Jodhpurs on The School Run

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Joy of Home Schooling

As I have travelled through the rich tapestry that we call life, I have discovered that there are some jobs that I simply could not bring myself to do.
After leaving University, I spent 8 years working in a walled town for Miserable Finance Limited. Although my colleagues all had the most outstanding drinking skills and senses of humour, the daily grind was about as electrifying as counting grains of rice whilst wearing a blindfold and ski gloves. I think the only thing that actually stopped me from committing suicide during those long 8 years was the social gatherings that took place whenever someone clever passed an exam, or someone saw the light and had a leaving do. These social gatherings took place in the pub across the road from our offices at a very prompt 5.30pm. On some occasions you only knew that you had definitely attended, when you woke up the following morning in a strange house, still wearing your suit and your wallet was empty.
Good times.
I have to admit that I did enjoy composing the company’s unofficial quarterly newsletter and found that I had a genuine flair for producing nicknames for the senior management. I’m not sure the partners in the firm ever saw my well-written handiwork and so they may be unaware that the partner who suffered from the most calamitous outbursts was nicknamed Captain Caveman and the one with slightly frizzy hair was known as Pube-Head. I thought these nicknames were only known to a select few in the firm until the day I walked into the Typing Pool to find the typists trying to decide if the name “Wanky Pants” should be hyphenated.
Anyway; I digress.
During those days, I despised the smug VAT Inspectors and once I even had the misfortune of accidently helping one to get a coffee from the machine in our office. I was completely taken in by his nice smile and slightly crumpled suit and it was only later in the day when I saw him in the Board Room with a set of client’s records scattered across the enormous table that I realised I had served a coffee to the VAT man.
I was livid with myself.
Towards the end of my career with the financial miseries, I was based in the IT department which came as a bit of shock after spending the previous 5 years in Accounts and Audit. The IT lads talked in a language that I didn’t understand and got very stressed when any of the servers chose to fall over for no apparent reason.
The IT lads also loved the internet surfing control software that the company used. My neighbour, The Aigle Welly Wearer once asked me to research a sausage making machine so she could buy one as a surprise for her husband. During my lunch break (obviously) I typed “sausage making” into Google and 3 seconds later the head Techie poked his head around my office door and with a wry grin asked if I was “looking for something for the weekend”.
The IT department revolved around cans of energy drinks and food. The Techies brought bacon and egg McMuffins in for their breakfast, ordered pizza for their lunch and if we had to have an early meeting in the department, the IT Manager would appear with a huge bag of hot sausages from the Co-Op’s hot counter for us all to share. This is perhaps why I was a stone overweight when I finally left for a new job in the summer of 2005.
Along with a diet that would rival that of a Shot Putter, the whole of the IT department seemed to have a small issue with timekeeping and so to remedy this problem, we took to parking our cars on the street, right at the office door. This saved a good 5 minutes in the morning although we then had to run the gauntlet with the bastarding Traffic Warden. I had honestly never seen the laid back IT lads move quickly until the day when one of the partners (The Plate Spinner) came into the IT suite and said he had just seen the Traffic Warden at the bottom of the street.
So there you have it, the 2 jobs I could not do under any circumstances are VAT Inspector and bastarding Traffic Warden.
Until just over a week ago.
I collected Britney (not her real name) from school a week past Friday and was suddenly faced with the reality of home schooling.
Not a problem, I thought. I have friends who have home schooled their children and although these friends are much cleverer than me, surely I am more than capable of home schooling Britney.
Well it turns out that no, I am not capable of home schooling my own child.
The first day went quite well, possibly because Britney was excited about the whole working from home thing, until she realised that she was actually expected to do some work.
We went to our desk clutching our travel mugs (rhubarb and custard fruit tea for me, raspberry and elderflower juice for her) and set to work. During our grammar lesson I had to sneakily Google what a frontal adverbial was and even after I had read about where and how it should appear in a sentence; I still didn’t understand it. Basically the grammar that Britney is doing in year 6 is what I was doing at A Level, so after Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation we moved on to Maths. I faired slightly better at this until Britney suggested that I have a go on Times Table Rock Stars, where you have to complete as many multiplication calculations as you can in 60 secs.
This is possibly the most traumatic thing I have ever had to do in my life.
A last-minute submission of a VAT return at 40 seconds to midnight is positively relaxing compared to this. Britney was most disappointed that her response time had dropped from 2.9 seconds to 2.16 seconds. I was disappointed that I couldn’t remember what 7 x 8 was.
From this high-octane Mathematics, we moved swiftly on to art which involved decorating one of our new bee houses. PE consisted of a game of football in the garden and a walk around the field that borders our garden and Personal and Social Education involved a cuddle and reassurance that we would absolutely go to Newcastle and have pizza for lunch once this was all over.
Day 2 didn’t start quite as well, possibly because Boris had ordered us all into Lockdown the previous evening which meant that Other Half was also at home making it feel a bit weekendish.
Once we discovered that Google Classroom was currently lying in a darkened room, Britney played more of the hellish Times Table Rock Stars while I silently practiced my 8 times table. She then read some of her new Goosebumps book about Horrorland and wrote a synopsis of the story so far. We learnt about light refraction in science and ratios in Maths. We even ratioed (in its simplest form) the number of empty crisp packets to Kit Kat wrappers in the log basket. Result.
I read an article on the Daily Mail online (so it must be true) about the pressure of home schooling on parents. One Dad and this was on day 2 of home schooling; commented that his children were so much better behaved being home schooled that he was not going to send them back to school when it re-opened.
Oh my god, laugh? I thought my pants were never going to dry. I want to speak with this man in a month’s time. In fact if I wait 3 months, I could perhaps snatch a quick word with him as they wheel him out of his house in his straight jacket to the waiting square-wheeled ambulance.
So just to clarify, I don’t hate Teachers like I loathe and despise VAT inspectors and Traffic Wardens.
I don’t hate them at all. I even have friends and family who are teachers and frankly, I am surprised that they don’t receive a carrier bag of Tramadol and Diazepam every month from the Government free of charge. Is it a job I would ever want to do?
Not in a million years.

For JP.


