I was chatting to the wondrous May last night on Facebook about this and that, and during the course of the conversation, I expressed a dissatisfaction with the hackneyed and cliched slang-status of Pissing MySelf Laughing. PMSL, I opined, and ROFL, were passé. We needed something else.

‘I once fell off a chair laughing,’ May mused.

‘I once choked on coffee laughing,’ I brooded.

Choked on Coffee. Fell off Chair. COCFOC was born.

You heard it here first.

*makes shooing motions*

Go viral, little acronym! Go viral!

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.


Fact Number One:

There has been a damn funny smell in our kitchen for the last couple of weeks. It started as a breath of unpleasantness which I quite happily ignored: the house is inhabited by a farmer, complete with encrusted overalls carrying their own individual bouquet, two extremely clarted dogs (just so we’re clear, by ‘encrusted’ & ‘clarted’ I actually mean shit-plastered) and a toddler who not only insists on being ambulatory whilst eating, but drops food behind him like rain. We frequently have zephyrs of Unpleasantness passing through, and they are thankfully transitory. The dogs generally find the dropped food before I do, then leave, in company with the offending overalls, and we return to the usual inoffensive status quo. 

This particular scent stuck around. It became Ominous. Initial forays in cupboards, under the sofa, behind the dresser and beneath the island all drew a blank. It was a tang I couldn’t positively identify, but it was certainly beginning to fill me with a mild apprehension. The last time I was obliged to investigate an emanation that had outstayed its welcome, I dragged a furry dog bed out from under the worksurface to discover that my extraordinarily dim spaniel (frequently in disgrace) had eaten a small bird before vomiting it neatly UNDER the top cushion of said bed.

I began to think about the parents of an old boyfriend of mine, who had a similarly elusive aroma in their immaculate, minimalist master bedroom in a recently converted old barn. We crawled all over that room, sniffing like the Bisto kids,

 trying to pin down the origin and nature of the Whiff. We emptied the wardrobes. We took the bath side panel out. We turned out the divan bed drawers. We discussed anxiously whether there was an animal buried under the floor that was mysteriously sending a putrid stench through the concrete floor raft.

Eventually, someone shone a torch into the 1-inch gap between the divan bed and the floor, and it was suddenly like that scene out of Se7en where Brad Pitt goes all hoarse.

‘You better come take a look at this!’ 

It transpired that the cat had brought in a mouse that was not quite expired; it had evidently scurried just underneath the bed before finally succumbing to its injuries. I am puzzled to this day to how the decay of this tiny creature could produce such a noxious, near-solid stink, but it was a real rip-snorter of a whiff right enough.

As I say, this episode, coupled with the Congealed-Bird-In-Dog-Bed Horror, was making me nervous. I had searched everywhere, sniffing like the bloody Child Catcher, and drawn a blank. Walking into our kitchen was becoming distinctly – and increasingly – repulsive.

Fact Number Two.

During my recent short-lived pregnancy, I had a collection of pregnancy sticks lined up on the kitchen table, where anxious comparisons of the (phenomenally sensitive. A win for Tesco’s own brand pregnancy tests!) line colour-depth were made on a day to day basis. Following an excruciating incident when I unexpectedly entertained 3 friends, in full view of the elephant in the room row of fading peesticks, I decided that they would be better off living concealed in the tin on which I had been balancing them in order to photograph.

I duly shoved them in there, and dismissed them from immediate consideration. I wasn’t planning on taking them upstairs and storing them, but neither was I quite ready to throw them away; they were the only thing I had to reassure me that I hadn’t imagined the whole incident.

Can you connect facts One and Two? No? Well, here you go:

Fact Number Three.

Our kitchen island often looks like this;

the tin is vaguely visible on the left hand side.

Every few weeks someone generally wants me to create something that requires a hygienic kitchen and a large clear space, so I boot every living thing apart from myself out the door and blitz the rubble of bills, toys, fruit, cameras, paints, coins, binoculars, catalogues, telephones, fridge magnets, biscuits, books, newspapers, junk mail and cheque books into tidy order. Upon performing this task earlier this week, I looked at the peestick tin and resolved that it would actually suit Harry’s crayon collection better than his current pot. I also decided that I was now ready to let go of my ephemeral double lines. I moved toward the bin, briskly removed the lid, and… wowsa.

Ain’t nothing ephemeral about that.

