Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Conversations with Lily’ Category

Somerset Woman Concludes Half Marathon Training And Still Has No Idea If She Can Complete Course!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Snappy headline.  I missed my vocation as a sub-editor.

I am going to suggest that you chip in a few quid for a very good cause.  This is where you donate.  Below, is just one story of why.

So, it’s me, that Somerset woman.  Having achieved the great age I am now (reaches hand through mists of time), I swore – and I do swear a lot – that I would never do another half. I say this as if I did one a week.  But no, I have done two and they were both, in their own very different ways, awful.  Birmingham was the last and I did this for Cancer Research UK.  It was awful because about six weeks before the race, something really rubbish and personal happened here and this overwhelming something really threatened to knock me off course.  In fact, it proved to be the opposite as I used the really rubbish thing to get me out of the door and running – I now think I was literally running away from the really rubbish thing.  I am now going to abbreviate that to RRT.

Anyway, I started making pacts with myself or with someone who also lives in my head.  I’d think:  OK, if I (you) can run 10 miles today, the RRT will be alright, I will manage it;  or, if I can run the first 6 miles without stopping, the RRT will go away.  Then I’d be literally afraid of not running 10 or not running 6 without stopping in case the RRT-thing managed to get me.  Like a monster. It worked!  I also did this thing where I’d start running and the RRT would be all over me, in my head, in my body, on my shoulders, like carrying a heavy, scary thing on your back.  So I’d say (not out loud, not that mad yet and also, no spare breath):  you’ve got ten minutes, RRT.  I will grant you ten minutes of this activity and then you ship out.  After ten, I’d imagine shrugging off a great big heavy coat, like the way coats your auntie had used to make you feel when you were five years old and playing dressing up in her spare room.  It also worked.  Maybe, dear reader, I should have pursued that career in therapy?  No?

In March this year, my lovely sister-in-law died from cancer.  I loved Judith.  She, like me, obvs, is an out-law in the family that is Mark’s family.  As a longer-established out-law, Judith made me feel welcome and she was kind.  I come from a very small family and Mark’s family seemed too big to me.  But if Judith was there, it was fine.  I sound like I was about 10 years old.  But I was in my mid-20s.  I really looked up to her.  I don’t think she ever knew that and I wish I had told her.  She left the family that is Mark’s family a few years ago and to all intents and purposes, her ties with them all, other than those that lived on via her children then all grown-ups, also ceased.  She was no longer one of them.  But she was still one of mine.  So we remained in touch. Distance, time, life – and then illness for Judith in the last few years – often kept us apart but we were in touch.  She came here and we had a lovely time.  I think I loved her more than ever in those difficult times which she faced with slightly baffled stoicism.

The thing is, Judith’s cancer was one of the cancers that is, in universe terms, about 10 minutes away from a cure or a therapy regime that is as good as.  Sadly, in human cancer terms, that’s years.  But not that many years.  Judith’s sister Joan who I also love for her kindness and her strength, is a very clever woman.  She does all sorts of eye-wateringly hard things to do with medical research.  As a job, not just like me where I read about things on the leaflets in the packets of pills or on Goggle.  Joan is a mega-scientist.  In a University and everything.  At Judith’s funeral (more of a party) Joan gave an incredible talk about how close we are to that therapy that would have saved or prolonged Judith’s life.  It is just round the corner. We could catch it up, if we ran now, just for 500 meters, we’d be upon it.  I imagine it as a chase – in police dramas such as Vera (new obsession alert) where Joe chases The Prime Suspect and you think – oh no! he’s not going to catch them!  But he does!  We can be Joe!  We are so very close, I can almost touch it.

I know, being highly rational as you know, that my running the Windsor Half Marathon is not going to save a life and nor will it bring Judith back to us.  But, if we raise money and give it to CRUK, we will be closing in on that evil predator that is cancer.  So, and this is of course the point, please donate.  If you do, leave us a message and I will read them to Lily as we attempt this (her first, my last) half marathon.  And you will be with us, every step of the way.  I need you with me.  I am scared.  I am five years older and things hurt a lot more.  The training has been very hard too, with the hottest summer for many years.

We started strong with a training regime planned and a cool spring/early summer.  By mid-June I was back up to 8 miles.  Then the heat wave arrived and it went on and on.  I tried running very early but it was still boiling.  I tried the gym a few times but frankly, running on a tread mill makes knitting brioche seem attractive.  I ran some days just up and down own stretch of lane with deep shade on one side.  I picked up a hip injury (might just be age) and Lily has some weird stuff going on with her feet – they go numb and then they come back to life.  But in the last few weeks it’s been cooler and we have built to 12 miles, with several 10 and 11 milers in there and lots of 3 – 6 mile short runs.  We have also reached the stage where we can go non-stop running for 8 miles.  Then I really have to stop and stretch.

Can we do it?  You decide.

Judith died on the last day I saw her.  I cannot really describe that day.  But it was amazing because I almost went the next day.  Something – and I am not a person who usually goes in for this sort of thing, but something – told me to go that Tuesday.  Jack, who is the kindest, sweetest person, said as it was his day off, he would drive me as I wasn’t to drive my ancient Punto for 300+ miles.  We packed food.  What else can you do?  We drove, with Jack playing a special play-list, though the dull, murky late winter.  Where Judith lives, the rural east midlands, it is rolling and open and there are miles of Roman roads.

The house was almost deserted.  It’s a huge and beautiful home.  Judith was upstairs but since my last visit she was no longer conscious. My nephew was with her.  Now, if I say that this was a good day, please do not think me callous or unfeeling.  We all knew Judith was close to death and that despite her courage and all that her amazing family had done, cancer was winning this one. But to make food for the continuing to live, to see Jack and my nephew together – almost strangers then but friends now – and to sit with Judith in those hours was a privilege.

For some time, later that day, I sat alone with Judith.  She had been moved from her own bed into a special hospital bed and all round this, were cushions and duvets, lest she fall.  But the bed had sides and anyway, she was very still.  Asleep.  I sat in a little armchair.  Can you guess what I did?  Of course you can guess, for you would have been knitting too.  I was knitting a Moebius.  Moebius knitting is my go-to for travel and waiting.  I was working out a new pattern as it happened so there was a lot of counting forwards and back.  Sometimes I spoke to Judith.

Toby and Jack came upstairs and they sat with us.  Toby sat in Judith’s wheelchair, a new addition for me.  Jack lay on Judith’s double bed.  And there, with Judith asleep, we talked.  The house was warm and even though the blind was partly down, it was clearly darkening as this late winter day started to close.  In that hour, there was crying.  We held each other and we did cry.  Then we stopped and we chatted about holidays we had, days we remembered, and we laughed.

When it was time to go, we went with Toby for the eleventy-fifth cup of tea of that day.  I didn’t want to leave but we had to.  It’s almost 200 miles each way so it was time.  I went back up to kiss Judith and say goodbye as I knew I would not see her again.  I told her I loved her.  And I still do.

As soon as we got home, some hours later, Joan told me that Judith had died, just an hour or so after we left.

Her funeral was simply amazing, just like her.  Judith was a quiet person, but never, ever boring.  I think I could have spent many weeks with Jude and never tired of her.  She also had a gift of accepting silence – it never felt awkward.  Her vibrancy, wit, intelligence and warmth were all reflected in that celebration.  My niece, the oldest of Judith’s three children wrote an incredibly touching poem and asked me to read it.  Now, if you know me, you will know that rather like one of the Mitfords (I can’t remember which one – Debo?) who cried because she felt sorry for matchsticks, I am a howler.  I bawl at almost anything.  Once a crier, always a crier.  So, how to get through the poem without a catastrophic breakdown?  Practice, practice, practice – and don’t look at anyone you know or anyone who is also crying. And I did it.

Joan’s speech was inspirational and because of that, here we are, Lily and I.  On the verge of race day, with a chaotic and surreal summer behind us and 13 unknown miles ahead.  Please help us and please help CRUK to catch up with cancer.  It’s too late for my lovely Judith but it’s not too late for lots of others.

I love you.  Thank you.





Dear Diary + Conversations with Lily

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

(Some of this was drafted a while ago).

Bank Holiday Monday:  this is the last day when I will live in the house without one or both of my children also living here. The last time I will peg out and fetch in washing for Lily*. The last time I will sit in the kitchen, in the early evening, knowing that Lily will be coming home. Home. To eat, sleep – live. Have long since abandoned futile and exhausting pretence that I am fine about this. The last weekly menu that includes Lily and Jack has been drafted and most of the meals I predicted have gone. Absolutely fed up of this self-generated ‘last time’ nonsense and yet am also apparently entirely unable to stop myself from doing it.  Overwhelming sadness is only marginally moderated by uplifting realisation that at the very worst, it will soon stop as they will finally have gone.

Reflect that ‘it could be worse’ and agree with annoying inner-self and many acquaintances, that yes, of course it is patently obvious that it could be worse.  Yes, Lily could be moving to New York (or insert distant location of choice). Am almost as sick of hearing this as I am of hearing my own inner monologue about woe-is-me. Next person to tell me how much worse it could be is in danger of seeing usually well-concealed version of self (and here, I sadly reflect that this is possibly the real self) who is liable to become ill-tempered and snappy upon receiving such probably well-meant but nevertheless platitudinous missives.

Fug of misery, deepened by length of time that ‘the move’ has been looming over me is further intensified by realisation that I have planned an unappealing supper for this last evening – a meal of left-overs supplemented by not always welcome spinach and chard from the allotment garden. Ponder if ‘last supper’ mentality is really appropriate and decide that it is not and thus, the fish-pie/cauliflower-cheese/spinach combo is fine.

*this proved to be incorrect as I still appear to be in charge of Lily’s running gear washes.

Tuesday:  wake with a refreshing sense that this is the first day in which ‘the move’ will no longer have the chance to loom as it will be history.  This uplifts me for at least half an hour. Am in danger of moping through yet another week, so embark on exhilarating programme of making myself do things I hate.  List includes such items as sorting out accounts, cleaning out wardrobe, defrosting ancient freezer, and weeding.  Therefore and entirely predictably, I make a list of these things and then shove list under pile of newspapers and knit while watching Netflix.

Wander round house, tidying up a bit. As hoarders go, I know I am not the worst.  For example, my stairs and hallways are not fire hazards, I do not keep ‘useful bits of string’ in the house (though I do in the car-port on the potting table), and I am often found in the act of housework which I detest and so see as form of divine (or maybe satanic) punishment.  But as ever, I wish my house looked more like the houses of some of my friends with no clutter and (I imagine) immaculate drawers.  I mainly hoard books.  It could be worse.

