Way on High


I… have been on a jolly.

Another one! mutters John.

It’s true: I’ve been putting myself around a little more of late. I went to see May earlier this month, I’ve been to see Ukuleles, I’ve been out with friends for a curry, I’ve been to see Crowded House, I am off to the RSC tomorrow night, and I have just spent the entire weekend in a collection of damp fields straddling the Welsh/English border, happier than a naturally well-disposed piglet in first-quality poo, at Hay on Wye literary festival.

I realise that this may not be an event with which everyone is on first-name terms, so I shall pinch some newspaper quotes, simply because I am feeling awful tired and rather reprehensibly lazy. The Los Angeles Times rather nonplussedly states that “The small market town of Hay is an unlikely setting for one of the world’s biggest book festivals… a literary extravaganza that is now firmly established as the biggest book event in Britain… In fact it is the unlikeliness of the location that makes the festival so glorious”. The Guardian thinks that “Hay hoovers up the best writers published in the world. This has over the years, created a self-reinforcing phenomenon: they get the best, and so the best want to come.”

Prominent politicians litter the turf as thickly as authors, comedians and musicians; with the exception of the odd ex-President (in particular yesterday’s interview with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf) the security is superficially non-existent and the artists mingle freely with the crowd. Henning Mankel was supposed to be appearing, but has a current engagement – in more than one sense – that he can’t exactly excuse himself from. Ron Prosor, the Israeli Ambassador, was likewise expected and has, unsurprisingly, sent his apologies. We nearly bumped into Ed Miliband; Nick Clegg is expected later in the week.

Hay audiences are famously amongst the most intellectual in the world. Then I turned up, and the mean average IQ slumped a little.

Actual built accommodation is sold out years in advance, so Shannon – whose inspired idea this whole jaunt was – and May (these ladies, incidentally, speak more languages between them than the inhabitants of Babel) and I all converged on an enormous pre-pitched tent in this picturesque fold in the hills, toting an array of sleeping bags and widely divergent footwear. 

John has been wetting himself laughing at the thought of me in a tent; he reluctantly handed over his pristine and (supposedly) polar-suitable sleeping bag with a grumble about it really being far too good for a tent-hater like me and that I was bound to be ridiculously hot and that I should really take the ancient and cobweb-thin one instead.

I was not ridiculously hot. It was Wales. It was Spring. There was rain. We were, all three, perishingly cold, as well as managing to somehow end up lying on our respective zips after struggling womanfully into the unaccustomed straight-jackety confines of our sleeping bags (a voice in the dark from May’s corner of the tent, stoic but with a frisson of aggravation: ‘I feel like the Very Hungry Caterpillar.’) atop comparatively comfortable but comically undulating airbeds. 

You would have laughed at us. We were laughing at us. And despite the cold, and even despite the chokingly bad chemical smell in the portaloos, we had a thrillingly good festival. I kept phoning home to say hello to Harry (who would snatch the phone and utter a brief Errro! before droppping the reciever like a hot poker and rapidly beetling off) and enthusing wildly to John ‘I am having SUCH an amazing time! You would HATE it here!’

Because – it’s maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but maybe you would have liked to have been there. I watched a multiplicity of wondrous drawings climb effortlessly from Quentin Blake‘s pen, and it was Good. We all went to see Kazuo Ishiguro (ostensibly being talked with, but given that the chair was John Mullen, he was actually talked at) and his phraseology was exquisite and it was Good. I went to see David Mitchell speak about his latest book and was charmed and captivated – ironically, much beyond my words – by his passion for language, and it was Very Good. We all watched Giles Coren (a distinctly more attractive chap in the flesh) get mildly hot under the collar, and it was Good. May skipped off to see Ed Byrne whilst Shannon and I stuck it out with a discombobulated Beth Orton and it was Strange. And Good in places. 

Then there was the tent interlude.

The next morning, surrounded by a fair breeze and increasing sunshine I listened to Sir Peter Stothard talk about his new book – I bought it, he signed it – and was reminded just why it is that my classics degree was not, in fact, a big fat waste of my time. I then scurried back to ensure that a copy of Aliens Love Underpants was dutifully inscribed to Harry – a huge fan of the Underpants trilogy – by illustrator Ben Cort. 