Now. Ladies. I know quite a few of you have kept your ancient, yellowing, positive pregnancy tests. That’s just fine. I still have the first two positives I ever had, in fact, sat harmlessly in an envelope upstairs in the bathroom cupboard. The trick to keeping old tests successfully, it appears, is to keep them someplace where gaseous exchange isn’t an issue.

In other words, don’t keep them in a very-nearly-but-not-quite-airtight tin where they can’t dry out.

They pong, you see. And when you have 8 of them, they have a reek-potential level somewhere between ‘Eye-Watering’ and ‘Deadly Poisonous’. Merely putting the cap back over the damp end does not mean that you have rendered them socially acceptable and futureproofed.

Urine smells!

And I live and learn.

Fright Night

Well, I dunno about you, but even I’m depressed by this blog at the minute. Shall we change the record?

The sun is out, and this always cheers me up no end. We all went into Stratford shopping this morning (Stifle your gasps. I was taking John whiskey-tasting in order to buy his belated birthday bottle. The man had incentive.) and we had an ice-cream each; Harry managed to consume the lion’s share of both of them. Not bad for a child who didn’t much like the stuff last week – today, it was like feeding a large and highly opinionated baby bird.

There are a number of things I should really do instead of being sat here. Top of the list is clean the blasted tortoise hutch out – the computer is right next to the frowsty thing, and the fumes are choking me. I imagine Marina isn’t too chuffed, either. The chicks need a bigger enclosure making. I am supposed to be painting an old table with roads and associated gubbins for Harry to drive his cars on. The ‘lawn’ needs the gaps seeding. The steps need digging. The dishwasher needs emptying. The office needs tidying setting fire to. Every room in the house has a bargain assortment of detritus thickly strewn across the floor. I have an engagement to party to attend (Alone! Knowing only one-half of the couple in question! Social nerves!) this afternoon, for which I have forgotten to buy a gift, and friends coming for dinner this evening, for which I only have half my ingredients. I think they are coming to stay, so the spare room will need the bed excavating from mounds of outgrown baby clothes and toys. The lawn needs mowing.

I think I need staff.

Or a cattle-prod up the arse. Either would work.

Antonia has been posting about ghost stories this morning. I love ghost stories. I have the psychic ability of a sack of spuds – which is to say, not much – and yet I think I still managed to see one once. I’m not sure. It was a while ago, and I’ve told the story so often I can’t remember which parts I’ve actually embellished.

I used to be the administrator of a small, 22 bed geriatric hospital in a local market town. The building was a 1899/1900 workhouse infirmary, a long, narrow, two-storey building with old-fashioned nightingale wards at either end.

workhouse infirmary

You could stand with your back to one end wall, and look through numerous double glass doors all the way along a hundred feet or more of corridor to the other end of the building, providing the patients didn’t amble into your sightline. The wards were downstairs, the physio department and my office were thinly populating the enormous second floor.

One winter evening, about 5.30pm I left my office (the furthest sticky-out piece of building in the photo) and crossed the corrider to the staircase, noticing that the physio department (at the other end of the corridor, out of photo-shot to the left) was shut-up and the corridor was dark. (At 5.3opm in England, in winter, it is black as arseholes.) I was downstairs for a minute or two before leaving the light and bustle of the wards, returning up the dimly-lit staircase, crossing the corridor, and stepping back into my neon-strip-lights-galore office. As I walked away from the stairs, something caught my eye and I glanced down the dark corridor towards the physio department. I didn’t actually break stride until I was two steps into my office.

I stopped. I backed up and leaned my head out into the corridor. Blinked. And began to walk down the corridor in search of the – I assumed – wandering patient I had briefly glimpsed at the far end of the – dark and deserted – corridor. I got half-way down the corridor – I’ve told you how dark and deserted it was, yes? – and it suddenly dawned on me that A) this was weird, B) I was walking down a veerrrrry long dark and deserted corridor from the comparatively light into the bloody dark, C) lots of people die in workhouse infirmaries and geriatric hospitals, and D) I was a big, fat, hastily-retreating wuss.

I scarpered back downstairs into the light and noise and went in search of the Alzheimer’s Wanderer patient who had a habit of breaking bounds and having a mooch about. She was placidly eating her tea. Everyone, in fact, was present and correct. All the patients. All the staff. There was no-one upstairs except me and my… thing that I saw. A dim, human-shaped figure glimpsed briefly from… 80 ft away? Barely counts, really, does it?

