Monday, 29 September 2014


The fabulous weather continues, which means that Rosie finally saw her new home in warm sunshine rather than the heavy, chilling rain in which she traipsed around London and first viewed it. Martin, Max and I went over to SW18 on Sunday to help move all her possessions to SW9, where she will be living with Hannah, Jess and Harriet.
Both sets of Grandparents have returned safely from their trip along the Welsh canals, having spent by all accounts a happy, sozzled week together without falling out... apart from literally!
 Good to see them together
Martin and Max both had rugby matches on Saturday, I only have a quick pic of Martin, but it does prove he was there and not down at t' pub

I finished my fight with white paint for the time being, though not before an entire new tin had upturned itself on the laundry floor in a space where I couldn't get to it quickly, wriggling out both drier and fridge and knocking off the dustpan brush (which also shattered on the floor) as the paint oozed ever further. But here is the freshly-fresh laundry:
Max has tried driving a tractor at work, but is otherwise occupied in rather tedious testing. However, it is a steady income, albeit at the most minuscule rate. Oh wait, he has a pay rise coming up in his final week of work:

He has just bought himself a laptop with part of his first pay cheque (partly birthday present from us) and is planning to keep the rest towards some big adventure next year. The US Social Security Dept have sent us confirmation of his SS number (which involved the sending of lots of original paperwork to the US Embassy) so now he is ready to find lots of photographic evidence proving that the wee baby in his expired US Passport has indeed morphed into this muscly, handsome 19-year old.

Apart from throwing paint on the floor I have been keeping on top of 'household management': sorting out our house insurance, a chimney sweep for France and flooring sealant here, whilst figuring out how to entertain a choir posse visiting in a couple of weeks, and how to feed our own choir when they visit for a barn-showing of Dale's video of our last concert.

Local charity shops have done well from my Autumn-clean, and I have made two trips to the tip already to dispose of unwanted waste. We still have a host of used computer components, some exercise equipment and the odd bit of furniture which will be taken soon if they don't disappear on Freecycle.

And I am still raking up Autumn leaves as they drop!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

People and Places

I have just come in from the garden, picking some of the cooking apples which otherwise will fall and bruise, though I don't know how many more I can cram into the freezer.

Martin and I enjoyed a final blackberry-picking walk yesterday morning and came home with a good haul, some of which are now frozen, some already baked and stewed, some made into a rather gruesome-looking ice cream.
We had a delightful meal out in Stockbridge with Bill and Sarah (who kindly treated us) and Deborah and Ian on Friday, following which Sarah and I were invited to use Deb's pool before they turn the heating off for the winter. So as Martin and Bill set off for a sail yesterday afternoon, we girls had a relaxing swim and tea on the terrace.

In fact the boys ended up sailing to Bembridge, then setting off around the rest of the Isle of Wight to get home late Sunday evening. They seem to have had a great time!

Bill before he exploded:
...and after!
All the grandparents set off on Saturday for a week aboard a narrowboat in Wales, so if they have had this lovely sunshine they will have enjoyed their first weekend.

Back at the ranch, our vine is beginning to turn red, and I have swept up the first of the leaves from the big red tree on the drive, the start of an exercise regime that will endure for several weeks.
Meanwhile we have heard snippets from Vicki over in Buenos Aires. She couch-surfed for a while but has now moved to a hostel, which looks amazing: this is a picture of the staircase
She seems to be making plenty of acquaintances and getting out and about, so a good experience so far.

Rosie's stressful time at work has continued, with tutors failing to turn up, leaving her with children to teach whilst she is supposed to be showing new parents round and getting on with administrative tasks. On top of which she had a bit of a health scare last week, so she is more than ready to get into a house with friends. Max and I should be there next weekend helping her move in, with fingers crossed that it is the start of a better way of life.

