing.

9.27 pm. Am released after a warning as to my future behaviour. Back home, First Of Her Name, First Born and Male Heir enjoying fish supper. Girlfriend cannot come to wedding due to operation on her aggressive verrucas. No one asks where I’ve been. When I ask if the wedding is still off, am treated to withering looks and mild belabouring about head.

9.34 pm. In pub.

July 10th

While at morning ablutions, am told cake designer due at 10 am and I will ‘entertain’ her until First Born and First Of Her Name return from the latest session with wedding designer – some issue involving lace and what I understand to be some emergency escape arrangement. ‘Don’t upset her.’

10 am. Worryingly slight woman appears with trolley of Tupperware. ‘I’m the cake designer’. How can she make cakes and stay so slim?

10.05 am. Life is on an uptick. Tupperware contain samples of possible cake types and am offered opportunity to taste. Worry that First Of Her Name might not approve but am assured will be okay.

10.10 am. Am aware of kerfuffle, while in kitchen making coffee. Find cake designer and family dog, Spiro Agnew in standoff over cake slice that Spiro Agnew appears to have sequestered to himself.

10.12 am. Cake designer desperately trying to make Spiro Agnew vomit; said cake slice contains twenty-seven percent currants. Spiro Agnew thinks is a good game. Cake designer mortified that Spiro Agnew will die. Try to reassure her Spiro Agnew is a robust cross breed – a PooRot – Poodle-Rottweiler cross. As explaining Spiro Agnew vomits into Tupperware.

10.30 am. Much relief all round. Sit in garden with cake designer over coffee while watching unaffected dog bury unidentified item of clothing next to petunias. Fiancé appears, for cake decision. Suggest he goes and looks at samples.

10.40 am. First Of Her Name, First Born and Fiancé join us in garden. Realise Fiancé is spooning cake vomit from Tupperware into mouth with gusto. Hurriedly stand between Fiancé and cake designer while making two mental notes, viz:

1. I no longer have any fears that he will cope with marriage to First Born if he can ingest dog vomit; and

2. We need to go to the pub as soon as possible.

July 17th

Weekend for stag and hen does. Dreading whole affair. Why is the FOF invited? Surely this is a young man’s game?

Much excitement over lunch, with passports checked, Euros counted, medical insurance double checked to ensure it includes stomach pumping. Try and fake enthusiasm but spirit wilting.

Ubers arrive with Fiancé’s parents, the ultimate good news/bad news. Good news is she is going on Hen Do so I don’t have to listen to interminable tales of failed gastric bands and the best way to set marmalade; bad news he isn’t going on Hen Do so I will have to listen to his experiments with Viagra alternates and his music which last time included a four album box set of Roger Whitaker whistling Dame Nelly Melba’s lesser known arias.

Panic. No one has arranged for Spiro Agnew to be looked after. Much wailing and gnashing and imminent risk of head belabourings avoided by my immediate offer to drop out of stag party and dog sit.

First Born cries and kisses me; First Of Her Name thanks me and kisses me (and whispers she will open a new tub of coconut cream on her return). Fiancé looks disappointed as no one to occupy his father. Wave them off.

Order pizza and beer deliveries to repeat at four hourly intervals for next two days; list football matches over next two days and pin to Spiro Agnew’s tail. Move fridge into sitting room next to TV. Replace batteries in remote to avoid unnecessary movement. Decide against dragging water butt inside as temporary urinal – standards must be maintained. Pull all curtains. Set dog bed next to sofa.

Before settling down, check all doors locked, wallet handy by front door and hunt out all unopened coconut cream tubs and hide.

Decide there are some compensations to this wedding lark.

July 24th

Am just deciding between jam and marmalade for today’s toast topping, when First Of Her Name announces that today we are choosing shoes. Since marmalade is gift from Fiancé’s mother, the choice is essentially made for me.

When I query whether my presence will be required for the acquisition of every item of clothing she will be wearing at the event, she bristles asking, in a voice that has been known to kill viruses and hustle a previously infectious child to school, What On Earth I might mean.

Realising my error – blamed on the sugar rush that choosing jam has induced – I compound the error by attempting a smidgen of levity. ‘Perhaps I can cast an expert eye over your smalls?’

To which the response, accompanying a shaking of the comment section of the Daily Execution, is instant. ‘The last time you bought me underwear you chose something akin to the bag in which my grandmother used to boil puddings during the Depression.’

A trifle harsh, I think coming from the woman who had forced me to channel my inner sausage by attempting the impossible of dressing in Spanx. ‘What sort of shoes are you thinking of, Diamond In The Light Of Thy Firmament? A discreet heel? Something kittenish? Perhaps an a la mode pair of boots?’

‘Yours, not mine. I have my eyes on some Jimmy’s’

Editor’s note: I was later informed by First Of Her Name that ‘I have my eye on some Jimmy’s’ was a reference to one James Choos, a bespoke cobbler famed for his vertiginous heels, red soles and a price somewhere between the GDP of Estonia and First Born’s fake tanning bills rather than unfathomable rhyming slang. And on the subject of fake tanning bills, since the engagement, these have been astronomical; when I inquired of the Fiancé, after the statutory grimace he explained First Born is intent on finding just the right shade that matches her latest favourite Influencer. Having no idea what that might be, he showed me a picture of an unfeasibly busted woman whose skin tone is somewhere between a Bedouin tribe-person’s neck and an orangutan.