Wednesday, 18 March 2020

I Hate BT

If you are a regular follower of my sporadic and woeful ramblings here on Jodhpurs on the School Run, you may remember that a few years ago I wrote a piece about rural broadband and the misery imposed when your internet is shambling along slower than a very stoned, 3 legged sloth.
I laughed merrily when my friends asked me if I had Netflix, I left laptops attempting a Windows update to work alone through the night and my whole family knew that if something was being watched on the Amazon Firestick no-one else was allowed access the internet. It was a bit like having an old dial up connection but without the screechy sound effects.
However, at the beginning of December my Very Tall Landlord informed me that Superfast Broadband was available at my home. Unable to believe this, I ran an internet speed check and discovered that my broadband was hitting speeds of as much as 5 megabits per second which was a vast improvement on the 1.7Mbps we were used to.
Sky has provided our internet and telephone for a few years and they always do me a terrific deal as they are essentially unable to provide the speed that I pay for. They have real people that you can in fact speak to and once when I rang to negotiate my new contract I spoke to Darren in “Sunny Dumfries”. He assured me at the start of the call that he was going to do me such a great deal, that I would “immediately want to open a bottle of wine and say, my God, I never believed I was going to get such a great deal from Sky”. He honestly did say that and also knocked £15 off my monthly payment for my broadband.
So upon hearing that it was possible that I could run more than 2 internet-dependant devices all at the same time without buffering; I rang Sky.
When I asked the nice lady for a price for Unlimited Superfast Fibre Broadband, she sounded as though I had just asked to borrow her Rolex for a magic trick involving a hammer. This was because it turned out, I was already paying for Superfast Fibre but Sky were unable to provide it.
As the lady prepared to put me through to technical support, I rudely hung up and began searching for another provider who could deliver enough internet for me to browse the clearance items on equestrian websites while Britney (Not her real name) watches nail art tutorials on MyTube.
I got the most unpleasant shock.
The only company with the infrastructure and therefore ability to deliver Superfast Fibre Broadband to my home was BT.
And I hate BT.
I hate BT more than I hate the sound of nails scratching down a chalkboard and the feeling of bare feet on a cold kitchen floor. I hate them more than a wet weekend that follows a week of sunshine and battling with Britney over her maths homework. I hate them more than my horse losing a shoe on a bank holiday weekend, more than my sock slowly sliding off my foot inside my welly, more than World Book Day, Trick or Treating and more than I hate people who steal from the elderly. I hate them more than people who hog the middle lane, more than people who throw their Macdonald’s rubbish out of their car windows and more than people who think it’s amusing to feed their chips to Seagulls.
I even hate them more than I hate bloody Chris Packham and that is saying something.
Nevertheless, determined to have the lightning fast access to Ebay and the Daily Mail that I was entitled to, I swallowed my pride and rang them.
My order was placed quickly and when I put the phone down, I was astonished how easy it had been. The engineer was booked to come to my house on 31st December to connect us to the fantastic fast internet that I had been paying Sky for and we would have mammoth fast interweb browsing that very day.
Due to the chaotic festive period and multitude of Christingles, Christmas plays and parties, I sort of forgot about the Openreach lad coming on New Year’s Eve until the day before when I suddenly realised that I had not received confirmation of his visit.
So I rang BT.
The nice lady I spoke to apologised profusely that I had not been informed about this, but my broadband order had been cancelled as I had failed a credit check.
Absolute rubbish, I told her. I’ve never failed a credit check in my life, there’s more chance of the Chief Cashier at the Bank of England getting turned down for credit than me. She sympathised and gave me the details of Equifax who run BT’s credit checks and told me to contact them.
The telephone number she gave me was incorrect but I discovered (using my sloth-like internet connection) that an account with Equifax is free for the first 28 days and after emailing them a copy of a utility bill and my driving licence I was advised that my very own credit report would be available shortly.
The next day I was able to download this important life-changing document and discovered that my credit score was excellent and that no UK company should refuse me credit.
So I rang BT.
The nice lady who I spoke to, sympathised, agreed that it was ridiculous I had been turned down for credit as my credit score was excellent and once again tried to place an order for my broadband. After 30 seconds she informed me that I had again failed the credit check and she advised me to contact Equifax as they would be able to explain why I was failing a credit check for a broadband order which someone of no fixed abode could set up without issue.
So I rang Equifax.
I’ll just point out here that should you ever be in the regrettable position where you need to contact Equifax, always turn the volume on your phone to “high”. All the call handlers (or at least the ones that I spoke to) speak with a foreign accent and sound as though they are speaking through a very thick, woolly sock.
The lady at Equifax told me that she didn’t know what criteria BT check on a credit report but that I had possibly been refused credit as I wasn’t on the electoral role.
I replied that I had been on the electoral roll at my current address for 11 years, and I knew this for definite as I had been able to vote at the last election which took place less than a month ago.
Ah, she replied, but Equifax don’t get the updated electoral role until the end of January, so I would be able to apply for credit then.
So I rang BT.
The nice lady sympathised, listened to my tale of woe and put me through to Cruella de Vil in the accounts department. Cruella told me that there was a discrepancy between the personal details that I had just given her for security clearance and my personal details on my credit report, namely; my date of birth was not the same.
I replied that the 2 dates of birth were exactly the same and I knew this because I was currently looking at my credit report, and this was the same as the date of birth I had just given her, my real and actual date of birth.
She replied that they were definitely different.
So I rang Equifax.
The gentleman I spoke to told me that my date of birth was correct (I knew this) that I was on the electoral role (I knew this too) and told me to email my credit report to BT and ask then to do a manual check.
So I rang BT.
By this point I had found my old BT voodoo doll and was not only viciously twisting its head and stabbing pins through it, I was also holding it over a naked flame as I waited to be connected to an adviser.
Luckily, Lauren could hear that I was at the end of my tether with her employer. To be fair, I gave her a very clear sign that I was at the end of my tether as when she picked up my call I told her that I was going to kill myself because I really, really wanted to give BT some money in return for a product that I was absolutely certain they wanted to provide me with.
After putting me on hold for 7 and a half minutes she told me that I had already spoken to 3 of her colleagues over the past 2 days and her Supervisor had advised her to put the order through from her broadband services desk and not run it through the sales department as it would be rejected again, thanks to my apparently fictitious credit report.
Initially Lauren said she couldn’t find my landline which we both thought was a bit odd as I was actually using it to make the call, however she told me not to worry as she would put in an order for a new line and the lad from Openreach would disregard this when he came to my house as he would be able to detect the line then.
It took over half an hour for Lauren to complete this and she even called me back once the order was placed to confirm that it was definitely going through. I was so pleased with this information, I instructed Lauren to tell her Supervisor that she and the rest of her team should receive a free bottle of wine every Friday and a short city break at a European venue of their choice as a thank you for their exceptional service.
So the Openreach lads came, gave me a new phone number as they couldn’t find the landline I have been using for the past 11 years and left me running internet speed checks for pure novelty value.