Back home I started painting the spare bedroom, only to find that it was a bigger project requiring the removal of some shelving, filling of holes, and some re-jigging of furniture. After many layers of paint, and several visits to DIY shops, it is now looking fresher.
Which room next?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Merry Max

Hard to believe it, but our younger son turned 19 this week. Before long we won't have any teenagers at all!

Max was working at the farm all day, so Martin made him a special packed lunch, and he took cake in for the people at work (pineapple bread always goes down well!). Then back home to open presents (Vicki had given hers before she left) and enjoy more cake before he was off to rugby practice and a night out with friends before they all left for university.

We have changed the red car insurance so that it is in Max's name, since he is now using it every day for work. Strangely this didn't increase the premium (we still have four named drivers), although Direct Line drove me mad by slipping in that they couldn't cancel the existing policy except with immediate effect, so we nearly ended up with an uninsured car for a crucial few days.

This risks the rest of the children thinking Max is receiving favourable treatment, of course, since the effect is that Max has his own car, though in principle he does not and it continues to be shared. We are also sorting out what percentage of his salary he needs to contribute towards his keep, and to ensure he pays for his work petrol. The others have taken on big loans to fund their education and living expenses so it would be unfair for us to subsidise Max, though whilst he is earning so little (minimum wage is barely £5 an hour at his age) he can't possibly keep himself. I need to do some sums.

Meanwhile I have been upstairs with the carpet vaccuum, freshening up Vicki's room (too many coffee stains on your carpet, gal!) and the landing, and now about to paint over some marks in the spare bedroom. A woman's work is never done.

Actually I need to buy loads of paint, as we have just booked up to go across to France and paint the bare wood ceiling in one of the bedrooms, and since it needs a new loo seat, some new duvets and all kinds of other bits and pieces, I think I shall have a carful. But plenty of room on the way back for foodie and drink supplies!

The boys played on the same team at rugby on Saturday, with Martin helping set up Max for the first try. It was only the IV team but a good game and getting 'Man of the Match' in his birthday week helped with happiness levels.

Martin's happiness levels were improved with a day sail on Sunday with Mike and Georgiana, popping over to Wootton Bridge for lunch on a buoy. I don't think we tacked once all day, though the wind and waves changed around us, but it was fun to have friends aboard, the weather was good to us (I have rosy cheeks today) and Martin's repairs to the roller-reefing worked perfectly.

Vicki has made contact from BA and seems to be sorting a local phone and somewhere to stay. I have just been updating my Skype account (which I haven't used for ages and so was somehow blocked) and hopefully we can have a chat before long.

Plus with siblings calling Max to wish him Happy Birthday I have had nice chats with them this week, including finding out Rosie's holiday dates. I am rather hoping she will have trouble finding friends to accompany her on a brief vacation in November, and I will be able to rush to the rescue. Women's work, as I's a hard life.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Adios Vicki

After a whirlwind of goodbye meals with friends, cinema visits, a party here, a crash course (including being thrown off onto a fence) in horses and riding from a good friend, research into backpacker insurance and carrying money abroad (including an assessment of the relative merits of taking US dollars to Argentina and the intricacies of official and black-market exchange rates), the purchase of a cheap tablet (to make up for a rudimentary phone and provide reading and research facilities), cheap flights and cheap camera, Victoria has finally flown West.

We had a celebration meal with her in Winchester, then I drove her up to Heathrow this morning, on both occasions forgetting to use the camera I had specifically popped into my handbag. So you must just imagine Vicki all fresh-faced, hair trimmed (she cuts her own) and with sundry bags and a brand new passport, excited and perhaps a little trepid, setting off on her trip into the unknown.

With exquisite timing, Santander called home whilst we were on the M25, asking Vicki to call their fraud line as they had frozen her account. So instead of a quick drop-off we ended up spending a somewhat tense half hour on the phone to the bank confirming that Vicki had indeed made disparate purchases in the course of the last week, and would continue to do so from foreign climes. It will be a test both of the bank and our independent daughter to see how effectively they manage to communicate over the next five months.

