A sunny happy birthday

For the last two years it has rained, not just small showers but torrential downpours, on my birthday. Two years ago I had requested that we visit Hampton Court Palace on my birthday as K and I had done 14 years previously. The weather was not on my side and so we had to postpone, until the summer holidays. Last year I didn’t even bother planning anything as I had been so disappointed the previous year. This year, as luck would have it, the weather forecast looked good a week before and continued to look good as the day got closer. I am lucky to have my birthday in the May Half Term holidays and I love it mainly for that reason alone. I don’t have to get up early (we often take the week off of work in May half term) to get the kids off to school, I don’t have to spend the day waiting for them and K to return from work to begin celebrating. I say celebrating, please be aware that I mean this in a very low-key manner. The only year that my birthday was not in Half Term was my 40th (5 years ago) when Her Majesty the Queen decided that she had some sort of special occasion (a Jubilee or something similarly inconsequential) to celebrate and half term was pushed back a week. How very dare she?

Anyway, back to me and this year’s birthday. I wasn’t able to take the week off this year due to staffing issues, so K and I booked my birthday and we’ve wangled a long weekend at the end of the week due to an inset day. As I mentioned, the weather was looking good, but rather than push my luck I asked if we could go out for breakfast somewhere nice and then, weather permitting, all I really wanted to do was go for a bit of a stroll around some nice gardens (National Trust membership comes in useful for this) and maybe a cream tea in a nice tea shop garden afterwards. If the weather decided to turn then at least I had had my lovely breakfast and we could rethink the afternoon. But there was no need to change the plans, as the sun continued to shine all day and I had the loveliest birthday I can remember in a long time.

At the age of twenty (although even then I wasn’t a party animal) I would never have dreamed that a quiet breakfast in a posh hotel with my family and mum and dad followed by a stroll around some gardens would be how I would want to spend my birthday when I was older. But it was and it was perfect.

After a bit of a lie-in (you know me and lie-ins), and having opened some lovely presents and cards, we met G&G for breakfast at Luton Hoo Hotel a few miles away. We had a very relaxed morning in their lounge area where they serve coffees/teas and pastries or in my case French toast with bacon and maple syrup. We took lots of pictures and recreated a photo of T and A on the stairway coming down into the lobby that we had taken a few years before when we went for my birthday for the first time. We had a bit of a wander around the grounds and then said goodbye to G&G.

We went on to Ascott House about 40 minutes away in Wing. We’ve never been before despite it being so close to home, and I am glad we saved it for a special day. It was a lovely house with a real homely feel about it – in fact it turns out that the de Rothschild family do still inhabit the house and many of the rooms are their private rooms that they allow the public to walk through. My favourite room in any NT home is always the library and this one didn’t disappoint. With window seats and squashy sofas for relaxing on, floor to ceiling bookcases and a lovely light wood finish, I could have spent all day in there. It even had a “secret” door which had fake books inlaid into it with made up names that the owner had had a hand in coming up with – some of them were very funny and A and I had a good giggle over them.

The gardens were beautiful and varied and we literally strolled around – even the teen and tween were happy enough, but I think it was probably the prospect of a piece of cake at the end of it that kept them focused. That was the only let down of the whole day. I had been thinking about a scone and jam with a cup of tea all afternoon, but they had run out! Not good enough! I didn’t throw a strop though and forced a blueberry blondie down instead. Tough life.

We came home and I opened some gifts that had come in the post and K opened a bottle of Prosecco. A lovely dinner cooked by K and a slice of birthday cake baked by A (yes, more cake, it was my birthday and I’ll eat cake if I want to).

It was a truly lovely birthday and the sun didn’t stop shining all day. Just for me.