May and I inserted ourselves carefully into the thousands-large audience for Lord Robert Winston – a personal hero of mine – in order to faciliate my rapid emergence and gallop towards the bookstore where he would be signing books afterwards. By virtue of my Olympic-standard use of the Wifey Elbow I managed to be the first adult in the queue. I greeted him in admiring and overwhelming awe (sans vowels, again. Must work on this.), had books signed for Harry and myself, and had a brief chat to him about what a lovely bloke David Attenborough was. May was then obliged to shepherd my quivering form for a coffee – we all drank helluva lot of coffee – whilst I clucked happily and patted my bag of books. 

In fact, the weight of our respective book bags was becoming tedious; I spared a thought for Shannon, out combing the 39 bookshops of Hay on Wye (population: 1400) and now, doubtless, in dire need of a sherpa.

The unremitting high-interest of the lectures couldn’t last. I went to see Janet Todd discuss the new edition of Jane Austen’s collected works; she read large passages from her juvenilia and unfinished novels with which I was already fairly familiar – so, most unusually, I nodded off. I think people noticed. My bad. Mea culpa. etc. However, May and I finished off in electrifying and enchanting style hearing the incredibly engaging David Mitchell discuss the magnificence that is Cloud Atlas, quizzed, alas, by the garrulous John Mullan who had a most unfortunate tendency to remind me strongly, on a number of levels, of Alan Partridge.

And then it was nightime on Sunday and the three little girls had played away from home for quite long enough. Boooo. I managed to capture May and bring her home with me for the night, as well as subjecting her this morning to an over-crowded Stratford Upon Avon, John’s rowing on the Avon and an ebullient toddler – who timed his ascension of the potty-throne for his shockingly smelly morning dump to mid-breakfast perfection – before waving her off on a train back to London. 

I am now absolutely tuckered out, but with a towering pile of new books perched promisingly by the side of my bed and a steely determination to return, because there was very much more indeed that I would have lovedlovedloved to see, hear and do during this festival.

I’m going back next year. With heated caravan.

Rumours Not Greatly Exaggerated

I shall skim lightly over the precise nature of the misery that norovirus has brought to the Hairy household this week, except to say that I have had an opportunity to form a brand-new pet theory regarding roller-coaster rides and ease-of-vomiting.

There are people who adore fairground rides. Simply can’t get enough of ’em. They are happy to be thrown around the skies by whatever whirling mechanical means Cro-Magnon-Fairground Man is touting in their town this week.  And then you have the confirmed coat-holders; those indefatigable, sensible lovers of good old terra firma.

There are, I believe, people who can neatly eject the contents of their stomach – while standing! – and proceed calmly with their existence. Who can, whilst out drinking (and I shudder to even recount this) have a tactical chunder to make more room – and return to the bar.

And then you have the people who cannot throw up without feeling as if A) their life is coming to an end, and the sooner the better, too, and B) that they would mightily prefer being buffeted at the epicentre of a particularly heated rugby scrum to their current wretched abdominal spasms.

I think that the person who likes fairground rides and the person who can throw up without wanting to actually die, may actually may be one and the same person.  I, regrettably, am the other person. The coat-holder emetophobic person. The ‘take-everything-I-own-and-break-my-limbs-if-you-have-to-but-fer-the-love-o-god-stop-this-happening-I-would-rather-give-birth-sans-pain-relief-(again)-than-this’ person.

Due to the incapacity of his parents, Harry (the Hairy Patient Zero, now well into the recovery phase), has managed to get away with rather more than he normally would do

and has mastered two… well, three new Makaton signs during all of this: ‘Puking’ and ‘Poorly’. Except that he can’t quite get the hang of ‘Poorly’ and is merrily signing… something else instead.

After whimpering pathetically to Harry that Mummy was very poorly, I was treated to the singular experience of having my toddler (who embodies the conventional 2-year-old vintage blend of slobbery affection and brutal sociopath) pat me on the arm with great tenderness and sign:

‘Mummy dead’.

