Parenting, profundities and humour

On the Slow Train to Nowhere — May 19, 2017

On the Slow Train to Nowhere

This weekend I am escaping.

I love my family dearly. But like all jobs one occasionally needs a holiday. I think it may be getting on for two years since I last went away without any of them. It’s due.

And so I am travelling up to Sheffield, the city of my university, to spend a weekend without kids and husband. And chores. And football. And the Cub Scout bridge walk. At which it always rains.

Normally I can’t get away on these weekends (which I would like to say have been a regular fixture but really can’t as the last one was 2 years ago) until I have finished pitch side duties around Saturday lunch time. This time the football gods had given me a reprieve and Youngest had no fixture on the weekend. (She is planning to make up for it exercise wise by running the bridge walk in an attempt to cross off all 80 slots on her sponsorship form. I am somewhat regretting my 50p a bridge pledge).

As such I am leaving on Friday. Today in fact.

Last time I got away on Friday (probably about 5 years ago) I sat on the M1 for a good 4 hours. With my left leg screaming from over use of the clutch. Yes my American friends I drive a manual (or stick shift as you call it) along with the vast majority of people here in the UK under the age of 65. Except my husband, he drives an auto. It’s not beige though. Yet.

‘So’ I thought to myself ‘I will get the train’. Where I live is on the direct line to Sheffield. Couple of downloaded episodes of Being Human and a large cup of tea and the job is a good one.

Of course life is never that simple.  First off for some inexplicable reason there are only 2 direct trains all evening. One at 17.41 (much too early to be sure of a home husband and fed, piano lessoned children) or 20.09 (bit late but my friends are night owls so should still be up when I arrive c 22.30) so I plumped for that.

My first inkling that something might go amiss was when my husband sat for two hours at Luton this morning trying to get to work on the same line but in the other direction due to ‘signalling problems’.

Now I am sure there are lovely bits of Luton, although I am yet to see one, but really he didn’t need to spend 2 hours there. Stuck on an overcrowded train.

He finally got to work over 3 hours after leaving.  I spent all day following the disruption updates which stated when ‘normal’ service would be resumed.  First by 12 noon. Then by 2 and then by 4 as trains and drivers and staff got themselves back where they should be.

All good. Husband’s return journey went without incident. Everyone ate. We said our teary goodbyes. Well Youngest was teary the other 2 put their i phones down for long enough to be given a brief hug and husband dropped me at the station.  Too early. At my request. I needed to collect my tickets and buy that large cup of tea.

Of course the train was running late. Predictably.  So I sat in the platform waiting room sharing despairing looks with fellow travelers and resisting the urge to start one of those episodes of Being Human, 2 of which were no longer going to be enough to fill the time.

The train was delayed due to a ‘train fault’. What sort of fault was not specified.  The lady with the whistle and the flag  (which is no longer a flag but a sort of over sized table tennis bat) who was there to wave (bat) the train off also turned up too early. As she exclaimed to a colleague (this presumably being a 2 person job) she had been unaware of the delay. That didn’t fill me with much confidence. To be honest.

Anyway the bat lady, her eastern European colleague, my fellow passengers and I then played delayed train roulette.

In my experience of delayed trains (which after 2 years of commuting to London is quite considerable) the word ‘delayed’ after the train time means either ‘we have absolutely no idea when the train will arrive’ or ‘the train is so late it hasn’t yet left it’s starting point and we don’t want to tell you because people will get annoyed and we can’t face that’ or ‘if we don’t tell you how delayed the train is when we give you an actual eta you will feel nothing but relief at having some certainty’. All these options add up to one thing. Fuck.

As I was sat there a time popped up. 20.16. Seven minutes late. Now in the scheme of things  (specifically the UK rail network scheme of things) this hardly constitutes a delay. 7 minutes. I laughed inwardly. Knowing as sure as night follows day that this would not be the whole story.  No siree!

Sure enough over the next 20 minutes the estimated time of the train oscillated between a best case scenario of that 20.16 and a worst case of 20.31. I leave you to guess at which time it actually turned up.

Anyway I then performed my ‘the sign said first class was at the front and so I needed to be at the very back of the train to find my reserved seat, which only a fool would travel without on a Friday night going north, but actually first class was at the rear requiring me to sprint almost the full length of the platform’ run. I was somewhat thankful for the delay at this point as I had already consumed all of my large tea which would have been a severe handicap during this manoeuvre.

I needn’t have bothered. Reservations had been dispensed with. Presumably because of the delay. Or maybe because the train was made up of old rolling stock  (which may have explained the earlier fault) the sort which require paper tickets to be shoved in slots on the backs of seats. I guess the people who used to slot reservation tickets into slots have been reassigned since new rolling stock which have computerised displays that can presumably be programed from a cental point came on line. Maybe they are all batting off late trains?