My Dad did rather better when he was a young man. He used to work in a building in Birmingham that had been bombed at one end during the war, killing the night watchman who was on patrol on the top floor, watching for incendiaries. The building had had its end wall re-built afterwards, reducing the original building footprint size significantly. All the draughtsmen used to regularly hear the sound of footsteps crossing the now-abandoned top floor. The footsteps could be clearly heard walking directly over their heads – before continuing straight off the modern end of building, onto the non-existent part of the ceiling that had been demolished 20 years before.

 It’s not the bump in the night that gives you the fright,

It’s two holes in the head and the absence of light.

Or something.


That’s SO not a wolf

I thought John had got his middle-aged crisis out of his system some years ago: it’s thirsty, British Racing Green, the same age as him, requires arms like a fucking gorilla to steer, and does about 400 miles a year.

thin patch

(I can see the thin patch. His mother can see the thin patch. I know YOU can see the thin patch. John REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE the thin patch, so if we could not dwell on it anymore that’d be… um… diplomatic. Kthx.)

It seems I was being optimistic. A pal came round last night to show us both the finishing touches to his new tattoo and his latest love;

 motorbike middle age crisis

Hubby displayed distinct signs of (I pray: transient) acquisitive fervour (“I think I want one”).

name that beastie! 

We spent a fair old time hotly debating the actual species depicted: ‘feline’ and ‘canine’ both had their staunch adherents and we were eventually obliged to compromise on ‘mythical’.

dog or cat 

If he does get a motorbike (which, incidentally, he would have to ride over my bloody twitching corpse before he got onto an actual road with) then I’m not sure quite where it will fit. The household already contains a sports car, one telescope that is literally bigger than I am, plus a behemothic tripod and accoutrements, three rucksacks and dozens of cardboard boxes containing his camera equipment, an enormous hi-fi complete with floor-standing speakers that he is – seemingly – emotionally attached to, and several squillion back copies of The Sky At Night and Practical Photography magazines.

If he moves a motorbike in, then something will certainly have to leave. John has accused me plaintively of orchestrating a subtle campaign to move him – and all of his possessions – out of the house and into a shed somewhere in the garden. Apparently, the under-stairs cupboard, the garage and the spare bedrooms are only the thin end of my gradual-spousal-eviction wedge. These wild and bitter insinations are a vile… vile… um… accuracy.

Speaking of garden, some of you may remember my wails of woe when we had no lawn suitable to host Harry’s first birthday party on. The whole topic of ‘garden’ is a contentious one currently – it hovers somewhere on the marital stress chart between ‘divorce proceedings’ and ‘frosty’, and any mention of the word ‘summerhouse’ generally triggers tears in one or other of us – but John has undoubtedly provided… green.


I, personally, would be reluctant to term it lawn just yet.

sparse grass

In response to my frantic yammering, John keeps giving assurances that it will ’tiller out’, but I think my chances of having a lush playing surface for the beginning of August are non-existent. Once again, I am seeing… thin patches. 

If the lawn doesn’t break us apart, the steps leading up to it just might. This is the product of over 2 years of collective masterly non-activity:


and I am thinking of holding a pickaxe party in the desperate hope of getting it finished before ummm… summer.

That thing that’s already, like… here.

Choice Eccentricities

If I had to list the aspects of the internet that I love with OMG, dangerous intensity – we’d be here a long while. But one of them is the fact that I no longer have to shell out money I can’t afford in order to read the broadsheets. Which… are no longer broadsheets, in fact, but you know what I mean. And I still buy the actual real paper item from time to time, with the full intention of enjoying the letters pages and the crossword (not the cryptic. I can’t do the cryptic without having my hand firmly held by a wizened and wise crossword professional who must carefully translate the convoluted esotericness to me), but inevitably it ends up lighting the fire or lining a nest box because all my spare time is no longer spare.

Anyhoo. What I am wordily working around to is that I read something yesterday that really tickled me. (If you are uninterested in Italian current affairs or busty models, then I suggest you skip down to the next bit, where I get worked up and upset again.) This was in yesterday’s Times, and refers to the juicy-sounding events that Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, is said to have been attending recently. That last line is… beautiful. 