Arrhythm & Blues

Before I launch into things – it’s perfectly normal for children to regress with potty training, is it not? I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere. Regression: Normal. Regression for no apparent reason: Normal. Regression from a 95% at-home potty success strike rate for all logged output, to… well, pretty much zero: Normal. Yes? I’m sure I heard you pipe up ‘normal’?

Cool! On we go.

I went to see these chaps again last week.

Before my tinnitus began to dictate against it as a frequent hobby, I regularly saw bands of all flavours live, from Motorhead to the Everly Brothers to Paul Weller – and I can solemnly assure you that the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are simply the best thing since Cool was invented. They are, to borrow a phrase, plucking brilliant. I always bounce out of their shows feeling like I’ve just joined a particularly juicy cult, swearing that I will Buy A Bloody Ukulele Tomorrow And Learn To Play It, Goddamnit! To hell with my guitar (and my banjo!) – four strings are the future!

This quirky collection of quintessential Britishness is coming to a town near you soon, Toronto and NYC included, and they are pure serotonin. And they have an exceedingly dishy bassist

with whom I managed to omit every last fucking vowel chatting with afterwards.

Miss them and miss out.

Speaking of missing things, it appears that my heart is doing exactly what I thought it was doing, and merrily skipping beats all over the shop before clearing its pumping backlog of the Useful Red Stuff with a colossal bang. This type of arrhythmia is, happily for me, normal and nothing to worry about, although I do sincerely wish that the consultant cardiologist had used some other word than ‘arrest’ to describe the little places on the ECG print-out when my heart (temporarily, natch) simply sat and quivered like a jelly, hoarding blood, and refusing to co-operate. I’ve not managed to experience an arrhythmic beat without the A-word flashing neon into my head since, and I have several of the buggers a day currently. I’ve had three typing this post.

It is with a sense of vague embarrassment at having wasted a fair wodge of words, some perfectly good lip-gnawing and everyone’s time, when I also tell you that my heart is not the wrong way around after all.

Have I… let you down? Am I not quite different enough for you now?

Previous consultant’s vague asseverations and loosely-worded report notwithstanding, my heart is looking in excellent nick – and the right way round. The associated aorta/IVC tubing is the wrong way round, but as they definitely get themselves mixed up somewhere outside my heart, I’m assured it’s of no cardiac significance whatsoever, and merely a headache for whoever might find themselves waving a scalpel about inside my abdomen one day. Not a biggie. I am officially restored to being a woman with only one major anatomical oddity.

*cheers with relief, but quietly, so as not to attract attention*

I did feel oddly guilty whilst climbing back into my clothes (a common failing of mine) for not measuring up as the Grade A Freak I portentously introduced myself as. I was merely a Grade B Imposter. I mean, any idiot could acquire two wombs, but it surely takes a special kind of weirdo to have a back-to-front heart as well.

Consultant had delivered what he termed the VIP treatment: he disappeared mid-appointment into the bowels of the hospital and returned, having actually snared an Awfully Nice-Looking Radiographer sporting a very flash mobile ultrasound. AN-LR lay me on my left side facing away from him, snuggled his bum in business-like fashion onto the bed behind my knees, and proceeded to briskly lift up my left boob (my Double-D dear had seen the cold gel and was running away to hide down the side of the mattress) and plonk the scanner onto my ribs. The lovely young medical student was agog, hovering with bated breath at the end of the bed – her proximity to the feet I had been walking through sheep shit (in sandals) with shortly beforehand may have contributed to this – and her notebook was poised at the ready. 

And… I didn’t come through with the anatomical goods. Cue disappointed medical student. Cue disappointed AN-LR. Consultant, on the other hand, seemed delighted to have crossed me off the Oddity list, and bid me a beaming good day.

Never mind.

Maybe I’ll catch the student on the Obs & Gynae rotation flip side and atone for my current mediocrity then.

Do You Have To Let It Linger?

You know that… that thing garlic does? When, hours after you’ve eaten it, washed your hands half off and excoriated your mouth assiduously, it’s still clearly detectable at 100 paces? Clinging to you as lovingly as an orphaned Orangutan, but sadly lacking in hairy orange cuteness? Yes? Well, sheep shit is just the same.

