Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Who said sport is good for you?

Bad enough that Son&Heir had emerged yesterday, still bruised and sore, from the rugby-generated pink plaster cast on his wrist - the one that went on four weeks ago, an impressive two whole weeks after the six-week-long, hockey-induced pink ankle cast was removed... And worse still that he has been 'officially' signed off sport for another month to allow serious soft tissue damage to heal. Not good either that Daughter no.2 is still suffering the acute agonies of shin splints, or that HunterGatherer is hobbling around thanks to a half-healed torn hamstring (also sustained while on active hockey duty). 
But at 7.00 this evening, even I was seriously beginning to doubt the veracity of that much-vaunted government advice that sport is good for our health. At that point I was 30 minutes into a training session of  what can only be described as water hockey (only there wasn't a swimming pool in sight).  The rain wasn't so much falling in traditional droplet form as descending in an all-engulfing icy torrent which rendered even moderately waterproof clothing saturated within seconds.  The athletic ladies of the local hockey team, instead of pursuing the ball gracefully up and down the Astroturf (as is our norm...), looked something akin to a gaggle of constipated geese. With our once-elegant hair-dos (!) reduced to rivulets and our über-soaked trackie bottoms adhering fast to our legs, we could only waddle extremely ungracefully, sticks threatening to slip out of our hands each time we attempted to hit the ball - when we could actually see the said spherical object through the wall of water, that is.  By half-way through the evening’s athletic endeavours, most of us could be heard muttering words to the effect of “who said sport was good for you?” Yet here’s the strange thing.  By 7.30 p.m., the rain had stopped and we all had a healthy glow on our (albeit) wet faces. Stranger still, I - for one - felt invigorated and (curiouser and curiouser) all the better for the experience. The only possible explanation for this complete about-turn in sentiment is that all those super-duper endorphins released during exercise must wreak havoc with the short-term memory. So much so, that next Wednesday at 6.30 p.m., I'll be back for more - come rain, hail or snow!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Spelling be(e) damned

