Manners

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When I was a little girl, there were certain levels of behaviour from my sister and I. We were not exactly of the generation “Children should be seen and not heard” but as the up-and-coming young veterinary surgeon my father expected my mother to keep an immaculate home, maintain a full-time job and fully appointed social calendar and keep us two presentable and well-mannered.

We absorbed these lessons as if by osmosis – we were never told to “mind our p’s and q’s”, or remember to say please and thank you, we just did. Those were the days when you could be socially mobile… it was just on our local news that the East Midlands is considered the worst place to live in the country. Apparently there is no social mobility… not surprising considering the state of the public transport system… I had to wait an hour for a bus the other day…

Anyway, my sister and I learnt impeccable manners – you could take us anywhere and we would fit right in, the perfect daughterly accessories to our aspirational father. One week, he came home from work and excitedly announced that one of his friends from university was visiting for the weekend. He was well-respected in the veterinary community and my father could see advantages to renewing their acquaintance over a weekend of hunting, clay pigeon shooting and delicious meals cooked by an attentive wife.

And us. The slightly unpredictable element of children. Even my father’s dogs had beautiful manners – they were to be trusted…

The momentous weekend arrived, as did my father’s friend, rolling up our driveway in his Jaguar. We all gathered on the patio to greet this pal from my father’s university days, and out he stepped, neatly bypassing a welcoming head butt from our pet sheep. He was a big man, tall, heavily- built and muscular, towering over my father and his

respectable 5”10’ …

James! Good to see you! Come inside, here, I’ll help you with your bags!”

Full of effervescent bonhomie, my father pulled what seemed like an awful lot of luggage for a mere weekend out of the car.

Once inside, dogs greeted and drink in hand, my mother showed James to his room, and left him to unpack and change for dinner.

She returned downstairs to make the finishing touches, fresh flowers on the table, silver cutlery gleaming, the rack of lamb beautifully done and presented and the Black Forest gateau gently chilling in the fridge, awaiting a final dusting of grated chocolate.

Dinner’s nearly ready, if you’d like to come downstairs,” she trilled sweetly.

My father emerged from his study and my sister and I joined him from the living room as slowly, heavily, footsteps were heard from the guest bedroom. They… clomped somewhat hesitatingly, down the stairs and into the hallway. James. But not James as we’d met him…

This James was wearing a nice ruffled blouse. With a pink A-line skirt. And some chunky beige heels. And makeup. A little over-enthusiastically applied, maybe, but the full complement of eyeshadow, blusher, lipstick and mascara.

In his booming voice, he declared:

I rather thought I’d enjoy being Jennifer for the weekend. You don’t mind, do you?”

My father went a little pale. My mother let out a hoot – quickly stifled. The dogs stared. My sister and I said – absolutely nothing. Not a dicky bird.

My father waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the dining room so Jennifer could precede him, while my sister and I followed. I don’t think we had ever been so quiet or well-behaved at any point in our lives previously, up to that particular moment, and we both went on later to be expelled from our respective schools.

My father managed to make awkward small talk as he and Jennifer reminisced about battles fought on the rugby field, Jennifer throwing back his head and roaring with laughter, the foundation cracking at the corners of his mouth…

My mother spent a lot of time in the kitchen that weekend, I seem to recall, with the company of a bottle of whisky – medicinal, of course, every so often, making strange whooping and giggling sounds, like she had a hyena trapped in there with her…

The rest of the weekend fades into distant memory, really, other than remembering my father looking quite… weary, by the end of it. He must, however, have shown James/Jennifer a very good time, since the following year he was appointed president of the British Veterinary Association…!

Cookers. Just Don’t

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I’ve had one of those weeks really. The best part of it has been taken up with the melodrama of my mother’s cooker… her old one was quite an elderly beast, nearing the end of its natural lifespan. However, the crisis came somewhat sooner than expected when it began tripping the main fuse in my mother’s house whenever she switched the oven on.

She looked at me accusingly…

What? I didn’t do it!”

Don’t be stupid, Samantha, I want to know what did!”

She was obviously assuming that I had somehow acquired a degree in Electrical Engineering from somewhere… by process of careful elimination, though, I was able to ascertain that it was definitely the cooker that was tripping the fuse, and nothing else, like the washing machine, for example, or a blown lightbulb.

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My mother pooh-poohed my tentative diagnosis, so the council was called to check the house wiring. The electrician that arrived confirmed my suspicions that in fact an element in the oven had blown which was causing the rest of the electric to switch off via the circuit breaker for safety reasons (oh yeah I know what I’m talking about!) and that my mother would have to buy a new cooker. My heart sank.

