Thursday, 29 May 2014

Goodbyes and Bucket Lists

Number 1 child and I have been having some long conversations about where my life is going, or more accurately, what I am going to do once the final two children have (hopefully, in the nicest possible way) left home in September. You will know if you've read my ramblings before that this will bring to a close nearly 29 years of nurturing, herding, ferrying, chiding, washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning and attempting to share life's important stuff with four sometimes affectionate, once-in-a-while listening, mostly entertaining and occasionally blow-me-down amazing children. And whatever else I may or may not achieve in my life, the stand-out is always going to be them - unless they turn into axe murderers, in which case I shall deny all responsibility and blame their father!

We've had a whole week of school goodbyes, doing things for the last time and joining in a wonderful celebration at Ripon Grammar School for their final hurrah. Last Thursday evening we watched videos of them as first years on their maiden school trip to France, getting to know one another and themselves, and being generally hilarious and we could see the 11 year olds turned into now 18 year olds before our very eyes. Last day over, they just had to turn up for assembly on Friday and say goodbye to the staff - some loved, some perhaps less so, all of them patient and generous with their knowledge to the end. And now all that remains is the hard slog of too many exams, too close together in some cases, before the big summer of freedom and (worryingly) results day. Did I shed a tear? Well, nearly, but I know I already have Olympic status for being an embarrassing parent so I held it all together as best I could.

Child 1 thinks that what I need to see me through the next twelve months is a bucket list - not, of course, because I plan to depart this mortal coil, but because I should set myself some targets that might stop me from whining too much about the lack of smelly washing, loud music, television on in several different rooms - often with no one watching, dirty cups and plates scattered all over the house and those familiar sayings: "There's nothing to eat", "I haven't got a shirt" and "Can you take me to...?"

So I am currently applying myself to the construction of a bucket list. Whether I shall achieve all this lot in the twelve months beginning September 2014 remains to be seen but this is the current status and I am happy to consider any other reasonable suggestions... In no particular order:

1   Improve my golf. I am a disaster on a golf course and, as I am no quitter, in the words of Magnus Magnusson, I've started so I'll finish. Well, at least attempt to achieve a standard where I am no longer an embarrassment to myself and others.

2   The Grand Slam Plan. This is the big one so it might not be achievable in year one of the next 29 year phase of my life but this has been on the books for some time. Tennis mad, we have been to Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Flushing Meadow, scenes of three of the four Grand Slam events and only Melbourne remains unvisited. Can we do it in 2015? Well, that may depend on other items further down the list...

3    Find an agent for my novel, The Rule of Three. Please!


4   Actually write the novel that's currently in draft format in my head, provisionally entitled Murder in Law. This may possibly fill the 4.30pm - 6.30pm period each day which is the time I think I may miss the children the most. Since this is a crime novel which is a new genre to me, shall we push the victim down the stairs, drown her or give her an overdose?

5   Accept all those lovely invitations to visit friends which we have till now refused because of homework, exams etc. If you asked us before and we said thanks but no for the above reasons we are now available and would love to come!

6    Return to Dorset. A modest flat in a picturesque village within sight of the sea close to the setting for the recent crime thriller Broadchurch was the venue for many holidays as children and now I would like to go back and see it all again. Intrepid granny, you have been warned!

7    Autumn Internationals at Twickenham - nailed! Not sadly, the All Blacks or Australia or South Africa but Samoa at the home of English rugby and a jolly good excuse for a weekend in London.

8   Turn the garden into something other than the National Collection of Dandelions (described as such by the singing, dancing doctor and never forgotten!) If we're really lucky it will have stopped raining by September making it possible to garden in something other than a sou'wester - or not.

9   Hay Festival. I have been involved in the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival ( for the last two years and we've had some great names including Michael Palin, Joanne Harris and this year, Kate Adie and Sir Ranulph Fiennes. But I'd like to go to the Big Daddy of all literature festivals and that is Hay so, maybe next year?

10  There's a long list of places I'd like to go to from the Norwegian Fjords to New Zealand. Too many to list here but if there's a 5* gap year opportunity, I'm on it!