10.49. I am informed that ‘comfort is not a consideration’ after I try on the sort of footwear one saw in Hammer horror films of the 1960s.

11.29. A telephone debate with the First Born has determined that a light tan ‘verging on deep umber’ is correct. This is not some development in the fake tan conundrum but apparently relates to the shade of brown for my shoes.

11.30. Try and fail to hide my low mood at prospect of returning to Torquemada’s Brogue Boutique and the greasily unctuous Tarquin who fawned over us two hours ago. I am saved by the appearance of Dolores, part of the coven to which First Of Her Name belongs who queries our plans. She scoffs at Tarquin, insisting on dragging us to Sons Of Satan who apparently did wonders with Derek’s bunions.

12.30. Shoes chosen, Sir would like to keep the box, thank you very much and credit card oddly intact, we stand on the pavement. I feel indebted to Dolores. Close my eyes and brace for a double mwah air brush only to find myself head butting nothing. Dolores and First Of Her Name are climbing into a cab, waving me goodbye, explaining that Harrods ‘calls’.

1pm. Meet Fiancé and Male Heir in The Gentleman’s Relish for a swift pint during their lunch. Regale them with stories about footwear. Male Heir: ‘Did you remember to put in your orthotics, Dad?’

2.49pm: Sons of Satan do not have right shoes in larger size that will accommodate corrective soles but promise ‘a delivery is imminent’. They agree to let me keep the wrong size on the strict understanding I will not use them or I will have to pay twice. Explain that if I turn up without them tonight I will have so much skin flayed from my flanks that I could tan the result and craft my own set.

3.30pm. Return to pub for consoling solo pint. Am accosted by Tarquin who offers to do something stimulating but illegal in thirty per cent of nations registered with the UN, using only his ebony shoe tree and a tub of Cherry Blossom light tan polish. Tell him that if the replacements do not arrive in time for the Big Day, I’m his man.

Posted in family, weddings | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

The Secret Diary Of A FOF (revisited)

Readers of this blog may have picked up on the forthcoming nuptials for my son. Two years ago my daughter wed a delightful young man. In the run up to that event I imagined an alternate scenario which led to a series of posts, under the above title. In anticipation of this year’s event and maybe to bring back memories for anyone who has been the parent of a wedding, I’ve reworked the diary, though I’ve retained the fact it is a daughter whose wedding is anticipated. I hope you enjoy…

This is entirely fiction. Completely. Utterly. Except for any true bits

April 22nd

Weekend takes something of an unexpected turn when we, the First Of Her Name and I are called into the garden. First Born in tears, boyfriend grinning manically and Male Heir looking like he’s found out who his father really is.

First Of Her Name insists I ‘do something’ while she milks the concerned mother bit. I’m about to suggest ‘pub’ to the men when First Born wails and waves hand at us.

I assume that means approval of the Pub option and am heading for garden gate when I’m called back.

‘I’m engaged.’ Seems the waving thing is to display this bit of grit that’s been embedded in a gold band. Make approving noises until it’s apparent First Of Her Name is now in tears.

Offer sympathy and am belaboured about head. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

When I admit I didn’t know it was coming, belabouring shifts to boyfriend (now upgraded to The Fiancé). ‘Why didn’t you ask permission?’

He points at me. ‘He said not to. He couldn’t keep it secret.’

Belabouring returns to its original target, viz me when the Male Heir confesses he knew. Oddly belabouring continues about my person while he is forgiven his trespasses.

First Born whispers to First Of Her Name and they go indoors. Through the French doors we mere males watch as a flip-chart and spreadsheet are magicked from somewhere and marker pens uncapped.

Many emotions compete: none of them are especially worthy. Hands rest on my shoulder. Fiancé and Male Heir ease me away, like I’ve been staring at a car smash and I should know better. In unison they say: ‘Pub’.

On our way it occurs I am now Father of the Fiancéd. A FOF. That actually feels quite good.

Male Heir ruins moment. ‘You’ll soon be an In Law.’ I exchange a look with the Fiancé. I think we both know who is going to be the Lesser of Two I-Ls.

April 30th

First Of Her Name announces three line whip for this evening. When I query the timing (Champions League semi, etc) the words I’ve been dreading but I knew were coming are uttered. ‘Wedding Planning’.

7 pm: Convene in reconstituted dining room, now to be known as Centre of Operations (Wedding). When the Fiancé points out the acronym, he is belaboured about head. Then it is my turn. ‘What have I done wrong?’ ‘You were about to laugh.’

This is both unfair (how could she know?) and true (I was). Take punishment like a Quisling husband should.

9 pm: Brain awash with facts and statistics and flow charts and mind maps and lists but one specific item holds front and centre. The Wedding Estimate. Apparently this is ‘reasonable’ but ‘subject to known and unknown variables’. Male Heir says ‘So were London Olympics’ and I lose consciousness at thought of spending £9.35 billion on a wedding. When I come to, the room is empty and the table cleared. Everyone has gone to bed. My eyes finally resume their ability to focus. On the flip-chart someone has written: ‘Pillock’.