I am aware, however, that I am touchy about how clean and comfortable my house is.  Firmly tell self that this is silly and also make resolution to calmly tell people who may (even inadvertently – or whatever) criticise things, to fuck off, but to do so without loss of temper if possible as this is not nice for me  (I do not care much about impact on them). Post-Script Note:  this resolve instantly breached as very next week, a very slight acquaintance comes to house for coffee and without so much as a rueful smile, informs me that the coffee is not nice, and orders another but this time hot,  and explains how I can resolve other coffee problems.  And I do.  I do not say:  fuck off.  I do not lose my head.  I just comply but inwardly fume and suppress powerful desire to swear piratically. Think that I need more practice but I do make mental note to never repeat experience of having very slight acquaintance over.

Second, to tell people who say things that they think are funny and who, in doing so attempt to make others feel that somehow they ought to ‘get’ the ‘joke’ and not be offended, that it is not funny. In fact, believe that they use this as cloak of invisibility for nasty comments they want to get across.  These people are often the same cheerful folk who call a spade a spade, speak their minds and talk as they find.  In other words, they are incredibly rude but may not be taken to task as they ought because they at once say:  I speak as I find!  Decide to do the same to them.  This may test some relationships to point of breaking.  Do not care.  I do not ‘speak as I find’ as a rule.  Do you?  Wouldn’t it be awful if we all told the unvarnished truth as we see it? Thus, I know I will never do it unless loss of control has been achieved.

(Some weeks into the period of my life now known as AC – anno childrenia). Lily and I are training for a half-marathon at the end of September.

Saturday – long-run day:  Lily arrives before dawn has cracked. I am stumbling about in kitchen, dodging dogs and cat, fumbling with door locks. Lily erupts from and also into gloom and I can tell at once that, like me, she is absolutely furious. Hurls herself into chair and sobs:  why?? why are we DOING THIS?

Me:  I have no bloody idea anymore. (Note:  we are doing it to raise money for Cancer Research UK and in memory of my beloved Sister in Law, Judith, who died earlier this year.  But as Lily knows this at least as well as me, as it was her idea, I do not bother with explanation).

Lily:  I can’t face it.

Me:  nor can I.  Let’s not go.

Lily, new resolve clearly entering her soul:  No! we MUST go! (now declaiming in manner of warrior-leader attempting rally of troops).  Onward!

Me:  onward.  Into the night.  It’s still chuffing dark.  Let’s have a cuppa.

Lily:  OK.

Lily:  have you eaten?

Me:  no but I am thinking of eating a banana. (I hate bananas but my sports physio has prescribed one a day so I now buy tiniest possible bananas and sometimes eat one).

Lily:  yuk.  But OK I’ll have one too.

I investigate fruit bowl and find one rather old looking banana and some newer, less disgusting ones.  I take both examples into the kitchen and suggest we both eat half of each.  We do so, gagging due to early hour and also rank taste and texture of bananas.

Lily:  hmmm, that old banana wasn’t too bad.  Just shows that you should never judge a banana by its skin.

Me:  but that is really the only way to judge a banana, isn’t it?  Surely that’s the definitive banana test?

Lily:  don’t call me Shirley.

And thus, buoyed up by this sort of high-quality bant, we emerge into the slowly receding gloom and reluctantly begin our 12 mile furtive shuffle.  This we complete, with a lot of extended silences as I find running makes it hard to breathe and talk, thus meaning, according to all training material I have ever read, that I am doing it wrong.  The run is, however, enlivened by my periodic Michael Jackson impressions.  These are prompted by my running in white cotton gloves.  Am doing this because my hands are in sorry state and I can keep them hydrated and medicated by wearing the gloves.  But is, I find, irresistible to break into such iconic songs as Billie Jean, The Man in the Mirror, and especially Thriller, whilst waving one white-gloved hand in Lily’s face.  On down-hill sections only, obvs, due to shortage of breath at all other times.  She loved it.

Later, much later, after we messily complete the 12 miler – our last long run until the race – and have showered, eaten a lot of non-banana foods, and are lying on the bed in Lily and Jack’s lovely new house…

Lily:  we are doing OK aren’t we?

Me:  yeah.  I mean that was absolutely awful and frankly right now I’d give all the target money to NOT do it, but I think we will manage it.

Lily:  no, I mean THIS.


Lily:  THIS!! Me, not living at home anymore? We doing OK, right?

Me (thinking:  is that true?):  yes. We are.  It’s fine.  We are managing it well.

And I reflect that it is true, after all.  I would prefer to live in a huge house (with separate kitchens, due to my slovenly nature, obvs) with both my children and their partners.  But that’s not real life – and in fact, this is good.  I miss them.  But it’s fine and I have a feeling it will emerge from fine to not bad and then maybe onto actually really good in the coming months.  For one thing, I can go to their houses for dinner, refuse to eat spinach and ask for more wine!






Conversations with Lily: the gym, the stuffing, the kale and the sweat.

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

As I review the blog section that houses conversations with Lily, I see there are fewer of them as time passes.  This is not a true reflection of real life as in fact I think we have more conversations if anything.  But she is 21.  Apparently.  So they are different from the young and late teen-age conversations.

We often go to the gym together and this is a conversation from last week.

Lily and I are driving to the gym to attend a spin class followed by Bums, Legs and Tums. Do not let these familiar and innocent names fool you.  They are brutal at our gym.  Nice, but brutal.

As we drive up the hill to leave the village:

Me:  we could just not go.

Lily:  not go where?

Me: to the gym.

Lily:  what, just not go? (as if I had suggested participating in the class naked).

Me:  yes. I could turn the car round. We could go home…

Lily: what is for dinner?

Me:  chicken wrapped in bacon, roasted.

Lily:  (genuinely happy) yay!

Lily:  is there stuffing?

Me:  no.

Lily:  (crestfallen) what are we having with it?

Me: (said with unnatural enthusiasm as am fully aware that this news will be unpopular) kale!  And mashed root vegetables.

Lily: (with heavy sarcasm) yay!  Kale!

Lily:  f**cking kale. We are always having kale. Why do we have kale so often?

Me:  I grow it. I like it.  It’s good for us.

Lily:  can we have stuffing?

Me:  well…if I drove to Asda instead of the gym I could buy some, then we could go home and cook it with the chicken!

Lily:  but then we will feel bad.

Me:  about what?

Lily:  missing the gym.

We drive to the gym.  As we toil through 45 minutes of spin, I note that as ever, Lily and I are the only women in the class who are obviously literally pouring with sweat and very red.  Muse:  why is this?  Would like to think it is work ethic but think we are in fact just genetically programmed to most unattractive reaction to exercise.

As BLT is about to start:

Lily:  I wish we were having stuffing.

Me:  well it’s too late now.  Also I feel sick so let’s not talk about food please.

Lily:  we should have gone to Asda.

During BLT – the bit where you kind of half-kneel, half-lie on your mat and have to do incredibly painful things with your legs for an improbable length of time – which always comes after the running about bit and the torture that is 15 minutes of squats and lunges and thus makes me sweat even more, I catch Lily’s eye.

Lily:  (mouthing/whispering) stuffing…!

Me:  shh. Also – kale.

Later, someone I know only from the gym and who I really like comes up to me.  We are happy because the class is over.  She says:  ‘oh Ali!  your face in class always makes me laugh!  You cannot hide how you are feeling, can you? You look so fed up!’   I agree but in fact I am startled to hear this as have always assumed my face to be a perfect mask of enigmatic opacity at all times.  Later, on the drive home, I ask Lily.

Me:  Lils, so-and-so said to me that I look – well fed up in classes. I am trying to look neutral.  Which is it?

Lily:  quite angry and sometimes a bit scared and always fed-up.

Me:  wow! Sometimes I am enjoying it though!

Lily:  were you enjoying the mat-work tonight?  Because you looked psychotic.

Me: well no…but I was sweating so much my arms kept sliding away from under me.  I must try smiling.

Lily:  for God’s sake don’t do that. You look bad enough without adding a deranged grin to the mix.


Lily:  why do we sweat so much?

Me:  I don’t know!

Lily:  I blame you.


Me:  why?

Lily:  the same reason I blame you for the moon-face and the hair:  I get these things from you.

Me:  you’re welcome.

Lily:  but really, mum, why don’t I look like so-and-so in class?  SHE never sweats so much she has to mop the floor at the end.  HER hair never looks like she’s had a shower.  HER makeup never slides off her face like a land-slip.

Me:  we are working harder.

Lily:  we’re not!

Lily:  also how can the instructor do it all, AND yell at us non-stop, AND not die of sweating like us?

Me:  practice?  Or they won on the genetic lottery? They got lungs the size of hot-air balloons and no sweat glands and we got tiny lungs –

Lily:  (interrupting) yeah to go with our tiny bladders!*

Me:  yes! tiny bladders and tiny lungs – but incredible and over-productive sweat glands. Maybe, our profuse sweating is linked to having tiny bladders?

Lily:  eh?

Me:  well, our bladders are so small, the excess – um – fluids are excreted via our skin!  So we don’t…

Lily:  yes! OK, I get it! and also gross.

Lily:  we deserve stuffing for tea.

Me:  well, tough, too late, it’s kale.

Lily:  when you’re old I am going to make you kale smoothies instead of meals.

Me:  what about my wine allowance?

*It appears to be true that we both have bladders with the capacity of an egg cup. This is a source of irritation to anyone who has the misfortune to cave with me, or undertake a motorway journey with us as we like, in fact need, to visit all the service areas. On their first ‘date’ which was to Carnival, Lily’s boyfriend recalls that she had to visit the lavatory 5 times including just before leaving his house.  And yet still he went on dating her. He doesn’t so much mind it – really why should he? – as find it an absolutely baffling feature.  And then he had to drive me to Birmingham so now he knows where she gets it…


Conversations with Lily: The Trump Talks

Monday, February 6th, 2017

So, in all the years I have been blogging I have never (as far as I can remember) blogged about anything political.  No, for that you need to be be my friend on Face Book where I am more free with my political thoughts.  Such as they are.

This is a kind-of political blog post and I make no apology whatsoever.