And so, we have speeds of over 100Mbs now, my phone is running at the dizzy height of 114Mbs and when our computers start an update instead of having to leave them overnight, it’s complete in a few seconds. It’s absolutely amazing.
Until a month ago, when I discovered that our internet service had been turned off.
I checked the details on the My BT App on my phone and it assured me that as I paid by direct debit on or just after the 3rd of the month, I had nothing to pay and did not need to do anything.
Instead of ringing BT, because frankly I just did not have the energy or the patience, I began an online chat with Soumyadip who told me that my first direct debit had been declined.
ME: When did you attempt to take the payment?
I typed very loudly and with a muscle twitching ferociously in my jaw.
SOUMYADIP: We tried to collect the payment on 25th January 2020 and it was declined by your bank
Came the reply.
ME: I have not had any notification from my bank that a payment has been declined and as My BT says you were taking the payment on or just after the 3rd February as agreed when I placed the order why did you decide to try and take the payment 9 days earlier than agreed???
I was so incensed at this point that the only punctuation I would be bothered to use was an exclamation mark.
SOUMYADIP: As a valued BT Customer I can only advise you to contact your bank but I am turning your service back on now then you can use this link to make payment…….
So I rang BT.
I paid what was owed using their very quick automated payment service and 2 hours later, Britney was back on Yourtube and I was able to surf the net for items I could not afford.
All was well with our superfast surfing experience until 2 weeks ago when I received an automated call from my friend BT saying that I had not paid my bill.
So I rang BT.
But this time instead of calling the number they had given me which only leads to an automated payment system, I found a number on the internet where I could be connected to a real human person who I could shout at converse with.
I spoke to Joanne, who asked me for my account number which I recited from the My BT App. There was a long silence before she told me that account number did not exist – and then the penny dropped. My BT was showing me my original account that I opened at the beginning of December and despite the original order being cancelled owing to my credit report stating that I was a terrorist and a habitual money launderer, the account had not been completely closed.
So Soumyadip had told me a lie so big it should be on a specialist diet plan. My bank hadn’t declined the payment as the payment had never been requested, because the direct debit set up on the old unused account had not been transferred to the new account.
This made me exceptionally furious with Soumyadip but as he/she probably already has a new job with a diligent employer there was very little point in taking the subject further.
Joanne very nearly restored my faith in BT, as she has credited all the charges on my account as an apology for how utterly shit BT is. She even reimbursed the charges that the robbing bastards had charged me for my internet to be reconnected and has given me a month of superfast surfing for free.
Ironically Sky did ring me to ask why I had left them. I told them that unfortunately they are currently unable to supply my house with Superfast Fibre Broadband. The lady replied that they are rolling out Superfast to lots of rural areas and that in the future they should be able to provide me with the service that I want.
So this rant of a blog post is really a message for Sky; urging them to get on with rolling out Superfast Fibre Broadband to those half-forgotten rural areas as quickly as they can. Because Sky, as soon as you do, I’ll be on the phone to Darren in Sunny Dumfries, I’ll have the bottle of wine at the ready and I won’t even ask him to strike a deal with me.
And I hate BT.


Saturday, 19 October 2019

The True Horror of Halloween

I find it astounding that although I am someone who adores the heat, I always get to the point at the end of the Summer when I suddenly want to keep warm instead of trying to keep cool.
My annual hankering for leek and potato soup, shepherd’s pie, cosy socks and cashmere jumpers usually occurs in the first week of September when it is still too warm for any of those things but after a few weeks the chilly mornings and cool evenings are upon us, giving me the opportunity to wear my Ugg boots, scarf, pompom hat and wrist warmers.
The happy Summer memories of tiptoeing out of my house barefoot in my pyjamas every Sunday morning to give my horse some hay, have long gone. There are silken spider webs over the grass in the mornings, the Christmas sloe gin is made and the setting sun turns golden-orange before it slides behind the big Ash tree. There are swirling brown leaves and poor faded butterflies everywhere, the apples are dropping from the trees in my garden and the wasp nest that seems to be some sort of catacomb-type arrangement under my muckheap is less busy and therefore also less problematic.
Wet dishcloth horse (or Winky-Wonky as he is now known after his time at Equine Champneys last year) has had an upgrade to his wardrobe and to prolong the irritating clipping experience is wearing a thicker rug at night to prevent him becoming really hairy and his daily field diet is being supplemented with spun gold (hay).
The conkers are plummeting from the Horse Chestnut trees and the log basket in my lounge is constantly needing filled. We haven’t yet reached the dizzy heights of actually turning on the central heating but that’s because at the moment the price of a litre of kerosene is similar to that of a litre of Malt whisky.
So as we rattle on towards the October half term I thought I would share with you my thoughts on one of the most painful days of the year:
Prior to becoming Mum to Britney (Not her real name) I used to quite like Halloween. Living as I did in The Von Trapp Bottle Bank on Jollity Farm with 3 other houses and being what you might call “off the beaten track”, we used to have 3 children call to Trick or Treat us by prior arrangement. We applauded their scary outfits gave them a shiny fifty pence piece each, some Haribo and offered the accompanying parents a gin and tonic.
My next door neighbours, The Aigle Welly Wearer and the Feral Pheasant Feeder were also keen that the children enjoyed coming to “frighten” us at our homes and we used to create our own Halloween lanterns to display on our doorsteps to welcome the prearranged Trick or Treaters. Being Northumbrian, we shunned the idea of using pumpkins which are clearly American and used the traditional turnip to create our candle-lit masterpieces.
Scraping out the innards of a turnip is agony and we found that several razor-sharp knives, a very old sharp metal spoon, 2 bottles of Shiraz, a 6 pack of Fosters, a bottle of Southern Comfort and half a bottle of gin are required to remove the entrails from this stone-like vegetable. On one occasion after several hours of turnip cutting and scraping, the Feral Pheasant Feeder returned to the table with a teaspoon attached to a cordless drill and proceeded to remove the entrails of his turnip at high speed. Despite his wife protesting that she had just hoovered, this method worked exceptionally well and the pieces of turnip that didn’t attach themselves to the walls and ceiling were picked up and spat out by Brian, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
This sort of Halloween preparation and the act of Trick or Treating itself was a lovely thing, so it came as a bit of a shock when I first had to endure the type of Trick or Treating that the rest of the world is used to.
Britney attends a Primary school in a village 3 miles from where we live. As it is on the B-road coastal route through Northumberland many people drive through this village and must marvel at the pretty houses and the quaint school, with its own little field dotted with shrubs, wooden play equipment and basketball hoop.
On Halloween this pretty village with its own church, shop, pub, garage, hotel and Italian restaurant turns into the Village of the Damned.