Buying white goods with my mother has its own particular set of pleasures since she hails from the school of thought that you should be able to get the all-singing all-dancing latest model and still have change left from a hundred quid. Ha.

Having ascertained that there was no possible way my mother could cram an Aga into the space in her kitchen designed for a reasonable sized electric cooker, we managed to select a suitable model for a reasonable price from a certain shop who shall remain nameless (think of a Greek hero looking for a golden fleece and you’re halfway there…)

Delivery was arranged for as soon as possible, which happened to be ten days away but Mother has a microwave and we would be able to manage..( “Couldn’t you get them to bring it sooner, Samantha..?” HOW? When they have to bring it straight from the warehouse and don’t happen to have one already knocking about under the desk…)

The great day arrived… as did the cooker. Faulty. I’m not joking. Aside from anything else, it was just a fraction too wide to fit in the allotted space, so we had to remove the fitted cupboard. But once in situ, the oven made a noise like a particularly bad-tempered tank and yes – you guessed it – blew the electric.

I was a little annoyed, but putting my newly acquired and completely hypothetical electrical knowledge to the test, I was able to deduce that it was in fact a faulty oven, rather than a problem with the actual wiring of the house. I duly made the ‘phone call to arrange a replacement product for the following day. (Why? Why did she have to wait ten days for the first one and yet they could arrange another one for the next day..? Hmm..)

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The next day came. According to my mother, the delivery men were a lot more careful the second time, even taking the outer packaging off for her. Once again, we gathered, the court assembled, waiting for its king… the cupboard had been fully removed, the floor cleaned, the relevant wires connected up and the cooker just needed to be pushed gently into position…

My mother leant forward and tenderly removed an errant piece of cellotape from the front of the gleaming appliance… and… the door fell off. Seriously. I couldn’t make it up if I TRIED.

Samantha!”

What?! I didn’t do it!!”

And now we are waiting… for another replacement… another delivery. Me? Oh…I’m hiding. My phone’s switched off…shhh….

21458593_173122279909646_1359111582_oYes. I know. The pictures have absolutely no relevance to the text… Just made me feel better to look t something pretty…

Princess Charlotte and The Runaway Hen

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It was one of those rarest things, a pleasantly warm and sunny afternoon. I could hear little birds singing happily, a bee buzzing in the roses, and Charlie was sitting under the fuchsia, eyes and ears alert to the comings and goings in our garden. I was sitting outside, enjoying a cigarette, and watching a hen, walking around the pond, stopping every so often to examine something in the grass and peck at it, clucking contentedly to itself.

What was wrong with this scenario? For one thing, we don’t have any hens…They are a creature that has never appealed to me as a pet, their eyes are shiny, hard carnelian discs and I am always somewhat afraid of the curved horny beaks and long muscular legs ending in scaly strong feet armed with claws to grip and tear. So…why was there a hen in the garden?

I leaned over and carefully put my cigarette out, not wanting any sudden movement to warn this avian intruder of my presence. Slowly I stood up. Charlie’s ears at once swivelled in my direction, swiftly followed by her emerald eyes. She rose delicately to her paws, obviously wanting to see for herself what had attracted my attention.

Meanwhile, the hen had finished surveying the area around the pond and began walking up the garden path towards us, stopping every so often to examine me, its head cocked to one side, rather like an imperious Edwardian lady sneering through her lorgnette. It was quite a large hen. It was completely alien, not something you expect to see in a suburban back garden, a dinosaur relative of the farmyard picking its way amongst the lobelia and lambs ears… It shook its feathers out contemptuously, and I was momentarily distracted by the healthy gleam of its attire, black and vibrant with a sheen of green where the afternoon sun hit it.

Charlie was, by now, very aware of our unexpected visitor and dropped into her hunting crouch. This was no ordinary sparrow, no mere mouse, and, by God, she was going to bring this creature down and boast about it at the girls’ club.

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“Call that a sparrow? Now this, THIS is a sparrow!”

She inched carefully towards the hen, who was engaged in picking its toes, tail fluffed out like tabby tinsel, intent and purpose written clearly in every line of her tense little body.

“Oh no, darling, you don’t want that, come back! It might bite you!

Ignoring my panicked protestations, Charlie’s hunting creep went from stealthy stalk to all out capture mode, as her little paws carried her carefully towards the unwary hen. It looked up, and a flash of alarm crossed its hitherto imperturbable feathered face as it gathered its plumage around itself and turned away, scaly legs moving slightly quicker as it realised something very bad could be about to happen…

Into this farcical scene, a head. Popped over from the hedge at the back of our garden and a rather indignant tone of voice:

“’Scuse me love. Do you think I could ‘ave me chicken back?”