A dent (to my car and then to my pride)

A few weeks ago I had a small mishap in the car when a young man* decided he couldn’t wait for the traffic to pass before making his move and subsequently drove into the side of my car. No-one was hurt, there was minimal damage, but maximum hassle while we tried to find somewhere to pull over in the rush hour traffic on a High Street not intended for motor vehicles (probably struggled with horse-drawn carts back in the day, to be fair). The damage was enough to need a repair and today my little car was picked up and taken away to be sorted out. I was then picked up by a nice young man* who took me to the hire car office to pick up a replacement car for the interim, while mine is being fixed.

I have had hire cars/courtesy cars before when previous cars have needed servicing or repairs (through no fault of mine, I hasten to add – I have a VERY good track record with cars) and I have jumped in and driven off with no qualms or issues at all. We have changed our car fairly frequently and I have never had any issues driving the new one. I pride myself on being pretty unflappable when it comes to driving a new car. The only car I have refused to drive is K’s company car as it is quite posh and doesn’t have a manual handbrake. I don’t know why but the idea of pushing in a button and expecting it to hold the car in place just doesn’t work for me, and how to you find your biting point on your clutch on a hill. Oh no, I am not going there. Give me a good old handbrake that you can yank up into place and I am quite happy thank you.

So, imagine my abject horror when I was told that I would be driving off in a brand new C Class Mercedes. And not just any brand new C Class Mercedes – an automatic one to boot. Automatic! Bloody automatic. With no shift stick to change from Park, to Neutral, to Drive. No, just a stupid stalk on the steering wheel and yes, you guessed it, a silly little push button handbrake.

To say that I nearly bottled it and got the bus home (this is really saying something – I haven’t been in a bus in about 15 years and I was in High Town in Luton) is an understatement. I practically begged the young man* to drive me home where the bloody car could stay for the duration of the hire. He said that, sadly, he was not allowed. I asked if they could give me something else – a Corsa maybe or a Fiat Punto? Sadly not, madam, the insurance company insist we give you like for like. (I have a little tiny BMW – how is this monster “like for like?”). Faced with the reality, I am ashamed to say that I asked him to “at least reverse it out to the road for me?” In the space of ten minutes I had reduced myself to a gibbering, pathetic, should-be-ashamed-to-call-myself-a-woman woman. He seemed nervous handing over the “key” (not really a key just a thing that you push into a hole in the steering column) but not as nervous as I was trying to stop my legs from shaking enough to take it off the brake and try to pull away. Try is the right word, I had no idea how to take the stupid bloody handbrake thing off. When I had sussed it I then bunny-hopped the short distance to the junction with the main road that was bumper to bumper with traffic, much to the amusement of the group of young men* who were congregated at the corner of the road.

I somehow managed to get home (via the M1 to make life easier as I didn’t have to brake so often) and parked on the drive, where as far as I am concerned it can stay until it needs to go back. When I came in the front door my legs were like jelly and I had to have a hug from my girl to sort me out. My pride (and my confidence) has taken a serious knock and I am so cross with myself for letting something as insignificant as a car to make me feel this way. K thinks I need to drive it so that I can overcome the fear. He probably has a point but just not today, eh.


*young man.  – the one that drove into my car on the High Street looked about 17 years old. He had spots and a barely broken-in voice. He didn’t want to give me his details which prompted me to ask “is it your car? Is it insured in your name or your mum’s?”. I know I was being patronising but he annoyed me with his belligerent attitude.

The one that picked me up to collect the hire car was not so young but certainly only in his early 20’s and so to me – someone who is on the literal cusp of middle age, as I am 45 tomorrow – he was a young man. He was rather lovely and chatty and was full of info on applying for the Police Force – somehow we had got on to the subject that this is what T wants to do as a career. He was typical of his generation, though, as he was blatantly using his mobile phone while driving me, albeit it while sitting in traffic. Not meaning to tar all millennials with the same brush but it does seem to be a failing of that age group (whatever generation you are from) – the feeling of being invincible and beyond reproach.

The ones that were standing at the corner of the road as I bunny-hopped my way into the traffic would have been terrifying had I been walking and had I not been too distracted by the numb feeling in my legs.

I know I sound old but, frankly, I am.