Recently, some things have been happening that have somehow brought the worlds of politics and knitting (and maybe crochet, I am not sure) together. You may have noticed.  I am speaking of the Pussy Hats.  Arguably, knitters have always been ‘political’ and certainly many are active in causes such as environmental campaigning, animal and human rights, and global aid programmes.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, it’s just illustrative.  Knitting, and crafting is almost always done by perfectly normal people with passionate views on things other than fibre-content.  On the other hand, I have taken a decision, until now, not to be ‘political’ here, but desperate times and all that…

President Trump (and even now, as I type these two words, I still cannot quite believe it) has somehow gained (more or less) overall control of one of the world’s most influential nations.  And partly because of his documented and undeniable views on and treatment of women, and partly because of all the other things he thinks, some people have knitted a whole pack of pussy-hats.  And worn these hats on globally staged marches.  I whole-heartedly approve of this strong visual testimony against Trump and what I understand he stands for.  If you like him, well… that’s not really fine, though it is your free choice; but in a first for me, this is political blog post and I don’t like him, so you may want to leave now.

I do not for one moment think that even if everyone in the world knitted and wore a pink hat with ‘ears’, Trump would care or change his behaviour. But the point may be that it and all other forms of peaceful and solo or mass resistance, impact on the arguably more important groups: the ones who have the power to limit his actions now; and those who have the power, in four years, assuming that America is still a democratic republic, to vote for someone else.

Lily and I often talk about politics.  Despite the marked lack of politics on my website, we are a political family.  Here is a medley of some of our more recent Trump-related discussions.

(At the time of the release of the video footage of Trump talking about his incredible magnetism for women.  Oh, sorry, yes – I do mean the pussy-grabbing clip).

Lily:  Mum?

Me:  yes?

Lily:  if dad was recorded talking about grabbing someone’s pussy, what would you do?


Lily:  I mean, it’s not likely, but just like, what if he did…?

Me: (still groping – bad analogy? Or just too soon…? for some words) well…that isn’t just unlikely, it simply would never happen.  So I can’t even think of how I’d react. I imagine Trump’s wife had some evidence to suggest that he, on the other hand, might be a pussy-grabber.

Lily:  yeah, but say he did?

Me:  actually DO it, or get recorded talking about it?

Me again, and leaping into the pause:  no, look, sorry this is just too weird…

Lily:  you’re right.  No-one would ever want to record an interview with dad.

Me: no, but what I mean is, he would never do that.  I don’t think I know anyone who would do that.  Much less talk about it…Do you?

Lily:  I dunno…I guess you might never know until it’s too late?

Me:  I think with Trump there was previous form.  (Pause)…I was once grabbed on my leg by a guy at work…

Lily:  (assuming what I think she fondly imagines to be the expression of a therapist) so…do you want to talk about that?  How did that make you feel?

Me:  OK, yes I do.  He was a bit drunk, he was kind of in a position of authority and he grabbed my leg at a work lunch.  It was many years ago.  This ought not to be true, but it is:  things were different then.

Lily:  I hope you drop kicked his balls into the next room?

Me:  no. I wish I had.  But I just walked off.  It was a long time ago.

Lily:  Swoon, but how did he get through the crinoline you were wearing, m’lady?

Lengthy period of immature laughing on Lily’s part.

(Shortly before the US Presidential Election)

Lily:  Mum?

Me:  mmm?

Lily:  he’s not going to win, is he?

Me:  (without even having to ask what she meant):  no love.

Lily:  Mum?

Me: yes?

Lily:  is this like when I had that ear infection AND tonsillitis AND conjunctivitis and you said every day that I’d be better by tomorrow?

Me:  well…

Lily:  ‘cos that was a lie, wasn’t it?

Me:  Lils, you really are going to have to let that go!  And it wasn’t a lie because look – you are all better!  It was about five years ago.  Get over it.

Lily:  but it WAS a lie on all of the days before I DID get better, wasn’t it?

Me:  I think you need to differentiate between an actual lie, and an assertion of faith or belief in something that might happen and which you genuinely believe to be true or likely to become true, especially if – as was the case with your illness – you have the power to summon antibiotics and ice-cream.  Which I did.

Lily:  (momentarily stunned by my flawless logic).

Me:  so, in this case – the Presidential Election – I am asserting my belief that he will not win.

Lily:  is that faith, or just hope?  I mean, you said he wouldn’t get the nomination!

Me:  yes.  Yes I did and I am sorry that the Republican Party, over which I thought I had almost super-human powers of persuasion, did not in the end follow my sage advice and float him out to sea with a torch up his arse, and use him as an aid to shipping navigation.  But there we are.  They didn’t heed me.  I expect they’re sorry now.

Lily:  I only mean, you were wrong then, you were wrong about my tonsillitis and you might be wrong about him not winning!

Me:  I was not wrong about the tonsillitis.

Lily:  what about this?



Me:  I am not wrong. It won’t happen.

(The day of the US Election.  This took place by ‘phone as I was away from home, working with a client – my other persona – and I was staying away to do this work).

Me:  are you OK?

Lily:  (gulping, sniffing wetly) no!

Me:  me neither…

Lily:  is it real?

Me: yes my love.  It is real.

Lily:  you said…

Me:  I know, enough with the tonsillitis already, oy!

Lily:  (wailing) I miss the Obamas !

Me:  I have to go…

Lily:  Don’t leave me too!

Me:  I’ll be home tonight, we will talk it all over then.  In the meantime, do not listen to the news or read stuff on Face Book.  OK?

Lily: OK…but Mum?

Me:  yes love?

Lily:  I am not being shallow or sexist or anything but to be honest if there was an orange-coloured woman politician who had hair like a yellow pillow, I would probably be all like – ‘hey, back off, it’s cool to be an orange woman, just ‘cos she’s a woman, you think it’s OK to be all judgy about her orange-looks and that – but if it was an orange man it’d be OK wouldn’t it’…but he IS orange with weird white patches round his eyes…so because he is a MAN it’s OK?  And… and just HOW COULD THEY HAVE VOTED FOR HIM?

Me:  (looking at my face for traces of Tangerine Dream foundation)…what?

Lily:  Hillary isn’t orange!

Me:  I think we need to get over the orange thing…

Lily:  I can’t. I think it’s spray-tanned on and the white bits are either where he wears goggles while his wife sprays him OR he sweats it off on that bit of his face.  So it’s on purpose.

Me: (to my colleague) no thanks. I’m not hungry anymore, I’ll just have tea please.

Me: (to Lily) look, love, I’ll be home tonight…wait… I am pretty sure his wife doesn’t spray-tan him…that is far more likely to be a job for the Vice-Pres…anyway, I’ll see you later.  It’ll be better.  We’ll eat some sweet potato chips and have a Magnum…

Lily:  he will still be President Elect though, won’t he?

Me: (gripped by an internal and silent struggle, in which truth wins, only because I am, apparently, a busted flush with the Republican Party and All Of America) yes. Sorry about that.  Unicorns are still real though…

(On the day of the inauguration).

Lily:  I can’t look.

Me:  me neither, let’s go out.

Lily:  do you feel sorry for her?

Me:  yes I do.  I think it was her last chance to be President…

Lily:  no, I mean Melania.

Me:  (genuinely stumped, because this has literally never occurred to me)…

Lily:  I mean, she has to live with him!

Me:  well that’s entirely her choice!  She does not have to.  She could walk away at any time and take hold of some self-respect again…

Lily:  Whoa lady!  I think you are forgetting one thing!

Me:  the money?  or the possessions?  or the Giant Mirrors In The White House into which she can gaze at her unchanging image for the next four (please God) years?

Lily:  no.  I mean the programming!  LOOK at her! She looks like she is in a cult!  We should send help.

Me:  I am not looking, I thought we agreed we would not look?  Anyway, what kind of help?

Lily:  a secret rescue squad – a dachshund-handler could go in with some cute dachshund puppies and while they were all distracted with the puppies, they could secretly ask her if she wanted to come with them…


Lily:  …and she’d totally go with them!  DACHSHUND PUPPIES!

Me:  …stranger things have happened…Trump wouldn’t be allowed to touch the puppies, would he?

Lily:  (scornfully) of course not Mum!  God.

(Some time later…)

Lily:  I have never seen Michelle look so – so…pissed off!

Me:  no, nor me. She looks amazing and so angry!

Lily:  look at Hillary, gazing up at her.  It’s so sad.

(I look and think, but do not say how Michelle must be very tall or Hillary very short).

Lily:  what do you think they will do now?  The Obamas?

Me:  if it was me, I’d drink about three huge Camparis, book a cruise ship just for the fam and bugger off on it for a few weeks.

Lily:  do you think Michelle will run for Pres?

(I don’t think this, but neither do I want to crush this last scrap of hope…)

Me:  …yes.

Lily:  is this like the time when I had tonsillitis…

Me:  OK!  No, it’s not like that time!  I am almost – no! I am in fact 100% sure she will run, and lo! she will win! and by the time that happens there will be no more pink wool in all of the world, for it will all have been knitted into Pussy Hats, which have become visible even from space, so great, hopeful and good is the pink-glow their massive pinkness sends out…

Lily:  have you been at the bloody Campari again Mum?

And so our quest, that is Lily and I, for answers and reasons continues, daily. I believe my loyal reader will not have been remotely offended by this post as I am sure her sensibilities are not so tender and also that we are kindred spirits, she and I.  If you were offended, your pussy hat, lovingly knit by me, is in the post. Mwah X

Conversations With Lily: maps

Monday, December 7th, 2015

I have to tell you about this convo while it is fresh in my mind.  It is shocking!  Did you realise that (and maybe I am guilty, if anyone is, not Lily) that apparently, some *young people* never look at maps?  I was brought up and learned to drive in the pre-GPS/sat nav era, but even so, I loved maps as a child, and I still do.  I also always secretly wanted to home-educate the girls and I had an imaginary curriculum in which there was regular map reading with practical skills added on in the form of walks.  The home ed thing never happened.  Mark wouldn’t let me.  He was probably right.

On car trips to Manchester with my father to see my Grandma, I would study the car-map for hours. Well, there was only Radio 2 or reading when dad and I weren’t chatting.  Reading a book sometimes made me feel sick, but studying the map didn’t.  I pored over the huge atlas – do you remember them? Maybe your car still has one, in the pocket behind your seat, or in the boot?  First I’d trace our journey that day and dad, though he knew the way intimately and needed no navigator, would ask me to check which roads we needed – their number, where we would join them, an estimate of the number of miles outside, say, Chapel-en-le-Frith, we would be at when we reached that tricky junction.