Stay up and spend next three hours googling ‘how can I hide my assets off shore’. We can all do some planning.

May 27t

The First Of Her Name has not spoken since I rose at 7.32 pm. This is not a good sign. When I tentatively prompt her with: ‘Anything untoward, Light Of My Existence?’ she points me to the Operations Centre (Wedding) formerly known as the dining room. On the flip-chart two words to curdle any robust gut and send chills through a man’s spleen have been scratched, no scoured on the surface. ‘Guest List’.

I knew this was coming but like my A level results and my inguinal hernia I always hoped somehow I might be able to sort sleep past them and wake to find them already history. This area has more red-lines than a dyslexic’s spelling test. The difficulty is, of course to try and identify which particular red line has unexpectedly gone straight in at number one. A discrete check of the previous sheets on the flip chart indicates it might be a relative issue.

I make coffee. I take her hand – loosely since I may need to move quickly if I say the wrong thing. Taking a deep breathe, I offer, ‘Aunts?’

A nod. Okay, let’s narrow the field. ‘Joan? Marjorie?’

Two shakes but equally my fingers are still attached. ‘Great Aunts?’

A nod. Then ‘Doris.’

Great Aunt Doris is a torturer, formerly for the Inquisition and as a member of the Waffen SS, if Great Uncle Nesbit’s testimony can be relied on as the repository of family history. She came to our wedding, pronounced herself ‘disappointed’ at me, offered First Of Her Name to pay for a gigolo ‘so you don’t have to wait two years to divorce the maggot’ and left, having cut herself a slice of cake before we’d had the speeches.

I offer: ‘It’s probably for the best if she doesn’t come.’

My guard must have dropped as I register the change in colour of my fingers before the pain hits. ‘Cretin. First Born insists on her coming with her new fancy man. She said she wants to know why we’ve cut Doris out of her life.’

Later, in A&E the Fiancé rings me to check on the extent of my injury (bruised tendons, three weeks of minimal use and no squeezing which the junior registrar insists on demonstrating by the use of an obscene gesture). The Fiancé explains that First Born googled Great Aunt Doris and found her listed as the third richest widow in Rutland. The invite and the possibility of a place in her Will are, he insists, unlinked. Still processing, this news when he adds: ‘First Of Her Name says she won’t come if Great Aunt Doris does.’

Momentary vision of cancelled wedding, money back and a summer free ruined when I punch the air and have to have broken hand re-triaged.

June 13th

Visit the chosen venue. Palladian columns at entrance, fresco pained on ceiling in reception. The place oozes class and old money, clearly kept afloat by new money: viz, mine. Have to sit down. Offered glass of water.

Discussion with venue manager over numbers they can accommodate. Many smiles when the words ‘easily 200’ are bandied about. Have to sit again. Offered tea and biscuit ‘for the sugar’.

Catering can be provided from their own chef or they can arrange for a Michelin starred winner to be employed. If that route is chosen, a percentage uplift will be needed as a sort of chefage – like a corkage only vastly bigger. Decide it is easier if I simply stay seated. A flunky appears and offers to carry the seat ‘in case I need it again.’ Whiskey is proffered.

Find First Born in earnest discussion with First Of Her Name, while venue manager stands to one side trying not to look like a lottery winner. I don’t ask but she instantly overshares. ‘They are debating whether to allow the chef to chose the wines. Apparently he is famous for his flights.’ I overshare that I may have lost mobility as my leg function appears to have ceased. My request for ‘significant opiates’ ignored.

Flunky calls me an Uber which takes us to local pub. Phone rings. First Of Her Name asking my whereabouts. In background Flunky suggests I say we have ‘taken flight’.

I do what has enabled our 29 years of marriage to endure: I lie. Convincingly. First Of Her Name is not fooled. ‘Get back here. Now. Or you’ll be giving First Born away by video-link from rehab.’

June 20th

Call at work from First Of Her Name. ‘Call her. Sort it.’

Mind in turmoil I call the First Born. ‘Hi sweetness. Mum told…’

‘She’s impossible.’

That statement is undoubtedly in the top five most dreaded. Agree, and it will be played back to the First Of Her Name with all the belabouring consequences that inevitably ensue. Disagree, and the reparations demanded by First Born will make the debt born by the Weimar Republic seem chicken feed. Dissemble, and either consequence is left open to be exploited at a time seen fit by First Born. There is only one possible response.

‘What happened?’

‘She wants to change the invitations. If we do, the printer can’t guarantee they will be ready in time to send out. Can you talk her round, daddy? She listens to you.’ The call is terminated.

In some parallel universe perhaps, I think.

I call.

‘Well?’

‘She asked me to arbitrate.’

‘You agreed?’

‘I’m still fact finding.’

‘More fool you. She wants to ruin the whole event.’

‘Is this the point where I ask how? I thought wedding invitations invited you to a wedding and asked for an RSVP. It’s a simple provider of basic information.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Did she miss something? The date? Venue? Oh god, she got your name wrong.’

‘She said there wasn’t room for the most basic piece of information. Without it the risk of chaos is enormous.’

‘Nowhere to send the RSVP?’

