Five Go On a New Year’s Adventure

Five Go On a New Year’s Adventure

As a writer, I usually find that life provides me with all the inspiration I need. New Year’s Eve was no exception …

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It is time to get the train to Milton Keynes for New Year’s Eve with Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny.

“Have you got everything children?” asks Mother.

“Yes I think so,” replies Georgie, the eldest daughter, and contrary to literary expectation, the Sensible One.

“Would you like to have a name for this adventure?” asks Georgie. “You must be bored of ‘Mother’ after 20 or so books.”

“Oh darling! That would be super. Any ideas?” replies Mother.

“Maman! Nobody says ‘super’ anymore. That’s really old-fashioned,” exclaims Anne, the younger daughter.

Mother frowns. “Well what should I say then, I’m really out-of-touch as I’ve lived in France so long?”

Anne smooths her chestnut hair back into its bun. ” Well David says people his age describe things that are really great as “sick”. But I don’t understand. Les Anglais sont fous!” she replies reverting to her native French.

Mother ‘s eyebrows shoot up. “Really! Well they must be crazy. Come on then, what names do you like?”

“I like flower names,” says Georgie. “How about Rose? That’s really pretty.”

“Rose it is then,” says Mother happily

Four suitcases and four bulging backpacks are lined up in their grandparents’ hall. They are staying several days and have Christmas presents to deliver too, which they have brought all the way from their house in deepest rural France.

“Let’s go then,” says Rose, picking up the bag with the sandwiches and ginger beer and leading the way down the village street to the tiny station.

Her three children, Georgie, Anne and Little Timmy follow. They are excited at the prospect of seeing their cousins Julian and David, as they haven’t met up since Fanny brought them out for a visit in May. (Are you wondering what’s happened to Dick? Just remember it’s 2018…)

Fanny’s friend Darrell will also be there and her daughter Felicity who they haven’t seen since that crazy week in Wales two and a half years earlier. Felicity is now a demi-god, in other words A Teen, and Georgie and Anne are hoping for some make-up tips and a go on that most hallowed of objects: The Mobile.

Rose has decreed that such gadgets are bad for children and so far they haven’t managed to persuade her otherwise. Fanny admires her sister Rose’s principles and wishes she had stuck to her guns as The Rot has definitely taken root in her house.

Darrell is far too mature for her old Mallory Towers chum’s japes now she has reached her half century and accepted Fanny’s invitation a fortnight ago to join the fun and games in Milton Keynes. She does wish that dear Fanny would stop winding her up at every opportunity about How Old She Is though. What fun she will have in 18 months when it is Fanny’s turn!

“Fanny is allowing us to stay up until midnight and drink champagne,” Anne says as they board the slow train chugging its way through the Kent countryside and up to London. “What fun we are going to have.”

“And there will be fireworks!” exclaims Little Timmy bouncing in his seat.

“Mother, how tall is Julian now?” asks Georgie.

“I don’t know exactly,” Rose replies, “But Fanny says he is much taller than her and he has a very deep voice.” Julian is also A Teen and has grown so much in the last year he is always wearing trousers that are too short for him and being clumsy.

“He must be huge!” thinks Little Timmy. He can’t really understand how Julian can be so large and still be a child. As long as his cousin plays with him though, that’s all that matters. Timmy can’t wait to use Julian and David’s vast collection of nerf guns so he can terrorise his sisters even more. As the youngest and a boy, it is his solemn duty.

Little Timmy is also looking forward to seeing his aunt and uncle’s dogs, Callum and Princess Penny. After all in these adventures he usually is a dog, so he has a special affinity towards them and is going to make sure they have lots of kisses and cuddles.

Cal & Pen nose to nose

Princess Penny & Callum

“Now children, the train takes an hour to get to London. What are you going to do?” enquires Rose.

“Let’s play cards,” says Georgie getting a pack out.

After a brief negotiation, the children decide on a game and Rose gets out her book with a sigh of relief.

***

Rose is worried about negotiating the Underground with the children and all their luggage but everything goes smoothly and they arrive at Euston for the next stage of their journey. They decide to get an inter-city train going to Manchester as the first stop is Milton Keynes and the journey will be short.