Once I was satisfied that he would not get lost for a while, I’d explore the whole atlas.  Fascination with our UK geography gripped me.  The expanses of our country that were brown and green and had moors and mountains with close-drawn lines to denote their elevation were exciting.  These areas often had intricate folded drawings indicating the actual terrain. The torrid clutter of the south east or the west midlands with roads too numerous to count and no open spaces as far as the car atlas was concerned were exotic and alarming. I loved them all – the key to symbols, the letters, and especially the trick to get from your current page to the place where your road went next – not always the next page!  The maps however, gave you clues with a grid-reference system in  the back.

I have almost no natural sense of direction.  My instinct to turn the wrong way is legendary, especially in towns.  Or caves.  I once had to ring a friend, in London, from Trafalgar Square, to ask her where my office was.  That memory still makes me feel a sense of mild panic.  But I can, if I have a set starting point to get in the right direction from the beginning, read a map.  It has left me with a pretty intimate knowledge of the UK’s ‘face’.  I know, for example, exactly where Carlisle is, even though I have never been there.

So today, Lily was asking me about The North.  This region may as well be somewhere you’d find in Game of Thrones as far as Lily is concerned. The North is an amorphous mass of cities and mountains to her. To me, it is the place of my birth, and a significant part of my early life. It is not a single place.  I have visited and lived and worked in many parts of The North.  But the news today reported on the awful weather and floods in the north west in particular and then:

Lily:  Carlisle?  But that’s in France.

Me: (slowly appreciating that it is not a joke)

Lily:  isn’t it?

Me: no.  It is in England.

Me:  why did you think Carlisle was in France?

Lily:  well, it sounds French, doesn’t it?

Me:  not really.  Maybe you are getting mixed up with Calais?

Lily:  no mum. God.

Me:  Carlisle is in the far north of England.  Now, can you tell me – or show me with your hands if this (showing her with mine) is Taunton – where Norwich is?

Lily:  (gesturing to where the the Shetlands would be) it’s here, innit?

Me:  no.  It’s here (showing her), it’s in the east of England.  Where is Hull?

Lily: (indicating Oxford) here?

Me:  so, if I asked you to drive to Birmingham now, what would you do?

Lily:  GPS it.  But I wouldn’t drive to Birmingham in the Punto, it’d be vile.

(The Punto is my ugly but faithful orange-coloured car.  It is driven by everyone, including Lily, Florence and even Will.  Yes, it is old, a bit shabby, the locks are dodgy and it needs a mucking-out.  But it is my car and they all ought to be far more grateful than they are that I let it be the family communal car).

Me: (sighing) OK imagine you are driving a nice car.  And there is no GPS.

Lily:  um – I dunno!

Me:  what about reading a map?

Lily:  no mum, see that’s  really really dangerous, reading while driving.  Geez. 

Me:  you don’t read and drive.  You consult the map before you start and if you need to, you stop and read it again, then drive on.

Lily:  (incredulous) wow.  What a pain!  Stopping and starting.  (Shakes head in disbelief and pity).

Me:  could you read a map?

Lily:  the words?


Lily:  cos yeah, the words.

Me:  yes, the words, but really I meant the roads.  Could you find yourself, here, now and follow the roads to Birmingham?  With your finger?

Lily: (incensed by the inference that she might be too stupid to do this) Mum!  I am not thick, do you think I’d be drawing my finger along a river or summat?  Mouth-breathing and squinting?  Of course I could do it – but why would I, when we have a sat nav?

Me:  but the point is, aren’t you curious about our country and how it’s laid out?  Don’t you ever look at maps and think:  I want to go there?

Lily:  Nope.

Me:  I do! I read maps all the time when I was little, and atlases of the world!  I looked at the country I lived in and imagined travelling to all these…

Lily:  (cuts me off with a pitying look) yes but mum, you’re a sad little thing aren’t you?

Conversations with Lily: the steak tartare – one from the archive

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I am re-living this blog, because it is almost exactly the same time of year as Mark, Florence, Lily  and I went to Paris.  And I really wish I was there again.  Florence was ill and stayed in the flat for 2 nights, while we heartlessly went out in Paris and had – for one evening at least – a great time.  Then this.  I am going to remind Lily of it when she gets in.

Now she is 19, then she was 15.  But our conversations are still quite similar.  Lily and the steak tartare.  Enjoy. I didn’t.

Caves That Are Not That Much Fun, (leading to): A Conversation With Lily

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Some caves are just too hard for me and I will never go there.  Some caves are just too hard for me, but somehow I end up there anyway.  Recently I have caved in two such places.  Longwood Swallet was the first.  It was some weeks ago and it had been really wet for a while, so the cave entrance, which is horrid anyway, was very wet, with water pouring in on you all the time. Not jetting, but enough to be very unpleasant and annoying.

It is a locked cave, but we had the key from the club. And the drive there and the walk to the cave itself are deceptively lovely.  The cave begins with an entirely vertical entrance series, in which Will rigged a hand line.  THANK GOD.  I absolutely hate climbing down when I can’t see any foot or handholds and I almost took my arm off with the strangle hold I had on that rope.  Once I got to the bottom, which took about a week, I was unable to think of anything else except how the hell I was going to climb back out.  We didn’t go much further, and I can’t remember an awful lot of it very clearly but it was wet and small – ducked in fact. Nasty though that bit of cave sounds (and it was) it was so much nicer than the bloody entrance chimney.  Actually as is almost always the case, getting back up was way easier.  But I still hated it.  Will says it was my intro to Longwood, which implies a return trip.  That will not be happening.

Once out, we wandered further along the valley path to another cave nearby, Longwood Valley Sink, the site of an active dig.  Some Wessex members were there, hauling bits of ground out of the, er, ground, I suppose.  Most of them were deep inside, down what looked like a death slide.  I declined a trip but the very nice members at the top urged the willing and able-bodied (Will and Florence) to go, which they did, but they said they felt rather ‘in the way’ of the cave-digging crew so they weren’t long.  I am so glad that there are ardent cave diggers.  They do find amazing things.  I just couldn’t be one. Literally, all I’d be good for would be making tea, after.

For some reason, after this less than happy day, Will and Florence thought it’d be a treat to go to another dig, Spider Hole, which is half-way along the Cheddar Gorge and up the side of the cliff.  Again, an active dig spear-headed by the Wessex.  We had in mind a fairly quick evening trip.  I asked Lily to be our call-out, in case there was no one at the hut.  I blithely suggested that if they didn’t hear from us by 10 pm, then begin making calls – to the hut, to us, to the pub etc, before initiating a rescue.   To start a cave rescue, you ring 999, ask for the police and then tell them it’s a cave rescue and they co-ordinate the rest.  In theory. In practice, seasoned cavers, if their mates were over their call-out time – and ‘over’ varies from dead on the dot, to an hour or so after, would weigh things up.  In this time, you might try their mobiles in case they are in fact in the pub and forgot to call you; or you might call the cave hut they went from, if they did; or the Hunters Lodge Inn, Priddy, global nerve-centre of all Mendip cave activity, especially resue.  By then, it might be over an hour.

There is a fine line between not over-reacting, and on the other hand, not wanting to cock-up a call-out where a party might really be in trouble. But it is just so very rare.  So the next step might be to send someone to the place where the car might be parked.  If it’s gone, they’re out or they never parked there in the first place.  Anyway, it usually resolves itself with no-one having to be rescued or leave a pint to go cold in The Hunters.  However, I suspect if they knew I was involved, they’d hope for the best but fear the worst…

So. We were in Spider Hole.  We anticipated a quick trip.  This took no account whatsoever of my extreme reluctance to go down the hole, which looked like Longwood only dry.  In fact, it was much nicer than Longwood, but it still took a while.  The remainder of the cave is a weird combination of very impressive engineering executed by the epic digging team, and very impressive deathy drops of many 1,000 feet (I am guessing) down little tiny rifts between sheer rock faces.  FANTASTIC!

Perhaps you can imagine the faffing (from me).  But I did get down the wire ladders kindly rigged by Will and Florence and (as you can see) I got back up, as well.  Always a bonus.  I can report that there is a really big space at the bottom and that digging continues.  It may well be a VID (very important dig) and I stand ready to make the fruit cake to celebrate the next, um, important thing.  I was impressed – if by impressed, you mean terrified – by the tiny ledges you have to shuffle along over the holes of death, in order to get within hailing distance of the ladder; and by the work that is being done.  But (and I am not being picky, I am just saying) it’s not pretty, guys.  Is it, now? However, maybe this cave was asked the all-important question:  ‘Right-o, Cave, do you want to be beautiful, dangerous, or important? You can only choose two’.  Caves are rarely all three.  In my vast experience.  If I was a cave (stay with me on this), I’d choose pretty and dangerous; that way, my cave-pretties would be safer from many cavers.  But who’d choose dangerous and important, and totes miss out pretty??  Spider, and Longwood, that is who.  Spider is really good fun coming out.  The engineering that has been done in that blasted chimney is incredible and I didn’t use the rope!  Longwood – take note.

But it was really odd when we finally got out.  It was dark.  Darker than the 9 ish I imagined it to be.  We wandered back to the car and glanced at a phone for the time.  Holy Bat Caves!  it was 4 minutes to 10!!  I knew that with Lily in charge of our call out, there would be no 30 – 45 minutes of grace while she pondered the next step, or rang the pub, or the club.  I knew that my daughter, the most risk-averse member of our family, and also the most organised, would have put an alarm reminder on her phone and be establishing a procedural framework to go forward with the rescue scenario by about 9.30.  With 4 minutes to go, and no phone signal, we got into the car in our stinky, muddy kit, we didn’t even get changed, and drove like born-and-bred locals to the top of the Gorge, to get a sodding mobile signal.  Which we did by 10.03.

Too late.

Lily had already initiated Operation ‘Get My Bloody Mother Out Of The Bloody Cave’.  She is like an Exocet.  At 10 pm, on the stroke, she rang 999, asked for the police, got cut off, rang again, and, having explained that she needed to launch a cave rescue, then explained to the operative in the ’emergency’ call centre what a cave, and then a rescue, actually is.  They simply had no idea whatsoever for which I am eternally grateful.  I have no doubt that in a further 4 minutes, they’d have established an understanding, consulted standing orders and started a whole train of horribly embarrassing things.

This took 4 minutes, at which time, a frantic text from Florence to Lily finally bounced into her mobile, as we crested the Mendips and got a signal.  Lily stood the massed ranks of the emergency services down, even though they had never been mobilised, thankfully, apologised for her incredibly stupid family, and waited.  She waited for this conversation with me, about an hour later, when we got home.

Me (in my caving under-suit, quite damp and with mud in my hair):  I am SOOOO SORRY, but…

Lily (more disappinted than angry? not really, no):  WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT??

