Friday, 30 July 2010

Jasper and i popped into town yesterday morning to drop off some plans with the Architect. We parked in the Market Square. Jasper waited in the car while i went across the road to the Cash point.
I was just about to get back in the car when i saw Jeremy's Mother walking towards us. I hadn't seen her for ages so i windmilled excitedly at her and went over to say hello. She is normally very friendly and chatty, so i was rather disconcerted when she didn't reciprocate my bear hug, or immediately ask after Lily as she usually does.
Nonetheless, i beamed at her and told her how lovely it was to see her.
She coughed nervously.
"So, how are you?" i persisted.
"Fine thankyou." she replied with a forced smile.
"Enjoying the sunshine?"
There was an awkward silence whilst i wondered what on earth i could have done to annoy her.
I noticed that she was carrying a bag from the Deli.
"Oooh, bought something nice for lunch?" I ploughed on.
She pursed her lips and didn't answer.
She stoutly rebuffed my increasingly inane attempts to engage her in conversation, responding to my bewildered burbling with monosyllabic answers. It was excruciating; i realised that i was clenching my buttocks in mortification.
I cringed as she glared stonily at me over the rims of her spectacles.
"Well, nice to see you again." i said pathetically.
She said a terse "Goodbye." before she stalked off into the Green Grocers.
I got back into the car shaking my head in bewilderment.
"Who was that?" Jasper asked.
"Jeremy's Mum."
"No it wasn't."
"Yes it was."
"Jess, it wasn't Jeremy's Mum. You must need glasses."
At that moment, the Woman emerged from the Green Grocers, glanced nervously at me and hurried off.
"She is definitely NOT Jeremy's Mother." said Jasper cosily.
"Well who is she then?" i said weakly, gawping at the woman's retreating back.
"You tell me." He sniggered. "You're the one whose been talking at her for the past 5 minutes."

My face was still burning when we reached Jasper's parents house.
We walked into the kitchen to find his Mother sitting at the table looking dazed, whilst Tor pressed an ice pack on the back of her head. It transpired that she had been feeding her young horses, when a scuffle had broken out between the two mares. In the ensuing melee, poor Jill was knocked flat on her back and banged her head, which prompthly started pouring with blood.
By the time we arrived, it had stopped bleeding, but there was a sizeable lump, and we were worried about concussion. She swept aside our entreaties to take her to the Hospital.
"For Goodness sake, stop fussing. I'm absolutely fine!" she insisted.
After a cup of tea, we got up to leave and i asked her if she was sure she felt alright. She replied with one of her famous malapropisms...
"Really dear, you needn't worry. It was just frightfully bad luck, although i must admit, my head took a terrific wank."