After a tedious 30-minute delay, the train pulls out of the station and the children settle down to another game of cards.

***

The train arrives at Milton Keynes and some passengers begin to get off. But Rose is engrossed in her book and at first doesn’t realise what is happening. When she does, it is nearly too late and panic sets in.

“Quick children, we’ve arrived. Grab your cases and get off the train!” she shrieks.

She hurries towards the exit just as the door is closing and rams her case in the gap to stop it. A guard gives her a disapproving look but she ignores him.

Everyone gets off and Rose turns to go up the stairs.

“Mother, where is Little Timmy?” asks Georgie worriedly.

Rose looks around wildly and to her horror realises he is still on the train.

“Timmy, get off the train now!” she yells at him.

Little Timmy leaps off the train just as the doors are closing for the second time. Seeing he is trying not to cry, Rose gives him a big hug.

“Timmy where is your bag with your robot in?” Anne asks earnestly.

“I don’t know,” says Little Timmy his bottom lip trembling.

Rose realises with a sinking feeling that he has left it on the train, which has disappeared into the distance.

Hearing the consternation in the children’s voices, the guard turns to Rose and says rather archly, “What’s the matter? Have you left someone else on the train?”

Rose resists the urge to give him the finger and instead paints on a smile and says it is only a bag this time.

Poor Timmy is forlorn. Mother spent all morning constructing the robot for him and now he has left it on the train. He wipes away a tear and follows everyone up the stairs.

There is Quentin at the barrier and Rose explains about the lost present and asks if he thinks they can get it back. Quentin points her in the direction of one of the station staff who kindly says he radio the guard on the train and ask him to look for it and return it to Milton Keynes station so Rose can collect it. All they can do is hope for the best.

***

Soon they arrive at Quentin and Fanny’s house. The children greet one another joyously and decide that what they need to do right now is have a riotous game of Forty Forty In, followed by Sardines. After all, the grown-ups won’t mind and it would be simply rude not to in such a large house. They pound upstairs with the dogs bouncing after them barking excitedly.

Thoroughly traumatised by the events at the station, Quentin retreats to his favourite chair in the living room. He decides this is to be a Three Screen Night and promptly switches on the TV, opens his laptop and turns on his mobile. Fanny wisely says nothing and gives him a bottle of his favourite cider. It is New Year’s Eve after all and she has the company of two women who love to chat.

She returns to the kitchen where Darrell and Rose are already deep in conversation.

Giving her younger sister a hug, she offers her a glass of wine.

“Yes I think I need one after that,” says Rose accepting a large one gratefully.

Darrell, Fanny and Rose settle round the kitchen table for a good chinwag and the conversation grows steadily louder and the laughter more frequent as everyone relaxes.

The peace is rudely shattered by Little Timmy’s cries from upstairs and Rose climbs up to the attic to investigate.

Shortly afterwards, she arrives in the kitchen clutching two cream duvet covers.

“I’m afraid Little Timmy got Princess Penny too excited and she peed all over the beds,” she says apologetically.

“Never mind,” replies Fanny more brightly than she feels and puts them straight in the washing machine. She prises Quentin out of his chair and commands him to find two fresh covers. He gets up obediently and heads upstairs followed by Rose who is hoping to get the stains out of the duvets with some wet wipes.

“Fat chance” thinks Fanny.

Sure enough, Quentin comes back down with them and shows her the bright yellow stains.

“Just add it to the pile,” instructs Fanny. Sure she has nothing better to do on New Year’s Eve than wash piles of pee-sodden items. It’s not like this is supposed to be a party or anything!

***

Despite imbibing several glasses of wine, the women manage to put all the party food successfully on the table and the children descend and devour large quantities of it and pull all the party poppers. The floor is littered with brightly coloured stars but Fanny is surprised to find that her neat freak tendencies have been dulled by the alcohol and for once has no urge to brush them up, thinking instead that they look really pretty.

Quentin decides it is time for the children to Calm Down and suggests they watch a film together. He patiently finds one they all agree on and then continues watching YouTube and playing Clash of Clans on his mobile.

Grateful for the peace, Fanny pours herself another glass of red wine and then promptly knocks it all over the tablecloth and down the wall.

“Shit!” she giggles drunkenly and shoves a dog towel underneath to soak it up.