Me (intake of breath only, no words allowed):

Lily:  you said you’d be back by 9.30!

Me:  well, I did think we would, but it was a longer trip than I had imagined, and our call-out wasn’t until 10…

Lily:  can you even IMAGINE what I was thinking??

Me:  yes, and as I have said, I am very, VERY sorry, it must have been scary, I know but…

Lily:  I thought you’d all DIED!!  In a poxy CAVE.

(Florence, helpfully interjecting from the hall en-route to her shower):  Mum nearly did, and we nearly died of old-age waiting for her to sort herself out.

Lily (correctly ignoring this intrusion):  the police didn’t know a thing about cave rescue, by the way, Mum, they thought I was a nutter!  A bonus in my amazing night. Thanks!

Me:  well, yes I do see that it has been really traumatic. What was dad doing?  (Mark had raised a hand over the top of the Telegraph but remained in the sitting room.  There is usually cycling or golf on Sky from somewhere in the world that requires his attention).

Lily:  he was watching telly.

Me:  so…did you discuss ringing 999 with him?

Lily:  NO!! I was expecting you back at 9.30, so at 10 I just did WHAT YOU SAID!

Me:  yes, right, no, right, I totally DO see that, darling…but the thing is…

(Will, from the porch, coming in from stowing away kit):  best if you ring the caver himself, or the pub first, Lils, in future.

Lily:  IN FUTURE??

Me:  yes, great, really not helping, Will, but thanks.

Me:  look darling I really am most dreadfully sorry that you were so frightened, and you absolutely did the right thing. I just don’t know what I can say now.

Lily:  say you won’t go caving again.

Me:  well…if it is any consolation, it was not worth it, it was a weird and fairly unpleasant evening…

Lily:  well, GOOD.  That makes two of us!

Me:  I won’t go to that cave again, how’s that?

Lily (sighing, collecting her things):  I have college tomorrow. It’s late (it was 11 pm).  We will say no more now, but we will talk about it tomorrow.

Me (internal dialog only):  This really is not worth it.  I am going to eBay all my caving kit.





Conversations With Lily – Up-Date and also ‘Rude’ Post Alert

Monday, February 16th, 2015

So, Lily has relented and I am once again allowed to record some of our convos.  This happened when I told her (and it’s true) that after they stopped, the search term on my website ‘Lilley Growther-Smyth’ (and variations on our incredibly obscure names) was higher than Alyson Crow-Smith (etc). Or Kidsilk Haze!

Also, I had emails.  So she has graciously agreed to let me continue.  However, the conversation I am about to share has just happened, and I am recording it now so I don’t have time to think better of it. If she sees it, she may rescind the permission.

Background.  I have not read the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, though my brother bought Mark a fairly funny book called ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey’ for Christmas.  I do know that the real book is mainly about sex.  And (related) DIY.  I don’t live under a rock. Wait. I do often live under a rock.  But anyway…my friend, who has read it, texted me recently to suggest that we go to see the film together.  This offer was further sweetened by the suggestion that we have a cocktail afterwards.  Yes.  Bridgwater has a cocktail bar.  It is called Bar Brunel, and I have been there.  The most popular cocktail is called ‘Mud Slide’.  It appears to be an alcoholic chocolate milk-shake. *urge*

Frankly, I think I’d need a litre of Mud Slide before I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey.  I am not a prude though.  No, really.  I know I look like a prude, but I honestly don’t give a damn what people do to themselves or one another assuming it’s not deathy or illegal, and that it is consensual.  It’s just that I have a very low threshold of tolerance to mortification and embarrassment.  I don’t really want to see the film either.  My favourite occupation is knitting while watching something about the Tudors on the BBC History Channel or listening to The Archers on Anytime.  If you look on iPlayer now,  there is a very interesting documentary about William Shakespeare’s mother, and another about Things That Killed People In Tudor Times. Other than the King.  Or plague.  It was fascinating.  One significant cause of death was SUGAR!  plus ca change…

Anyway, some of the above includes reasons why I am self-selecting not to go and see FSOG.  And I was explaining these to Lily.

Me:  …and so these are the reasons why I think I ought not to go and see Fifty Shades of Grey.

Lily:  fair point, also you might see someone you know in the pictures in Bridgwater.

Me:  yes, and your father showed me a news article* about a cinema chain in the UK (shocked tone, as if it would be less shocking in, say, Iceland or Fiji) which has had its seats covered in vinyl for the showing of this film!

Lily:  why?

Me:  um, well, I don’t really know exactly why…

Lily:  but why do you think?


Lily:  come on mum, what do you think?

Me:  (rallying) well, the manager said they thought it would be quicker for the staff to nip in after each show and give the seats a quick wipe down with a damp chamois leather…

Lily:  Oh my God!

Me:  …yes, rather than, he said, having to shampoo the velour fabric after each show!

Lily:  oh my  God!! Those poor staff.

Silence as we (I assume, both) contemplate this as a job.

Lily:  anyway, if they shampoo-ed the velour each time, it would still be damp for the next showing.

Me:  (happily grasping a chance to talk about something we both like, i.e. a cleaning related conversation) yes, it would take at least 12 hours with the heating on for velour to dry out.

Lily:  I think, if my cinema manager asked me to fit vinyl seat covers and then wipe them down after the film, I’d be sick.

Me:  same.  Also, I’d be asking him/her if we shouldn’t instead be asking our customers to refrain from activities which might result in the need for wipe-age.

Lily: (after a thoughtful pause) also, I don’t think a chamois leather is the right cloth for that sort of job.  I’d have thought a sponge/spray combo followed by a dry cloth buff.  It’ll ruin the chamois-es if they rub the plastic seats with it.  Chamois is expensive and hard to get really clean…

Me:  hmmm…

Lily:  got to say, this is a conversation I never thought I’d have.  With anyone.  Let alone MY MOTHER.

Me:  *proud face*

Lily:  is that your proud face?  Is it?  Because if it is, I suggest you wipe it off with a chamois leather.


* here’s the link.  It’s obviously a spoof but it was fun telling Lily.





Conversations with Lily #8 and also, the final one…

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

…in which we have a conversation about ‘Conversations with Lily’.

Lily (bursting through office doorway and assuming manner of detective about to unmask a murderer): So! What is this? (pointing at iPhone in her hand).

Me:  it’s your ‘phone.

Lily (advancing, with some menace, into the room): no, THIS! (thrusting iPhone screen at me).

Me:  I can’t read it…

Lily:  well, let me read it to you. ‘Conversations with Lily…’ – hmm, shall we start with the one about parties or maybe the driving lessons…? (in increasingly ironic and irritated tone)…no wait! Let’s start with the first one, the one in which you *guarantee* that I will never read these because it’s about knitting, innit? (reaching crescendo of outrage) And I’m quoting you!

Me:  to be fair, you have never read my blog.  Until now, I assume.

Lily:  yes, that is true, and I only read it today because at college, someone asked me about your *hilarious* conversations with me, which they had found, and which I knew nothing about!

Me:  but…

Lily (rudely interrupting):  can you imagine how I felt?


Lily:  can you??

me (hesitantly):  …proud?

Lily:  not proud.

Me:  …amused?


Me: if I was you, I’d be more interested in why one of your fellow students was looking at my website.  Do they knit?

Lily:  no, mum, they don’t knit.

Me:  well it’s creepy isn’t it?

Lily:  not as creepy as your blog about our conversations!

Me:  OK.  I’ll stop.

Lily:  OK.

Yes.  Clearly I have not quite stopped.  But this will be the last one, if you or your friend is reading this, Lily.  I just thought that the last ‘Conversations With Lily’ should be the one about conversations with Lily.  Circular and all that.




Conversations with Lily #7

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Driving lessons have begun.

Lily:  OMG I am so awesome, I drove to Taunton today and no-one died

Me:  result

Lily:  well, thanks for that enthusiastic reception. I drove to Taunton and it was raining and I did the Wicks roundabout – twice

Me: I’m proud.  Especially as your first few lessons triggered migraines, panic attacks and tears – and that was just your instructor – LOLLLL!

Lily:  don’t say LOLLLL Mum

Me:  why not?

Lily:  it’s lame, don’t do it


Lily:  my teacher says I need more practice in our car

Me:  OK, I can do that

Lily:  I was going to ask Dad – and Florence

Me:  but I can also take you driving, right?  I took Florence

Lily:  once.  You took her once, to Pets at Home car park and then made her get out of the driving seat so you could drive home.  She drove, like, 200 meters…

Me (successfully resisting urge to say ‘like 200 meters, as in similar to 200, for example, 201 meters…?):  that’s only part of the story.  There were ‘hot rods’ in the car park – it wasn’t safe

Lily:  whatever, I want to do the driving with Dad.  Or Florence

Me:  not with me?

Lily:  no

Me:  why not?

Lily: you will scream. Then I will possibly crash

Me:  I won’t scream

Lily:  you always scream at stuff

Me:  that’s simply not true

Lily:  you screamed once when Dad was reversing the car and made him crash into a skip.  On our drive

Me:  I didn’t make him crash, I screamed because he was going to crash – and he did

Lily:  also, who says ‘hot rod’?? Geez, Mum

Me:  I will take you driving round the villages.  And Bridgwater

Lily:  no Mum, I know you will really freak out.  You scream when someone walks into your office, you scream on the childrens’ rides at the fair, you scream if you see a wasp, and mainly, you scream in cars

Me:  not when I’m driving

Lily:  which proves my point.  The whole point is that I get to drive.  It’ll put me off. You’re a screamer

Me:  I have never screamed at a workshop – or come to that, in any work situation –  except once when a wasp got into the shop where I was teaching

Lily:  well done, Mum, for not screaming at your knitters

Me:  thanks

Me:  can I sit in the back? I could knit

Lily:  no.  It’s not happening

Me:  it’s my car.  It’s not Dad’s car or Florence’s car

Lily:  oh I see! It’s your car now, is it?  It wasn’t *your* car when Dad brought it home, was it?  You didn’t want it then, did you?

Me:  well, I was annoyed that he just bought a car, which I was paying for, and it was ORANGE. But I’ve got used to it now and it’s faded a bit…

Lily:  you can watch me drive off.  With Dad.  Or Florence

Me:  I’m actually quite hurt

Lily (sighing):

Me:  so…this means you will never be able to drive me, even if you pass?

Lily:  if?  If?  IF?

Me:  well, your chances are better with me than with Dad.  I passed first time, he passed second time!