Be happy now

I saw one of those annoying pictures on Instagram or similar recently, one of those ones with a summery beach background and the words in italics across it “be happy now”. I normally scroll on past those pictures, because they are everywhere you look and they can be a touch saccharine, especially if you’re having a bad day.

But this one made me stop for a moment, because it tied in with an article I read a few weeks ago, about the pressure to be happy all the time. All the time! That’s just not realistic is it? I did the 100 Happy Days challenge when I first started this blog, in fact it was the reason I started it, and I enjoyed it immensely – so much so that I repeated the exercise several times – because it made me think about one thing each day that had made me happy, even if only momentarily. But, it didn’t make me feel I had to be happy ALL THE TIME. Small moments are great, and should be acknowledged, but if they happened all the time then they would not be worth noting. However, it would be nice not to go through each stage of life thinking “when X happens I will be happier”. For example, when I was little I thought it must be so much nicer being an adult – you get to choose what food you eat, you get to choose your own clothes, you have your own money, etc etc. But, as we all know when we grow up, choosing your own food invariably means shopping for the ingredients and cooking it for yourself (and probably others) too; don’t get me started on buying clothes; and yes having your own money is great but no-one mentioned mortgages when I was seven.

When I was in my twenties, I thought that when I lost another half a stone I would be happier (we’re back to the clothes thing again) and when I met the man of my dreams and had a family I would be laughing every day. It took a while to meet K and although I quickly realised he was the one for me, it took us a while to get sorted (mainly due to the logistics of living 90 miles apart) and then it wasn’t always a laugh a minute. When we had T and he was colicky and then the reflux kicked in we were told “things will be better when he is walking”. When he wouldn’t sleep we were convinced life would be better when he eventually slept in his own bed. By then we had A and we started all over again with the “when she is 3 she won’t have tantrums anymore” (still waiting on that one). Life always seemed like it would be so much better when……

As it turns out this mentality is hard to shift. I said only yesterday as I was darting back out to the garden office in the pouring rain “it will be so much better if we get that extension built!”

Be happy now, eh? Hmm, well perhaps I need to repeat the 100 Happy Days because there are so many things to be happy about and all this wishing time to pass, because life will be better then, is just a waste of time. Time is passing all the time. That little colicky baby sat his first GCSE yesterday (short course PRE – not full fledged GCSE’s yet but nonetheless we are on that train and it seems to be a high-speed one) and the little tantrummy madam was dressed up and going to her first proper gig on Saturday night. And yes, life is easier in some ways now, but it was good then too and we were happy, I just didn’t always realise it.

Sitting in my garden office I can see fields and farmland and trees and open countryside stretching out. It’s beautiful. I didn’t have to sit on a train to get here or in my car for hours on the motorway. But, the sun is shining today and I didn’t get soaked just walking across the patio. It will be so much better when…….


A sigh of relief

Dad is home. After 3 nights in hospital (2 more than expected) he came home yesterday afternoon and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. He has to keep a catheter in for another 2 weeks but at least he was able to be discharged, finally. I’ve been to see him today and he seems happy to be home. I think he was a bit anxious to be leaving the safety of having trained medical professionals at hand 24/7 but there’s no place like home and no bed as comfy as your own. It’s that old classic case of “firsts” again – it’s nerve-wracking to be left to your own devices but he’s had a shower and now that he’s done it once it won’t be such an issue next time; he’s managed to sleep OK with his bag, so tonight it won’t seem such an issue. It’s good to get the first time out the way so you know you can do it and you know you can cope. And of course mum is there to support him. It’s all good. From my perspective, it means that he is where he is when I picture him: at our house (their house, but it will always be our house), in his armchair, with the newspaper and his iPad close to hand, with a smile on his face. Perfect. He just needs to get through the next 2 weeks, to start to feel back to normal again and to know that it’s all done and dusted. Then we can all relax properly again.