Vicki is headed to Buenos Aires, originally for an internship at an online magazine, for whom she has already done some published translations. However, they have suddenly gone quiet and we suspect out of business. So she plans to couch-surf for a couple of days, hook up with a couple of people  who have kindly offered their telephone numbers, trawl around with some cvs and a winsome smile, and hope she can find something interesting to do.

If anyone can, Vicki can.
Map of Argentina

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Little and Large

I have been sweating the small stuff a little too much of late: my own aches and teeth; Martin's job-angst; the children's various issues.

But I have just written two cards to friends whom I found out yesterday have much bigger hurdles. One has a newborn son with Down's Syndrome, so amidst the joy of birth they have been faced with many questions about his future and the unknown difficulties they will meet together.

The other has just discovered her husband has motor neurone disease. She and her family (who grew up with ours in Oregon) too face an unknown future, though they do know that the prognosis is not good for this untreatable, progressive disease that eats away at the body whilst leaving the mind intact.

Social media has been awash this summer with the "ice bucket challenge" raising money in support of research into ALS, the American term for this disease. If it were a question of high profile or millions of dollars, motor neurone disease would currently be at the top of the 'solved' pile.

Maybe researchers will come up with a cure. For Downs, for ALS, for cancer... the list of illnesses seems never-ending in the cut-throat competition for funding. We know the human race has found cures, or at least good treatments, for very many diseases. So it doesn't really seem too much to ask that we find a few more... does it?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Naming of the Parts

I listened to The Archers' Omnibus on Radio 4 at the weekend, as I sewed up some curtains for Rosie's old room.

It has all become a touch unrealistic of late: miscarriage, affairs and drug-dealing all in the same week the producers once again saw fit to import a real-life star (this time a band to perform at Loxfest) in a presumed attempt to counter this effect.

What caught my ear in particular was the announcement that the new baby on the series has been named Mowgli.
Leaving aside the clear intention that we laugh at this ludicrous suggestion, it struck me that we might not have made clear to our children why we chose their names. And this seems as good a time as any to do so.

Ben's names were chosen from lists we made for both sexes during the pregnancy, as I am sure is usual. We did consider using the names of our own parents, but the difficulty of choosing which, and not wishing to offend any, meant that we decided against all. Neither of us knew anyone called either Benjamin or Thomas and we liked both names equally. They naturally fell well together with our surname and that was that! Later my mother told me her Grandpa Ben (her father's father) had been an unsavoury character whom she never liked, but since I hadn't known this it clearly had no influence.

When Rosie came along we went through the same process, again agreeing not to try to dissuade or persuade each other, on the basis that we should go with our initial feelings, however inexplicable. Rose had not been on our girls' list first time around: I guess our ideas had changed. We both loved the name, and its familiar form Rosie (in fact several friends did so too and later used it for their own daughters). We chose her middle name simply on the grounds that they sounded lovely together, and Clara seemed nicely old-fashioned.

I had a childhood friend in Ubley called Victoria and always thought I would name a child after her. Luckily Martin agreed it is a pretty name, can be shortened easily, and again we knew no-one else who had used it. Looking for a middle name we realised something short would be best, and came up with Grace partly because it is Martin's mother's name, and it also sits so well with Victoria. We worried that we might upset the other grandparents, or that she would grow up not to be graceful: fortunately neither has proved to be the case.

By the time Max was born we were becoming a little more adventurous with our choices. Society in general has gradually broken the invisible constraints on acceptable names. In the same way we never considered anything other than a royal-iced, tiered fruitcake for our wedding cake (now stacked profiteroles, cheese and biscuits or individual cupcakes are all the rage), we had previously given no thought to using anything other than 'traditional' names. But in an age when celebrities call their children Peaches or Fox, a whole world of words suddenly become possibilities.