According to the Italian press, some of the pictures of the parties show topless women embracing under a shower beside a swimming pool. The reports said that Mr Berlusconi was clothed in all the photographs, some of which showed him driving girls round his estate in a golf buggy while armed guards stood on the perimeter wall.

Imma Di Ninni, 30, an actress and reality show star on Mediaset, denied that there had been any scandal at the villa. She said that the new year party consisted of “music, dancing and chatting” and that the Italian leader had always “behaved like a gentleman”, showing his guests his extensive gardens. “He is an expert in botany,” she said.

Of course, so often the media send me into a different kind of tizzy altogether. Since having Harry, the images that I used to have some natural immunity to when they popped onto the TV screen, now seem to have sneakily acquired hard-wiring into my core.

When I was little, I can often remember my parents and teachers informing me – often with quizzical or bemused expressions – that I had a very vivid imagination. God knows what choice eccentricity I had uttered that day to incur the puzzlement of my seniors, but they were bang on the money. I do have an uncontrollable imagination. I am able to sink myself into a good book so entirely that it is almost physical pain to me to emerge, blinking, into my real life.

Often, I openly pity my husband’s thoroughly matter-of-fact and pragmatic upbringing. He lives within a mental space that simply does not stretch to allow his imagination much free rein, and literature is a closed book (ba-bam!) to him. I often tease him by telling him that he is 2-dimensional and emotionally devoid of depth; he senses the grain of genuine criticism implicit in the chaff, and ruffles up nicely (Bless the man! Despite once giving his considered opinion – after struggling through the first 3 chapters – on Lord of the Rings as ‘much too wordy’…) before vociferously denying that he is any such thing.

Yet… John has experienced as much horror and trauma in his life as the next man. He has witnessed violent accidental death. He has experienced the fear that his baby son might have died, alone among strangers. He has spent his life amid hundreds of tiny everyday animal tragedies. And – perhaps not unrelated to the last item – he has dealt with all of these things in their due season… and then put them to bed. He does not have nightmares.  He isn’t, to the best of my belief, haunted.

This plane. The Air France one. It had 7 children and a baby on board. I have morphed from confident flyer to a miserable shaking jelly of fear following a oscillating-bouncing-bomb type landing a few years ago, which I suspect has helped this event play on my mind.

John, you see, does not helplessly and continually picture his son’s frightened face, hear his desperate screams and feel the terrified clutch of his chubby arms as, encircled by fiery metallic death miles above the ocean… falling, agony, dying, unspeakable horror.

As I do.

Harry has one parent who is closed to many of the more peculiar inner worlds of the mind, and one who is very… open. I can’t for the life of me decide the (hypothetical, as he will be who he will be) question of whom he would do better to take after.


We deviate from our standard schedule of Toddler, Assorted Animals and Two Uteri in order to bring you…

How to Speak Brummie!

The fabulous and talented Laura was puzzled by yesterday’s reference to my alleged Brummie outlook. I have previously tried to explain to visitors to this shore the huge disparity between BBC English (received pronunciation) and all the UK’s regional accents. I personally find thick Scottish accents nearly impenetrable, and was obliged to watch Rab C Nesbitt with the subtitles on.

My parents were both born and brought up in Birmingham, the UK’s second city. They moved to South Warwickshire when I was 18 months old, but both still retain traces of a Brummie accent – as do I. My mother’s family were, in fact, Yam Yams, and I can murder the pronunciation of ‘money’ as ‘mon-ayy’with the best of them.

The key feature of a Brummie accent is a monotone, with a downwards intonation on the end of sentences. The accent is heavily stereotyped: the sound – and therefore the disposition of the natives, also – is widely considered depressing and, of all the UK regional accents, the most associated with low intelligence!

Have a try:

Berminggum is wun uv the Larges citays in the u-nyted kingdem. It is pRRobebLay moest faymus fer the buLLRRingg und spegettee jungshun, but ittas eLo mor to offa. The nashnel eksibishun senta is a gRRayt sawss uv pRRoid te the lowkel in-abitents und steps av bin tayken in RResunt yeers to impRRoov the appeeRents uv the citay.

(Woody is Brummie. Buzz, Potato Head & the dinosaur are Geordie [North-East England] and the dog is Cockney [London])

(Jasper’s accent isn’t a particularly strong one. My Dad sounds rather like him).

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