She realises she is in no fit state to change the cloth and leaves it for the morning. Besides, the dirty washing pile barely fits in the utility room anymore and is sneaking into the kitchen. What is the point in adding to it?

Rose and Darrell obliging clean the floor and the three women decide they should have a game of Scrabble.

***

The board is laid and the friends choose their tiles. Fanny puts hers on the rack and dissolves into giggles. She has managed to pick up 6 vowels and an L.

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Fanny’s disastrous Scrabble tiles

Now Darrell happens to be a Demon Scrabble Player and after losing countless times, Fanny thinks it is time to even up the odds. She glances over and sees that Darrell has the Q, Z, V, Y, two other consonants and one vowel.

“That is so typical,” she thinks.

It would be rude to take the highest scoring tiles, so she takes the V and Y before Darrell can stop her and gives her an E and U instead.

“Look, I’ll take these tiles and I’ll give you these instead,” says Fanny naughtily.

“I don’t really want an E can I have an A?” asks Darrell meekly, so shocked by her friend’s behaviour she can’t think of a suitable retort.

Fanny obliges and play begins.

Despite playing well and scoring 51 on a triple word score, Fanny still loses. She would have come even further behind but Darrell has been undone by the superior racks with their pegs for scoring like cribbage. She keeps moving the units peg forward instead of the twenties and has therefore lost a great deal of points.

Fanny can’t help but wind her up about this and vaguely wonders what form Darrell’s revenge will take.

At long last midnight arrives, the champagne corks pop and they all look at the fireworks out of the bedroom windows. Very soon after that everyone is asleep.

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***

Well not quite everyone. Fanny is still awake because Quentin is lying flat on his back and snoring loudly as if his life depended on it.

“Fuck!” mumbles Fanny under her breath.

She tries to get him to turn over. No luck. Resisting the urge to slap him, she strokes his face instead. He barely pauses for breath.

Gloomily Fanny runs through her options. Usually she would retreat to the peace of the spare room but Rose is using it and Little Timmy is asleep on the floor on a futon.

The office then? Nope. Georgie and Anne are occupying both beds.

David is sleeping in his bedroom and so is Julian, with the addition of Felicity who is curled up on a futon on his floor.

The playroom is also out of bounds because Darrell is in there on her blow-up bed.

Fanny contemplates the sofa but instantly dismisses the idea. Nobody ever sleeps comfortably on one and anyway she has completely run out of covers thanks to Princess Penny.

Cursing, she stomps angrily to the bathroom and shoves some toilet roll in both ears. It dulls the sound just enough so she can fall asleep.

***

The next morning, after everyone has eaten breakfast and drunk too much coffee, the grown-ups decide they should get some fresh air and take the dogs for a walk.

Trying to organise six children to get dressed and ready, never mind persuading them to come along is too much to contemplate, especially for Fanny, who is still hungover.  Instead, The Teens are given strict instructions about looking after the younger ones.

“Where shall we go?” says Quentin.

“The farmhouse,” replies Fanny firmly.

“Are you sure it isn’t too muddy?” asks Quentin doubtfully.

“I went up there the other day, it was fine,” Fanny says reassuringly.

They  put on their wellies, wrap themselves in coats, hats and scarves and set off, Callum and Princess Penny pulling eagerly at their leads. After ten minutes, they arrive at the track on the edge of the woods: it has disappeared under a sea of mud.

“Bugger, this was a mistake,” thinks Fanny but it is too late to turn back now.

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The muddy track

They flounder along the muddy track sliding all over the place, stumble along the edge of an uneven field and through the abandoned farmhouse gate which leads to many more fields and some woods. Thankfully the going gets easier and Fanny breathes a sigh of relief: the worst part is over.

She doesn’t notice the rain beginning to fall or the massive black cloud heading rapidly towards them because she is too busy chatting to Darrell and Rose. Quentin is striding ahead as he always does and is soon out of earshot.

By the time they get to the grassy path that heads in the direction of home, it is raining hard and the wind is flinging it in their faces.

Fanny yells at Quentin and indicates that the women are going to loop back home. He raises his thumb and disappears into the distance, Callum and Princess Penny trotting alongside him.