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Cull

It took me two hours to summon the courage to phone The Executioner. As an animal lover, I found it very hard to deal with the fact that I was about to condone the murder of 8 cockerels. I gazed out into the garden and pondered upon my moral dilemma. If there really was a hell i'd be sure to go there for snuffing out the lives of God's creatures!
I watched a defeated looking bantam hen scratching about in the long grass. Suddenly, the mob of cockerels strutted out from behind the hen house and caught sight of her. It was all i could do not to shout out "BEHIND YOU!" as they stealthily crept up on her, heads lowered, in a silent ambush. I watched in disgust as they took turns violating her, before buggering off. Their timely display of insufferable brutality banished my lingering doubts. Never mind if i went to hell. The poor bantams were already there. I picked up the phone and signed their death warrant.
Our dear friend Jamie, who lives in a cottage down the lane with his girlfriend Amber, had offered to do away with the cockerels. He used the word "despatch", which i found comfortingly ambiguous. If i didn't actually witness the blood shed, i could pretend that he had packed them all into a box and sent them on their holidays...
He arrived just after lunch the next day. He emerged from his Land Rover bearing an axe, a tree stump and a hammer. There was an uneasy murmur of muffled clucks from the henhouse, as though the doomed inmates could sense that the end was nigh. Jamie placed the wood on the grass and propped up the axe against it. The razor sharp edge glinted blindingly in the sun. I felt giddy. All he needed now was a black hood i thought to myself. I started to titter - not because i found the situation even remotely funny, but because for as long as i can remember, tension has manifested itself in the form of mild hysteria, prompting uncontrollable giggling fits at inappropriate moments. (I will never forget the time the car broke down on the M6 during torrential rain in the middle of the night. I must have looked like a maniac, sitting in the drivers seat whooping with laughter as the car shook from the force of the articulated lorries that thundered past, blaring their horns.)
I realised how odd it would seem if i were to stand there chuckling whilst Jamie sharpened his axe, so i locked myself in the downstairs loo until i had stopped laughing.
After making Jamie a cup of tea I went into the front garden with Lily to get out of the way. Within minutes i heard the terrified squawking followed by the dull thud of axe on wood. I turned the radio up to drown out the noise.
Ten minutes later, Jasper appeared and announced that the deed was done and that Jamie was ready to show me how to "prepare the birds for the pot."
"Great!" i said, trying not to look aghast. As i walked round into the back garden I told myself that it wouldn't really be any different to preparing the chickens i bought from Waitrose every week. And we were only taking the breasts out which must be pretty easy.
Who was i deluding? It was not at all like dealing with a Waitrose chicken, as you have probably guessed. For a start, the back garden was bloodier than the battle of Culloden, and Waitrose Chickens do not have feathers on them, or a ragged bloody stump where their heads once were. Waitrose chickens are not still twitching either.
Jamies voice interrupted my train of thought.
", it's really easy. You pull the feathers out like this." he grabbed a handful of plumage from the breast area exposing the greyish skin of the breast beneath.
The headless cock jerked violently and flapped it's wings. "AARRGGGH!" i shouted, jumping as though i'd been electrocuted.
"Just nerves. It's quite dead." Jamie smiled reassuringly before continuing.
"And then you get the knife and make an inscision in the top of the breast bone, and just slice all the way down like this. And there it is. Easy " he said, holding the flesh up for me to see.
I put my hand to my forehead which was clammy with sweat.
"Your turn." he said, handing me the knife. A terrified giggle escaped.
He handed me a cockerel. I knelt down in the grass and pulled out some feathers.
Oh God.
I pressed the tip of the knife into the breast bone.
"Jess, are you alright?" asked Jamie.
"Hell yeah! " I smiled cheerfully.
"You've gone green." he said.
"Have I?"
"Look, would you like me to do them for you?"
I almost dropped to his feet and wept with gratitude.
My legs were shaking slightly as i went inside to get him a lager.

A couple of hours later, 16 breasts were simmering gently in a fragrant stew of Burgundy, shallots, mushrooms, garlic and herbs. They were quite tough so we cooked it very slowly overnight. That evening, Jamie and Amber came over for supper.
We raised a glass in honour of the Cockerels before we started.
Do you know what? We all agreed that i t was, by far, the best Coq Au Vin we had ever tasted.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A sunday jaunt to A&E

Lily fell head first out of her high chair yesterday morning. I was standing at the oven, stuffing a leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic, when i heard the thud. I whipped round to find her lying on her back, eyes wide with fright. Then she started screaming. My frantic efforts to soothe her were in vain. I checked her head to see a lilac bruise forming on the hairline above her left eyebrow. She was still crying five minutes later; after an invective filled hunt for the elusive car keys, i bundled her into the car and shot off to the hospital. She fell asleep almost instantly , which put the fear of God into me. I tried to rouse her, but soon realised that if i carried on driving whilst simultaneously scrutinizing Lily for signs that her life was ebbing away, i was going to crash. So i clenched my jaw, and tried to concentrate on driving, as tears poured down my cheeks.

We stopped at the traffic lights in Dorchester. I leant over and tickled her tummy. "Lily, please wake up darling." Nothing. Oh God. the lights changed to green and i screeched to a halt in a disabled spot outside A&E, ignoring the furiously disapproving looks of two old ladies on a nearby bench. I opened the passenger door and lifted her out. My legs were wobbly, my hands trembled and my heart was hammering in my chest as i prayed over and over "please let her be okay, please let her be okay". I rushed up to reception and told the nurse what had happened.