‘SHE FORGOT TO SAY THE MOTHER OF THE BRIDE WILL BE WEARING TAUPE! Imagine if someone else does.’

‘Er? Taupe? Is that a sort of hat?’

June 30th

Fitting day. The Fiancé, The Best Man, The Male Heir and me are to have our suits fitted. There is a light-hearted feeling as we arrive at the tailors. It is an invitation only business. We ring the bell, exchanging banter when the blind on the door goes up and, horror The First Of Her Name is framed in the glass.

‘This is fun,’ she intones. The Male Heir kisses the proffered cheek, the Fiancé instinctively ducks and the Best Man shakes her hand. I’m left to lock the door.

Male Heir asks if she should be there, voicing a question both I and I’m sure the Fiancé would like to ask but neither of us need any further punishment after the shock of seeing her there.

‘But darling, imagine the mistakes your father or that one might make without me!’

The tailor, a gratuitously tactile gentleman with over long fingers takes our measurements. Long discussion with First Of Her Name over apparently oversized testes on the Fiancé which are to be remedied by the application of spanx.

Momentary kerfuffle as Fiancé tries to escape, thinking his Jacobs* are to be panel-beaten by the MOB to fit the suit. The First Of Her Name produces an example of said spanx and explains how these instruments of torture will eradicate the problem of the side on which the Fiancé dresses and ensure the ‘line of the suit’ is not compromised. Unlike said testes. Fiancé remains unconvinced of the efficacy of the plan.

‘You show him.’

It takes me a moment to realise it is I to whom she is addressing this direction. Much hilarity from the Male Heir and Best Man at prospect of me and Fiancé having to try on spanx. Comeuppance ensues when First Of Her Name tells them they will be required to wear their own set if we are all to avoid any VPLs on the day. From the glances exchanged it seems fair to assume none of us know what it is we will be avoiding.

Later, in the Pub Best Man suggests this must be something like a VPN and is to avoid Hello! stealing the images. Hopes briefly raised that the cost of the wedding might be about to be offset by selling the rights though why anyone would buy them is a mystery. Hopes dashed when it is revealed this is a joke. Agree with Fiancé that we may as well have third pint as it is unlikely we will be able to pee standing up for much longer. On the plus side, my hernia seems sorted.

*rhyming slang: Jacobs short for Jacob Cream Crackers, viz knackers

July 1st

Told to meet First Of Her Name in town ‘to help me chose.’

Terror grips all morning as I speculate what it is I am to help choose.

In normal circumstances our marriage has remained steadfastly democratic: if we are to acquire anything new, be it a sofa or fridge or wall paper, we are both involved in the decision process thus:

  1. The First Of Her Name determines three possibilities;
  2. I am asked to choose which I think works best, having regard to all elements -viz, style, cost, suitability, availability etc;
  3. I choose and communicate my decision as de facto head of house to the chief operating officer;
  4. The COO informs me if I have chosen correctly; and
  5. If I have not I am given a further two opportunities.

In the case of the Wedding, these arrangements have apparently been suspended. At 3pm I am summoned to ‘Williams, Millinery’. Heart sinks quicker than a concrete crouton.

I am presented with three hats. The first appears to be a felt representation of the Shard. Decide on humour. ‘I suppose the periscope will help you see who is objecting to the Wedding at the back of the Church.’

After stopping nose bleed, I view number two. It is circular in a startling red and is what is described as a fascinator. ‘What does it remind sir of?’ says the grammatically ignorant flunky.

The urge to say ‘a placenta’ is all but overwhelming. With my mind blank, I fumble for anything that might avoid further violence. ‘A Bakewell Pudding?’ I volunteer and begin to weave to the left.

To my surprise The First Of Her Name turns on the flunky. ‘I told you!’

We appear to be left with the last one. It is in a rainbow of stripes with a wide brim. It is completely wrong. She puts it on and her whole face is hidden from view. I look at the flunky. He nods; I nod.

‘Perfect,’ we both intone.

She emerges smiling. Everyone is happy. All expectations have been met.

She buys the periscope.

Posted in humour, weddings | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Garden Update, 27th July – One Month To Go

While detailed discussions continue about a cheese offering, the format for speeches and how to ensure the bridesmaids make it to and from the Church, the Textiliste and I are, once again, obsessing over the garden.

Gradually all the planting is beginning to fill the beds we’ve prepared…

The runway

The ciabatta bed

The triangle…

Some sunflowers which were all self sown, albeit moved into better positions have begun to explode

Along with godetias, fox lillies, black eyed susans, sweet peas and geraniums.

Even the lawns are behaving, as a result of the sun and rain combo we’ve enjoyed and the troubling top lawn has had another dose of lawn conditioner which has been rained in – well done, nature.

And, well here are a few setting shots – not the tomato trolley is filling nicely….

Here’s some other colour splashes

Dog, meanwhile keeps an eye out for unwelcome crows and parakeets and foxes

The boys have developed ready for the big day – see them in 2016 and now…

And Vicky ponders the cucumber/grape dilemma….

Posted in miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

Whatever Next

I was rummaging around my blog, looking for something I’d written a while back and came across this, written for my first anniversary of blogging in April 2015. I offer it up for… well you decide.