Cheek! Like I had purposely enticed the creature into my garden!

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However, the strident voice shattered the moment. Charlie charged at the hen as I made a somewhat tentative attempt to approach the hen in a semi-purposeful way, arms outstretched to try and clasp the feathery fugitive to my breast but Charlie chose that moment to charge at the hen, jaws open and paws outstretched to seize the mega prey item. The hen spread its wings and…and…it flew off! Obviously I was aware that as it had wings it had a high probability of being able to fly, but it was somewhat like watching a steak and kidney pie grow legs and run away from your knife and fork.

It was most ungainly in flight, rather like a roll of binbags escaping from a shopping trolley, but flew it did. Over our fence and in the direction of the road. The owner of the hen gave a despairing shout and his head disappeared from the top of our hedge.

Charlie and I looked at each other, and the expression on her face must have mirrored mine exactly…shock, surprise and a degree of annoyance that a seemingly easy prize had behaved so unexpectedly-by escaping!

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Sheep. Just… Sheep.

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Picture sheep and what do you think of… fluffy, cute lambs, gambolling innocently in a spring fresh green field, perhaps accompanied by a bunny or two, symbol of Easter, and the renewal of Life. Or, picture this, a flock of gently milling sheep, woolly and harmless, dainty – hooved and baa-ing melodically as they are guided into place by a clever sheep dog…

Well, you’re wrong. In my opinion, sheep are evil, cunning and duplicitous… but I can see you’re all still taken in by those innocent, curly-wooled faces and soft round eyes… Let me go back a few (well, quite a few) years to my child hood.

As my regular readers may remember, my father was a vet, and in true James Herriot fashion, many a waif and stray ended up staying with our family for a while, some even becoming permanent residents, like our rabbit, Sorrel, rescued from a live meat market as I screamed and screamed for Daddy to save the pretty bunny from Watership Down…

One day, my father returned home with a small, sickly lamb. My mother, being a Northern country girl and well accustomed to sheep, took it tenderly from him and wrapped it in a towel, placing it carefully in front of the fire with our German Shepherd dog at the time, the benign and benevolent Nikki.

I came forward eagerly to greet the new arrival and hesitated… the lamb turned its head and gazed… malevolently… back at me. (I swear I heard the music from “The Omen” playing faintly somewhere…) I backed cautiously away… there was something about its smiling innocence that didn’t sit quite right…

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Oh, yes, little girl… this is MY house now!”

The little creature thrived and grew, boy, did she grow. Named Lindy, she quickly became part of the pack of dogs, thundering up and downstairs with them, barging into the bathroom while I was on the toilet… whatever I’m doing in the bathroom, to be honest, I don’t really care for an audience…

Charlie: “My God! What are you doing in the water bowl??”

Me: “Oh please, really, I’d get arrested if I did this in the garden and Daddy wouldn’t be too pleased…”

Lindy had her own special bed in the kitchen that she stayed in at night time as I screamed when she chased the cat into my bedroom and jumped on my bed. Believe me, my family beat the concept of “Babe” by a good few years with our dogsheep. She had no manners and would quite happily walk past the table and swipe your bread and butter, chase the cat, bite visitors…

My father was a little annoyed when the postman would no longer deliver to our house… he had to collect our letters from the main post office in town as the postman flatly refused to enter the garden after he’d been chased for the fourth time by the sheep… I liked that postman…

The cat and I spent a lot of time up the willow tree in our garden or barricaded in my bedroom. And Lindy grew. When she reached the dimensions of a small dining room table with a head like a boulder, hooves like four circles of Hell and a fleece of wire (I was allergic to her too) her residence with us was abruptly ended.

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My father had put up with her becoming my mother’s particular pet, guarding her and sitting on her lap, collecting the post from town and apologising to the neighbours on a regular basis as she (the sheep, not my mother) crashed through hedges and fences cartoon-style; but when she butted him off the edge of the raised patio and broke his ankle, he decided it was time for her to go.

And so she did. To a petting zoo, where there was a lonely male Jacob sheep… my parents visited her regularly, they were friends with the owner, and Lindy went on to produce many lambs and have a long and happy life.

My childhood peace was restored and though I am drawn to the undeniable cuteness of toy lambs, to this day I remain extremely wary of sheep…

Mummy, Lindy BIT me!!”

