View through my window

July 12, 2006

Get me

Standing in the playground, awaiting the emergence of Child Two, I ruminate secretly from behind my sunglasses that most of the women whose children attend the village school are utter fucktards. It seems that by far the most important thing in their lives is choice of designer label bag/sunglasses/shoes/jeans. Hair products are discussed in ludicrous detail. Gym memberships are bandied about competitively, with the one who gets both free fluffy towels and a complimentary personal trainer begrudgingly declared the winner. All the others will be there by the end of next week.

They clog up the village street in their Chelsea tractors, none of which have been further off road than parking with two wheels on the pavement stopping prams getting through. Vanity displayed to the max; and the funny thing, which makes me smile to myself standing in the playground, is that I don't find any of them in the least attractive. BOBFOCs*, the lot of them. Give me one of the genuine farmers' wives any day - wellies, ordinary jeans, rugby shirt, old short wheelbase landrover with mud on it and a sheepdog in the back, with equally as good a figure as the gym-junkies** but born of lugging straw bales and sheep nuts and fencing wire up a hill; wonderful natural complexion, clear skin and real tan from being outside in the sun, not from smearing expensive chemical moisturising-with-a-hint-of from some bottle from an overdesigned aspirational neon lit boutique.

And, before she fries me alive, the LOML is of course firmly in the latter camp: fit, strong, clear-skinned, bright eyed.

I consider the need for healthy outdoor exercise to be a life essential - especially as I like my food and beer and wine just a bit too much. Last evening the kids and I went for a long dog walk. I have bought a book on improving my skiing technique. I am also training for the next rugby season. Accordingly, this morning I go for a long run. There are some excellent ancient woods near the village, and I regularly run to them. Trouble is, when I get there I'm approaching my limit, so I just go along the edge a bit and then turn for home. Today, though, I get myself organised and take everything I need on the school run, and then park up in the woods on the way home. A folded up bit of A4 printed off showed all the footpaths with which I am not familiar, iPod on shuffle, new trainers specially for road and tracks (special grippy soles and gel inserts, wooo) and off I go. Wonderful. It's a bit like orienteering, which I used to do every weekend when I was a kid, and the old tricks come back gradually. I pick a route which hardly goes on tarmac roads for the whole way. Meadows and streams and narrow woodland paths and wide glades, thumb marking my place on the map so I can glance down and know where to go without having to stop, ready for the next turn, the next stile. Into the sun and back into the shade; over a plank bridge over the brook, through a paddock of ponies, down a tiny haymeadow full of wildflowers. I go up driveways saying 'Dead End' and 'No Access' because, armed with my map, I know there is a footpath across a field at the end. And I get back to the car after an hour and a quarter of almost solid running, tired but not too tired, and I have a towel and a cool bottle of water waiting. Get me, organised boy.

And I sit on the boot of the car and drink water and idly stretch my tired legs, in the dappled shade of a layby in a little lane in the woods, and I think of the years I lived in the city, of tube trains and night buses; and of the BOBFOCs running on treadmills like hamsters in a cage, examining in the floor to ceiling mirror their expensive streaky hairstyle unravelling, thinking about spending their commuting husbands' money on new shoes and wrinkle control moisturising skin gunk, and I wonder at the sense of it all. Sure, they have more money than me, but in the end, is that important? Their husbands are all forced to be at work by this time. I'm not. I can sit here in the peace and cool of the woods if I want.

I'm not claiming I've got all the answers, but there's a basic failure, I reckon, to understand that there really isn't a direct arithmetic relationship between money and happiness. There just isn't.

*Body Off Baywatch, Face Off Crimewatch
** I'm only looking a bit, for the sake of research for this blurb, dear, honest.

July 10, 2006


Mrs Tony Bloke is on the answerphone (and I'm going to resist the temptation regarding 'and then she jumped off' jokes); she is asking me to go and play cricket. As it's Tony Bloke's birthday.

A good time is had by all. Our team wins. For some incomprehensible reason to do with Mumbling Nige's shoulder, I am promoted from keeper to opening bowler, and he vice-versa. Considering I once bowled a 13 ball over in a league match, this is an ill-advised selection decision. Edited highlights: amongst a mixed bag which contains a beamer but amazingly no extras, I bowl to the Grey Poupon, a local lawyer, who edges, and Nige drops a piss easy catch and I bellow "NIGEL, YOU CUNT!" at far too great a volume and close a proximity to several small children, who are respectively fielding at mid on, fielding in the slips, and umpiring at square leg. I apologise, and then I get the Poupon in the ribs next ball, ha, that'll teach him to try and pull, and then, softened up, he chips one to cover point who can actually catch, and does so. Hoorah.