In my day a Halloween costume consisted of either a sheet (ghost) a bin bag cape (bat) or a black pointy hat made out of black card (witch). There might even have been some dreadful facepaint crayons purchased especially for the occasion; the sort that rubbed off on your bin bag within a few minutes.
These days we have Harlequin Jesters, Voodoo dudes, Zombee Nurses, Twisted Clowns, Broken Dolls and Sadistic Scarecrows. I’m truly rather scared of these miniature fiends until I hear them speak and can then recognise who they are and what they looked like 3 hours earlier at the school gates.
The Trick or Treating begins when we meet at a designated house in the village and set off together like some enormous and intimidating religious sect. This manic sugar collection illuminated only by streetlights and glow sticks is always very organised for the first 20 minutes but then the colossal swarm of over excited and grievously dressed children cannot agree on whose abode to target next. From that moment there are quite literally gangs of children roaming the village with their plastic pumpkin buckets collecting everything from toffee apples, marshmallows, jelly sweets, packets of crisps, Club biscuits, oranges with googly eyes glued on to them and Kinder Egg toys.
I have to say this chaotic Trick or Treating can also have a very positive effect on some of the village residents. Gothic Niece always answers her door wearing her very best Samhain outfit brandishing a gigantic bowl of sweets and a smile. And some of the older inhabitants love seeing the children in costume and instead of keeping their curtains drawn and leaving a bowl of sweets on their doorstep, willingly open the door to offer confectionary. I will just add that some of the more mature citizens do recoil in horror after turning on their outside light and instead of seeing the expected ghost, bat and witch are faced with a baby Frankenstein, a Mad Scientist, a dog wearing a Beetlejuice costume and a Possessed Zombie Nurse.
Many times I have tried to tell Britney that as this Trick or Treating occurs in the dark there is no need to wear a different costume each year. Also as we live in Northumberland, Trick or Treating is always a very cold experience and a coat is worn over the top of the Halloween outfit. These words of wisdom always fall on completely deaf ears and the quest for the perfect Halloween begins as soon as the new school year begins. Britney has in fact already got her Trick or Treat costume on a hanger on the outside of her wardrobe so that she can look at it daily and has also started a Halloween countdown timer in case there is any risk that she misses the big day.
Amazon and Sainsbury’s must make an absolute fortune on their single use Halloween costumes. All are made from plastic and are clearly marked “sponge clean only” and everyone knows it is frankly impossible to remove marshmallow, dribbled chocolate, facepaint and a regurgitated cocktail of Refreshers and Parma Violets with a sponge.
Perhaps instead of just focusing on using paper straws, bags for life and shampoo bars, we should encourage our children to be ghosts, bats or witches as at least the white sheet donated to the Trick or Treat cause could be recycled as washable dusters and the bin bags could be used a car boot liners after football and cross country training.
Better still, instead of giving your child a pumpkin from which to carve their Halloween lantern, give them a turnip.
They’ll still be scraping the bloody thing out at Christmas.


Friday, 30 August 2019

Granny Was Here

You might have noticed that I haven’t blogged for months. And as I can no longer class myself as a blogger and my Instaphoto account consists of photographs of horse's ears and Northumbrian beaches; I cannot call myself a “Social Influencer” either.
So to fill a gap on my “Blog” I thought I would share a post that I wrote for a dear friend of mine a year ago. Her blog about mental health is now deleted but I am very proud of the post I wrote for her and thought I would share it with you. Because after all; we are mates. And I miss her blog very much:

Granny Was Here

This feels a bit strange this Guest Blogging malarkey. It’s like sitting at someone else’s desk and finding that the pens are in the wrong place but there’s a packet of chocolate HobNobs in the top drawer.
Now just to be absolutely clear, if you want to know where to buy the most fulfilling bottle of red wine for under £6 or how to make soup or toast, I have an understanding that is superior to most people. I know how to pour a fabulous gin and tonic that will quench your thirst and make you forget how your legs work, I can teach you how to ride a horse, calculate VAT from the gross amount and I am ruthlessly good at Snakes and Ladders; but when it comes to mental health, I know very little.
But I do know that my Granny was Bipolar.
Granny was born in 1908 and as a teenager was sent to stay with her cousins in Norfolk as her family thought she had Saint Vitus Dance. Back then, the name that was eventually given to her bouts of inconceivable energy and concise periods of exhaustion was Manic Depression. I much prefer the term Bipolar as Manic Depression sounds like a much more flippant term for what dominated my Granny’s life.
As a child I didn’t realise that there was anything wrong with Granny. Her house was full of many marvellous things that had been either purchased from various auction sales or retrieved from skips and bins. There were sofas, lamps, chairs, cookers, exercise bikes, tennis racquets, paintings and empty bird cages. There were stacks of mysterious bits and pieces that no longer had a purpose to serve in life and all these objects were stacked high in every room to form the most incredible tunnels and passageways for me to play in. The items were like towering skyscrapers and I recall most vividly once sitting in a swivelling armchair, pushing my foot against a tumble drier to spin myself around at tremendous speed.
To me, this was normal, this was just Granny and Grandad’s house. When we visited on a Sunday, sandwiches and hot tea were served by Grandad and a tube of sweets was dropped into my pocket for the journey home.
Granny would get to the point when she could no longer deal with the myriad of household goods jammed tightly into her home and the local Auction House would be called to clear the house enabling Granny to begin her white goods collection all over again. This is rather like going to a charity shop, buying a pair of jeans and then donating them back to the same shop the next day. You might say that I could have used the term “coals to Newcastle” but as they did actually live in Newcastle this term is more than a little ironic.
Of course the problem, was that the people who were destined to receive the things that Granny bought, didn’t actually want them because they were usually shit. She bought a car for my eldest brother who didn’t have a driving licence and at the age of 11 she bought me a clarinet. I didn’t play the clarinet but to be fair, I sharp learnt to play it and my friends were very jealous that I had my own instrument, made from wood and not a plastic edition that could be hired from school.
Granny bought fridges and freezers for people she hardly knew and beds, sideboards and sofas for people that she knew well. Once, the day after an auction sale a removal van drew up at Mum’s house. As the bloke opened the rear doors of the wagon, Mum enquired what was for her and he replied: “The whole lot, love”.
Granny had an allotment near her home where she spent a lot of her time. It wasn’t neat rows of vegetables and flowers, it was a tumble-down affair, with a shed that smelt of tobacco and leaf mould and many strange shaped tubs and pots standing around collecting rainwater. She grew raspberries and redcurrants and rhubarb under broken buckets. She grew peas and beans and sometimes the family were called to clear the overgrown vegetation when that also became too much for her.