Sheep shit, I have decided, is my bête noir; there isn’t a power shower in Christendom that’ll shift the smell of the stuff off me once I’m daubed with the slightest smear of it. Just as I think that several gallons of water, liberal applications of soap, a complete change of clothes and a lapse of several hours have permitted me to call myself Clean, I catch an unmistakable whiff of digested grass, and it’s all to do again.

Oddly, John is not affected in the same way, and has no problem divesting himself of any stubborn ovine fragrance with a few brisk scrubs; his particular nemesis is silage (fermented grass). He has complained bitterly in the past that every nail brush he has ever owned is only capable of shifting the sweet, distinctive pong of it off his hands for an hour. Or, the amount of time it takes him to leave the bathroom, dry off, get dressed, and arrive at the pub. The warm pub. Where there is often a reasonable amount of lifting-contaminated-hand-near-face action taking place, albeit usually in the camouflaging company of others who have also been silaging busily and can therefore be conveniently Blamed – much like an elderly spaniel who obligingly comes for a pat when you have a fart building up that you know perfectly well will leave a near-solid vapour cloud.

I tell you this because Harry became fairly clarted in sheep shit earlier this afternoon. I hadn’t especially planned another afternoon spent farming as he’s gone along to plenty of sheep work lately, but he caught sight of the JCB Loadall and Landrover over a hedge coming back from a playgroup and shrieked like a runaway steam train until I braked to a halt. I drove into the field for a quick round of hellos to my in-laws who have been in the States for a couple of weeks, helped shoo the flock into the pen, and belatedly noticed that John had sneakily constructed an impenetrable network of hurdles in front of the gate. Consequently, we stayed to watch an aggravatingly large number of sheep dosed, with what I told Harry was Calpol medicine and cream for itches, but was actually wormer and protection from blow-fly strike. 

Harry is as fully magnetised to excrement as any child of his age and weight in Great Britain, and the grass was thick with rich green deposits of it. Once his shoes had picked up what he considered to be a sufficiently varied sample, he cheerfully re-distributed plenty of it in the Landrover, which has, thankfully, plastic seats. He smeared some more of it over the JCB seat, which is (puzzlingly) fabric – and which his father later sat in. He then proceeded to clamber into my car before I cottoned on to the danger, and adorned my driver’s seat with a quintessentially rural abstract mural. (If I hadn’t been able to work out why the bloody smell followed me around everywhere prior to this event, I can probably identify one likely contamination route now.)

Anyhoo, we came home, had tea, and Harry was despatched for a bath, seeing as he had now added a generous layer of pasta sauce to the existing grime. 20 minutes of intensive splashing later, he was as clean as an outdoors-loving two-and-three-quarter-year-old ever is (I’d say 99%. There always seems to be a sploge of paint situated somewhere unlikely that manages to evade the parental censor), pyjama-ed up and demanding a story in bed. I duly read Aliens in Underpants at his insistence, and bent down to kiss him goodnight – whereupon I had a gentle but distinct waft of sheep shit perfume, right between the eyes. I blinked and moved in for a second go… and… Yes. Definitely ovine in origin.

It must have been oozing out of his pores. Silaging is a little way off yet, so it’s early to say, but I think Harry takes after his mother. Poor lad. We must remember to warn him never to stand near the fire in the pub.

Do, or Do Not. There Is No Try.

The diet goes well.

The diet goes so well that I manage to prostrate myself, smack-bang in the middle of hosting a dinner party for 12 on Saturday night.

I’ve given this some serious thought, and I think it might have been either the copious amounts of codeine I was swallowing to negate the considerable pain from the first period I have had since the miscarriage, or the fact that I’d eaten near-bugger-all for 3 days, or the fact that I’d been on my feet working hard for 36 hours interspersed with a lousy sleep, or the large, heavy meal I was half-way through troughing, or the fact that my frantic diet has evidently shrivelled my stomach down to the size of a particularly under-endowed Dik-dik scrotum, or the large glass of fizzy lemonade cut with 1/4 white wine that I had convivially sent down to keep the opiates and the Heavy Meal company, or, and this is just a wild stab in the dark, all of the above? At no point was I surprised to feel suddenly, acutely, painfully unwell, you understand; I knew I’d been a spectacularly daft twat. 