Luckily for me there was a seat opposite a luggage rack. The table already had 2 men seated at it but I am not the sort of lady who worries about such things. In any event the younger of the 2 seemed to be doing some coding on a lap top and the elder was reading Scuba Diving International. Which I expect to appear on Have I Got News For You any episode now. He was perusing an article dedicated to doing up a dry suit properly. Preliminary risk assessment satisfied I dumped case in rack and plopped down. Requiring dry suit man to move his legs.

Off we went.  About 500 meters outside the station we came to a halt. The tannoy man came on to explain that we were stopped at an unexpected red signal and he would update us all when he knew what the actual fuck was happening. Dry suit man sighed and got up returning with a can of Carlsberg. It looked tempting. And I am teetotal. And hate lager.

About half way down the can we started to crawl along at about 5 miles an hour. Tannoy man came back on to say we had to go slowly as we had passed the red signal. On the one hand moving was good. On the other crawling slower than the M1 felt like a lose to be honest. I risked eye contact with dry suit man. We exchanged frustrations about the state of the nation’s railways and used words like third world and bloody ridiculous and then we lapsed into that ‘fellow sufferers’ silence. Coding man (well boy really) risked a tut.

Anyway I am still here at my due into Sheffield time somewhere on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border.  Dry suit man and coding boy have long since left. I miss them. I only have some Japanese tourists left. God alone knows what they must think.

If I ever get there it will have felt like the Great Escape. Or that scene in the Shawshank Redemption when you realise he has tunnelled out with a spoon.

Hope my mates have the kettle on. It’s a long time since my last brew.

Living in a Bubble? — June 26, 2016

Living in a Bubble?


So just a day after I wrote my last post Should We Stay or Should We Go the almost unthinkable happened.

The Great Britsh public voted to go.

My husband told me the news at 5am on Friday morning. To begin with I clung onto those last thirty odd areas yet to declare hoping against hope that the result would change. Of course that didn’t happen. It was like watching a car crash. In slow motion.

It is now Sunday. And I am still in shock. The expected turmoil happened on Friday. And now we are in the eye of the storm, awaiting fresh turmoil tomorrow.

I don’t know what to think. I know I feel worried and angry and ashamed. Both personally and for the wider situation.

I had to turn the television off on Friday. As party leaders fell. And sterling crashed and burned my brain couldn’t really take anymore. I made cup cakes.

I sometimes think I am guilty of living in a middle class bubble. I often deliberately avoid the news. I think it is a form of self preservation. When I ponder on such enormities as global warming my mind starts to shut down. The fear I feel about what the future holds for my children and grandchildren is too much to contemplate. And yes I recycle and turn off the lights and turn down the thermostat. But I don’t march or sign petitions or campaign.

I just cannot. To admit it is to make it real. And I am coming to the conclusion I am a bit of a coward…

And so I will never be an activist. Even though I do feel passionately about things. I will do my little bit locally helping govern our school, sitting on the neighbourhood planning team, writing minutes for the Scout group, volunteering at jumble sales, baking cakes. But I won’t be marching in the capital. Setting the political world on fire. Making a real difference. I am not proud of it. But it is reality.

But then I hope to bring up three children with the sorts of values I think are important. Instill in them tolerance and altruism and the ability to try to see both sides of an argument. And maybe that will be my lasting legacy.

I read more stuff today on the EU situation. The racist incidences which seem to have been unleashed. Stories of people losing jobs or being asked to relocate. The implosion of our political parties. Graduates having job offers withdrawn. The Far Right bandwagon rolling with increased momentum. The possible splintering of Great Britain. The lies being exposed. Maybe it is hyperbole. And maybe not. In any event that fear was back. With avengence.

And again I had to stop reading.

Today we were all tired from a lovely evening out with friends. And so in the end we all watched Independence Day on the TV. Oh the irony. I found myself thinking that it could be worse. We could be being invaded by aliens.

Proper aliens. From outer space. I’d be happier if our world had been turned upside down because of that.


Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside… — January 1, 2016

Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside…


We are currently on holiday. I believe I began a post like this before. I think it was Greece is the Word. I would link you to it but I am on holiday. And therefore I am unable to do so. As I lack the IT resources.

Suffice to say that if you do find that post the view from the window on this holiday is not quite the same.

We are spending the week in a house on the Kent coast.

Some of my readership hail from far flung, even tropical places. And so therefore I need to perhaps explain what a holiday by the seaside in England is like in January.

One word springs to mind. Cold.

In the UK we have been experiencing a very mild winter this year. When we left our home it was 15 degrees. Really odd. It should be around ten degrees cooler than that. Anyhoo it has been unseasonably warm. So when I printed off my ‘Family Holiday in the U.K.’ Packing list I nearly discounted the thermals section as well as the wet suit and sun hat section.

But then I remembered we were going to the coast. And I packed them anyway. Thank god.

However warm it is in the UK it is reliably a lot colder by the sea. Especially when that sea is the North Sea. I never go to the British seaside without my woolly hat. Ever. Even in June. Because I will get earache without it. To go with the facial exfoliation provided free by the blowing sand.

In theory it seems a wonderful idea. A break by the sea off season. One envisages bracing walks along the coast. I lasted precisely ten minutes on the sands today watching my offspring roll around after a rugby ball before the cold and the fear that they might tackle each other into a pile of dog muck got the better of me. So I left to explore the slightly less windy town.

And there you notice that other thing about most English seaside towns. They have an air of neglect. Which is even more apparent in the winter. Most of the shops remain closed. The lack of sun and people shows up the peeling paint and rusty balustrades. I feel sorry for these places.

In most you can see the grandeur that was there in the height of the British tourist heyday. Before cheap flights lured us all away to sunnier climes. The Art Deco hotel facades. The huge train stations that would have received thousands of holiday makers each summer. The pleasure grounds. The piers. The boating lakes. But often these wonders have been blighted by neighbouring 60s planning monstrosities. By a lack of up keep. By graffiti. By the insufficient numbers of punters.

And then there are seagulls. Nough said. They pinch your chips and poo on everything. I hate them. Flying vermin.

But then despite all this such places have an appeal. We like 2p amusement arcades where an hour’s fun can be had for a couple of quid.

We like watching the New Year’s Day nutters swimming in the sea…weird.

We like the fish and chips.

We like the ice cream parlours.

We like building castles and shell hunting and chapped lips.

We like crabbing off abandoned piers and rock pooling.

We like looking round tacky souvenir shops.

We like drinking proper tea out of styrofoam cups.

We like coming back and getting cosy.

So, yeah, the Med is great. But so is the North Sea.

If you dress up proper.



The Tower of Babel… — July 14, 2015

The Tower of Babel…

I am not one for racial stereotypes. Usually.

We are on holiday. Did I mention this before? Sorry… Anyway we are. Over our many years of overseas holidays- which were punctuated by a run of cottages in the south west of the UK during my children’s early years (we weren’t brave enough to go abroad until youngest was just three and even then we took the car so we could take everything we owned in the boot)- I have noticed a shift in the nationalities of those we share the dining room with.

In our years BC (before children) we went on many a last minute get away to inexpensive places such as the party resorts of the Balearics. And other than the British making the most of those sea front dives serving warm ale and steak and kidney pie in front of the English Premiership we were mostly joined by Germans enjoying a slightly different sort of joint serving sauerkraut and beer in jugs with handles.

There was that running joke that in order to bag a sunbed one had to set the alarm early. Or throw a towel deftly off one’s balcony directly onto a lounger. And it was true. We would watch the scene unfold from around 7am from the safety of that balcony as well padded German men carefully and precisely laid out enough towels on enough loungers for their entire party. Ensuring they were tucked in all round to avoid the wind blurring the lines of demarcation. They have always been a race prone to take over though eh?

Our trips to France and the Canaries which formed the majority of our early PC (post children) forays abroad were full of Scandanavians. And French. The former imposing in their sunburnt blondness, forging a pathway directly to the cold meats section at breakfast, loading up on processed protein before hitting the all inclusive lager at 10am…I kid you not. Their offspring emptying the pool with every forceful dive.

The French women endlessly elegant, cigarettes dangling alluringly, sipping tiny espressos, surely an advert for any teenager to begin smoking. Their equally beautiful little daughters with better toe nail polish than me (not difficult) and sun streaked blonde hair talking in their lyrical language to other charmingly turned out preschoolers swinging their legs from bar stools. No threat to anyone poolside when they finally emerged, immaculate, from their rooms at around 10am.

And now, in Greece, there are few Germans, I am not sure they would be able to show their faces here, even the mild mannered and laid back Greeks may find it tough to cope with. No the dominant race is Russian. I don’t want to offend anyone, really I don’t but I find them a tough nationality to share a hotel with. They are strident and pushy, massively entitled, put German sun bed hogging to shame, and lack manners. Of any sort. Or maybe that is just the ones here. The season is clearly hotting up and this hotel has hastily issued some new sun bed rules. One forbids the saving of sun beds at both pool and beach simultaneously. It would never occur to me to do such a thing. Russians.

And then there is us. The good old British. I have a soft spot for my race abroad. They are easily spotted. Queing up sensibly for the bacon (I call it bacon but usually abroad it is a kind of ham that has been vaguely shown a grill), getting quietly irrate when those sun bed rules are not adhered to (let us be honest here we are the only ones even giving them a passing thought), looking pink whilst being streaked with white from hastily applied and malabsorbed suncream and making their children wear rash vests all day. Oh and shark fin buoyancy aids. We had a whole family wearing them in here earlier. They created a little shoal of sharks. Anyone swimming myopically could have been seriously worried.

We sit in the shade, doing Soduko and failing to gain the waiter’s attention. And I love us for it. I love our manners and reticence and gentle fuming.

I love being British. It sees me sitting on a wall watching my kids swim most afternoons for fear of antagonising a Russian returning finally to their sunbed which has been occupied by merely a pair of sunglasses since 9am. But still, I love it.

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