I mentioned in The waiting game that Dad hasn’t been in hospital for about 50 years other than as a visitor or outpatient, so the whole experience was a bit alien and unsettling for him. He found it all fine, it wasn’t a bad experience in any way, but it’s not one he is keen to repeat. He struggles with his hearing and so I think he sometimes missed what the staff were saying to him or he had to get them to repeat themselves. We’re used to it, and we can tell when he hasn’t heard (not just because he ignores us – you just know from the look on his face that he is trying to piece it together) but as patient as they were, they didn’t have the knack that we do. He doesn’t like to make a big deal out of his loss of hearing (he uses hearing aids but they are not brilliant and definitely need updating) and I think he worries that people will think he is stupid or not on the ball (he is neither) and he hates having to have things repeated to him. His ears are next on his list of things to get sorted once he is back to full health again. He joked that he felt perfectly fine before his op and that it’s like taking your car in for a service thinking it’s fine and it coming out with a really annoying rattle that it didn’t have before! Luckily, with his ears, he can’t hear the rattling.


The waiting game

I’m not patient. I always arrive on time, if not early; if someone tells me something will take 5 minutes and it takes 10, I reserve the right to be irritated; I hate it when someone says “I’ll be there sometime in the afternoon – no! I need to know a time. Quite a precise time would be good.  Get it? I’m not patient. 

My lovely dad had his operation yesterday. He had to be at the hospital for 7am and then wait until it was his turn to go into theatre. I watch enough hospital documentaries to know that this could be a long time and that it might not even happen depending on beds, emergencies, etc. I know it was far worse for him (and mum) to be waiting around in a stuffy hospital in a hospital gown. But I swear to you that yesterday was one of the longest days of my life. I picked mum up at ten when dad got taken along to theatre (where he had another hours wait on his own – he must have been pretty nervous) and she had been told to call at 2pm to see if he was back in recovery. We managed to hold out until 1.30pm and thankfully were given the great news that he was indeed back in recovery and coming round well from the anaesthetic. However, they were unsure how long it would be before a bed became available and so to call back in another hour. By this point I couldn’t sit still any longer so cleared the bird feeders of nuts (no good this time of year – baby birds might choke) and cleared the bird poo off the deck. I literally had nothing else to do and clock watching was driving me mad. The hour eventually passed and the call was made. A bed was now free but wouldn’t be ready for another hour and half. Call back then. Argh! 

Please understand I am not complaining about the NHS. I have written before about my admiration of anyone who works in public services, and how lucky we are to have such amazing people looking after us.  I just hate waiting. Especially when it’s for news about someone I care about so much and who I was just desperate to see for myself so that I would know for certain he was fine. 

We finally got to see him around 5pm after battling the crappy traffic. He was fine. He looked older, but hospital gowns, beds and tubes will do that to a man. He was a bit pale and looked knackered but he was fine. He was pleased to see us, he managed a few jokes and he still had a twinkle about him. My dad may not be the life and soul of a party – he’s an easygoing, friendly bloke and he is happy to chat (his hearing gives him a bit of grief and makes it tricky for him these days but he just about manages ok) – but he has a definite twinkle about him. He plays things down, he doesn’t like a fuss, but he’s a bit of a wuss when it comes to medical things and he’s really not a fan of hospitals. We’ve all been a bit worried how he’d cope with it all – he’s only ever had an operation once before and that was in his early twenties (motorbike accident), and stitches to close a huge gash on his forehead (he walked through a patio door) in his forties – but he seemed pretty chilled and was taking it all in his stride. 

We knew he’d be in overnight and were expecting him home today at some point. Unfortunately, when he tried to get out of bed (with help) this morning he fainted and was unresponsive for a few moments (woke up to a crowd of about 15 medical professionals around him) so they’re keeping him in another night to keep an eye on him. Reassuring really but unsurprisingly he’s a bit fed up to not be coming home yet. 

So we carry on playing the waiting game. (Far worse for him, stuck in a hospital bed and being woken up every hour for obs.) We just want him home and recovering and being his usual funny, twinkly self. 