Lily:  God, Mum.  That was centuries ago!  It’s all different now

Me:  in what way?  Are the roads paved with gold?  Do the cars have more or fewer wheels…?

Lily (interrupting, and also leaving my office):  nice use of ‘fewer’, Mum, well done…







Conversations with Lily #6

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Me:  why don’t you ever post on Face Book anymore?

Lily:  Face Book is boring.

Me:  I like it, it’s not boring.

Lily:  yes, but you like groups about Dachshunds and knitting – it’s lame.

Me:  none taken.

Lily:  And FYI mum, the people on your Dachshund Groups aren’t your friends.  You’ve never met them, or their dogs. And you never will.

Me:  *hurt silence*

Lily:  also, lots of old people use it.  Like you.

Me:  wow.

Me:  I’m not old.

Me:  you’re mean.

Lily:  It’s also very embarrassing that some of my real friends have added you on Face Book.  And you accepted!

Me:  it’s because I am cool.

Lily:  *eye rolling* yeah, OK whatever…but it’d be fab if you could stop up-dating your status every time you have a cup of tea or make a sandwich.

Lily:  and what’s with the carpet shampoo stuff?  Please stop.

Me:  no.  It’s interesting.

Lily:  it really isn’t.  Nor is the stuff about wine making and going to Nandos.

Me:  really?

Lily:  yes.  Really.  It’s sad.

Me:  OK…

Me:  I’ll delete my FB account…


Lily:  oh yeah, that reminds me – all the stuff about caving – that needs to stop too.

Lengthy pause, in which I contemplate life without Face Book and Lily continues to interrogate her mobile.

Me:  so, what is the social media of choice for Young People nowadays, then?

Lily:  I am not going to tell you.

Me:  why not?

Lily:  because you will get all over it like a rash and RUIN IT for me.

Me:  I won’t – and anyway, I can just ask Millington, she is a Young Person and also she will know AND she will tell me, AND she will then set it up for me!  Ha!

Lily:  Sarah is a bad influence.  Sarah set you up with a lock on your phone so I can’t frape you anymore.

Lily:  Snap Chat – ever heard of that?

Me:  no, what is it?

Lily:  you send a picture to someone on Snap Chat and it only lasts for, like, a few seconds.

Me: (trying, successfully to resist almost overpowering impulse to say:  ‘Is it “like” a few seconds, as in similar to a few seconds? Or is it, in fact, a few seconds?’)

Lily:  then it vanishes.

Me:  HOW??  That’s magic!*

Lily:  oh please mum, you’re such a massive loser.

Me:  I made you griddled chicken for tea with buttery mash.  Because I am making curry for me and dad and you don’t like the one with coconut in it.  Now I am sorry that I bothered, because I am, apparently, *a loser*.  

(Flounces out of kitchen, ramming my leg into the door of the dog sleeping crate as I go, thus a) utterly ruining flounce effect; b) making me curse a lot and almost cry; and c) rendering Lily speechless and incapable of normal function, as she is literally convulsed with hysterical laughter).

* (I have since looked this thing up.  It is called snapchat and it’s a mobile image messaging application.  The image – picture, video, whatever – is limited by the sender to appear to the recipient for between 1 – 10 seconds.  No, I have no idea why either.  Often, I am glad I am old).


Conversations with Lily #5

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Florence, Will and I have been trying to get Lily to try a bit of gentle Devon caving.

It’s not going well.

Me:  Hey, Lily, look at this video on YouTube of some guys in the cave I went in last weekend.

Lily:  No.

Me:  Please.  It’s fun!

Lily:  (reluctantly enters office and eyes computer screen warily) Is it?  Is it really fun?  Because that’s not what you said before you went, is it?

Me: No – but I was wrong.  It WAS fun!  Look!

Lily:  (glimpses a few seconds of some grown men in a murky, semi-flooded tunnel) Oh. My.  God!  Why??  You are such a freak.

Me:  That’s Waterwheel Swallet.  It’s like an underground water theme park!

Lily:  No, it’s not.  It looks and sounds exactly like a home-made horror film.  It’s just ridiculous and I don’t want to know about it.

Me:  How about you look at this video of the other cave we did?


Me:  If we cave in Devon it’s not wet like these caves.  It’s more muddy than…(gets cut off at this point).

Lily:  (retreating to landing, which is, I assume, why she had to raise her voice…) What part of ‘no’ are you struggling with?



Conversations with Lily: in which Lily decides hols are not for her

Monday, December 30th, 2013

This is basically why Lily didn’t go on holiday with us this year.  It’s a long story, make a cuppa first.

Back story:

last year, we went to Yorkshire for a week, our family holiday.  Mark, Lily and me.

Yorkshire in August – well, I liked it a lot. Despite the rain we had on 4 of the days, despite the frost we had 1 day (bonus:  it didn’t rain).  I think what may have scarred Lily was the caving trip I took her and Mark on.  Not actually a proper caving trip all kitted up, squeezing, climbing and so on ‘cos they don’t cave and I don’t lead anyone and I’ve never caved in Yorkshire.

BUT I had heard about this very cool cave-club thing that they do up there twice a year, called The Gaping Gill Winch-Meet.  Over 2 of the bank holiday weeks, including August, a cave club sets up and runs 3 days of public access into the mouth of a huge underground space called Gaping Gill.  In order to get 100s of visitors down there, they divert the small river that runs into it, thus creating a space to set up a winch-seat.  The engineering for this feat is amazing.

Only 1 ‘caver’ can be winched down at a time.  Bear that in mind.

You cross the scaffold-planks and are seated on the chair, lightly bolted in and then they winch you into and down the mouth of Gaping Gill.  It’s several hundred feet and basically, despite what they say, you go through a waterfall and get soaking wet to your scanties – unless you are in full waterproofs. We weren’t.  We had waterproof jackets, hats and boots – mine were not waterproof as it happened, by the end of the day;  but not waterproof trousers and to be honest, not the sort of North Sea Deep Fishing Trawler-man style kit that the weather and then the waterfall demanded.

In my defence (and I was in the dock for this adventure –  in fact, I still am) their website mentions the wisdom of  ‘appropriate’ clothing as it is ‘damp’.  Hmmm.

This was the first full day of the holiday and to get to the cave you have to hike about 4 miles of what starts as paths but then degenerates to craggy moorland – or whatever it is in Yorkshire  – with a fair bit of rock scrambling and so on.  To get to the village where you leave your car in order to set off on this route march in the first place, we also had to drive 40 miles of pretty but winding lanes.

The Yomp To The Site

To get there early is the key.  As it turns out, I think that even if you arrived in the dark, you’d still be numbers 471, 472 and 473.  Remember, only 1 person can descend at a time.  But we didn’t know that, Your Honour.  However, I roused my slumbering fellow-cavers at 6 am on the first morning of the holiday, after our 8 hour drive the day before, with a sustaining cooked breakfast, made a picnic and we shipped out of the cottage, with varying degrees of enthusiasm at 7. By 8.30 we were booted and suited, yomping across to the meet.

As we marched onwards and the path gave way to track and then to moor and rock, we gradually found ourselves among small groups of fellow hikers, which grew to a throng as, 4 miles and about and hour and a half later, we saw, in the distance:  Camp Gaping Gill.

We Approach The Destination…

Now we numbered several hundred.  It felt oddly apocalyptic – prophetically as it turned out.  In the distance, a motley collection of tents clustered about a stony river, which were some distance from the actual site which had a winch-house and a bizarrely angled walk-way of planks, barriers and scaffold erected at the entrance to Gaping Gill itself – a gigantic space, looking for all the world like a scene from Jurassic Park, with water pelting in from the diverted stream-way and forming a boiling, thundering waterfall.

The Main Site

In groups, our fellow Gaping Gill-ers slid down the muddy banks and path to the hollow in the moors that housed this frankly rather hell-like scene, where we queued.  NOT to go down the winch, but to get a ticket to go down the winch.  Under a flimsy white small marquee style tent huddled some of the cave club volunteers, dressed as if for an arctic expedition, as well they might, this being August Bank Holiday Sunday…they doled out the numbered arm bands and raked in the mountains of cash.  We were 471, 472 and 473.  How long, we enquired, would it take to get to us?  Oh, about 2 hours, maybe 3 at the most.

Slightly dismayed, we retreated with our armbands and minus the price of a flight to Paris from Bristol if you’re OK with Easy Jet.  The numbers being lowered were displayed on a board.  Every 30 minutes or so, a cave club volunteer’s child would dart out of a tent or hole in the ground, and move the number displayed, up.  At that moment, it mentioned that numbers 80 – 100 were about to descend.  One at a time, remember.  There being only 1 chair, it’s a double process of course – 1 up, and later, 1 down.

Not really daunted, I suggested a walk while we waited because 2 or 3 hours is, after all, nothing when the scenery is so beautiful and the walking so tempting.  Is it?  Lily murmured that we’d already hiked 4 miles and had a further 4 miles to hike back to look forward to – but I think she was just excited about the trip.

We set off, striking out away from the camp and towards the welcoming hills.  My goodness!  Doesn’t the moorland in Yorkshire get wet?  It wasn’t raining but probably due to the long wet summer, it was soaked.  Or maybe it’s just always a boggy marshland, I don’t really know.  Lily was wearing my walking boots and I was wearing my second best boots.  Which are no longer waterproof, as I discovered about 15 minutes after starting to plough through the emerald-green hummocks of spongy, wet-through turf and moss.  I decided not to lower the tone of our day by mentioning this, let alone moaning about it.  I can only wish that the others had been able to adopt a similarly stoical attitude to the challenges that the day was to offer.  But, they didn’t.

Just as the camp was out of sight, the sky began to darken.  The wind roused itself from what had been a playfully nippy breeze into a series of fairly insistent, damp gusts.  We decided to head back and have our picnic, because surely the sun would come out soon and we’d be able to while away the remaining hour or so with some people-watching, knitting and reading.  Our back pack contained food and water of course plus gloves and scarves – this being a summer holiday in Yorkshire – my knitting and books.

Most of the trippers had the same idea and spaces on the cold, damp rocks around the river were in demand, but we snuggled in and ate our picnic.  Which took about 15 minutes.  We read – that is to say Lily read my book, having forgotten her own, Mark read a map and I knitted.  I did this until, frankly, my hands were just too cold and stiff to go on.  At one point, as I knitted – it was a grey and lemon Moebius – a lady walked past me and said:  That is the first sensible thing I have seen today!  I had to agree, but did so silently so as not to discourage the others.