The Le Pard family, circa 1972. You can almost smell those festering hormones in those teenagers

WordPress announced yesterday that I have passed a year of blogging with some 370 posts under my belt. It is difficult, of course, to have an e-party so to celebrate instead, you, my dear readers are offered a special post that, I hope, will titillate and tease: it’s all about smut.

‘It’s just a bit of rumpty-tumpty. Oh nurse!’

The 1960s are often thought of as a defining period in the transition between the generations.  If you were adult before the 1960s kicked off then you stayed adult – you stayed staid if you like. If you were born just before (so your formative years were the 1960s) or at any time after then you belong to one of the frequently name-checked ‘generations’: My Generation, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Now. What that means is I probably have more in common with my children than I ever had with my parents in terms of the music I enjoy, how we dress, how I spend my leisure time, what I ingest and so on. And in particular our attitudes to sex. The freedom to talk about it, enjoy it even.

Principally that stems from the ability to have sex without the consequences that stalked my parents every careless fumble. That in turn leads to a freedom with which we can discuss it, to acknowledge its existence even. The way it is described on the page, on stage and on screen – these are now commonplace. And the 1960s changed everything. That is the received wisdom, isn’t it?

Really? Well, like all sea changes there is a transitional period and, growing up in a New Forest cottage in the middle of bloody nowhere in the 1960s and 70s, I was in the middle of that transition.

How I kept my mind off sex : 1.painting shed roofs

There’s still to this day a time line that is spoken of in connection with British TV and that is the ‘watershed’. 9pm. This is the time after which programmes with any adult content can be shown. Violence, difficult subject matter and, especially any with a direct sexual component can be broadcast. Being born in 1956 puts me in what I’ve come to realise is The Watershed Generation.

Attitudes towards sex were changing but the old guard and the old attitudes still held sway. Especially in the backside of nowhere where I lived. If you like I’m part of the 8.45pm Generation. We were that close to enjoying some post watershed fun and frolics but, more often than not, it was tantalisingly out of reach.

Avoiding base practices: blowing up a large ball….

Back in 1969, when I started at my secondary school, I was meant, as a twelve year old, to receive some sort of sex education. But it was just my luck that I changed schools at twelve and due to some badly organised timetabling I missed the lessons. My only formal sex education came at fourteen and involved a cartoon film explaining the mysteries of venereal disease followed by a cringe inducing discussion group.  That’s rather like being offered the promise of sticky toffee pudding but missing out yet still ending up with tooth decay and a trip to the dentist.

If the urges are overwhelming: Climb a tall tree wearing heavy leather gloves…

Needless to say my parents were not about to make up for the shortfall. No, my first sex education came at Scout camp, somewhere in the Dorset countryside near the visibly priapic Hardy Monument. I mean it was inevitable: six boys aged between 11 and 15 in a tent for a week and you learn quite a bit, mostly through the use of bizarre metaphors and euphemisms involving trains and tunnels and, oddly toad in the hole (that delicious sausage and batter British staple has always had, for me, a certain additional frisson). The jigsaw pieces did, however, begin to fit.

Hard to believe they’d be interested in, erm, you know. That knitwear..

And if there was any ambiguity I wasn’t about to ask and neither my mother nor my father were about to explain any of this to me. My father, whose Saturday nights were spent at the local Rugby club, famously could never sing nursery rhymes to my brother and me because after the first line the only words he knew were wholly inappropriate. Jack and Jill went up the Hill, Tum-te-tum-te- tum-tum. In all his years, on all the walks we went on together he never managed to enlighten my what Jack and Jill did up that hill.

I suppose this was a problem confronted down the generations, this delicate subject dealt with in code. The problem for us, my parents on one side and my brother and me on the other was that new device: THE TV.

By 1970 nearly every family had one, sitting in pride of place in their sitting room (lounge or parlour). And you watched it together. In 1970 we still only had 3 channels and colour was for the rich or desperate. My parents had many modern traits, one of which was a willingness to embrace drama and documentaries, sharing things with the two of us nascent teens.

Play for today for instance. We saw some excellent stuff which, for a family stuck out on the edge of a piece of heather coated bog would otherwise have been denied us. But what you couldn’t know, especially from the programme information in the Radio Times, was what the sexual component of such programmes might be. Oh sure there were plays such as The Sex Olympics – that sort of gave you a hint – and you were pretty sure if Dennis Potter had written it for the Wednesday Play or Saturday Night Theatre there would be something in there with scope to embarrass – he was the man who brought us Casanova. Not much chance of us watching that as a family.

There soon developed a process to counter this problem. We would sit and watch, a bit like Gogglebox today, occasionally commenting, one or other parent dozing off. Then some trigger – a top removed and hands reaching behind a back for a bra clip or – horrors – trousers or a skirt being removed; and dad would harrumph, mum would struggle to her feet and head for her sewing box which was strategically placed in front of the TV, ostensibly to retrieve a critical bobbin or needle, but in fact to give her time to assess the content of the next scene; while the Archaeologist would curl into a ball, feigning embarrassment but all the time watching the screen.

‘Shall we watch the news?’ ‘What about a coffee, Barbs?’ ‘Haven’t you some homework to finish?’