It’s his fault I’m so impatient, by the way. I get it from him, like the punctuality. He was at the hospital at 6.40am yesterday as he didn’t want to be late. Some might see it as a flaw and it can be annoying being so irritable about other people’s timekeeping but I like that we’re so alike. Because he’s fab. 

Normal service is resumed

K is home and life is back to normal (whatever “normal” is). He can look back on the trip now and say it wasn’t too bad. A bit like a woman 12 years after giving birth, but not really because that’s painful as hell.

He arrived home late Friday night and as much as A had tried hard to stay awake she had given in and fallen asleep about 20 minutes before he came in. I had promised to get him to go and see her anyway which he did and it gave me leaky eyes to see how happy she was to see him. She’s a bit prickly at times and not always one for hugs and cuddles (a lot like her mother) but she missed him a lot and was so pleased to see him. Lovely. T was pleased to see him too but in a more “ooh you bought us chocolates” kind of way. It’s all about the food.

It doesn’t take long to get back into the old routine and K was soon annoying everyone with his awful singing and silly jokes. But, we have spent a lot of the weekend saying “it’s so nice to have you home” (or “it’s so nice to be home” in his case) and we rolled our eyes more affectionately than usual.

Luckily, in case we started to get too sentimental and gushy, things like washing, food shopping, shoe cleaning and kids bickering came along and smacked us around the face and before we knew it, it’s Tuesday and we are both back at our respective jobs and dealing with the same old crap.

Hurrah for normal life.


Two down, three to go

We’re two days and nights in and it’s undoubtedly been easier for us than it has for K. His journey was fine, the hotel is fine, he is fine. But, he’s struggled massively with the language barrier and had a pretty crappy first day. The only upside of the whole day was that he was not invited to anyone’s house for dinner. He had a lovely meal in the hotel (feeling a bit Billy No-Mates but better that than the scenario we had imagined with Helga) and was presented with a complimentary starter which pleased him no end – he likes a freebie. As this meal was the only food he had all day I am sure it was all the more enjoyable (picked up too early for breakfast in the hotel and no sign of anyone having lunch so he was starving by dinner!).

Today has been a better day, as he has spent it with someone with good English skills (no reason why they should defer to us in this way, but K had expected that as his bosses had arranged this they would have established if he would be able to communicate, as he has zero German skills) and he has managed to get answers to questions and compare their way of working to the UK setup. He has just FaceTimed us and seems much more upbeat and positive about the whole trip.

As he was going to be en route while Line of Duty was being aired on Sunday night, I had set him up with iPlayer on his iPad so he could watch it on catch up. What I hadn’t factored in was that the iPad would know it wasn’t in the UK (how? it’s all too technical for me) and iPlayer wouldn’t, well, play. T came to the rescue and talked him through downloading a bit of software that would trick the iPad into thinking it was on home turf and he was able to watch. Thank god, we can talk about Balaclava Man and he doesn’t have to avoid social media for the next 3 days.

As expected I haven’t slept well at all. I don’t sleep brilliantly when he is here and normally blame it on his snoring (not actual snoring, just annoying noises from his nose) but I have been far, far worse without him here. I doze a bit and dream weird dreams – last night I was queuing up at a supermarket checkout with my weekly shopping and remembered I needed rocket (?), left my shopping with a little old man to look after (?) and proceeded to wander for hours and hours around the supermarket looking for a bag of rocket, getting more and more hysterical. The night before, I was trying to get through to the school absence line to report T having an orthodontic appointment and couldn’t get the number to work. I am literally the most boring dreamer in the world. It could be worse, I suppose – no-one wants nightmares and at least if I am dreaming I must be getting some sleep! And stuff I need to do is at the forefront of my mind the next morning meaning I am less likely to forget to do it. Not sure I needed any rocket but I have bought some today just in case there is a sudden shortage.

Three days to go. Nearly half way.