We liked the idea of something strong and unusual for a boy's name, and agreed that Max (but not any of the longer, pretentious-sounding versions) was perfect. We later found that a popular soap had introduced a character called Max soon after ours was born, so that in fact he has always had another in his class and on his rugby team.

Having cast around for middle names we started thinking laterally. This would be our last chance and we would be doing something different, but figured he was as likely to enjoy an unusual middle name as to hate it (and let's face it, which of us loves our names?).

Martin grew up with Rudyard Kipling's "Just So" stories, to the extent that he used to read them aloud to me while I rested my head on his chest. Their family boat Pusat Tasek was named from the stories and Martin had already been telling our children simplified versions of them.

Meanwhile I had grown up knowing about Kipling since the focus of his eponymous book was a male Kim, leading all and sundry to tell me it wasn't a girl's name. More favourably, Martin and I had long decided that Jungle Book was our favourite Disney movie, and made it our first VHS tape purchase.

On top of all that, I had been very chuffed as a child to find that the words to Kipling's poem "If" (printed on one of our tea towels) scan precisely to the tune of "I'll Be Your Long-haired Lover from Liverpool"~ at the time a chart-topper for Jimmy Osmond ~ leading Sean, Kerry and I to sing it as we did the endless Sunday dinner washing-up. Feel free to try:

 "If ~"  By Rudyard Kipling (published 1910)

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Martin's lovely Auntie Gill (who also went to Durham in her day) had sent us a congratulations card when Ben was born bearing this poem, so one way and another it felt as though Kipling had featured in both our families and the new one we were making.

We used the shortened 'Kip' for Max when first we brought him home, but this soon proved confusing as it sounds so similar to Kim. Who knows whether anyone will ever ask him why he has an unusual middle name, or even if he will remember.

But now at least you know.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Summer's End

Glass of wine in hand, dinner keeping warm in the oven, chatting with friends on facebook (sounds sad but we know we are not disturbing each other) and all the family busy.

Martin has just taken Max to a party so we will be able to have a fine candlelit supper a deux upon his return. Both he and Max went to the Rugby Club Fun Day today so have had some fresh air and not-so-fresh food and drink, and I have just cut Max's hair again for him (he insists!) before he went off looking most mature and gorgeous. A fine young man - and he seems still to be growing, even overtaking Ben, it seemed, when he was here this week.

So Max has survived his first week at work at a local farm - and been reminded he needs a tetanus booster! He has been counting seeds and collating weather reports so far, hoping something more stimulating will come up soon.

Meanwhile we had Ben here for the week. It was really lovely to have the boys together, though unfortunately no-one was around for most of the week as Max was at work and Martin in Cambridge for several days. I enjoyed his company though, and he managed a trip into Winchester with friends and a trip back to Guildford, so has caught up and wound down in equal measure.

Vicki has been at "In the Woods" festival in Kent, best seen in pictures here. She has been helping Olivia put on a play, helping with casting, costume and make-up, and probably taking pictures too (see her photo credit here last year).
From Direct-H website here

As for me I have been busy having a tooth extracted, paying heavy dental bills, sorting paperwork to try to reclaim some before Martin closes his business, cleaning barn kitchen and arranging for some replacement vinyl flooring (the original is damaged by damp, which we have hopefully now solved), updating the choir website ready for the new term and generally providing admin. support for the family!

The house vine is just beginning to turn red as Autumn draws nigh: the garden smells of summer's end and the hedgerows are full of blackberries. I have just stewed up the first blackberry and apple mix for breakfast, whilst wearing slippers... the evenings are definitely turning chilly.

This year we have no children needing school shoes, student kettles or stationery. No little treasures flying the nest, though Rosie is still un-settled and Max will at some stage take the plunge once he has adjusted to a working life. Yet anxiety is never far away: Vicki is due to fly out to Argentina in a matter of days but the firm she was to volunteer for appears to have folded so she is stuck with finding herself something to do once she arrives as well as somewhere to stay.

It is true what they say: you never stop fretting about your children!