No one ever spoke about what was on the screen beyond a subsequent comment that  ‘it was unnecessary.’

Of course it remains the case that no one can imagine their parents ever had sex – we are all adopted, or at least we would all be slightly more comfortable if we had been. But today if there is sex on screen we are all able to share a good story without that same terrible tension filling the room.

And what did he do to his right wrist

There’s one story that best sums this up.

By way of background you might need to know that, back in the 1970s there was a deal of mythology floating around about a totally natural practice (especially beloved of teenage boys  though having read Caitlin Moran’s How To Build a Girl, I’m aware it isn’t an exclusively male preserve). Even Monty Python, in their Big Red Book called it ‘The Difficult One’ and indicated that were you to indulge such practices you might go blind or, worse, end up voting Conservative. And never was the technical expression used for such a solitary entertainment even amongst one’s peer group – oh no. You might ‘polish percy’ or ‘whack the bishop’.

One evening we were watching the third episode of an adaptation of Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin. This was a gritty rewrite, much beloved of mum and tolerated by dad. In the lead roles a young Alan Rickman played opposite Kate Nelligan. The action had reached a crucial point: Therese and her lover, having murdered Therese’s awful husband, are trying to restore their affair to its former passion.

Picture the scene: dad is dozing, mum is partly watching and partly sewing and we boys are glued to the screen. Why? Because Ms Nelligan is stark naked, as is Mr Rickman (not that we focused on him) and neither parent seems to have spotted this turn of events.

‘What’s wrong?’ pleads the delightfully déshabillé Ms N? ‘Why can we not make love?’

These are trigger words causing mum to look up. She disturbs dad, who stirs.

At this moment Alan Rickman jumps from the bed, clutching a sheet strategically to cover his privates. In a loud voice he declaims,

‘We must master fate.’

That was, in retrospect perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase. Dad is, by now, wide awake and frankly goggling the screen. He looks at mum, back at the shocking scene confronting him and says, ‘Surely not, Barbara? Not on the BBC.’

The only solution? Go and chase butterflies….

Or better still leave it to your much more impressively proportioned family boxer…

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Parts Of My Past – Lymington

If you go down to the coast today…

Staycations are all the rage; a lot of people showed up on Bournemouth beach this weekend for instance, including my son on his stag weekend – poor Bournemouth.

A bit further east is the small port of Lymington, gateway to the Isle of Wight and when I was a teen, the nearest town to where I lived in the 1970s as I confronted my awakening, or whatever passed for passing my 13th birhtday back then.

The two As of teenaged youth at that time filled my focus: Angst and Alcohol.

Angst is something I avoid now but back then, life just threw uncertainties at me. I wanted to stand out and fit in. We moved from Surrey when I was twelve, in 1969/70 and I had to make new friends. I did. It was easy, in retrospect. At twelve, still in love with the natural world and given the opportunity at a new school to lie reinvent my way into sports teams, I had a great time. Hindsight is a seductive drug….

Those first few weeks though still stand out as ones of terror and uncertainty. That gut wringing ‘will they like me’ anxiety scars you. By 14, while I had a good solid group of friends, I wanted a more active social life; but all Lymington had, assuming I could be bothered to cycle the four miles to get there, were pubs. Oh and a library but that shut at 5. So I made do with the Boy Scouts (one mile up the road in the village of Hordle) until the lax application of the licensing laws that applied in rural Hampshire in the early 70s let me sample a few pints and I had discovered some sort of after-hours niche.

It may be because I took up drink between fourteen and fifteen that I’d had enough by thirty something when I gave it up completely. I just didn’t like the stuff; it took me sixteen odd painful years to admit it to myself. Had I decided, as a rational being might have, that I didn’t like it at the start (I concluded that about all types of smoking after one puff on a Silk Cut circa 1972 after all) then I might have been spared several hangovers, a couple of utter blanks that may or may not be as embarrassing as I’ve been told by those who witnessed them, and a lot of wasted cash.

Truth be told, to have done that would have scuppered any chance of a social life, back then; after all it only took place if alcohol was involved. And they complain about binge drinking youngsters today? Pah! It was only because we didn’t have the money that we didn’t binge; it wasn’t because of some imbedded moral rectitude. We were just as likely to scrawl a message on a  wall, smoke something illegal (if you could stand the idea of a bonfire in your mouth, which I couldn’t) or try our hand at shoplifting (the only reason I didn’t was because I was petrified of authority, but there were a number amongst my peer group with no such qualms) as any youngster today. And so was my father before me. It was all about pushing boundaries – always was, always will be.

There were something like 15 pubs, hotels and bars in less than a mile from the Lymington quayside (the Captain’s Cabin) to the final one at the top of the hill (I can’t tell you its name because I know we never drank there). With that many pubs and given the size of the catchment area around Lymington out of the summer season, someone was always going to serve a person who could pass for eighteen (give or take five years) in the gloom of a poorly lit public bar ( to quote from the Judge’s Song in the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera ‘Trial By Jury’ ‘She may very well pass for forty-three, in the dusk, with a light behind her – that was exactly what we tried to do, only we wanted to look older).