Don’t be stupid, Samantha, sheep don’t bite…”

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Small Boy… Large Puddle

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This happened a good few years ago… more than I care to remember really. Suffice it to say, my oldest son was about two years old.

We are fortunate to live near a large country park which is a favoured spot for dog walkers and has been the scene of quite a few adventures for me…

The park has undergone a few alterations, including the installation of a BMX stunt track; but on the whole it remains a palatable chunk of green space in my otherwise urban surroundings.

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There are treasures to be found… cobnuts and blackberries, wild raspberries, hawthorn, hops and fungi. One year, we had an invasion of giant puffball mushrooms, like perfectly round alien eggs laid at regular intervals amongst the dewy hillocks and tufted grass. Apparently, you can slice them and fry them in butter like steaks… wouldn’t know, never tried… don’t like mushrooms…

There is a wonderful woodland walk where you can hear and sometimes see jays, and at the top of the hill, there are flat, broad fields with great swathes of unmown grass, left specifically for the insect life.

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Mini beasts… beetles and butterflies gather, and because of the heavy clay soil, water gathers, creating miniature lakes. It’s quite boggy land anyway, so the standing water doesn’t often drain away or dry up, resulting in large puddles.

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The dogs love this walk… Mum had her two dogs, Rosie and Rebel, while I had my little dog and eldest child safely strapped into his pushchair. He was wearing his brand new Wellington boots. His shiny red Wellington boots of which he was very proud… what kid doesn’t love Wellington boots…

My mother thought she would up the fun gear a little and said:

Oh, let him walk a bit! He can try his new boots out!”

Child duly released from pushchair, my mother exclaimed:

Ooh LOOK! Go and run in that big puddle!” which lay, balefully gleaming, like a giant’s eye…

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My son took a moment to smile at me in childish excitement then ran …. full tilt … into the puddle.

The next sequence of actions remain, even to this day, indelibly etched in slow motion in my memory … I reached out my arms and roared;

N-O-O-O….”

as my son fell flat on his face. He lifted his head and opened his mouth, ready to start bellowing in outrage …

A tiny tidal wave of muddy puddle water rose up and slapped him in the mouth… my mother rushed forwards and attempted to haul my son out of the puddle, helped/hindered by the three dogs dancing excitedly around the edges of the liitle lake…

Yes! Small human has right idea! Let’s swim and get muddy!”

I laughed.

My son’s clothes were drenched. I had to take my jumper off and hold it out for my mother to insert my screaming child into…

Here we are! A baby in a bag!”

she said, attempting to distract my son …

Well. That finished me off. We walked home, me, snorting and staggering, choking and weeping with laughter, my son retreating into sleep, a tide mark of mud staining his cheeks as a reminder of the afternoon’s adventure…

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Spiders: Part 3

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This. Has. To. Stop. Right now. Or I’m leaving. It’s not even September.

The other day, I was sorting through my wardrobe and I found a blouse I’d forgotten I had. I thought I would try it on. I removed my glasses, took my shirt off and exchanged it for the other one. I didn’t put my glasses back on.

I went to look in the bathroom mirror, to straighten the collar. I saw something on my shoulder – couldn’t quite make out what it was. I returned to the bedroom to put my glasses on and had another look. The dark blur resolved itself into something unmentionable. There, upon my shoulder, beaming happily at me, was the largest spider outside of nature programmes I have ever seen. The breath died in my throat. The spider raised a foreleg in friendly greeting. The spell of horror was broken as I ripped – yes, ripped – all – yes, all – my clothes off and run screaming through the house. The cats watched:

What’s up with her then?”

Oh, I reckon she might have found a little something I left for her…” This, from Lily, who has a somewhat warped sense of humour. (Dead mice on the bedside table, half a mouse in the kitchen sink, that sort of thing.)

SMOKADAQUAR.jpgSome pieces of Smoky Quartz, excellent for protection and deflecting negativity…

Having reached the safety of the kitchen, it was daytime, so of course all the blinds were open – sorry neighbours – I thought to myself, it would be safe enough to go back and check… I edged carefully up the stairs and peered cautiously around the corner into the bedroom. It had gone. (Well, really, what did I expect? The spider parading up and down in front of the mirror: “Hmm, I could do with a smaller size, but the colour’s not too bad…”)

I lifted the blouse up. No spider. I put my jeans back on. No spider. I haven’t found it yet. So, it’s still in the house, somewhere, with me… It’s a large one. Large enough for me to harness it to a shopping trolley and go racing off to town like some modern day Roman charioteer…

Oh, excuse me, I see it now, galloping past the kitchen doorway, one of my bras clutched in its jaws…

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All photos were taken by my son!