After 2 hours, we stiffly walked the few yards to the number display area.  Surely they had forgotten to up-date it?  it still said only 200 and something.  Mark queried this with the people in the ticket-tent.  No, there was no mistake, it was just a bit slow today.  Mark came back and enjoyed a few moments of mental maths before returning to the ticket tent – his 3rd of about, oh, let’s say 10 visits in all that day, to explain that at this rate, we’d be here for hours and those with numbers higher than ours would be there all night.

I think they were grateful for this input.

Then, it started to rain.  It rained so hard that the landscape went grey, the sky was black, the hills vanished in the sheeting weather and the wind really got going.  Aside from the winch-station and the camp of  living tents that the cave club members and volunteers were staying in, there was only the ticket tent and a smaller tent beside it, with  three sides and an open front, where back-packs could be stowed while you descended.  This was half full of back-packs but eventually all the remaining trippers – aside from those who had hiked a long way while waiting and were presumably deploying survival tactics on the moors – attempted to force themselves into this tiny space.

A long period elapsed, in which the creeping cold from my boots, wet trousers and the gap at the back of my jacket took their toll, but it was worse for Lily because she is so unused to The Outdoors or Weather and this was Weather of Biblical proportions. My plan was to wait until it stopped, see if we could get the money back and then hike back.

But…and I am not proud of this – I so wanted to go down Gaping Gill!  I had heard so much about it, seen the pictures, and now I’d made it to the winch-meet, spent a thoroughly miserable 4 plus hours getting there and waiting about…it seemed such a shame to turn back now…

Once the deluge let up, a lot of less hardy (though better dressed) hikers cashed in their arm-bands and high-tailed it back down the moor to the village.  Instead of joining them, as I suppose we should have, this gave me hope.  Surely now, with fewer people to go, our turn would come quickly.  There followed one of those agonizing periods of indecision where you really do know what you ought to do – but are torn because this is not what you want to do.

I wanted to sit on a rock and stare alternately at the people being winched down (and up); and the slowly rising number display.  I noted that, wet though we all were, those that came up were not just wet, they were literally soaked.  They exited the chair and walk-way with water actually streaming off them.  Lily and Mark noticed this too.

We prevaricated for so long that eventually we reached the point of no return – and soon it was our turn to be given a playschool-style yellow hard hat (no light) and join the queue on the walk-way.  Down, one at a time, we went.  I was determined to do this with my eyes open, because when climbing wire ladders in caves I often find that I have screwed my eyes closed which makes it awkward and also, I wanted to see this famous Gaping Gill.

It was beautiful, a bit frightening and very exciting, going rather faster than you’d imagine, in an open chair, with nothing for your feet and a bar across your tummy, elbows and hands tucked in, past grass and ferns growing in the cliff sides of the cave-mouth; then out of the light and into the Gaping mouth of the Gill, past water-rushed rocks and then – shockingly – through a waterfall that bangs and raps on your hard-hat for just a few seconds – and suddenly, you’re in the Gill itself, a cathedral-like space, with what looks now like a small opening way above you as you continue, like a spider on a web-strand, to bob quickly down, finally and firmly nudging the cave floor and being grasped by the hands of cave club guides, yanked out of the char and pulled across the space to a sort of  underground beach.

There was Lily, shaking a bit but, you know, basically fine.  Then down came Mark.

There are at least 3 things that strike you at once – there are many more but there are 3 main things:  first, the noise of the waterfall is overwhelming and in order to be able to hear the guide, you have to move unsteadily across the floor of this vast cavern to a place many meters away.  This has the added bonus of getting you away from the thick spray that is chucked out from the waterfall as it both descends and lands, as thick as fast-moving fog, generating its own underground wind, and as hard on your legs and back as a garden hose.

Second, there is a generator and there are some lights.  These eerily light parts of the giant chamber.  Obviously caves do not, as a rule, have light other than that which you take down with you, so this was odd to me, though welcome.  Despite the lights, the space is so huge, they really serve to illustrate how much more there is, unlit.  Very inviting, I felt.  I think it is fair to say this was a not a shared view in our party.

Third, small groups of people, ant-like and dwarfed by the scale of the cavern moved like shadows in all parts of the area that we were allowed to occupy.  Some of these, distinguished by their headlamps, proper caver attire and general ability to stand up and speak without dithering and shaking with cold, were members of the cave club who were our hosts.  The rest were the trippers, aside from a few ‘real’ cavers who take the opportunity offered by the meet, to use the winch and get down the Gill by this means in order to dive off down or up one of the ways that the cave system ‘goes’ from this space.

A lovely, knowledgeable club member showed us round and pointed out the ways that real cavers could go on from here, explained about the geology of the system and patiently answered our (my) many questions.  We were with a really nice couple with whom we’d struck up a Blitz-style friendship, the kind forged in the adversity of a rain-soaked August Bank Holiday spent together, huddled in a back-pack store.  She – a Yorkshire lady who spoke quite plainly about what was on her mind – had formed some very strongly held views on the entire expedition, ranging from the hike up to the meet and ending with the cave itself.  He – a mild-mannered yet clearly doggedly determined man – simply smiled and squeezed her hand – what he could grasp of it, since their hands were so firmly swaddled in Gortex Arctic gloves, as well they might be, this being August, down a cave, in Yorkshire.

The club member who showed us round told me that some Wessex Cave Club members (WCC is the club I belong to in Somerset) were at the meet and were helping, and camping, in the little tented-village.  Excited, he explained that next year, I could come back and do the same and they’d winch me down the Gill on a non-public day and teach me to SRT!  This is a sort of self-winching climbing technique.  Well, I expect the subdued reaction that this news provoked in Lily and Mark was possibly because they hadn’t quite heard him, over the thundering  roar of the water and the growl of the generator.   But the Yorkshire lady had heard him alright and she grabbed my arm and articulated her firmly held view that such a plan would be folly, urging me to dismiss the offer.  I’m paraphrasing.

An ominous queue was forming on the beach where we had landed.  It slowly dawned on me that getting out wouldn’t be a simple matter of hopping on the chair whenever we were ready.  Again we had to wait, but now we waited in a further state of seriously cold misery and really, for the first time that day I was anxious because I do go downhill, as it were, very fast when I am cold.  Lily was the same and I felt very guilty, so I (rashly as it turned out) promised her fish and chips for supper and hot weather for the rest of the week, while urging her to imagine that she was on a beach, in Spain or somewhere warm and sunny.

Finally, it was our turn and Lily was sent up first.  I told her, more in hope than expectation, to await us while standing in any patch of late afternoon sunshine that might be up there.  I was then ushered into the chair-waiting area, a space so infested with jetting waterfall water and spray, you might as well be naked, and then shoved into the chair, my spirits soaring with its ascent.

Until, at about 100 feet above ground and 100 feet or so short of the light, it stopped.  This had not happened before, so far we knew and I had watched that wretched chair’s progress all day.  It swung, to and fro.  A rising sense of panic forced a squeak of fear from me, loud enough for Mark to hear and look up…then I thought, woman-fully, of my club, The Wessex of which I am proud if intermittent and fairly dismal member – and I knew that I must not scream, for that would be shaming.  This is absolutely true.  I had told him I was a Wessex member and he had invited me back, next year, to cave there.  I couldn’t bring shame on myself or the Wessex now and anyway, if the chair was going to plummet back down and kill me as it did so, it would do so whether I screamed or not.  This is possibly the most rational reaction I have ever experienced to anything in a cave so far – and it is also the only reason I don’t scream more when caving.

Slowly, jerkily, I was returned to the cave floor.  Shaking so that my legs almost gave way, I staggered out of the cursed chair and was detained in the jet-stream of the waterfall area by the kindly but dry-suited operatives while they sent the chair up and down empty a few times to test the mechanism.  Mark later said, in his usual understated and brief way, that had the damage to the winch been long-term ‘we’d have been in trouble, it was that cold’.  Lily later said that she felt – let’s go with alarmed – when, waiting in the sliver of evening sun that she was able to locate, she saw an empty chair arrive – and disappear.

Well anyway, clearly we did all  get out and then I deployed my leadership skills by encouraging the others to jog as safely as you can jog down a boulder-strewn, soaking wet, muddy moor, back to the car, in order not to lose anymore heat.  By the time we reached grassland and then paths we were almost warm.  The nice couple had of course legged it well before us and I glimpsed them in the car park, through the window of their gigantic and, I assume, cosy motor-home tourer.

Fish and chips may not be procured in rural Yorkshire at 8 pm on a Bank Holiday Sunday.  However, I had hot water for their showers waiting and a Waitrose pizza to cook for them, so it wasn’t all bad.  In all, we were out of the cottage for 14 hours, of which about 1.5 was spent in the cave.

Lily often refers to it.  I am no longer allowed to organise or even suggest day trips.

Fast-forward to 2013.  We begin the painful process of planning our holiday.  Mark finds a cottage in Angelsey, with notes about the quality of the cycling, canoeing and walking.  I begin to look for cave clubs…

Me:  Lils, dad has found a lovely looking cottage for a holiday this summer.


Me:  it’s near 3 beaches…?

Lily:  I have told you, I am not going on holiday again.

Me:  it’s not in Yorkshire.

Lily:  Good!

Me:  it’s on Anglesley.

Lily:  is that abroad?

Me:  no.

Lily:  where is it *with marked suspicion*

Me:  it’s in North Wales.

Lily:  no! Just *struggles for words* just…NO!

Me:  now look, you have to get over Gaping Gill  – *cut off by withering look and further outburst*

Lily:  I’m over it, oh I am so over it!  I’m never going on holiday again, that’s that.

Me:  that’s an over-reaction. OK, it wasn’t great but we laugh about it now, right?

Lily:  I don’t laugh about it, no.


Me:  what if it was a luxury villa in Greece?

Lily:  no.

Me:  what if it was in Scotland?

Lily:  for God’s sake mum, what is wrong with you?

Me:  imagine how dull your hols would be without me.


Me:  …Lily…?


So this year we went to Matlida in Wales and Lily stayed at home with the dogs and Florence.


Chips, blocks, etc

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

You know how I often make *friends* when I am out and about?  Well, you do, ‘cos I’ve told you about it.  About the lady in M&S in Lymington who told me her life story while she waited for a taxi and I waited for Mark.  The people I meet on trains.  The people I attract wherever I go.

For example, in Southampton, a couple came running up to me and Mark yelling Oh My God, you have BLUE hair!  We are on a treasure hunt and we need to find someone with BLUE hair! Note:  it’s not blue, it’s lavender blond.