This was going to be a blog about how frustrating it can be living with a dyslexic partner - which, I still have to admit, it can be.  In fact I already decided years ago that there was definitely a call for a book explaining a dyslexic’s habits and problems to prepare people who, by some quirk of fate, find themselves about to share their lives/homes with one. The book I wish I’d had, in short. However, my feelings of indignation vanished suddenly five minutes ago. You see, there I was, all ready to rant and rail on screen about how it nearly drives me to drink (luckily only hot chocolate in my case, being teetotal!) always having to be... the one who deals with every last piece of the dreary domestic paperwork... the one in the firing line when it comes to requests for help with homework and projects and filling in permission slips... the one who has to clear up yet another Inca-esque trail of coffee granules across every inch of every kitchen surface (even though I detest coffee and never drink the stuff)... the one who has to remember which offspring has to be where and when… and who regularly has to retrieve forgotten garden tools, footwear or clothing from every corner of the garden... and... and...(did I mention the coffee granules?).
Of course, I should have seen the writing on the wall (if you’ll excuse the pun) 20 years ago, when I first received letters - riddled with spelling errors - from HunterGatherer. However, love was blind - and love at first sight (of which more another time) even more so.  Despite being someone who normally breaks into a sweat at the sight of a single errant apostrophe, I blissfully ignored even the most convoluted combinations of vowels and consonants, such was my eagerness to devour the sentiment behind them.  Once we were married, though, I did begin to wonder why someone who has the proud total of one O'Grade to his name (a C in technical drawing) and who once asked me how to spell the word “snow” when writing up the farm diary one evening, could beat me hands down time and time again at Trivial Pursuit. It simply didn't add up. I'd heard of dyslexia and had a vague notion that it meant folk struggled to spell, but I suppose that - being fortunate to have sailed through school - I’d never really paid much attention to the concept before.
All the same, I booked HunterGatherer (then in his early 30s) in for an assessment at the Dyslexia Institute in Glasgow, and three hours or so later we emerged several hundred pounds poorer, clutching a definite diagnosis of dyslexia. It was a rather emotional moment for him, as suddenly all the miserable years of schooling that he’d endured, plus the memories of the many taunts – some even from his own mother, came flooding back.  The sad fact was that he could have been helped, but that neither his family nor the school did anything other than tell him he was stupid. 
It is probably no surprise to learn that this unhelpful approach did absolutely nothing for the self-esteem of a young lad who was nonetheless determined to read his first ‘proper’ book - a feat which he achieved at the age of 17 after weeks of dogged perseverance.  The impact that the lack of a diagnosis or any support had on his teenage years and his adult life was major and indeed continues to dominate his daily life, because it restricts him to working in roles where his short-term memory problems don’t lead him to forget to do things. It also consigns him to doing jobs which involve as little reading or writing as possible (in one removals job when he had to write a list of household items, he resorted to ringing Yours Truly from his mobile phone inside a cupboard to ask how to spell ‘pagoda’). Last but not least, being orthographically challenged has resulted in him often having to take up employment where a lot of physical graft is involved.  Not that fitness is a problem for HunterGatherer - I suspect he could race a 100 m and give many chaps half his age a run for their money! But the fact that he has never had any choice whatsoever about what path his career should take, instead being obliged to take whatever work was “manageable” within the constraints of this hidden disability, has left a huge gaping void in his life.
Which is something that shamefully (even if it is possibly because I’m frazzled from the daily stresses of the working mum merry-go-round), I tend to forget.  Until moments like tonight, that is, when he saw me checking my Facebook page (and leaving smart messages under Daughter no. 1’s matriculation photos from the weekend) and said, in a small, sad voice:  “I could never have a Facebook page. There’d be no point, as I couldn’t even write on it.”  That’s when it hit me full on like a very large truck that living with a dyslexic person - frustrating as it might be - is so much less difficult than being that dyslexic person.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Music degree could finish on a sour note

Miracles can and do happen. At last Daughter No.2 managed to cram her credentials into the meager but mandatory 4000 characters stipulated by UCAS (and to squeeze them at the last minute into a maximum of 47 lines of text - a minor detail which she had previously overlooked!). Perhaps even more miraculous, her long-suffering school housemaster managed to find 4000 characters of relatively pleasant things to say in support of her application. So at 2100 hours last night (precisely three hours before the final deadline), her application form began winging its way through the virtual ether to determine where D.No.2 may end up tootling her flute for the next few years. And talking of music, with four of her uni choices being located south of the border, the current headlines about the imminent rise in English university fees are sweet music to our ears (NOT!). At this rate, if she doesn’t end up in Edinburgh (her only Scottish choice), she may well leave uni owing up to £20,000. Yours Truly can't help but wonder how many hours of busking on street corners it’ll take her to pay that back…

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The age of romance is possibly past its best

Picture the scene:  Yours Truly crawled through the kitchen door this evening, fresh (not!) from 90 minutes of intensive hockey training. HunterGatherer must have taken pity on me, for he surveyed my beetroot face and wandered over and gave me a kindly hug. "Sorry, I'm probably smelling pretty sweaty. I've been running about all night," I said apologetically, whilst treasuring this rare moment of semi-intimacy. Luckily, there was no child in the vicinity at this point - if they are, they generally immediately start making vomiting noises at the first hint of any parental affection (how they think they actually made it into this world remains a mystery). Evidently unperturbed by the threat of sweat, HunterGatherer hugged me even closer in his cosy fleece top and whispered in my ear, "Oh, don't worry, I've been castrating calves all day." "Wow, the art of romance really is dead, isn't it?" I joked, extracting myself just ever-so-slightly from his hug. "Well, it certainly is for those calves anyway!" he retorted.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Who wants a mid-life crisis anyway?