“I can’t believe he’s going on,” says Fanny. “Let’s get home girls.”

As they head along the hedgerow, the weather gets worse. Hail stings their faces as they battle against the wind, getting wetter and wetter by the second.

Once they reach the edge of the wood, they have a choice: to climb steeply up the big cornfield to the track or head into the woods and wind their way around the edge and end up on the same path.

They decide to go through the woods, as it will be far less muddy and maybe give them a bit of shelter. By now everyone is cold. Their trousers are clinging to their legs making them cold and uncomfortable. Hair that isn’t under a hat is stuck to their cheeks and the rain is starting to seep through their coats.

Rose leads the way and silence falls as the three women concentrate on negotiating the maze of brambles and fallen branches that litter the floor of the wood. After 15 minutes of concerted effort they finally push through the trees and onto the track.

“Thank God we haven’t got the kids with us,” says Darrell. “Can you imagine the complaints?”

“We’d never hear the end of it,” Fanny says, laughing slightly hysterically.

“Mine would have moaned all the way round!” Rose exclaims.

Glad to be back on flat ground the friends walk quickly towards home.

When they are almost back, Fanny rings Julian and tells him they are all soaking wet and the children must help on their return by providing dry clothes and hot drinks. Julian promises to organise them and Fanny, Darrell and Rose are cheered by the thought of sitting by the fire and drying off.

Just as the women approach the house, they are astonished to see Quentin’s red raincoat disappearing through the door.

“How the hell did he beat us to it?” asks Darrell. “He went a much longer route than us!”

“You know he walks twice as fast as everyone else,” Fanny replies.

“Even so…” says Darrell shaking her head.

The children rush to the door with towels to wrap around the dogs and dry trousers and socks for their mothers. The women strip right there in the hall they are so chilled and the children obligingly drape all the wet clothes over the radiators and on the backs of chairs.

Nobody thought to ask Quentin if he wanted dry clothes, so he slopes upstairs to change and gets his revenge by dumping all his wet stuff in the washing basket where it ferments merrily for a few days.

David proudly makes four cups of coffee for the grown-ups and pokes his tongue out at Julian because he told everyone his brother had no idea how to make it, in that supercilious tone that teenagers worldwide have perfected

***

After the women spend a couple of hours of relaxing in front of the fire, thawing out their legs and feet, Darrell rouses herself and announces that she really ought to drive home as she has the dreaded work the next day.

Fanny and Rose are downcast until they remember that somehow in all the mayhem last night, they got out their diaries and agreed that in August, Fanny, Darrell and the children would take the train all the way down to Rose’s house in the south of France for a week.

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View from Rose’s village

“Hurrah!” they cry. “We’ll have another week of jolly japes and unexpected mishaps.”

“Sunshine and swimming!”

“Canoeing down the river!”

“Olives at the market and walking up Les Trois Becs!”

“Card games and Scrabble!”

“Lots of wine!”

But we promise not leave anyone on the train!

B is for Brač

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Village harbour and church

 

The Croatian coastline is speckled with over a thousand islands; little green, wooded jewels in the bright blue sea, some inhabited, some not. In summer, brilliant white yachts tack between them; day trippers trailing their feet languidly into the sea, basking in the sunshine.

On our first visit to Croatia, four years ago, we explored these enchanting islands from our base on the mainland and discovered a relaxed, unhurried pace of life. The wooded landscapes dotted with ancient towns and the clear blue water utterly seduced us and we decided to stay on one of them next time we came.

Two years later, I found a little cottage to rent in a fishing village on Brač, an island near Split. It looked idyllic but was it going to live up to expectation?

Driving off the ferry, we followed the signs uphill out of the port and drove west through a landscape of olive groves and farms. Fruit trees grew in abundance and a purple rash of bougainvillea spread along many walls. Surprisingly, there were piles of white stones poking out of the ground everywhere.

Brač is famous for its limestone and there is still a working quarry on the island. The Diocletian’s Palace in Split is built out of it and Croatians claim it was used to construct the White House.

We turned off the main road into our village and drove down to the harbour. Looking at the narrow lane winding its way perilously close to the sea and crowded with shops and restaurants, John asked, quite reasonably, “Are you sure we can drive along here?”

I looked at my detailed printed instructions, “Yes. Just go slowly. We’ll be fine.”

He made his way hesitantly past the harbour, fishing boats rocking gently, some small shops, a tall church spire and a restaurant with tables and chairs set out by the sea. Inches to our right, was the Adriatic, where children were playing and men fishing.

Then, a beach and a small bar with a spacious balcony perched over the sea: our local for the next fortnight.

“Turn left, our cottage is up here,” I instructed.

John turned up a narrow lane and there was our cottage, an old fisherman’s place with white walls and green shutters, its little garden holding a magnificent fig tree.

Flagging in the sweltering heat, we dragged our suitcases out of the car.

“Who’s coming for a swim?” I asked.

The boys perked up and flung everything on the floor in their rush to find their trunks. We walked back down the lane and dived into the sea.

Floating on my back in the warm water I smiled. In front of me the sea stretched all the way to Split, just visible below the mountains, behind me the village clung to the hillside, colours vibrant in the hot sun.  In the distance, the little coast road disappeared over the horizon, meandering past tiny coves and pine forest, enticing me ever onwards …

 

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Biastrica beach at the end of the lane

A is for Awakening

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My writing/inspiration/motivation has been in one of those periodic ruts that affect creative people. Last night I came up with a plan to get out of it: writing 26 pieces of creative non-fiction, one for each letter of the alphabet. Here is today’s musing :

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Two years ago a friend nagged me relentlessly about going on a personal development course. Every time I spoke to him on the phone, he mentioned it and told me how much he’d benefited from it. Eventually I gave in and booked a place just to shut him up. What harm could come from going?

It turned out to be three of the most uncomfortable days of my life and the repercussions are still affecting me. As I listened to other people go up to the microphone and unburden themselves of terrible secrets – abuse, bullying, affairs, regrets – thoughts long buried slowly percolated to the surface of my mind. My one overriding realisation was how unfulfilled my life was.

As I sat in the white-walled lecture room it dawned on me I’d spent the last decade sleep-walking through my life and completely lost sight of who I was. It was an endless cycle of childcare and domestic matters which I could do with my eyes closed and used about a tenth of my brain power. And if I didn’t do something about it now, I would become stuck in a prison of my own making, never able to break free. Now I’d voiced this feeling there could be no returning to my old life.

By this time I’d been writing for about a year but it took doing the course and its follow-up to restore my self-confidence enough for me to sign on to the journalism course I’m halfway through and to teach me to believe in myself.

And when I hit a bump in the road now, I remember the most important lesson I took away with me: words are easy, action is hard but in the end only action will move you forward, so take it.

For the Love of a Dog

A friend of mine lost her beloved dog yesterday.

“Why are animals such an important part of our lives?” she asked me.

“They become part of the family, give us unconditional love and de-stress us,” I replied.

I got to thinking about the death of my little dog nearly three years ago and sat down and wrote something about it. 

********

You lie on your bed sleeping peacefully, wrapped in a blanket for warmth, only your little black and grey head peeping out. The door bells rings and I answer with a heavy heart; it’s better you don’t know that these are your last moments on earth.

The final two years of your life have been hard as you’ve slowly declined and we’ve become your carers, nursing you from this day to the next. One afternoon, not long after Christmas, you started being sick and kept falling over. I thought you’d had a stroke but no it was vestibular syndrome, which affects your balance. Once you’d recovered, your little grizzled head had a slight tilt to it but otherwise no-one could tell you’d been ill.

I asked the vet straight out what your prognosis was; it’s better to know the truth about such things, even if they’re hard to hear. He was direct, “eventually it will kill her, from now on it’s about her quality of life.” It was sobering news.

Long walks were replaced with short ones and then disappeared altogether as your arthritis got worse and worse and you panted in pain. We visited the vet again and he adjusted your medication. Your circulation became poor and you would often shiver uncontrollably. When that happened I’d wrap you in a blanket and sit you on my lap until you stopped.

The next symptom of increasing age was senility: always a very clean dog, you started forgetting that you had to go outside to go to the toilet and would poo on the floor instead. If I told you off you just looked bemused, so after the first few times, I just quietly cleaned up the mess and worried that it would get worse.

Of course it did and after several stressful weeks of you weeing everywhere we started putting dog nappies on you and I moved your bed downstairs into the kitchen, where the tiled floor was much easier to clean than carpet.

And all the while vestibular syndrome lurked in the background, waiting to pounce whenever it had the opportunity. You had frequent mini episodes and with every one declined that little bit more. Sometimes, you would fall over flat on your side and I would pick you up and cradle you until you could stand again. One attack left you with the inability to walk straight; instead you had a strange crab-like gait from then on.

Visits to the vet became more and more frequent as I agonised over your quality of life and wondered whether I was being cruel or kind. Dogs are far more stoic than humans and despite all you medical problems you still enjoyed a little sniff round the garden and a cuddle on the sofa and two years after the first vestibular attack you were still with us.

But one morning you couldn’t get out of bed; during the night, one of your back legs had become paralyzed. It hung uselessly at a strange angle and you couldn’t stand up. My husband and I looked at one another: enough was enough. “I’ll call the vet,” I said sadly “and ask him to come over.”

So this morning, two vets in maroon uniform have come quietly to our house to end your suffering. I move your bed into the living room and keep you comfortable. We all sit round stroking you while the vet inserts a needle into you paw. Within seconds the chemicals have stopped your heart and you’re no more.

“She’s gone,” the vet says solemnly checking for a pulse. My eldest son bursts into tears and I wrap him in my arms, my tears mingling with his. The vet picks you up, your little head flopping peacefully out of the blanket, and leaves. Tension and worry swap places with sadness and relief.

We let the puppy out of the kitchen, put on some shoes and take him for a walk in the woods. Your long life with us is finally over but ours must continue.

 

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Beautiful Sophie who lived until she was 16

Is World Book Day a Waste of Time?

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Where’s Wally?

After a decade of being a school parent and at the risk of sounding like a party pooper, I have a confession: World Book Day stresses me out and I think the real purpose of it is being lost.

In the beginning, it was fun to think of who to dress up as and assemble a costume for my kids, but now I have to make my 10-year-old wear one, with the threat that everyone else in the class is doing it, so he must.

In reality, most kids raid their dressing up box and put on their favourite costume; a Disney Princess for girls or Spiderman for boys. But what have comic /film characters got to do with decent kids books? Very little. And I’m sorry but wearing a costume doesn’t encourage children to pick up a book. Most parents don’t have the time or the money to make or buy a new costume every year, so they let them do it. My household is no different, except superhero costumes have been deemed too babyish for many years.

The depressing fact is that this day has become totally commercialised, with companies vying to provide you with costumes for your little cherub at over inflated prices. Plenty of people buy them too; they feel they have to so their kid doesn’t miss out. And I’ve heard that smug parents in solidly middle class areas compete to see who can sew the best outfit. Isn’t all this emphasis on what your child looks like rather missing the point? How about spending money on actual books instead!

My son’s junior school does do some good book related activities, like a book swap and cushion and a clue, where the children wrap up a book so the title is hidden and then bring in some clues so that other children can guess the title. So why not make these the focus of the day and add in story telling and creative writing, rather than stressing out parents and a lot of children by wanting them to dress up too?

I have two boys. The teen is an avid reader and has been ever since he learnt to read. The pre-teen is the polar opposite; he’d rather do anything than get out a book. Yet they have both been brought up exactly the same: read to at bedtime since they were babies, given a variety of books to read and encouraged at every opportunity. They’ve also watched their parents reading every day; all the things the experts tell us to do if we want our children to be life long readers. It frustrates us no end that he isn’t interested but putting on our well-used Harry Potter outfit this morning, won’t make any difference.

I’m sorry if you feel differently but I’m looking forward to World Book Day next year when we’ll take part in this pointless dressing up exercise for the last time. In the meantime I’m going to be thinking of how to deal with the real issue; getting my son to read.

The joy of flash fiction

Recently I have discovered the genre of flash fiction. I particularly like the category of creative non-fiction, where you re-imagine an actual event. Usually you have a tight word count, say 500 words, and at first I found this really difficult but now I like the challenge and I think it’s improving my writing and editing skills. Why use 5 words when 1 will do?

Here is a story I wrote today about that moment 30 years ago when Mum and Dad took me to Liverpool University, said goodbye and left me in my room all alone…

Liverpool's famous waterfront skyline

Ilona

On an overcast October day, there is an unusual amount of activity in Chapel Street because it’s time for my parents to take me to university.

Liverpool will be my home for the next three years, while I study geography and prehistoric archaeology. A large, bustling, grimy city, it couldn’t be more different to the reserved village I grew up in, where there is one bus on a Sunday and even the neighbourhood cats have nothing to do.

I prepare myself for this adventure eagerly, going into town to buy some new clothes: denim jacket, jeans, a couple of stretchy mini-skirts and some red leather ankle boots. Then I childishly label all my new stationery and books with my name and room number and get my hair cut.

Dad gives me his late mother’s trunk. Light brown, with bands of reinforcing leather, it’s slightly squashed at one end where it was stored upright in Maggie’s garden shed for decades, and covered in labels from long ago trips to European destinations. I love it instantly and fill it with my clothes and bedding. A new kettle and mug set that work colleagues have given me are also packed, along with my books and rickety bike. I’m ready.

We climb into the blue and white camper van and set off along the motorway. Arriving at the leafy campus hours later, the first thing Dad does is haul a yellow box of apples out of his van that came from work and look for someone to give them to. Spotting a second year student called Jez, he walks over and asks if he’d like them.

Jez is unfazed by this unexpected question and accepts Dad’s gift, saying “Yeah they’ll eat,” while I cringe and avert my eyes.

My room is on the top floor and we struggle up several flights of stairs with my luggage. Single bed, desk, chair and sink make up its utilitarian furnishings and the walls are scuffed. But the sun shines through the double doors which look out onto the leafy quad and it quickly becomes home.

Mum and I unpack and then she keeps asking me if she can do anything else. I say no repeatedly and finally realise that she doesn’t want to leave.

“I think it’s time you left. Supper will be on soon and I need to go to the dining hall,” I say impatiently.

We hug. Mum sheds some tears, Dad looks sad and then they’re gone.

Feeling tense and wanting to get the first hurdle over, I persuade myself to go downstairs. “Come on! You’ve been desperate to leave home for months. This is your chance to start again,” I tell myself.

I brush my hair, grab my handbag and lock my door. As I make my way to the stairs, another door opens and a slim blonde girl walks out. We exchange hesitant glances and then introduce ourselves. Her name is Ilona and she becomes my first friend.

THE “I’M DOING IT” CONVERSATION

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Our teen

We have a pretty good teen on the whole. He walks the dogs on his own, pops to the shop for me when I’ve forgotten something for tea, lays the table and is very concerned about politics and the environment. But he is 13.

This morning I was sitting in bed reading another blog about parenting and laughed out loud. My other half wandered out of the bathroom and asked why.

“I’m reading a post on Facebook about a teen who never answers his mother when called and then swears blind that he did,” I said. He smiled and said, “Well our version is the ‘I’m doing it conversation’.”

Let me enlighten you…

Several times a day, I’ll call up the stairs and ask our teen, who spends most of his time in his bedroom, to do something.

Me: “Can you get in the shower please.”

Teen: “OK Mum.”

Five minutes later not having heard any movement I’ll climb the stairs to his room, suspecting that he’s engrossed on his phone or reading a book and not doing what I asked.

I open the door to find him lying on the sofa.

Me: “Why haven’t you got in the shower?”

Teen: “I’m doing it!” in an aggrieved tone.

Me, through gritted teeth: “No you’re not, you’re lying on the sofa looking at YouTube/reading your book.”

Teen: “Well, I’m doing it now!” picking up his phone/book and retreating again.

Me, in a stressed tone: “Come on, give me your phone/put the book down and go do it.”

Teen with his best flounce and putting down the offending article: “OK”

Objective achieved I retreat to the kitchen, grumbling under my breath. I wouldn’t mind so much if this was an occasional occurrence but this conversation plays on a loop all week and then when we get to Monday morning, oh joy, it starts all over again.

It isn’t only mine I know, teens all over the world do this as part of the letting go process. But it would be nice if, for once, the teen did things the first time of asking; there would be less stress all round.

Whenever I see parents with small children, I come over all nostalgic and think “You don’t know how easy you have it!”