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!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Proud Mum

Having survived the slings and arrows of wayward and emigrating musicians, White Noise Radio is officially now a band!

They searched for ages for a singer, to no avail, and having decided to make the best of their own voices they played their first gig this month, only to be deserted (for a job abroad) by their drummer. It looked a sorry state of affairs.

But Ben has come back for some home R&R this week to report that the perfect drummer has come forward, and they are already taking bookings for gigs in Bristol and beyond.

I had been listening to their latest release, "All the Right Reasons" without appreciating that Ben, always shy of singing, was in fact leading vocals. Proper singing, great guitar, original work from the heart.

Boy, I am proud!

White Noise Radio: All the Right Reasons

A Wet Bank Holiday

Rosie and her friends are trying to find a flat to share in London from 1 September, but are having great difficulties since anything that appears to be on offer has gone by the time you contact them, or the contacts don't reply; and when you are looking for a 4 bed in a specific area and with low budget your choice is already limited.

So I offered to help and spent several hours at the weekend trawling agents' websites, Gumtree and other sites, contacting anyone who might have anything of interest and sending back reports to Rosie.

From all this, and her previous searching, we found a single suitable house on offer and available to view, largely because I just happened to be on Gumtree as the advert was placed and the landlord agreed in consequence to let us look first.

Ben has just come back for some holiday time, so he and I popped on the train to London yesterday and spent the day touring the area around Vauxhall and the Oval with Rosie. All in the pouring rain.

We found the house and Rosie was keen (good location, good house, good bedrooms, tiny kitchen and no communal areas) and since other potential tenants were being shown around after us (and one before, who offered an increased rent if she could take it immediately) Rosie and her friends felt somewhat pressured.

Luckily both Rosie and Harriet wanted the house and the landlord honoured his promise to let them have first refusal despite the continuous stream of eager tenants. The girls decided to take the plunge and withdrew a big chunk of cash to hand over by way of deposit, but not before we had all stood in the rain for about an hour waiting for another friend to finally agree they should go ahead! Somewhat traumatic for Rosie, but they got the right result in the end.

Ben and I were home in time for dinner, absolutely soaked through but feeling we had helped out in a difficult situation. Fingers crossed it all goes through with no more stress, and they can move in at the end of the month.