My stomach accepted the starter without a murmur

(Warwickshire asparagus spears in camembert, with beetroot jelly, wrapped in leek, based on this) and was happily half-way through the main course (Chicken stuffed with wholegrain mustard, mozzarella & cheddar, Alastair‘s (who first fed it to me) veg pie, potato dauphinoise, roast courgettes & baby tomatoes, carrots & peas) – when I received the sudden and distinct impression that Capacity Had Been Seriously Exceeded. This was a completely new experience for me. I prodded my plate listlessly, but could summon no enthusiasm at all; in fact, the unambivalent message coming up from the Dik-dik scrote was that Immediately Ceasing To Eat Forthwith would be an awfully good idea. I managed to half-heartedly heave some dessert (apple strudel, slightly-disaster-stricken-sunken profiteroles with simply the nicest & simplest chocolate sauce ever) into assorted guest bowls, before sinking into my chair with a badly-stifled whimper.

I’ve never not been able to polish off a plate of good food in my life. Ever! I now know exactly what a gastric band must feel like, and I’ve acquired a fair insight into pyloric stenosis, too. The sensation was appalling, yet I struggled womanfully to keep it all down, purely because I was becoming convinced that the effort of ejecting it might actually kill me dead, given that I was freezing cold, shaking like a leaf, and having a degree of heart arrhythmia that I would normally associate with a brutal gym session.

I am fortunate in possessing kind and competent girlfriends: I progressed from Sofa to Bed, where I cuddled a bucket just in case, shivering, occasionally groaning at a particularly vicious stomach spasm, whilst other hands cleared the table, served coffee, and located the fudge and mints. John, having missed my subdued announcement of departure, eventually noticed that his wife had disappeared some time before, and, given that it was a murder-mystery party, came on a search & retrieve upstairs. He found me bitterly and just-audibly fulminating on fizzy drinks, codeine and sugar levels, and, taking squeamish alarm at the sight of my – redundant, as it happens – bucket perched atop his pillow, backed out and retired downstairs again.

By 2am I felt tentatively certain I would live, and by 4am I felt sufficiently invested in the new day to take some cautious sips of water. By 5am, when Harry woke up for the day, I actually felt in considerably better shape than John – who had been been on the red wine, by the look of him.

Yes, the diet goes well.

And speaking of things going well, you remember that blogging awards thing you very kindly nominated me for? The MADS? Yes?

Well, you’ll note that t’badge up top now reads ‘Finalist’. I have, to my astonishment, emerged as one the five finalists for best MAD blog writer, for which I thank you all very, very much indeed. I am exceedingly and sincerely touched. Mind you, coming as it does on top of a post purely about my inability to digest a meal, I give you ample leave to erupt with uproarious, disbelieving laughter and vote for one of the other talented contenders, especially given that one of those others is a verrrry fine writer and damn good buddy of mine.

I was evidently not paying an awful lot of attention at the beginning of all this, as I now discover from the press release (a press release! To all the national and local press! Ummm. Errk!) that there is a proper awards dinner at which the winners are announced, and furthermore, I have heard a fairly solid rumour that there will be… gulp… TV cameras. The funk that the thought of the resulting publicity has sent John and I into: I will spare you; there is some urgent bloggy housekeeping in the immediate pipeline, is all. The thought of appearing on camera I have not yet let my brain examine properly, lest it recoil in horror right up its own fundament.

In short, I am absolutely delighted and grateful for all your nominations, and should you wish to vote again and propel me further forward, and tell all your friends! then… well, that’d be just grand.

And awfully nice of you.

Tell you what, just on the off-chance that feeling sorry for me’d help your voting finger, here’s a picture of the poor old wreck that is I, tonight, wearing a sinister-looking ECG heartbeat-tracker machine-thingy. It’s ferociously itchy and digs in me and I have to sleep in it.  Boo-hoo.

That do any good?!

You don’t have to say you love me

Well. This is a bit of a pickle, no? 

I wonder if there’s a little sign on our desk at the UN…?