And, every time we cycle to Langport which is quite a lot as it’s a nice cycle there and has some good hills to practice on, we stop for a coffee, which Mark goes off and gets while I sit on a bench, with the bikes.  Well, we’ve had to change bench locations, because literally every time I sat there, some random local would come and sit with me and have a chat.  Last time, there were two of them, a lady and then we were joined by a man and to be honest, as they recognised each other, it was a bit of a relief as it meant I didn’t need to talk to her anymore.  Turns out he is originally from Turkey (I think) and she used to be a customer of his years ago when he owned and ran a mobile kebab van in the town, but then he left Langport to move to Dorset – and he’s just come back to live in Langport again. She told him, quite sportingly I felt, that she was troubled by the fact that she owed him £4 from those days. I note, however, that she did not give it back to him…

The time before that, it was a lady who had walked into Langport from somewhere about 2 miles away, done a lot of shopping in the Co-op (which is by my former bench), loaded herself up with about 8 carrier bags – and then realised that this being a Sunday, there was no bus back to the place 2 miles away.  It was clear that she couldn’t walk there with all the shopping.  I advised either leaving it in the Co-op and taking it home 2 bags at a time – which would have been quite a work-out and probably not achievable before the store closed.  Or, getting a taxi.  She thought this was genius.  A nice looking mature lady taxi driver came to her phone call and Mark came back with the coffee just as I was popping the last bag in the boot and waving them off.

He just shook his head and handed me the coffee.

The last time we went, we got the coffee from a different place and sat on the long benches further away from the Co-op and the bus stop.  Also, Mark didn’t go off and leave me. It was fine.

Now I find that this magnetic personality, not a problem for Mark or Florence – not that they repel people, but something about their faces or posture does not encourage uninvited dialogue – has been inherited by Lily.

Two weeks ago, we were having some friends over for supper.  (Here, by the way, is a little de-tour regarding the word supper.  If I am invited for supper I expect it to be less formal than dinner and I usually enjoy it far more as I don’t have to get dressed up. I also prefer giving supper rather than dinner as it can just be a single, homely course plus some wine, cheese and fruit).

So, this was just supper for some friends and neighbours, plus Mark, me and Lily.  Six in all.  At about 15 minutes before the suggested time, up the path comes a figure, which I knew at once wasn’t one of my guests, so I went to meet her, mainly as the  dogs were loose and you know how nasty Rupert can be with unexpected visitors.  I was expecting to be given a leaflet asking me to go to a talk about Hinkley Point or attend a village Circle Dance – whatever they are.  I have no idea but they are a la mode in Puriton, where one is announced each month at least, in the Village Hall and they must be good as the car park is always packed then;  also they have made a huge circular sign saying:  Circle Dance! adorned with a circle of foot-prints all round the edge, which they leave outside the Hall announcing what is happening.  I haven’t been.

Anyway, this woman did not have a leaflet and I could see at once that she was crying.  Also, she appeared to be unwell, unsteady on her feet and distressed.  When I went right up to her, she seemed frightened, but I really thought she was going to faint into my peonies (I’m joking! It was the poppies…) so I reached out, and she let me take her hands.  Large, dry, rough hands, like a man – and so at odds with her small, painfully thin body and face.  She stared right in my face, which I was trying to contort into a reassuring smile, and said:  are you Lily’s mum?

In short, she said knew Lily having met her on the bus that runs from Wells to Bridgwater and which Lily sometimes catches.  Lily has, I know, made *friends* with another woman from the bus, who lives in a caravan outside the village.  But this woman isn’t her.  Lily does not know who she is or how she knows Lily’s name – and where to find her.

But I didn’t know that at that time so I called Lily because I had a feeling we ought not to let her just stumble off and if Lily knew her, I could make some calls or do something.  To be honest, I didn’t have a very coherent plan.  The woman point-blank refused to come in  the house, so we sat outside.  Mark came down, unaware of this unfolding mini-drama in the front garden, put the kettle on and made us all a cup of tea.  As Lily and I sat on a bench by the kitchen with this woman, who was so shaky she could not really hold or drink the tea, up the path came my friends.

It was completely surreal.  A moment where two such different worlds simply collide.  Friends with wine, holding some flowers and opening the gate, laughing warily about the killer-Dachshunds who might greet them.  And in the garden, on our kitchen-window bench, a complete stranger who somehow knew Lily, and who was in a most dreadful state of distress and fear.  I am not proud of the fact that one of my muddled thoughts concerned roasted veg and cous-cous, but in my defence, I was also thinking about Social Services and domestic violence, since this seemed to be this woman’s fear.

Mark and Lily – and Lily never left this woman’s side – drove her into Bridgwater and roused up a fantastic WPC from the locked bowels of the police station, who in turn arranged a safe place for the woman to go and then took her there.  I delayed the food and poured wine and water and stayed with our friends until they came back.

Lily was incredibly calm with the woman, who clung to her like a child though I’d say she was in her 40s herself.  She talked to her like a kind, calm adult, held her hand, wiped her face, gently put her jacket back on her when she tried to take it off…sat with her in the back of the car and stayed until they left for Wells.

But once home, back to the curious and laughing, happy friends, she was upset.  And baffled.  How did this woman know her?  Lily really does not know.  But I think I do, even though she may not recall it.  I am sure Lily will have attracted this woman, who surely was desperate and lonely and afraid, in some conversation maybe weeks or months before;  chatted to her as Lily will to anyone, clearly told her where she lived – maybe pointed it out from the bus which passes right by the cottage – and the woman has somehow, in the fog of God knows what was going on in her mind and body, remembered it.  Because it was kindness.

This true, sad and odd little tale divides people to whom we have related it, including the friends who were here.  But whilst I think it is strange that she knew Lily though Lily is adamant that she does not, if my theory is true then I am not sorry.  In fact, I’d rather be a stranger-magnet than turn anyone away.  Whilst Lily may need to exercise some caution in future, she learned something that evening. First, cous-cous can be kept warm and is perfectly fine for serving even after an hour of sitting, so long as it’s covered but not re-heated.  Second, never turn someone in distress away.  Cous-cous can always wait.


Conversations with Lily #2

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Lily:  why do I have to look so much like you?

Me:  because you are blessed.

Lily:  it’s not fair.

Me:  *dignified silence*

Lily:  *sigh* I wish I wasn’t blessed with your moon-like round face and double chins.

Me:  you’re not.  Your moon-like face and chins are nothing to do with me.

Lily:  are you calling me fat?

Me:  no.

Lily:  yeah but did you mean I was fat?

Me:  no.

Lily:  I wish I had straight hair.

Me:  no, you don’t.

Lily:  yeah but I do.  I hate my hair, it’s a right pain.

Me:  your hair is lovely. It is your crowning glory. Lots of girls wish they had curls.

Lily:  Dad’s got really curly hair, you have quite curly hair, why did I have to get it and Florence got the straight hair?

Me:  Florence also wishes she had curly hair.

Lily:  no, she doesn’t.  She mocks my hair.  She says things get caught in it and never get out.

Me:  well, that is true.

Lily:  also, I got my shortness from you.  Gee! Thanks mum! *with penetrating irony*

Me:  I am not short, I am almost 5 foot 5 inches, that’s not short.  You are a bit short, that is true, but it’s not my fault.

Lily:  are you saying I’m short?

Me:  yes.  Not very though.

Lily: God mum.

Me:  on the plus side, you both have nice eyelashes!  And I think you have inherited my nature!

Lily:  (after a lengthy pause) would you rather be married to dad if his name was Dilbert Chesty-La-Roux and you couldn’t change it, OR have to live for a week in a giant cello case?

Me:  (after a short pause) am I allowed to come out of the giant cello case to use the bathroom?

Lily:  no.

Me:  In that case I am going to go with being Mrs Chesty-La-Roux.

Lily:  seriously??!!

Me:  yes.  Because I think the giant cello case would be very insanitary.

Mark:  (coming into the sitting room having heard this exchange from the hall computer) What the hell is wrong with you two?

Lily:  shut it Dilbert!


Conversations With Lily

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

(It’s fine.  I guarantee that no matter what she says, she never reads this blog ‘cos it’s like ’bout knittin’ innit?  Well, no actually, to the disappointment of many I assume, it is rarely about knitting.  But anyway, Lily doesn’t read it).

Lily:  Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid is having a party next weekend.

Me:  Are you going?

Lily:  No.

Me:  Why not?  Not invited…?

Lily:  Yeah, I was invited but I just don’t  want to go.

Me:  But why?

Lily:  *sighs* Because – well if you want to know, yeah?

Me:  Yeah.   I mean yes.

Lily:  Because I can’t face the humiliation.

Me:  *getting angry with the possibly entirely innocent Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid* Humiliation?

Lily:  *with some feeling*  Yes!  The utter humiliation of you, having agreed that I can go, then ringing up Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid’s mum and interrogating her about alcohol, boys and – and – stuff! *warming to theme* And then, ringing the mums of anyone else you know and asking how they feel about it all.  And then getting out of the car when you drop me off to question any adults in person.   And THEN making me leave the party at lame-o’clock anyway.

Me:  *hurt silence*

Lily:  Remember that?  Remember those times?

Me:  No.  It’s not like that.  It’s just that, as a responsible parent I feel it’s my duty to check that some basic safeguards are in place.  I don’t always do that.

Lily;  No.  Sometimes you make dad do it if there is A Man in the household.

Me:  That is true.

Prolonged and tense silence.

Me:  Well, darling, how would you like to have a party here?

Lily:  NO!  Oh for God’s sake, just NO!

Me:  *genuinely startled*  What?  Why ever not?

Lily:  Because I know you’d ring up all my friends’ parents beforehand to spell out your policy on alcohol and then frisk all my friends and search their bags.  And confiscate anything that didn’t say Appeltiser.

Me:  I would not!  I’d never frisk anyone, let alone a child!

Lily:  *with heat*  They are not children!  They are 16!


Lily:  And, do you remember when Florence had to drop me off at Cherry’s (an alcohol-free nightclub for teens in Bridgwater) ‘cos you were away and you made Florence come in with me and talk to the door staff and *almost weeping* ask them to take personal care of me?

Me:  No.  That didn’t happen. (It did)

Lily:  *makes noises I cannot express with a keyboard*

Me:  *calmly*  This is getting us nowhere.  Look, do you want to go to Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid’s party?  If so I will promise not to ring her mum.  And let you stay until, um…11.00…?

Lily:  No. It’s OK.

Me:  I promise.

Lily:  Nah.  It’s the final stages of Strictly now, I’d rather stay in and watch that.


Lily:  OK?

Me:  OK.