Finally, there was another goodbye last week that can't go unheralded. Watching Toulon play Saracens in Saturday's Heineken Cup, I was interrupted by number 3 having a brief respite from A level revision. He looked at the screen and then looked at me: "You can't cry about Jonny Wilkinson when you didn't cry when we left school this week!" Well, I wasn't actually crying (again!) but it was a big moment when Jonny kicked the drop goal for Toulon because, frankly, no one kicks a drop goal like Jonny. Without doubt, an icon for sport, a humble, hard-working man and a credit to Toulon, Newcastle Falcons, England and the Lions. And, hand on heart, I can't honestly name a sporting great who has achieved more without once personally or on the field of sport, let the side down. There's a lot to learn from him. One final battle to win: the Top 14 Final against Castres and, if Toulon win, it will be the perfect fairytale ending for Jonny. And even if they don't, I'm definitely hoping for 'Arise, Sir Jonny' in the next honours list. Allez Les Rouges!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Well, I didn't see that coming!

I am the parent of four adults! How did that happen? When I was in my twenties and thirties, my beloved and I planned for a large family - well, not so much planned but certainly welcomed the idea. It did, of course, take longer than we had intended and when my friends were packing their children off to secondary school we were back at the nappies stage with the twins. And seriously, most of our friends thought we were mad, which obviously we were!

Now those little treasures who woke us up in the middle of the night and kept us short on sleep but long on smiles have grown up and they, as of last weekend, are eighteen. Nowhere in my plans or dreams did I intend to become the parent to four adults and I am now wondering how this is going to pan out.

Some things haven't changed. Two are still in residence and in school, although clearly not for much longer as A levels start in a matter of days and once that's over so is school. And the usual requests/complaints are still being made. Generally the most frequent of these are as follows:
1  I haven't got a shirt.
2  There's nothing in the fridge.
3  Can I have a lift to...
4  I can't find (insert here any article of clothing, sporting equipment or formal document ie passport, driving licence, examination paperwork etc, of which we will only have one)
And most recently...
5  There's no fuel in the car.

The latter is interesting as I keep putting fuel in Manu, the Kia Rio named after the Leicester Tigers and England centre, and then the next time I get to drive it there is something slightly more than a dribble left in the tank. Hmmm...

So can I hang up my parenting skills such as they are? I suspect not but we are moving into a new and different stage in our lives and there are hopefully new challenges ahead. I have not yet crossed into the engagement, wedding, grandchildren area of play and I can, and am, still attempting to maintain some sort of discipline here - house rules, my rules and although it's hard to call them to heel when I have to look up rather than down at them, I can still try!

Finally, tomorrow is the Acorn 100k Sponsored Bike Ride and although we have all been cooking up a storm cake-wise for 600 cyclists, the weather forecast is shocking. So if you're not cycling, marshalling or involved in other Acorn Bike Ride-related activities tomorrow, spare a thought for us lycra-clad souls who are pedalling across North Yorkshire with only the thought of cake at the end to sustain us!
Birthday dinner for three and four. Such a treat to be all together!

Monday, 5 May 2014

'Ah yes, I remember it well'

'I can remember everything as if it were yesterday...' So begins a song from the film Gigi when Maurice Chevalier (such a beautiful, romantic French accent) sings a duet with Hermione Gingold as a pair of old, long-lost lovers. Of course, in the song, she corrects his every recollection and so it often is with memories shared over 30 years. We may get the details wrong but the emotion, the spirit of the moment - that is what matters.

We're on our way back from Barcelona sitting in the airport waiting to board - an airport which incidentally packs a lot more style into every square foot than the whole of Leeds Bradford could ever aspire to - after our 30th wedding anniversary trip. It's been, well, brilliant. Thirty years ago this morning we threw in our lot together and no matter how certain you may feel at that moment, there is always that unspoken element of risk. We had no idea what life would throw at us - and it has actually thrown quite a lot - and how much more than the sum of our two parts we would become. 