So I'm too late...  Just when I thought it was about time that the mandatory mid-life mayhem should be kicking in, I read in the press today that modern mid-life crises start in your mid-thirties and run till about your mid-forties.  Tarnation!  At the grand old age of 47, evidently I've missed my chance.  When I share this tragic news with HunterGatherer, he mutters something that sounds very like "You should be flippin' grateful - every day is a crisis in my world," and wanders off to his polytunnel in the garden, no doubt to commune with his dying courgette plants.  Hmm, so much for sympathy.

I half think of ringing Daughter No. 1 to proclaim my sadness at this lost phase of my life, but there would be little point. This evening - if I remember correctly -she is attending a champagne and chocolates reception with the Law Society.  Not that D.No.1 is actually studying law, of course - she just figured out pretty quickly where the main action (especially action involving expensive fizzy alcohol and copious quantities of cocoa bean derivatives) takes place at Oxford and made sure she signed on the dotted line fast. Ah, to be young again... (or even to be in my mid-thirties - with a good few years left for a crisis!).

Friday, 8 October 2010

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

I’ve decided that it might be better for my peace of mind simply to ignore health news sometimes.  Not that I watch TV - ever. However, being gainfully employed on the Internet every working day, it’s hard to escape the odd BBC news item that pops up during research for my many copywriting assignments. Which was why, during my 7th consecutive hour of sedentary endeavour yesterday, I sprang to my feet on reading an item with sinister implications for my mortality. It was a report which concluded that women who sit for over six hours per day at work were almost a third more likely to bop their clogs than their counterparts who spend under 3 hours a days sitting on their bahoochies (quaint Scots word for the good old gluteus maximus). Excellent! So it would appear that my humble attempts to earn an honest crust from the craft of copywriting are slowly reducing my life expectancy (though hopefully not that of my poor readers...).


Thursday, 7 October 2010

Life - nothing but a collection of memories

Son&Heir was in pensive mood as we drove the 30 minutes home from school in the dark tonight (did I mention that the nights are drawing in?). Apparently he'd been watching a particularly inspiring Commonwealth Games hockey match on TV during social time after tea, and was now bitterly ruing the broken wrist which currently prevents him from doing any more than coach the Juniors one-handed for the next few weeks. But he said something which made me think, namely that he'd rather play at the Commonwealth Games and/or the Olympics than be rich.  Now, coming from a boy who is normally a typically materialistic, hedonistic teenager hellbent on accumulating fame and fortune in equal measure, his sudden volte-face took me somewhat by surprise.
And it got me thinking about what is really important in life, reminding me of a quote that I once read many years ago: "Life is nothing but a collection of memories - so get out there and start collecting."  Back in those Halcyon days (or should that be daze?!) of my youth, I initially wondered what the writer meant. Yet the words stayed with me all the same, and with each passing year, their meaning has became ever clearer.  For the older you get, the significance of the memories of the highs and lows of your life grows proportionately, and you learn to treasure recollections of great occasions such as wedding days, memorable achievements on the sporting field or in the workplace and - especially - simple, everyday events like a child's first steps or even a particular moment that marked a turning point in your life.  There is, quite simply, no monetary value to be placed on such memories, and it made me somehow happy that he had come to this conclusion at the comparatively tender age of fifteen.  I hope he holds on tight to his dream.
Meanwhile, down in the depths of Oxfordshire, his big sister certainly seems to be living hers.  My faithful Blackberry was subject to a veritable barrage of MMS photos during the course of the day: photo of the view from her bedroom window in halls; photo of the student bedroom (complete with mandatory empty bottle of wine just sneaking into the photo in the bottom right-hand corner); photo of the amazing chocolate - ornately decorated with the College crest - which had apparently been served at the previous evening's academic dinner.  What does one do at an academic dinner I wonder... spout Shakespeare during the starter, mull over Molière during the main course and dissect Dostoevsky over dessert perhaps? If Daughter No. 1 ever pauses long enough for me to ask her, perhaps I shall find out.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

