Pigeon Pie.

Those of us with children will be used to the school calendar. You know the drill; term dates, sports fixtures, open assemblies, Choral Day, Maths Challenge week – that sort of thing. So, it came as a little surprise to me when I spied ‘Survival Training’ scheduled on ours at the beginning of the Autumn term. Survival Training? Surviving what, exactly? But it’s part of an Outdoor Challenge award and I reasoned that it couldn’t be worse than the trip she did last term as part of it, which was a brief sojourn to the Brecon Beacons. This was cheerily sold to us as two nights of camping and a just a small 20k – or so – walk. Enjoyable, no? Smaller daughter arrived back from that one soaked through, muddy, exhausted and with a high temperature. That was the low point with this Award, we reasoned.

Initially, daughter was reasonably excited about the survival training. It was only an overnight camp in the school grounds with all of her friends. What fun! What’s not to like? Well actually, possibly this:

“We have to gut and eat a pigeon, Mummy. And build our own shelters.” Gourmet and luxury indeed.

“Really?” I took this with a pinch of salt, sure that it had been Chinese-whispered into existence. I mean, honestly, getting twelve year olds to gut a pigeon and build shelters? What could possibly go wrong? Well, the potential certainly begins with my daughter who has never constructed anything in her life, much less something she has to bed down in for the night.

But, she was excited as she packed up her kit the night before. The kit list was fairly extensive, and we had to plunder the camping equipment of my partner to get everything together. The only trouble with that is my partner is a huge wild camping aficionado, and most of his camping belongings come into the ‘a ridiculous amount to spend on a tent, we could afford a luxury holiday with that’ bracket. So obviously we couldn’t tell him that we were borrowing stuff. My poor partner. Before he met me and we moved in together, he slept easily and peacefully at night, knowing that his possessions were solely his possessions and in the morning they would be where he left them. Enter me and two daughters. I mean, we don’t TRY to appropriate his belongings, but it’s just that he has the best stuff. It’s good quality and he has lots of it. He does feebly protest when one or the other of us borrow a tent, a bike, a surfboard, some jumpers, phone chargers, but three years down the line I think he’s more or less accepted that his norm has – well – disappeared. We do give it back, obviously. Unfortunately, smaller daughter has a habit of obsessively labelling everything she takes to school so what he doesn’t know is that much of his precious camping equipment has glittery pink name stickers on it. As long as he doesn’t take it out for the first time in front of anyone, it’ll be fine.

Anyway, back to the pigeons. So, she went off for this overnight camping, keen to learn the skills they need to survive, should they ever become dangerously lost in the grounds of a very nice private school. There are two patches of woodland within the grounds and they were to camp in the further away one, which must be, oh, I don’t know, 500 yards from the school building, if that? But frankly, they could have been deposited in the deepest, darkest wilderness somewhere in Wales with poo shovels, so they lucked out staying in the grounds.

“Goodbye darling!” I waved her off cheerily, “Have a good time! Enjoy the building and eating, I’m sure you’ll love it.” I say this to her with all the confidence of someone who has an actual bricks-and-mortar house to go to, with a well-stocked fridge, cosy beds and central heating.

“I will. Love you.” Car door slams and off she goes. And off I go to my well-nourished warmth.

And then of course, it’s radio silence because they aren’t allowed their phones at school. My warm day drifted into my cosy night, and my cosy night drifted into my warm morning, and I woke up pleased that it hadn’t seemed to rain much. I was looking forward to collecting her and hearing about the camping tales, but the camping was Friday night and they have Saturday school, so I had to wait until lunchtime to do this. On this particular Saturday they had to conduct tours of the school which requires them to be in their very smartest uniform, with their very neatest appearance. Quite why they chose a motley crew of white-faced, wood-smoke-smelling and generally damp children with dark black circles under their eyes and bits of twig in their hair to represent the school is beyond me. They must have looked like something out of a zombie-apocalypse-meets-Addams-family spectacle to the visitors.