Before we left home I rootled out our wedding albums - the formal one of ourselves, parents, family, ushers and bridesmaid. And then the unposed ones of some of our guests in the other album. How could we have known what lay ahead for them and us? So many family and friends no longer with us, partnerships broken, contact lost. But it was a wonderful day - not all-singing, all-dancing like weddings are now. A lunch, a few speeches and toasts and a quick change into the going away outfit (by Louis Feraud - who else!) and away to Windsor for the first night of our honeymoon. Incidentally, my beloved could plan a trip even back then: Windsor, Paris, Mauritius - the latter still being my favourite place on the planet. Yes, if I can only have one more holiday before I pop my clogs, that's where it's got to be.  

A couple of weeks ago, I didn't expect to be going anywhere this weekend and my only suggestion had been that I wanted to go somewhere further than the Hare and Hounds for dinner - no disrespect, John; but I'd have very happily settled for the Crown at Roecliffe or the Crab and Lobster. Anyway, my beloved asked where I would like to go away for the weekend and I tried to construct a list of places to suit a range of time and pocket constraints, bearing in mind A levels are just around the corner. And Barcelona was in there along with the Lake District, Venice and Cornwall, amongst others - I like to be eclectic! And Barcelona it was. 

We've been here before, nine years ago, on the day that the then Pope died causing Barcelona to close down in the manner that one would expect in a staunchly Catholic city in a staunchly Catholic country. So there was some unfinished business although we'd already had a great time - tapas, jazz clubs, shopping and sightseeing. And this time, unbeknown to me - and I realise this sounds unlikely - the ATP tour was in town, Rafa and all. So in our four-night sojourn, we've crammed in a day's tennis-watching including a brilliantly nail-biting match between two Spaniards - Rafa Nadal and Nicolas Almagro - with a very vocal and enthusiastic Spanish crowd, some shopping, eating and drinking on an epic scale, a few trips down memory lane, otherwise known as the incredibly narrow and twisting alleys that lead from Las Ramblas and a visit to the one place we especially wanted to see last time and missed due to the Papal demise - La Sagrada Familia. 

 Rafa - sometimes it's hard to tell him and my beloved apart! 

La Sagrada Familia is quite simply one of the most awe-inspiring buildings I've ever been inside. I always marvel at our ancient cathedrals, built and evolved over perhaps a hundred years apiece, wondering at the death toll that it probably took to build the lofted ceilings and fine carving dozens of feet above our heads. But to see a modern basilica growing and developing over a similarly long period, always dressed in scaffolding and netting and yet a breathing temple of light and colour is extraordinary. What sharp contrast to our own hasty post-war construction of the likes of Coventry Cathedral. Though Coventry rose rapidly and proudly from the ashes of the Blitz and is a mighty and impressive building, La Sagrada Familia is a living thing of light, movement, colour and is the seemingly endless ambition to fulfil the dream of a man now long-dead yet living on through the construction of his grand plan. In some ways, it reflects too the designs and tastes of the other architects and craftsmen who have worked on the building since Gaudi's death but it is ultimately the embodiment of his beautiful dream. We will return, because I am sure that in a few years it will hold new treasures yet to be crafted. 

The beautiful ceiling of La Sagrada Familia. 

If La Sagrada Familia, and, by contrast, the ATP tennis were new experiences, yesterday's celebration of our thirty years together was on familiar territory. We had stumbled upon Agua, a restaurant on the beach at the rather glitzy Marina, on our last trip. The memory of the superb meal, feet in the sand yet against the backdrop of the cool, chic interior had stayed with us and it was here that we shared a great meal, ate and drank too much, chatted over our thirty years of reminiscences and friends and family. Special. 

Post-script. Apart from our great meal at Agua, we tapassed our way round Barcelona choosing delicious treats by pointing at whatever took our fancy on the bar top and counting cocktail sticks to total up la quenta. Making me, despite the large scale consumption of the accompanying Rioja, a very cheap date! 

 Me and him 30 years on...

My very cute bridesmaid thirty years ago - Camilla!