You either are or you aren't

Just as there are life's tongue-rollers and non-tongue-rollers, there are life's scarf-tiers and non-scarf-tiers. Now, I can roll my tongue pretty darned well, though I say so myself.  But I have never ever been able to wrap a scarf around my neck without appearing seriously intent on hanging myself, and I strongly suspect I never will.  As a teenager I observed enviously as my fashionable friends entwined themselves swiftly and dexterously with all manner of neck attire, and emerged looking casual, suave, sophisticated and sexy.  Meanwhile, six hours later, I could still be standing red-faced in front of the mirror, with an increasingly rag-like length of cotton, silk or whatever material, looking like an extra from the latest zombie movie.

Of course, my darling daughterly duo are acutely aware of their mother's fashion infirmities.  Very early they realised that if they wanted an example to follow of how to look good, it certainly wasn't going to be coming from Yours Truly. Fortunately for them, Supergran fits the bill to perfection, being a dedicated follower of fashion. Just as her not-quite-fifty-year-old daughter (aka me) always manages to look a mess - without even trying, Supergran always succeeds in turning herself out to coordinated perfection. Better still (in her grand-daughters' eyes), Supergran also adores shoes - pretty, delicate with feathers and buckles and dainty little straps.  Meanwhile, Yours Truly has an embarrassing (apparently) proclivity for plain, flat shoes, trainers and (my absolute favourite) trusty old wellington boots.  In fact, I seriously reckon that the first 17 years of my life galloped by without me wearing anything other than wellies - I mean, I was a farmer's daughter, after all.

The love of things lovely (unless you consider "lovely" to be a sleek pair of Hunters - as the writer does) very definitely skipped a generation in our family, with the result that the girls coveted Supergran's shoes, jewellery, smart scarves and jackets almost from the time they first realised that the most fashionable item likely to appear from their mother's wardrobe was an ancient hockey skirt. So when it came to buying Daughter No. 1's first ballgown, Yours Truly dutifully bailed out early on and delegated the task to Supergran instead.  Now, much as she adores her grandmother, D. No. 1 was far from impressed by this dereliction of maternal duty.  "Most mothers," she wailed, "can't wait to go shopping for their daughter's first ballgown".  Not this one, I explained kindly but firmly, adding that in view of my inability even to sport a pair of matching socks most days (where do all  the other ones go, by the way?), I felt seriously ill-equipped for the hugely responsible role of co-ballgown selector. And that's even before we start on how much I loathe the very sight of the "Changing Room" sign in any shop.  So disinterested in shopping for clothes am I, that I'd genuinely rather just don a hessian bag every morning (though on reflection, it might need lined so it didn't itch too much). Hence, whilst ever-game Supergran and the disillusioned debutante strutted the streets of the Big Smoke à la recherche de the ballgown of D. No. 1's dreams, Yours Truly was out in the garden hanging out the washing - possibly the only job involving clothes that I will ever feel remotely qualified to do.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Official Bod card holder

At precisely  8.29 a.m. this morning, a photo message appeared on my BlackBerry from Daughter no. 1.  Upon opening, it proved to be a photo of her "Bod card".  Luckily she had already begun to educate her quasi-illiterate mother on the vast terminology which goes hand in hand with life as an Oxford student.  Cleaners are"Scouts", holidays are "vacs" and a "Bod card" looks a bit like a credit card only it allows you access to that Oxfordian literary goldmine the Bodleian Library. Her cheery face smiles up at me from the card on which are printed the portentous words "UNDERGRADUATE reading for BA Mod Langs (FRE) Medieval & Modern Lang Fac."  Her message below reads: "Bod card yay xxx". Do you ever look at your children and wonder where they really came from, and how you could have raised them to be so different from their parents and from each other?  I do. Regularly.