Mum tells the story of Granny riding a moped almost 40 miles with carrier bags dangling from the handle bars to help her look after my 4 brothers and once she had a big win on the horses and gave Mum and Dad a present of some cash that was enough to pay off the bank loan they had taken to buy their car.
In her younger years she had worked as a nurse at the Psychiatric hospital, St Nicholas’ in Newcastle and later in life she capably and single-handedly ran a Guest House in the little village of Embleton on the Northumberland coast. Granny rolled her own cigarettes with her arthritic fingers and Old Holborn tobacco and sometimes she smoked a pipe. She liked a swift half of lager every now and again and she also liked the occasional flutter on the horses. She wore wellingtons, a trench coat and trilby and looked a bit like Ann Cleeves’ Vera; only 30 years older.
I was 17 when Granny and Grandad came to live with us and it was then that Granny stopped taking her medication. At first we laughed when we discovered that Granny had written “Granny was here” on a wall in the public toilets in the local town and when she pretended to have a heart attack when I said that I was going to tidy my bedroom. But as time progressed there was no humour to be found in the situation.
Many years earlier Granny had bought a caravan which was kept at our house. Obviously “on a high” as my Mum put it, she moved into this shed-on-wheels and was up all hours of the night tending to a vegetable patch that she had created on a rough piece of grass beside her new home. She was vile to my Mother and said the most horrible things. It took great strength from Mum but she eventually went and talked to our Doctor and Granny was sectioned.
It was one of the most horrible days. I’m sad to say now, that at the time I was secretly relieved that she was going. She had called me a kleptomaniac for borrowing her Sinead O’ Connor tape and not returning it. At that age, believing that I ruled the world and was the only important thing in it, I used get infuriated with Granny cheekily asking me if I couldn’t sleep when I rocked out of bed 11.30am.
But obviously my Mum was very distressed and it felt as though we were taking Granny’s dignity away. Saying that, Granny had a gargantuan sense of humour and as the Paramedic went to wrap a blanket around her shoulders to lead her to the waiting ambulance she asked him if he’d forgotten the straight-jacket.
Other family members became involved and decided that Granny’s behaviour had been caused by a urinary tract infection and upon her release from hospital allowed her to move back into the house that she still owned in Newcastle.
The rambling letters that followed from Granny to Mum were pages and pages long and were incredibly vindictive and aggressive. Mum was told that she had to remember that it was the illness and not her Mother saying these hurtful things to her. But as Mum said, it’s hard to remember that, when the illness looks and sounds exactly like your Mother.
A few years later we heard that Granny had been sectioned again and this time after a spell in hospital and with her medication in order, she was moved to a care home.
Mum and Dad visited her at least once a week for the remainder of Granny’s years.
I loved visiting her. Her sense of humour was still wicked and she once complained to me that the gorgeous silver plated cutlery in the dining room “must have been made in a ruddy shipyard”.
In this lovely home, Granny’s occasional smoking dwindled as you were only allowed to smoke outside. One day a lady sat down next to Granny in the garden and explained that she was only there for 2 weeks while her family were on holiday. “How long are you here for?” the lady asked.
“Until I die.” replied Granny calmly.
She used to take herself off to Gosforth High Street and return with her pockets full of betting slips. The ladies who took care of her, said they didn’t mind her going off into town at all, not even to Ladbrokes; as long as she let them know first, so they didn’t call the police.
Granny was very settled and happy in her home and whenever we went to visit she used to jam her walking stick in the front door to stop it locking her out so she could come and wave us off at our car. Sometimes we walked around the block so she could have a smoke, occasionally having to wait for her to rub the wet end of her badly rolled cigarette on someone’s garden wall to dry it out.
When all the residents were called for lunch there was an array of zimmer frames, wheelchairs and walking sticks used to move everyone to the dinner hall. Not Granny, she took the arm of the carer and walked smartly, she was 15 years older than some of her comrades and could still outdo them.
As she became more unsteady on her feet, the carers told her not to get out of bed during the night without one of them present. I don’t think Granny ever truly believed that any rules made applied to her and one night she fell and broke her hip. The broken joint was operated on but sadly she never made it out of hospital and back to the home. She was 98.
There was a colossal bunch of Lillies on the top of her coffin in honour of her name and Van Morrison’s Bright Side of the Road was played as we left the crematorium. It felt as though the old lady was tipping everyone a crafty wink.
A few years later I was pregnant with my daughter Britney (Not her real name) and was booked in for a caesarean as the baby was breech. Mum told me that Granny would have been so relieved as she too had endured a breech birth. Granny had known that her baby was breech and knew that it was going to be much harder work for her. This was in the 1940’s when there were few options for a Mother carrying a breech baby and Granny had suffered the loss of a child for which there was no counselling and no discussion.
We gave our daughter my Granny’s first name as her middle name and as a toddler at a family gathering I jokingly handed her a can of beer and told her to make herself useful. She tried briefly with her tiny little fingers to open the can then picked up a teaspoon and attempted to use it to lever open the ring pull. I had never seen anyone do this before, but it came as no surprise to learn that Granny used to open cans with a teaspoon.
I should have known that a personality as big as my Granny’s wasn’t going to disappear without leaving a trace somewhere.

I emailed my guest post to the Host Blogger at 10.28am on 11th April. She replied with a beautiful thank you and said that it was 3rd in line as she had other guest bloggers in the queue who had sent their pieces earlier and I should expect to see my piece on her blog in a few days.
And then at 5pm the Host Blogger emailed me again and reported that she was just getting my post ready and that it would be online in about an hour.
“Granny Was Here” had over 50 shares to Facetube from her blog which I thought was frankly amazing. But what’s more amazing is that I sent the link to the post to my Cousin who asked if I knew that the post had gone live on the anniversary of my Granny’s death.
I hadn’t realised. And when I told the Host Blogger, I asked her how I had managed to jump the queue of other guest posts.
She replied that throughout the afternoon after receiving my post she had the most overwhelming feeling that she had to post it on her blog immediately.
I have no explanation – except that perhaps I was correct; and Granny was here.