We parents were all waiting, keen to see our offspring after their adventure, laughing and chatting away, and then I spot a child out of the corner of my eye, who is moving very slowly and looking very sad. Yup, you’ve guessed it, that’s my one. The minute she set her eyes on us, she flung herself into my arms and burst into tears, “I’m just sooooo tired!” she wailed (oh dear, she does need her sleep).

“Oh no, but did you enjoy it?”

“Nooo!” (Oh dear)

“What did you sleep in?”

“A thing we made out of sticks.” (Good grief…..)

“What did you actually eat?”

“There was nothing but pigeon, so I starved.” (See above)

“How many pigeons were there?”

“I don’t know, loads. They were caught for us before though.”

“There you go! It wasn’t all bad then.” (Thank heaven for small mercies…………)

She got home and then proceeded to sleep for 16 of the next 24 hours. And though I am loath to say it, and only do so through gritted teeth – I was *whispers* wrong. Wales was not the low point.

 

Survival training – 1

Daughter – 0

 

PS. I do have to add that the Outdoor Challenge Award they do is a very worthwhile and important endeavour, and the school do a jolly good job of giving the children the best experiences that they can to prepare them for the challenges of the outdoors. It is simply that my child is not really up for the challenges of the outdoors; she’s perfectly happy in her warm, lamp-lit bedroom with plenty of cushions and soft blankets. There were lots of braver children that loved the camping!

 

Tales from a 37 year old brain.

I know, I know, I know – I haven’t written anything for ages. It’s my brain. It’s a bit – well – a bit like me I suppose. It’s rather rebellious and doesn’t do things that it doesn’t want to. And, unlike children, I can’t shout at it to make it do things. Well, I could, but I suspect that would guarantee me a long stay parking space at the nearest asylum.

Anyway, we’re here now. Minus the bits of me that fell victim to the weekend, as usual. My brain leaps about and says “Yes! I can do two nights out in a row! I can stay up until 2am in a friend’s hot tub drinking Prosecco and feel absolutely great at 9am! And I can certainly get 2000 words written sharpish before breakfast.” And then the sad truth emerges from my actual body:

-          I am exhausted

-          I have a headache

-          I am grumpy

-          I want to sleep

-          I am devoid of inspiration

-          I NEED carbs

-          Everything is going to take four times as long as usual today

-          So it probably won’t get done

I am not 21 anymore. I am not even 31 anymore. I’m 37 and I need to remember that and especially for weekends like our last one, body and brain took a bit of a battering.  We flew to Ireland, for a wedding, and it was St Patrick’s Day. Except the place that we stayed at for the wedding was a 5* castle which was a bit too grand, really, to acknowledge the day – so, in generosity, we lent it a hand instead.

Personally, I began ‘celebrating’ at lunchtime on Friday. As anyone who knows me will testify – I don’t fly well. At all. I am petrified of the bloody things groaning their improbable way into the sky and I simply do not understand how they get up there and – perhaps more importantly – STAY up there with no visible means of support. The sum total of this means that I take a few mg of diazepam before the flight, to keep me calm and controlled. That’s the idea anyway, it doesn’t always happen like that (insert guilty emoji face here).

In fact, the flight we took back from Spain in the summer went so badly that my partner and both of my daughters refused to fly with me again. I think I drank a bit too much wine, pre-flight, out of sheer terror. Certainly, by the time I boarded the plane, there was still a bit too much blood in my alcohol system as far as I was concerned. Partner and younger daughter headed straight to their seats, and my eldest was left with the unenviable task of accompanying me. At the front of the plane there was a kind stewardess who noticed my ashen face (and probably tears, I can’t really remember) and took me to one side to calm me down. Apparently anyway, (this was all relayed to me by my daughter afterwards). After a few minutes of gentle chatting, I was asked if I wanted to go and speak to the pilots either before the flight or when we landed.

“Oh, right now!” I declared, setting off purposefully towards the cockpit, but she put her hand on my arm. I think it was at about this stage that the stewardess had noticed that something was amiss. To my daughter’s horror, she then began questioning me about how much wine I had actually drunk. Through my ramblings, I cut the number in half and then reduced it again and her eyes told me that even that was too much.

“And have you taken anything else?” she asks suspiciously. By this point, something was creeping through the thick fog in my brain which told me that the truth wasn’t the best answer here.

“Oh – I – er – I’ve just taken some painkillers,” I tell her, and then for reasons totally unknown to me both at the time and now, I added a little extra detail: “I’ve got a touch of the old arthritis in my knee.” I bent down and touched it for a extra bit of authenticity. A TOUCH OF THE OLD ARTHRITIS IN MY KNEE????? What POSSESSED me to come up with that?? I’ve never had arthritis in my knee, or anywhere else for that matter. There was a perilous moment (apparently) where my poor daughter didn’t know if I was going to be allowed onto the plane, but I was and carefully limped to my seat. We took off and the drinks trolley eventually rumbled to a stop beside me. I requested wine – and was refused.

“We won’t be serving any alcohol to you on this flight, madam.” Given that this – to me – was a catastrophe of epic proportions, I whispered to my daughter that she would need to get the wine. The fact that she was only sixteen at the time escaped me completely. When she explained this, I (apparently) hissed at her “You are a very bad daughter. I will not forget this. Not EVER.” A few months on and I rather think that it’s more the other way around. Eventually we landed and I am still several sheets to the wind. Border Control looms in front of us, and unfortunately between the four of us, only myself and my youngest daughter had the same surname. I was asked (apparently) who my eldest daughter was. To the collective horror of my family, I swayed on my feet, beamed at him and said, “She’s my daughter.” I even spoke slowly because the poor man didn’t seem to have a grip on the facts.

“Can you prove this?”

“Prove?” I am flummoxed. And still beaming at him as he told me that she should have a letter from her father giving permission for her to travel. We didn’t have this, obviously, and there was a tense moment (apparently) when we almost weren’t allowed back into the country.

Needless to say, I was not popular.

So, you can understand why Friday’s flight was approached with trepidation from both me and my partner. Me for the flying bit, and him for simply being next to me throughout this journey. I was a lot better though, much less panicky and I didn’t do anything strange or out of the ordinary. Oh – actually – there was one thing I did for reasons unknown; I ordered Scotch on the plane. I don’t even like it! I rather detest it, in fact. But the mind works in mysterious ways……..well, mine certainly does. And now I have to go and apologise to it for a bit of a frantic weekend and try some gentle persuasion to make it address some work. Luckily, I’m a copywriter as well as an author, so ‘words is what I do best’.

Unless I’m on a plane, of course. Or at Border Control.

“Grade II listing property.”

I’ve just moved house. For various reasons too boring to go into, we had precisely two weeks in between knowing that we were moving and the actual date on which we were moving. 14 days, during which time I am home alone with two children, two cats, two dogs and two rabbits to look after. You can probably sense where this is going.

BEFORE THE MOVE (two weeks to go):

Oh, I think, looking vaguely around the sitting room. There’s not much in here, it won’t take long to pack up. I prove this by constructing a cardboard box (slippery slope where these things are concerned) and packing most things within half an hour. I did not pack: lamps, anything from the sofa, anything to do with the TV, anything to do with the record player or anything that was shoved under the sofas from the last time we moved. Nevertheless, I am pretty pleased with myself. A whole box filled!

I repeat this success in our bedroom by pulling out the full boxes that have sat in the wardrobe since our last move and re-labelling them. I did not pack: any clothes I thought we might need (changeable weather at the moment, so that was pretty much all of them), anything that I would need up to moving day (make-up, hair dryer, hair straighteners, etc.), anything of Sean’s (where do you even start?), any of the lamps or bedroom furniture. Still, it’s better than nothing I tell myself.

After this, I am tired and unenthused. So, I go and sit on my still-constructed sofa and put on the still-there television.

One week to go:

I’ve told Sean that I’ve done ‘most’ of the packing so we are well underway. He arrives home and I discover that our ideas of the word ‘most’ do not match. I am rapidly set to work constructing box after box after box……….and then to my great indignation he makes me actually pack the bloody things as well. I am realising that, in fact, we do have more stuff than I’d thought. Something which is proved when I spend half an hour wrapping things and packing them carefully and you can’t even tell that I’ve stepped over the threshold.

One day to go: There are some boxes to put into the van………

MOVING DAY

Oh, the excitement! I was up with the larks at an hour that I haven’t seen since I had to be at the hospital by 6:30am for my c-section with Alice, eleven years ago. I begin sorting things with a new vigour, determined to make this a smooth process for all concerned.

7am: I have a lot of the kitchen utensils packed. I have not packed: plates, bowls or cutlery (because we will need them), anything in the utility room (I shuddered just looking through the door), any food from the cupboards because food is Sean’s area (I tell myself) or anything from the large shelf that runs along one side of the kitchen because it is piled full of stuff that needs to be sorted. The kitchen is big enough to give the illusion that many, many belongings have been packed and I skedaddle out of there before Sean goes in.

10am: I need a rest.

10:05am: “What are you doing?!” (Resting).

10:30am: OK, I really need a rest now.

12 midday: We take the first load of stuff over to the house and heave our boxes through the entrance passageway that was originally constructed for people in the 1420s so I’m bent double and Sean’s on his knees.

“I’ll stay here and unpack,” I announce.

“You will not. We need more boxes over here before we can even think of unpacking.”

1pm: I don’t like making boxes.

2pm: I don’t like packing the wretched things.

3pm: I don’t like Sean.

4pm: I decide that the best, all-round solution seems to be that I leave Sean to move into the 14th century house and I sink into some sort of modern, sheltered accommodation somewhere and wait for the move to be over.

6pm: I am disabused of this notion – but I am allowed to stay at the new house and start unpacking. Hallelujah!

After that, I don’t see Sean again until the early hours of the morning. I can’t say whether this was deliberate or not.

Day 1 (9:30 am): We’re in our new house! Let me at those boxes……..

10pm: Pillows? Who needs pillows?! Pillows are for wusses!

Day 2 (9:30am): The boxes have been breeding overnight; it’s the only explanation for why there are STILL so many of them.

10:30am: There’s no actual path through the sitting room because the boxes are sitting majestically in my way. This must be fate, surely? Giving me an other-worldly message that they wish to stay intact. The only benefit to this is that Sean can’t actually see where I am, or, more importantly, what I’m (not) doing.

10:30pm: How did we not realise last night that our 14th century bedroom has no light fittings? And where are the lamps?? I am in bed in the pitch dark, quite cold, and cursing myself for thinking about other-worldly messages earlier. I make sure all of my limbs are fully beneath the duvet so ghostly hands don’t touch me…….ARGHHHH!!!!!!!!! Why, why, why, why would I have these thoughts??

11:30pm: The bed is moving. The BED is MOVING!!!!!!!!! IT HAS MOVED. These ghosts haven’t wasted any time have they? Oh no, they’ve started a party and invited the poltergeists. Surely there’s some ancient 14th century law stating that all ghosts must give the new occupants seven days before they begin to haunt? And not only is the bed not where we left it earlier, the chest of drawers is now just a chest because the drawers have fallen out. Oh this is too much. I am decidedly not brave enough to risk getting out of bed and I shut my eyes tightly until I open them again the next morning.

Day 3 (8am): I am having a Pot Noodle for breakfast. Enough said.

9am: I venture back upstairs to investigate our haunted bedroom. However, in the light of day I can see quite clearly that the problem is that the floor is so old that it bows in the middle, gently persuading my furniture to move in that direction. I must have read the details wrongly, I thought it said “Grade II listed property”, not “Grade II listING property.” On the plus side, no ghosts! (Or none that we know of).

12 midday: That is it, I am never moving again. Not even when I’m too old and spindly to use the stairs. They will be taking me out of this house in a box.

And, knowing my luck, it will probably be a cardboard one.