Meanwhile Daughter No. 2 is in the final throes of her personal statement for UCAS, agonising over the ungenerous character restriction that means half of what she wants to say (and D. No. 2 has a lot to say!) has to be consigned to file thirteen (aka the bin). She may have too many words at her disposal, but she doesn't have a lot of time left before the dreaded deadline. And as the school seems intent on having her spend at least 20 hours out of every 24 chasing a ball up and down a hockey pitch for them at the moment (despite shin splints that bring tears to her eyes every time she sets foot on Astroturf), she's a tad unsure about how the personal statement is actually going to reach the stage where its even remotely fit for consumption by the monocled monitoring officials of the various illustrious academic establishments which she has handpicked as being suitable venues for the next step of her academic career.

Son&Heir has had far more important things on his mind today i.e. getting a new plaster cast to cocoon his broken wrist.  Having just come out of a completely different plaster early in September following a broken ankle sustained playing hockey, he chose his first game of the rugby season - a week past Saturday - to find out what would happen if he charged full tilt at the opposition with his left arm outstretched and the palm at an angle of 90 degrees to the wrist. The result, as he discovered, is a fractured distal radius.  Wrist plaster number one, which went on last Monday (his negligent parents having studiously ignored his pain and suffering over the weekend) was a pleasantly muted shade of purpley blue (not dissimilar, in fact, to the colour of his wrist by that time...). The new one is a shocking luminous uncompromising pink, which no doubt went down exceedingly well with his stricter than strict school housemaster.  Obviously keeping a low profile is not on Son&Heir's agenda. Which is a shame, as you can hardly blend in with the crowd following any schoolboy misdemeanor if your arm is coated in a bright pink shell...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Room with a view

Breaking news in from Oxford - Daughter no. 1's room is reportedly on the first floor of St Something's and has an "awesome view over the gardens". She still sounds a very happy bunny, and day one is now well and truly under her belt. Apparently, she's been assured that the netball club is a dead cert for a great social life so is planning to go along to the trials, despite having never played before. Hmmm, not sure that netball's the best choice when you can look a Shetland pony in the eye (Daughter no. 1 is smaller even than her dear ol' mum), but maybe it is a better bet than hockey - especially as she's still bearing the scars of hockey-induced plastic surgery on her dainty little chin! In fact, come to think of it, I can understand why netball might have a distinct appeal...

First chick flies the nest

After five years of relentless slog, she's finally made it.  Daughter no. 1 is now safely ensconced in an ivory tower somewhere in the dark recesses of St Something's College, Oxford.  We travelled south together at the weekend - and for the entire journey by car, plane and train, she literally beamed with excitement.  Not just a subdued little Madonna-esque smile either... a great cheesy grin that would have done an ecstatic Cheshire cat proud.  Speaking personally, one quick glance at the tinder-dry French literary tomes which she's going to be studying in her first term would have been sufficient to reduce me to a state of weeping hysteria rather than extreme euphoria, but then there's no accounting for taste. So I bade her "bonne chance" in my best French accent and returned north asap to see how Daughter no. 2's UCAS statement was coming along.  Not well, as it transpired, since evidently her over-zealous mother (charged with "proofreading it but not changing ANYTHING") had not been able to resist adding a sentence (only one - I thought I'd been so admirably restrained).  Apparently the said sentence didn't go down too well with her teacher, who (she claims) spluttered "what on earth did you put that in for?" A definite case of "could do better" - reckon Yours Truly had better stick to dotting 'i's and crossing 't's in future.  After all, being a model mother, I should know that my role is to know nothing about anything - a role which I evidently perform to perfection. Indeed sometimes I think it's amazing that I've managed to muddle through the last 47 years at all, given my many (and apparently serious) shortcomings in just about every area known to mankind.  Not for nothing is there a quaint little sign up on our hall wall proclaiming: "Ask a teenager while they still know everything"...