Monday, 11 March 2019

How to Enjoy a Staycation at Home

Last week, the weather in Northumberland was rubbish. We had been fooled into thinking that Spring had sprung by a few very mild days the week before; but last week was a compete return to Winter. Although we hadn’t had a proper downpour for quite a while and were in dire need of it, in my opinion 3 days of solid, perpetual and very heavy rain was overkill. And not content with attempting to drown us, Mother Nature also threw storm Freya out to play as well.
With the weather being so poor and any kind of equine-related activities being shelved in favour of sitting so close to the log burner that my cheeks turned red, I decided to waste most of my weekend browsing the internet for holiday destinations.
This is a complete and utter misuse of my time as after the purchase of my new car (I will blog about this once I have come to terms with the loss of the Widow Maker/Licence Taker) I only have enough money to book an overnight stay in a Travelodge in Berwick upon Tweed.
I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with the Berwick Travelodge. For a start it overlooks Morrison’s supermarket and Macdonald’s so you certainly won’t go hungry, but as it’s 30 miles from where I live and on the outskirts of a walled town that I frequent often; I can think of many places I would rather go to escape having to wash the dishes and pick up discarded clothes. 
The issue for us idiots who choose to live in the country with a menagerie, is that a house-sitter/cattery/kennels costs considerably more than the holiday itself. This is why most rural-loving people rarely, if ever go on holiday.
But for those of you reading this drivel who live 20 miles from the nearest pub, have no fear, for I have been thinking about this for a while and I think I have absolutely nailed the whole “Staycation” thing. Inspired by a blog post by the Farmer’s Wife and Mummy back in August, I began thinking of how I could turn my family home (draughty barn of a house) into something that resembled a Villa in Marbella. Admittedly some of these ideas might be better and more pleasant in the Summer months but if you’re really desperate for a break from the norm, go ahead and give them a try. Just a word of warning that you might want to start applying fake tan a week before you do this, so that you have a decent golden glow without the streaking effect that occurs when you’re in a rush.
So the first thing we need is heat and lots of it. Turn the heating onto constant and invest in some oil filled radiators. This might cost a few quid but it will still be cheaper than a package holiday for 4 to Turkey.
If possible, remove all of your carpets, paint the walls white and lay terracotta tiles throughout your house. Limit access to your wardrobe so you are forced to wash your underwear in the shower every few days and invest in a pair of either flip flops or espadrilles. Get your hair cut, paint your toenails, dig out your beach towel and buy a sarong for slipping on over your swimming costume. (You’ll need the sarong and the beach towel when the kerosene runs out from the heating being on 24 hours a day.)
You will need good food, really good food and wine (obviously). Lidl and Aldi are in actual fact very good for this as they stock stuff that you would usually only find in a Supermerkat in Spain. Treat yourself to olives, anchovies, peppers stuffed with cream cheese, artichokes in oil, salami made from god knows what, a tin of squid in its own gloopy black ink and a family-sized pizza. You must also buy some of those partially cooked baguettes that come in a plastic packet and last longer than a bottle of Vermouth. Then you can stick them in the oven for 10 minutes and pretend you have just bought them from the bakery that’s only a 5 minute walk from your villa. Aldi also sells those really shit crisps that you only get abroad so make sure you chuck all your Walkers crisps in the bin because you don’t want anything English to ruin this experience.
Unfortunately the wine in these budget supermarkets is not the same quality as a 2 Euro bottle of Rjoca in Sunny Spain but after the first bottle you’re hardly likely to notice anyway so get stocked up. Lidl usually have odd flavoured liqueurs for sale too, so ensure that you have 1 or 2 bottles that are so bright in colour they scream “E NUMBERS” very loudly when you unscrew the top. You will need these to create cocktails with that bottle of Tequila you won in a tombola back in 2014, when you’ve run out of wine.
If you’re serious about having a go at this “Jodhpurs Staycation”, buy a 12 foot inflatable pool from Argos. It will take 3 days to fill and will be cold enough to freeze the bollocks off someone from Alaska but it will look wonderful in your garden. Buy some inflatable flamingos to put in it and get the sun loungers out. To complete your Staycation patio you will need a table and chairs with an umbrella over it, a bag of sand from your local building merchant and a number of stray cats.

For a true holiday at home experience, you could always invite the local Young Farmers Club round. By the time they’ve drunk themselves stupid and have water bombed each other in the pool while you’re trying to read a magazine on your lounger, you really will feel as though you are on holiday in Magaluf.
If you’re only planning a short staycation, the pool will be fine with a good glug of bleach but if you are scheduling a staycation for every weekend then you’re going to have to invest in some pool chemicals and algaecide. Take it from someone who knows, no-one finds a green pool inviting. Not even shitfaced Young Farmers. On the upside, most pool starter kits supply enough chlorine to keep your pool sparkling clean for around 168 years.
I have found that using Deep Heat on my shoulders, legs and arms recreates the feeling of sunburn enormously well. A generous application will give you that burning, tingly sensation so that you feel as though you have spent a full day in the Mediterranean sun. It does however make you smell as though you have spent 20 minutes in the changing room at the local rugby club so to combat this, I suggest you invest in some scented candles and half a dozen incense sticks.
If you want to experience a party atmosphere on your staycation, simply take your sound system outside and leave it playing loudly all night. For added effect you could also arrange for some of your neighbours to ride mopeds past your house at 10 minute intervals until around 5 in the morning.
Luckily for me, one of Britney’s teachers is from Spain and for a case of Diet Coke she has agreed to come to my house and deliberately not understand my non-existent Spanish when I ask her to serve me a beer. Furthermore for an additional case of Diet Coke she says she will stare at me with a blank expression when I start speaking slowly and very loudly in English.
I also have a friend who is German and she has offered to call at my house and give me directions to the railway station when I ask. This is good, as the only German language I can remember from my GCSE is to ask how to get to the railway station. I have advised my German friend that she must tell me that the station is straight ahead and then on the first street on the left or I will not be able to understand her response. In fairness I can remember how to say “I don’t understand” in German but that will get me (and her) nowhere. Ironically in French, which is the language I studied for the longest, I can ask the way to the Tourist Information Centre. But as the nearest one to my house is 7 miles away and in a town that I visit once a week, it seems a bit pointless to ask where it is or even visit it; especially as I intend to stay in my house all week full of wine and smothered in fake tan.
So there you have it. The ultimate staycation for the cost of a quick trolley dash around Lidl that will cost you £11.32, a £40 inflatable over-ground pool from Argos and 400 quid’s worth of kerosene.
You can thank me later.


Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Having Goals and Scoring Them

Embleton Bay
A hundred years ago when I was at university, the double decker buses that traversed the city all had the slogan “Have Goals, You’ll Score Them” in 3 foot high letters on the side of them. I cannot for the life of me remember what this was advertising but I seem to remember that there was also a picture of Golden-Balls Beckham and a football at one end of the banner.
These days we’re always being told that we should have goals to aim for or a “Bucket List” and recently I started thinking about what my life goals should be. I might be a bit late to the party but I thought having some long term goals might give me something else to think about other than wondering how I am going to do everything that I have planned to do when there are only 24 hours in which to do it. These 24 hours obviously include the hours when I should be asleep. I am mightily fond of sleep which in itself seems a shame as it takes a colossal chunk out of the hours available to do stuff.
So on a daily basis, my goals seem to be mainly getting Britney (Not her real name) to school before they shut the door at quarter to nine and then getting to wherever I am meant to be that day no later than 5 minutes after I was supposed to be there; without wearing my slippers. Other daily goals include being showered and in my pyjamas by 9pm, hanging out the load of washing that I put in the machine 2 hours ago and remembering to brush my hair. Other goals of mine are to get to work without any particle of mud or cat/horse hair on me, being able to find my purse in my handbag and remembering my bag for life when I go to the shop.
Okay, if I am completely honest my “Bucket List” my real goals, are to ensure that Britney turns out to be a good and true human being who knows that bloody Minecraft and the Sims are a complete and utter waste of time; and for me to be the very proud owner of a little 3 and a half ton horsebox that would enable me and Wet Dishcloth Horse to go out and make very poor attempts at dressage and some dire and embarrassing efforts at jumping very small knock-downable fences in the form of showjumping. I also dream of being able to wrap Wet Dishcloth Horse’s legs in cotton wool, popping him in my little horse-van and taking him to my Vet’s clinic to have his teeth filed and for him to have his annual vaccination as this would save me approximately £34,547 a year. I could also trundle off on a Sunday morning for a ride along the beach without having to set aside half a day to hack over the 5 miles of fields and roads to get there. I have lovely day dreams of me and my horse-mobile and as it’s a dream not once do I have to take the equine-mobile to the garage for repairs, fill it with diesel or tax it. Dreams are good. Very good in fact.
However, when I actually and truthfully evaluated my goals/bucket list/pipe dream I discovered that my absolute goal is to have a perfect day at home; all on my own.
This would involve waking up at the usual time (about 7am) and crawling out of my warm bed into my drafty-barn-of-a-home to get dressed. Cold jeans and fleecy top donned, I would then go outside into the arctic air to muck out my horse and feed him. With his clothing changed, I would then put him out in the field and fill a haynet ready for him returning into his stable later that afternoon. After that (and remember, this is my perfect day so I wouldn’t have hit the snooze button on my phone that morning) I would return to the house to greet Other Half having his morning cup of tea, wake Britney (Not her real name) and get her breakfast ready.
Being the most perfect day, I would then have time to get myself a cup of tea (Sainsbury’s blackcurrant and blueberry fruit infusion), get changed and put on my make before sitting at the table in my kitchen and having a quick flick over social media. I’ll just point out that perfect day make up would be foundation, blusher, eye shadow, beautifully contoured eyebrows and perfect lashes. Not the usual manic facial attack with some bronzer that I bought in B&M Bargains, 2 enormous black caterpillars as eyebrows, a row of dots on my eye sockets because I blinked when my mascara was still wet and a quick application of a body Shop lip balm.
In my perfect day, I would have the money to run the Rayburn all the time, so it would be a cosy and pleasurable experience in my kitchen and there would be none of my customary moaning about being cold and searching for my Ugg boots.
In the perfect morning, Britney would appear downstairs ready for school with her hair and teeth perfectly brushed, joyously skip to the boiler room to put on her coat and shoes and would be rushing out the door ahead of me. This would be a stark contrast to the norm which is me sitting in the car revving the engine as she slavers out the door, hair sticking up in all directions, dragging her school bag along the ground behind her.
After the perfect school run which would entail me managing to dodge all the East Coast Mainline trains at the local level crossing, I would return home, wash the dishes in my immaculate (and cosy) kitchen, wash the tiles that the log burner stands on and quickly clean the bathroom. With tiles washed, house clean, washing on the line and in fact the washing basket completely empty, I would then take part in my most favourite part of my goal.
I would put on my pyjamas and with log burner roaring, I would recline on the sofa with a fluffy blanket over my feet and watch Dirty Dancing, Sliding Doors and Love Actually in quick succession. Hell, if there was time I would even watch Pretty Woman, Titanic, Four Weddings and a Funeral, International Velvet, The Bodyguard, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and all the Daniel Craig Jimmy Bond films as well.
In the total perfect, perfect day a chef would serve my lunch. And to be utterly honest I would not care a bit if he or she served me lobster, a pizza or a can of tepid Heinz vegetable soup with a spoon stuck in it.
When your idea of luxury is cleaning the bathroom whilst wearing a facemask, turning the heating on and plucking one eyebrow while you wait for the kettle to boil, someone making and serving your lunch is total decadence.
So yes Mr Beckham, you’re absolutely right because if you have goals you’ll score them. But we all have to live with some idea of realism and that is why my goal in life is for Britney to turn out okay and for me to have my horse-van because let’s face facts; the perfect day at home is never going to happen.
Not ever.


Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Boy and The Piano

Christmas is rapidly approaching.
I know this not just because the days are growing shorter and I’m a Geordie Get Me Out Of Here is on the television. I know this because the John Lewis Christmas advert was launched a few weeks ago and that to me signifies the onset of the Festive season.
I was snuggled in bed with a poorly Britney (Not her real name) on a Thursday morning a few weeks back and I watched the John Lewis advert on Twatter about 30 seconds after it had been released. If you have been living in a yurt in your garden and haven’t yet seen it, you can click here to watch it.
In previous years there has been a lonely man on the moon, a dog bouncing around on a trampoline and a Monster hiding under the bed, but this year the John Lewis advert shows Elton John reminiscing about his life. Elton is seen playing the piano at school, in a pub and performing in a stadium before we see a young Reginald Kenneth Dwight running down the stairs on Christmas morning and tearing the wrapping paper off a piano-shaped gift from his Mother and Grandmother; and John Lewis tells us that some gifts are more than just a gift.
There had been rumours on social media for some time that Elton was to star in one of the country’s favourite Christmas adverts and it is also rumoured that he was paid 5 million pounds to be in it. As I watched it, I just kept thinking that it was just really, really odd as I had been thinking about Elton John only a few days earlier.
Many, many moons ago I used to go on holiday every year to sunny Spain.
This annual pilgrimage to the home of Rioja and Cava always coincided with the schools’ October holiday as Music Teacher Friend wasn’t allowed to take her holidays during term time and it was her Uncle and Aunt who owned the apartment that we stayed in.
Casa Rioja was a wonderful ground floor apartment in a beautiful place called Calella De Palafrugell which is a coastal town in the province of Girona.

Calella is an hour and a half from Barcelona by car and when we first began going to Spain there were no direct flights from Newcastle to Girona (which is closer to Calella) or to Barcelona. Instead we had the option of flying from Newcastle to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Beijing, Beijing to Rio, Rio to Reykjavík, Reykjavik to East Midlands, East Midlands to Nice, Nice to New York, New York to Dublin, Dublin to Gatwick and then Gatwick to Barcelona.
Alternatively we could have flown from Newcastle to Gatwick, Gatwick to Montpellier, Montpellier to Manchester, Manchester to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Dubai, Dubai to Gibraltar, Gibraltar to Majorca, Majorca to Alicante, Alicante to the Isle of Man, the Isle of Man to Exeter, Exeter to Madrid, and from Madrid to Barcelona. With both of these options we would then have to charter a helicopter to fly us on to Girona and then hire a car to drive the 50 minutes to Calella.
The third alternative was that we could fly from Newcastle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Barcelona and then hop in our hire car. We obviously chose the latter as the shopping was far better at Heathrow compared to Gatport Airwick and Heathrow even had a small Harrods store to enable us to look at things that we couldn’t possibly afford while we were waiting to be called to the gate.
The first time we went to Calella we landed at Barcelona at around 7pm. We collected our hire car, drove around the airport and then went back to the parking space that we had recently vacated to wait for Pilates Friend who had flown in from Heathrow on a later flight. Music Teacher Friend then negotiated the 53 lanes of traffic through Barcelona with me reading directions from a small notebook that her parents had given to us, written on their last visit to Casa Rioja, detailing the journey we had to undertake to get to our home for the next 7 days.
Bizarrely after several visits to Casa Rioja we never did find the motorway with the toll booths on it. To this day we still have no idea how we found our way from Barcelona to Calella De Palafrugell in the dark and without paying 2 Euros for the privilege. The grown ups back home said that somehow we must have taken the old coast road instead of the new motorway every time we visited, despite the excellent directions that were given to us.
Anyway; I digress.
Calella De Palafrugell is a place where you go to experience true Spain and it should not to be confused with the commercialised resort of Calella which is further South and closer to Barcelona. There are very few expats in Calella De Palafrugell and most of the whitewashed houses in the town are empty during the week until the people who live and work in Barcelona arrive there for the weekend. During the winter there are only a handful of bars and restaurants open as that is enough to supply the demand. Back in the day, Bar Gelpi’s was the place to be for lunch. It was situated right next to the beach and served the most amazing Tapas and ice cold glasses of San Miguel, but in the evening the restaurant Les Voltes was our place of choice. It was much more expensive than anywhere else in the town but the food was fabulous and we always visited at least once during our visits to Calella.
Casa Rioja was in the El Golfet area of Calella on the outskirts of the town on the Cap Roig headland. El Golfet is a very quiet area and the only downside to having such a beautiful and tranquil area to stay in, is that the land rises steeply from the beach at Calella. This basically meant that walking back from Les Voltes in the evening after several bottles of wine and a couple of large vodkas each could prove problematic. The hill back to Casa Cava caused us many problems over the years. We collided with lampposts, cars, stray cats, garages and even Spanish people as we zigzagged across the roads and pavements and if our Catalan or Spanish had been any good we would have called a taxi.
If there had been such things in Calella De Palafrugell.
On our first trip to Casa Vino Tinto, we visited absolutely everything in the area. We went to immense ceramic-produced-goods outlets and bought everything from tapas dishes to garden ornaments. We went out in a glass bottomed boat at L’Estartit, we went to fabulous beaches and quaint towns and we even went to the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres. The Dali museum is incredible, from the Rainy Cadillac, to his mad self portraits with rashers of bacon on his face. Dali was an incredibly talented artist but was clearly as mad as a lorry. We spent the whole day at the museum muttering “He was seriously f***ed up” as we viewed every single piece of his art.
It was on our way back to Casa Vodka in the dark after a long day out at the Dali museum that we stopped at the telephone box on the hill to make a very quick call home to let our parents know that we hadn’t yet died from alcohol poisoning. As Pilates Friend took her turn to use the phone the threatening clouds that had been rolling overhead quite literally burst and Music Teacher Friend and I ran to our hired Renault Clio for shelter. There was a huge rumble of thunder as Pilates Friend jumped in the car and as we drove up the hill to Casa Sherry the rain was coming down so hard that Music Teacher Friend had the windscreen wipers on full welly. Pilates Friend had to shout over the noise of the rain on the car roof to make herself heard and pointed at 3 soaked and hunched people walking up the hill ahead of us.
“OFFER THEM A LIFT!” she yelled.
“IF THEY’RE ENGLISH WE’LL GIVE THEM A LIFT!” shouted Music Teacher Friend.
“THEY’RE BLOODY SOAKED JUST OFFER THEM A LIFT!” shouted Pilates Friend from the back seat.
The 2 women and their male friend were indeed English and extremely grateful for a lift. They told us that they were staying with a friend in one of the enormous Villas that were nestled into the countryside very near to our apartment and had decided to walk back from the town without realising exactly how far it was. The 3 of them had actually flown out from Heathrow on the same flight as Pilates Friend, which made us instantaneously realise that they couldn’t be axe murderers as they were able to talk about how bad the queues had been at security that day.
When we pulled up at the enormous gates in front of their Villa, Georgia, Victoria and Matt invited us in for a drink as a thank you for our taxi service and told Music Teacher Friend to park as near to the front door as she could as it was still raining heavily.
Georgia and Victoria were busy pouring drinks in a luxurious lounge when an agitated bloke walked in.
“Who the f***ing hell f***ing parked their f***ing car there?” he screamed adjusting his coloured spectacles and gesticulating furiously towards the door.
Music Teacher Friend slammed down her drink on the table and in her very best Teacher voice retorted: “Me.” before adding hotly “Because it’s raining and my hair goes frizzy if it gets wet.”
There was a long silence and then he began to laugh and replied that frizzy hair was never a good look.
After that, Elton John seemed to accept us as part of his crazy entourage and we had a tremendous evening. Not having eaten since lunch in Figueres the green coloured cocktails that Georgia and Victoria were creating were going down awfully well. So well in fact that Pilates Friend and I were eating olives and salami straight out of the fridge and Music Teacher Friend was asking Elton to play something on the baby grand piano. In fact as I remember it, she was asking him to play anything except for “that god awful rendition of Candle in The Wind because that was utter crap”.
As we left Villa Elton with the code for the gates written in pen on the back of all 6 of our hands (to enable us to collect the Clio the next morning), we invited our new found friends over to Casa Rioja the following evening. In reality we knew that we would never see them again and talked in very loud drunken voices into the early hours of the morning at Casa Vodka-and-some-fake-Baileys-we-found-in-the-cupboard-as-there-was-no-gin-or-wine-or-mixers-left about what an extreme experience we had just had.
The next morning we woke late with sore heads, collected the Clio from Villa Elton and talked all the way to the local Supermercat about the previous evening, trying to decide if it had all been a dream.
That night Music Teacher Friend created the most gorgeous Botifarra and we relaxed on the candle lit patio at Casa Sangria with soft music playing and the smell and sound of the Mediterranean Sea wafting around us.
And there was a knock at the door.
Initially I think Georgia and Matt were marginally more scared than we were when we opened the door brandishing a steak mallet, an empty wine bottle and a set of barbeque tongs for protection.
Elton took one mouthful of the Rioja that Pilates Friend poured for him and immediately sent Matt back to Villa Enormous for Champagne. Matt duly returned 10 minutes later with a case of Bollinger and Elton seemed happy enough for the rest of the evening, sitting on a window seat in our turret lounge in his tracksuit bottoms and Watford FC top, sipping his Champagne from the one Champagne flute that remained intact after my ambitious attempt at a Cava fountain earlier in the week.
But I know what you are thinking.
You’re thinking: Is it really true? Is it really true that you, Music Teacher Friend and Pilates Friend drank Bollinger out of pint glasses while Elton John and his followers argued over which of your CDs they were going to play next?

Of course it’s not.
In the same way that little Reg Dwight didn’t receive a piano for Christmas from his Mum and Granny.
But let’s face it, there’s no point in a small untruth getting in the way of a damn good story.

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