Polite Notice to Other Nations: We would be most obliged if you would delay any declaration of war with the UK, should you be considering same. We have not finished counting to 100, are officially Not Ready, and have no-one morally empowered to push our big red nuclear button at the present juncture. If you do genuinely desire conflict with the United Kingdom, please be good enough to wait until next week for us to put our house in order, when we will get back to you forthwith. Kthnxbai.

Robin vs Priscilla, Round III

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when!’ ~ PG Wodehouse

Yep. I’m back on my ubiquitous Robin-of-Sherwood-meets-Priscilla-Queen-of-the-Desert topic again. Concerning which there have been too many posts, I know, but until I figure out which one of you bastards made me fat how to take responsibility for my sweet tooth, then I think I’m stuck here in porky-pig land forever.

In case you’ve been lucky enough to miss my previous angst: essentially, I started life terribly thin, got chubby, got chubbier, got thin, got awful chubby, got thin very fast, stayed thin for years, met Hairy Hubby, stopped smoking, got chubby, got married, got awful chubby again, had Harry, and have been firmly parked in the 14.5 -15.5 stone region ever since. My Gynae now wants to plonk me on an operating table and furrage about my reproductive bits (I have two wombs. Yes. You read that right.) in order to get a better picture of why I am so dreadful at staying pregnant, but I also have a back-to-front heart, so there isn’t a sensible Anaesthetist in the whole of Christendom who is going to perform elective general anesthesia on a woman with wonky cardiac structure and a BMI above 35.

The Wifey, they said at the end of February, must diet.

I was, in February, 40lbs in excess of a BMI of 29.9, which I must achieve in order to have a scalpel waved in my general direction. And I want this surgery, I really do. By the time March rolled round I had joined the gym, I was focussed, I was All Set.  Then I promptly became unexpectedly pregnant – and began to miscarry almost before the pee had dried on the stick. Oddly, this put me off my weight-loss stroke a little. Then came Easter, during which I fought a broadly-ineffectual rearguard battle in my consumption of  good old Cadbury’s glass-and-a-half, which ballsed it all up even further.

Anyhoo. The weekend before last, I got on the scales and burst into anguished tears, as I’d had a reasonably – I thought! – austere week that had cruelly and unaccountably translated into a whole gained lb. I spent a few sniffling, mournful hours trawling the websites of various purveyors of weight-shifting snakeoil and the shakiest of crash diets, but in the end, the common British sense (that I never seem to quite manage to shake off. Melodrama FAIL, every time.) prevailed: I texted my good buddy, and joined her at her Fat Fighters class on Tuesday nights. It’s a sensible, achievable, diet plan, and I augmented it with 3 trips to the gym last week.

Tonight, I was Slimmer of the Week (or would have been, if it weren’t for some pettifogging rule about losing for two weeks on the trot. Bah!) and was down 4.5 lbs. I have 32lbs of my 40lbs to go. 

I have shifted 3 stone in 3 months in the past by eating sensibly and exercising my arse off, so I have optimistically set my sights on hitting a BMI of 29.9 in time for her wedding celebrations on 3rd July, with surgery hopefully to follow shortly afterwards. It means losing 4lbs a week, every week, but short of something drastic keeping me out of the gym, I don’t see why I can’t do it. If I want another baby, success is my only option. Failure’s not.

*grits teeth*

On the topic of babies: big baby had his scheduled EEG today. I was lugubriously expecting a goat rodeo, but I took the laptop and a hoarded Shaun the Sheep DVD along, which transfixed him to such an extent that he made only token helicopter-in-trouble flailings when the electrodes were attached, and proceeded to sit, relaxed and slack-jawed, whilst I watched his brain waves play out on the technician’s computer screen.

This was indescribably peculiar to see. Naturally, the readings went mad if he physically shifted position, but at one point, whilst sat perfectly still, Harry smiled slightly in amusement – and one of the traces went haywire. At this point, I started having my usual blown-totally-away-by-clever-science ‘we put a man on the moon AND we can see into people’s heads with a length of wire, funky software and a dab of conductive gel!’ type thoughts.

Awesome. Truly. Now we just have to stew until mid-June for our next Paed’s appointment to find out the result.

At which appointment, God damn and blast my wretched fucking weight, I will be thinner. I will.

%d bloggers like this: