Tales from the New Forest. Or one specific tale, actually.

Picture the scene: it’s a glorious, sunny afternoon with balmy temperatures of about 6 degrees, which feels like the heat of Spain in the summer after last week’s snow-calypse. You’re driving off through the beautiful New Forest to watch your daughter playing enthusiastically for the U11 netball B team (an opportunity which must be seized) at a lovely, country Prep school. It’s a scene to warm the cockles of the maternal heart, isn’t it? Said child is going there on the team bus so it’s a peaceful journey and I have a brownie as a snack for her in the car for the way home, which is always lovely as she chatters excitedly about the match. New Forest ponies are roaming contentedly, there are some donkeys wandering across the road; it’s idyllic, yes? Well let me tell you that this rural idyll swiftly began to sidle across to being something decidedly less palatable. And why was this? I’m looking at YOU, iPhone map app.

I’ve been to this Prep school before. About 5 times. I know where it is and I know what the entrance looks like and I know that, bizarrely, you come upon the exit before you reach the entrance. I was confident that with trusty my iPhone map app I would glide sweetly on my relaxed, merry way through the New Forest and arrive in plenty of time for a 2:15pm start. *Dark chuckle*.

The map app seemed confident to me. It was definitely pointing me in the right direction for the school and with my only-slightly-rusty memory of the route, I wasn’t worried. Until I came upon the school. Oh, no, sorry, I don’t mean school – I mean where the map app tells me where the school is. This is disconcerting because all around me is flat farmland and there’s not even a hint of a school. But no matter, I think, I have plenty of time and I’m in the right general area. And then I start driving around in circles, down teeny tiny little roads, barely big enough for a pushchair to fit through, with high sided hedges and any amount of muddy puddles. I reach School Lane, where the app insists the address is. There is no school. But then, happy days, I spy a ‘School’ road sign. Bingo! I think. What more confirmation could I need? Quite a lot as it turns out because it’s the wrong bloody school.

By this point my blood pressure is rising. I am wasting valuable minutes driving round in aimless circles, seemingly traversing the same roads again and again with absolutely no indication of how far away I am from the school. It does advertise itself as ‘Buried within the picturesque New Forest’, and I’m beginning to believe it. Pompeii, eat your heart out.

Up and down the roads I go, feeling like I’m in some sort of time slip, and around and around in circles with the app proudly announcing every so often that “You have arrived at your destination”. No, iPhone map app, I have not. Losing all hope I pull over and call the school; they must be familiar with this rabbit warren of roads. Ring ring, ring ring, ring ring, ring ring – you get the idea – and then “Sorry, we can’t come to the phone right now, please leave us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can”. Best not to leave my message, I think savagely.

As I drive down a teeny tiny road for the fiftieth time, a little old lady and her dog appear. I brake sharply and open the passenger window, “Excuse me,” I say, “sorry to bother you, but you wouldn’t happen to know where X school is, would you?” It’s charmingly retro.

“Oh yes,” she says. “I do. Now what you want to do is follow this road until you see a red post box. Turn left there and carry on straight until you get to the Fox and Hound, there you need to turn left again, then right, carry straight on until you reach the Post Office and Keith the butcher, and then you’ll see the school on a far distant hill.” OK, she didn’t really say the last bit, but she may as well have done.

“Thank you,” I say weakly and drive on. By now I am twenty minutes late for a 40 minute match. But I promised her that I would be there and be there I will. Somehow, following that muddle of instructions, I do come across the school. Hurrah! I’ve made it! It’ll be easy from now on, I think confidently. I quickly find somewhere to park and look for the netball courts. No sign of them, which is strange because everything else in the school is signposted, down to the last cupboard. But, luckily I’ve perfected my retro approach out on the road so, vaguely aware of my wild woman of Borneo look, I flag down an unsuspecting passing parent. “Do you know where the netball courts are?”

“Yes,” she tells me. Go down that path and they’re just there on the right. Indoor and outdoor ones.” I thank her and hurry down the path. Ahead of me I can see the right sports colours for our school and I breathe a sigh of relief. And then I quickly breathe it back in again when it dawns on me that these girls are TOO TALL for an U11 match. In fact, they look distinctly Year 8-sized. I check the indoor courts, nada. There is one our teams waiting to play there but these ones look TOO SMALL. I go back to the outdoor one, perhaps I was mistaken. No, I definitely wasn’t. This is going from the sublime to the ridiculous, I think to myself, blood pressure rising quickly. Where on earth could they possibly be? I approach another parent and ask “Pray, where might the U11 match be?” There are muttered directions to the places I’ve already come from. “I’ve checked there,” I say, “they’re not there.” Easy? I think to myself. Oh, you fool, not easy at all.

“Oh. Well perhaps they’re down on the other netball court.” The OTHER netball court? The one nobody mentioned? The one I didn’t know existed? THAT netball court? “And how can I get to that?”

“Go down that path, don’t go left, follow it round and there’s a sort of bend, just keep going straight until you reach a tree, then you sort of turn 180 degrees, go through that gate – it shouldn’t be locked – and then you’ll be sort of near it.” I look at her.

Deciding that I was done with my own navigation, I latch onto the parent as they head towards the court and stick to them like glue. You know when two people go through a ticket barrier, practically attached, at the same time? That was me as we wended our way towards the match. I was not letting her out of my sight. Which was just as well because the route we took to reach this netball court involved gates and playgrounds and steps and twists and turns that I would have got hopelessly sort of lost in.

An hour and a half since I left home, I got to watch the remainder of the match, which was no more than about 25 minutes. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and looked forward to dissecting it on the way home with my child. Out of nowhere she appears in front of me and shoves her tracksuit into my hands, “Hello darling! Well played. Are you ready to go now or are you staying for tea?”

“Oh,” she says casually. “I’ve decided to go back on the team bus now. Can you pick me up from school?” I stare at her. An hour and a half of driving time. Within which, twenty minutes were spent frantically searching for the wretched place in some kind of Bermuda triangle, seeking out a hidden playing court within the maze of 50 acres of school, my blood pressure had soared to stratospheric levels and all this in order to spend just 20 minutes watching her play. And now she decides that she doesn’t want to come home with me after all. I grit my teeth and try to smile nicely, “Yes, that’s fine darling. You do what you want.”

“Thanks, Mama!” And off she skips.

I stalk back to my car and eat the chocolate brownie. Then I begin to head home. But do I use the iPhone map app? I most certainly do not. It’s clear that the iPhone app hasn’t had a very good education. Perhaps because it could never find its school. I choose Google maps, the dear old reliable Google map app, who was always top of its class. But I had chosen to turn my back on this elegant, streamlined map system and give the iPhone-underdog-map app a chance. Never again, I swore, underdog is now synonymous in my mind with under-hinged. Not quite un-hinged, but definitely on the way there. Or maybe not. It all depends on which map app you take directions from.

New Year, same me.

I shall be 36 in two weeks and it’s taken me this long to realise that New Year’s resolutions aren’t compulsory. Sure, there’s stuff I want to change and habits I’d like to alter, but it’s yet to be a truth universally acknowledged that these things are not intrinsically linked to January 1st. Or a random Monday in April. Or in the hour after the full moon has risen. However, just to show willing, I’m going to list a few of my ‘resolutions’ in no particular order:

  1. Make sure that the empty wine bottles are hidden/recycled before the cleaners come. It’s unfortunate that they come, post-weekend, on Monday morning – spectacularly bad planning by me. Not once did I consider that evidence of the weekend’s drinking would be laid bare in the kitchen, the bottles all lined up ready to be cast into the darkness that is the bottle bank. And we do get through quite a few bottles of wine. They never comment, but on more than one occasion I have felt compelled to explain (lie) about why there are so many of them neatly waiting on the side.
  2. I will open the FitBit box and make use of my Christmas present (circa 2014). Just that, really. Like many other post-Christmas souls, I’d like to up my exercise and I have an idea that if a device is actually logging what I do, and how many steps I’ve taken, then I’ll feel obliged not to let it down.
  3. I will un-glue myself from social media. I waste toooooo many hours scrolling needlessly through Facebook, and don’t even get me started on Mumsnet. I have become scarily hooked on following the lives of people that I don’t know and will never meet. It’s a truly ridiculous waste of time, but I do love it. It’s the ‘peering in through front windows’ behaviour for the modern generation.
  4. I will drag my slightly unfinished manuscript up from its crypt and send it to my agent. It will be like a teenager slinking quietly into the house at 4am and hoping that your parents haven’t noticed your unauthorised absence.

And with my personality, that small collection is quite enough things for me to resolve to do.

I’m going to miss the Christmas holidays. My girls are old enough now that we all have enough space, peace and sleep to really get on quite nicely. Well, unless you’re a 16 year old teenager revising for mock GCSE exams that begin next week. The entire kitchen table has been taken over as a revision zone. Or ‘theatre of conflict’ as I like to call it. Did you know that teenagers can snarl? Each time I attempt to do something in the kitchen, like unreasonably make a cup of tea, hide empty wine bottles before the cleaners arrive, unload the dishwasher, those sorts of things, I am met with a death stare and: “Do you HAVE to do that now?”

“Tidy up the kitchen? I do a bit, yes,” I say apologetically and tiptoe even more quietly around the volatility that is being fuelled by nutrition and Christianity, (the topics she’s been revising, just for clarity). And woe betide you if you don’t acquiesce to a request:

“Mother, I need a new fountain pen in the next five minutes.”

“We can’t – ”

“Do you WANT me to FAIL my exams?”

And mornings. I’m not looking forward to waking up for the school run again. Left to my own devices, my natural sleeping pattern is 1-10am. But I’m pretty sure that the children’s educational establishments can’t accommodate those hours. To be honest, waking the younger girl up at 7am is like waking the dead. And a very cross dead person at that. You know when you light a firework and run away quickly before it explodes? This = youngest daughter in the morning. Sigh.

Happy New Year, all.

S xxx


You Should Have Worn Blue.

As my facebook status so coherently says (typed in an entirely rational state of mind this morning, obviously) – what fresh hell is this??? We’ve been plunged into a Trump-stained, red-coloured nightmare of epic proportions. It’s like a comedy of errors being played out in a political life support unit. The press are going to have a field day with this; the whole WORLD is going to have a field day. We’ve watched from across the pond as Trump blunders through life, political opponents and foreign relations with some of the most unstable countries in the world, feeling reasonably smug about our own politics. It may not have been the most sophisticated helm in the world – but at least we had one. Well, not any more. The snap election has certainly snapped those critical bolts holding our metaphorical keel on.

Theresa May took a gamble, and not an entirely unreasonable one as we sailed towards the tumultuous Brexit, but the gamble has not paid off and our entire political structure will suffer as a consequence. Jeremy Corbyn may look like a gleeful cat poised over a bowl of cream right now, but folks – this is the man who couldn’t get his own core cabinet together the DAY BEFORE an historic general election. He allowed that poor woman to stumble and trip over herself during critical interview after critical interview. We all laughed at the time, but the fact is that a leader in control of his party should never have allowed that to happen. I’ve had the dubious pleasure of reading the Labour manifesto and it reads like a list to Father Christmas.

-          Free schools for everyone and lots of them!

-          Free school meals for every single state pupil in primary school!

-          Secure homes for everyone!

-          Safer communities!

-          Oh, and a magically resuscitated NHS with reinforced capacity for the sick and the aged, please.

So, one might ask, how is this miraculous revolution of daily life in Britain going to be funded? By taxing the wealthy. And what are they to be taxed on? Gardens. Yes, gardens. You read correctly. Jeremy Corbyn obviously had a ‘eureka!’ moment as he climbed out of the bath one morning and surveyed his not insubstantial lawn. People like gardens, people spend a lot of time in their gardens, he must have thought, rubbing his chin, and some people spend a lot of money and effort on making their garden exactly the way they like it. So good old Jeremy Hood thought “Brilliant! Let’s start charging people for the privilege of sitting in their own patch of land! Let’s call it a Land Value Tax.” Fool proof plan. And I’ve over-simplified it, but that is the bottom line and it shows a worrying mindset. In fact, it reminds me of the window tax of 1696 and therefore the lack of political evolution from the Labour Party.

And if we burrow down further into some of their policies, we start to see what they’re actually promising. The social security for everyone translates as ‘dignity for pensioners and ‘dignity for those who cannot work’. So we can’t support you in your hour of need like we suggested, BUT we’re going to do our damndest to make you feel good about it. Vague mentions of foreign ‘systems’ implies a borrowed construction of tried and tested policies – failsafe in other words. But Jeremy, you cannot just transport another nation’s modus operandi over here on a whim and expect it to slip easily into British culture. We have mention of the Australian system, Germany and the Nordic countries make an appearance and so, bizarrely, does the lone wolf BHS scandal. A cheap shot attempting to typify the instability of all long-term business growth plans. But not to worry, because we’re going to have a brand new National Investment Bank. Yes indeed! And this shiny new ‘public institution’ toy will bring in private capital finance to create £250 billion of lending power. Yeah, ok then, call me cynical but each new pledge from the Labour party comes across as little more than an untethered idea.

And Mrs May – you don’t escape either. You have demonstrably failed to lead your party to victory, and from someone who was confident enough in their own success and stability to voluntarily call a General Election, this is worrying. You refused to play by the rules, you wouldn’t enter debates with your political opponents, you rejected recorded interviews in favour of gadding about the country, meeting constituents. You forgot that you are not a film star, but a politician, and you had a duty to those people. A duty which has not been carried out. You should have reinforced your clear, calm strategies, you should have allayed fears and explained policies. You should have made it crystal clear that a Conservative government is the only one which can deliver on its promises by demonstrating recent successes. You probably shouldn’t have threatened to rip up the HRA, and frankly, you should have worn blue.

We are now in a chaotic, political hinterland of uncertainty as we move ever closer to Brexit. We have a shocked and shaken Theresa May who is facing calls to resign and a gleeful Corbyn who can’t believe his luck. What will happen next is anyone’s guess.

But as with most clouds, there is a silver lining to this if we look closely enough. Statistics have shown that voter turnout for 18-24 year olds was around 72% in this 2017 General Election. What this shambolic state of affairs has managed to secure is a renewed interest and enthusiasm from the young voters. These people are engaging with politics, they are showing that they care deeply and are listening to our political parties, they are forming their own views. And this shows us that even though we haven’t had the result that we hoped for, our prized, democratic process is alive and well, functioning against all the odds – and that is something to be truly proud of.