One of their lower order batsmen gets a Graham Poll like series of decisions, and only leaves the field when he is out for the third time. Hit wicket once, stumped once, stumped again. And even then he lingered. "Glad to see the ethics of the game being upheld", and "Wonderful to see such sporting spirit" we chorus sarcastically from the close field. It is pointed out that while he was occupying one end their scoring rate was zero, so no bad thing he stayed on really.

Beers are brought out, which comprimises the fielding somewhat - we discover it's difficult to stop a hard hit cover drive one-handed without spilling your pint.

They are all out for 108 (or about there, I forget).

I am batting six. I dither about wondering whether to wear my helmet: I'm not afraid being hit by their bowling, I am afraid, however, of hitting the ball into my own face. I decide to leave it.

We each bat until we are out or until we've faced two overs and are then retired. Just so everyone gets a go.

I am facing Grey Poupon, so hostilities resume. He bowls a sort of medium pace loopy 'Military Medium', but I know from previous encounters that he does bowl straight, so I have to take care. First ball, a bit short, a bit on leg, sitting up, pull, four. Woo. Second ball, sitting up on off stump, try and cut, miss it low, it misses the top of off by at least an inch. Third ball the same - except this is perhaps half an inch over. "Left it on length, knew it was missing. Free hit, really" I announce, tongue firmly in cheek. Hoots of derision.

It all becomes a bit of a blur after that. I remember wanting to play a nice high-elbow straight drive or cover drive off the front foot, but they keep bowling shortish and on leg, so a series of agricultural hoiks through square leg is all I get the chance to play. I do get one off leg-and-middle to go straighter: off the sweet spot but a fraction early so what ought to have been six goes too high and dies and ends up as a scampered two.

I am called in, 18 not out, with three fours. I am chuffed. My season average last time I played properly was one and a half.

I manage to cobble together appropriately sized pads and sundry equipment for Child One to go and have a bat, once we've already won. He's never played before; we have a quick practice and then he goes in, brave as anything, in front of everyone. He faces an over against Tony Bloke's middle son, same age. He tries his hardest to reach a series of wides, with good natural technique, and is finally undone by a straight one. Match over. I am proud of him.

The LOML has got herself a pint but not me. Child One and I go over for approval, congratulation. She has been gossiping with her mates, and was entirely unaware that either of us had batted or bowled at all. She apologises, but I can tell she doesn't mean it.

July 07, 2006

No, no, thank you

To Sainsbury's, killing time while yet another child activity takes place.

In the entrance lobby: "Thank you for not smoking". On a sign. On the wall. No problem, I think, I wasn't going to anyway.

Later: "Thank you for not taking your trolley beyond this point". I don't know about you, but I don't feel the need to take my trolley out of the side of the carpark and down to the canal. My car's this way. Like, uh, no problem, but I really wasn't going to.

I wonder where this will lead. What else are we going to be thanked for not doing? Sainsbury's have surely missed a trick here. Thank you for not bellowing gynaecological obscenities at the Delicatessen staff. Thank you for not curling one down in the middle of the oils, vinegars, and sauces aisle. Thank you for not shooting the acne-raddled checkout freak in the face. I wasn't going to do any of these things, either. Well, probably not.

It's the same thinking as "have a nice day" and the execrable "missing you already" that you get subjected to in shops in the States. More evidence of the creeping Americanisation of Britain. When was the last time you heard a film called a film, not a movie? And it's 'disc' and 'programme', while we're at it. Short step to alooominum and diapers from there. I caught Child One talking about a Royal Navy Loootenant the other day. I made him repeat Lef! Lef! Lef! Lieutenant! for a day and a half non-stop. That'll learn him.

If we ever get to the point where this is so widespread that it becomes the norm I will be forced to emigrate to the nearest slightly left-leaning, temperate, English-speaking country that is not in North America. Which may actually be New Zealand, and therefore a bit of an also-ran in the interesting people stakes, but a clear odds-on favourite in the outdoor scenery handicap.

Chuck some more lamb on the barbie, Bruce.