And why didn’t we ever drink in the last pub? Well, we stuck to our ‘favourites’ until we were in the sixth form and only then did we expand our repertoire. And that led, inexorably to ‘The Challenge’ for an 18th. Can you drink your way up the hill, one pub at a time? No one ever did. Me? I barely made it onto to the foothills of the slope.

The other problem was girls. Or the lack of them. Well, that’s not strictly true. There were plenty at school – we were a mixed grammar school fading out to become a sixth form college which gave us a lot of freedom. But living in a New Forest Cottage miles from anywhere meant I had to travel well over a mile to see anyone. Dating, even practice flirting, outside of the dreaded, once a term, school discos was almost beyond comprehension.

It was only the advent of driving licences for some friends ( I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25) that changed that. Of course I would have enjoyed driving, but looking back, while they drove, at least I had the chance of a snog in the back of the car. In reality, though, such heart-fluttering experiences were few and far between and it wasn’t until I arrived at Bristol for my degree that I began to fully appreciate the female of the species.

I can’t share with you pictures of Lymington from back then but here’s one of my mother.

You’d most probably find her in her garden, and not focusing on what I was focusing on.  Well maybe a glass…

So for some Lymington is a tourist trap, beautiful in both its setting and its architecture as well as a gateway to the Isle of Wight. But I never saw it that way. To me it was stalls for the market of a Saturday morning, selling plastic Tupperware, sawdust and sultanas as my father dubbed the local’s desiccated attempt to make muesli and garden plants; shoe shops for the new school year’s reshodding; the dentist. Not much fun.

Going back as an adult, I recognise its charms. But for me, it will forever trigger memories of one bored youth and the vast amounts of beer he imbibed. What a prannock…

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Fishy Business #writephoto

This weeks prompt for #writephoto takes us underwater

‘Finn, they’re here.’

Finn Perch put down the dish cloth and flicked his tail. ‘Why are you whispering? They will see your bubbles.’

Gill Perch hissed and the elderly fish rolled his eyes. ‘I just want to see what they’re like. We don’t want more whitebait, do we?’

Finn shuddered. No, they definitely did not, all that flitting in and out, dressing up in faux breadcrumbs like that sort of gallows humour went do well in the Pots. It had been a nice quiet backwater until Coral and her tribe moved in. He swam to his wife’s side and peered through the neck of their Pot. ‘So what have we… oh!’

His wife slapped him with her tail, making him spin back into the shadows. ‘You are so transparent.’

Finn stared at his scales, anxiously, causing Gil to tssk. ‘Figure of speech. You’ve the brains of a skate sometimes. Just because whoever that is has anodised scales, doesn’t give you licence to lose your buoyancy.’

‘Sorry. I’m a bit of a sucker for a rainbow.’

‘As if I’ll ever forget what a fool you made of yourself with that old trout.’

‘She wasn’t old…’

‘Whatever. This one has a husband and he looks to me like his got some apex predator in his gene pool.’

‘Shark!’

‘Better than that giant squid. All that “accidental” groping and sorry about the ink stains.’

Finn nodded. He’d liked Otto Pusse. ‘He was getting on. You’ve got to expect the odd dribble.’

Gil shuddered. ‘Maybe.’ She turned her attention back to the door. ‘Get back! She’s coming over.’

Finn pushed passed her. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Gil. We need to be neighbourly.’

‘Oh sure,’ his wife moaned. ‘You just want to ogle her patina.’

‘Now stop your carping and smile. Hello. Just moved in? I’m Finn and this is my wife… now where’s she disappeared to. Sorry, she can be a little coy.’

The woman in front of Finn moved with a grace Finn found very distracting. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. He came out of his reverie when Gill bumped into him and hissed, ‘Ask her what she wants?’

Finn blinked and the woman smiled. Before he had a chance to speak she said, ‘I wondered if you had any sugar only ours seems to have gotten a little damp in the move.’ She pushed a small white bowl across to him.

Finn glanced at it and back at her. ‘Of course.’ He collected the bowl. ‘I’ll give it a wipe out first and let you have some. And if there’s anything else you need, just knock.’

Gill took his place as Finn hurried to find his cloth. The woman in front of her was disconcerting her with her intense and open mouthed stare. ‘Finn is a dab hand at most things.’ She glanced around and came back to her new neighbour with a smile. ‘So what made you choose this plaice?’

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Hostas To Fortune

A regular blogging friend, Sarah revealed her love of the structurally indomitable plant, the not so humble hosta. That led to me mentioning it was one of the plant types my mother loved and that I had inherited several when she died. Not all have survived and those that have, while remaining magnificent are also one of the battle grounds that feature in my garden.

They are adored by slugs and snails. I have tried everything to eradicate them from the pots. Chemical warfare at which even the boffins at Aldermaston might blanche and may yet see me sequestered to some Putin brain drain camp; eggs shells and gravel when I’ve tried to improve my green credentials; nematodes and slug contraception – damn tricky things to put on, those gastropodoms ; copper rings and woolen pellets. I’ve even popped outside in the dead of night to toss them into the neighbours only to find they ‘home’ and will return the next night.

So I fail but so what? Gardens are about beauty both perennial and fleeting and both are worth the effort. And the fact hostas will go from this….

…to this, the horticultural equivalent of doily making, is but one of those pleasures. The little sods are here for a reason, even if like proselytising doorsteppers and clock obsessed traffic wardens who appear when least wanted their timing sucks.

I penned this little poem – a constanza to give it its posh title – on this very subject… I think it sums up me and these little buggers only too well.

If at any point my life seems drab and stale
My head begins to ache, my heart to harden
I open up my backdoor and go into my garden.
*
My gaze casts wide and never seems to fail
To find some joy and hopefulness
Amongst the verdant fruitfulness
*
But then alas, I spot the glitch, the little silver trail
Whose pretty zigzag wanderings
Will start some morbid ponderings
*
Could it be the bugger’s back? It’s beyond the pale
When you’ve spent so long in eradication
To see that shell is pure vexation
*
A battle won is not the war, o stubborn little snail
Beating you is a complete lost cause
I’m giving up; I’m off indoors.

As usual, Dog adopts his Standing Pooh Pose: ‘sometimes I sits and thinks and some times I just sits’

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On A Little Hill, Far, Far Away #Britishandirishlions #southafrica #memories

boulders beach penguins

There is a rugby test match due to take place this Saturday in Cape Town between the British and Irish Lions and the current World Champions, South Africa.

In 1997 I took my father to South Africa for his seventieth birthday to watch that summer’s series between the British and Irish Lions and the Springboks. The start of this year’s series reminds me of that trip and, in particular, one even that had nothing to do with the rugby and everything to do with the Old Man and me.

It was a fabulous trip, from the beauty of Table Mountain and the incongruity of the Penguins of Boulder’s Beach to the joy of experiencing two Test victories and the delights of Stellenbosch.

After the last game we had a day before we went on Safari and I organised for us to go on trip to Isandalwana and Rorke’s Drift. These two places are linked in a lot of minds by the film Zulu and especially the ludicrously heroic defence of the latter by the British forces, led by a Royal Engineer lieutenant.

We enjoyed both elements of the trip but for me, it was our time at Isandlwana that stands out. It was a place of British hubris and humiliation on a grand scale. Here’s the summary from Wiki

On the morning of th[e] day [of the battle] Lord Chelmsford split his forces and moved out to support a reconnoitring party, leaving the camp in charge of Colonel Pulleine. The British were outmanoeuvred by the main Zulu army nearly 20,000 strong led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza. Chelmsford was lured eastward with much of his centre column by a Zulu diversionary force while the main Impi attacked his camp. Chelmsford’s decision not to set up the British camp defensively, contrary to established doctrine, and ignoring information that the Zulus were close at hand were decisions that the British were soon to regret. The ensuing Battle of Isandlwana was the greatest victory that the Zulu kingdom would enjoy during the war. The British centre column was wrecked and its camp annihilated with heavy casualties as well as the loss of all its supplies, ammunition and transport. The defeat left Chelmsford no choice but to hastily retreat out of Zululand. In the battle’s aftermath, a party of some 4,000 Zulu reserves mounted an unauthorised raid on the nearby British army border post of  Rorke’s Drift and were driven off after 10 hours of ferocious fighting.

What makes it so special for me is how it impacted my relationship with my father. On the coach to Isandalwana he told me how his father, my grandfather,  would recount stories from South Africa to him as a boy. From the explorations and colonization to the various Boer Wars to the battles of the Anglo-Zulu wars. Grandfather couldn’t bring himself to recount the horrors of the First World War which he had gone through from near beginning to the very end. So it was to the history of Southern Africa he turned for tales of derring-do to engage the mind of a patriotic little boy. Today we have a different perspective on how the British behaved; it’s not exactly a period of which to be proud. We both understood that and were very taken with the atmosphere post the end of Apartheid, but Dad’s memory took him back to a different world and that different perspective.

By the time we arrived and decanted from our coach Dad had gone quiet. Our guide led us across some rough gravelly ground and slowly up a conical hill – a kopje – to sit, spread out on the escarpment. As he explained the events of the two days that led to this historic battle, I was entranced. He was a brilliant speaker, captivating all of us with the pictures he painted of red coated English and glistening Zulu warriors. The talk was done, the spell broken and we stood to return to our bus. Dad didn’t move. His eyes were red-rimmed, damp.

This man didn’t cry. He was the ultimate example of the stiff upper lipped Englishman. He didn’t do anything so banal as overt emotion.

‘I wish Dad were here,’ was all he said.

I understood. He had had a difficult time with his father from his teenaged years on and it was only towards the end, by which time Dad had married and produced one grandson (the Archaeologist, who they named after Grandfather) that some sort of equilibrium was restored. Grandfather died in 1957 when I, no. 2 grandson was six months old and that rapprochement still had a ways to go.

Here he was, with his own son, at the end of a fabulous two weeks. Two weeks we both knew we would remember forever. And, just then, he wanted to have those two weeks as a son as well as a father.

We hugged. We didn’t hug, not then, not really, not much, not with the intensity of that hug on that hill in that sun on the soil of a faraway land. We pretty much didn’t stop hugging after that. As it turned out he had another eight good years of hugging and he never ever turned down any hugs thereafter. He had a lot of catching up to do and understood the pointlessness of missing out.

Boys on Tour – South Africa 1997

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