"Has she been sick at all?"


"Did she cry straight away?"


"If you'd like to take a seat, someone will be with you shortly."

I sat in the waiting area, rocking her backwards and forwards and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to engulf me. Her pale face was utterly still. The bruise was an angry purple now, spreading towards her left temple.

After what seemed like an interminably long wait (about 5 minutes), a nurse appeared, and beckoned me into a side room. I caught sight of myself in a mirror. I was white as a sheet.

"Right then Mum" trilled the nurse in a jolly voice. "What's happened to Baby?"

"She fell out of her high chair." i managed to whisper.

"Oh dear oh dear, let's have a look at you then."

As she lifted Lily gently from my arms, Lily's eyelids fluttered open. She gazed at the nurse in surprise before smiling shyly at her and nuzzling her head into the ample bosom and yawning loudly.

I collapsed back against the plastic sofa, weak with relief.

I watched dazedly, as the nurse took her temperature, shone a light in her eyes and checked her oxygen levels. All fine. Gulp.

"I'll just put her on the floor to check she can crawl okay" she said, placing her carefully on the rubber play mat. Lily's face lit up at the sight of a Fisher price Camper Van and she shuffled off to investigate. There was a chortle of glee as she discovered Mr and Mrs Weeble in the back, enjoying a picnic lunch. Seconds later she was crawling back to offer Mr Weeble to her new friend.

"There's not much wrong with you!" smiled the nurse, scooping her up and rubbing noses, eliciting squeals of delight from Lily.

"You're rather scrumptious aren't you? yes you are. Yes you are. You're a little beauty."

"i thought she was dying." i tell her in faint voice.

The nurse chuckled. "Poor Mummy. You gave her quite a fright didn't you?" Lily smiles broadly.

"Is Dad at home?" the nurse asked as she stood up to leave.

"He's milking the cows." i replied wondering if i have the strength to stand up too. The pumping adrenaline that has sustained me for the past hour has ebbed away, leaving me weak.

"Ah yes, i guessed you lived on a farm." nodded the nurse, glancing at me as she wrote something on her clipboard.

I look down and realise for the first time, what i am dressed in. Cath Kidston Rose print pyjamas stuffed into a pair of horse poo encrusted Hunter Wellies. The pocket of my apron bulges slightly with baby courgettes from the vegetable garden and my hair is piled wildly on top of my head with an elastic band. ...

We go outside into the corridor and Lily flutters her eyelashes as a trio of nurses gather round to admire her.

One of them presents her with a teddy for "being such a brave girl."

I smile as Lily sings to herself on the way home and I marvel at her robustness.

I'm looking forward to having friends over for Sunday lunch. I suddenly realise that Jasper must be wondering where we are. We arrive home and walk into the kitchen. The cat's had the lamb and Tilly (Lily's miniature pony) is standing with her head in the kitchen sink, chomping away at the carrots.

Jasper calls through from the other room.

"Hello darling. Have you had a nice morning?"

Monday, 26 July 2010

Too many cocks....

We are going to have to perform a cockerel cull. There are eight cockerels to ten hens and the situation has reached reached crisis point.
They are all "homegrown" as it were and therein lies the problem. I was present at their hatching, and watched in awe as they emerged from their shells in a chorus of cheeping; eight fluffy yellow easter chicks, peeping out from the vast warm plumage of their proud bantam mummy.
New chicks are notoriously hard to sex, but within 8 weeks we had deduced that we had 2 hens and eight cocks. Eight! We gazed gloomily at them.
"The Law Of Sod stikes again." Jasper said morosely.
"Look on the bright side. We've got 2 lovely hens." i chirped, with nauseating Polly Anna optimism. Jasper grunted and walked off.
The next day i discovered the 2 hens had dropped dead behind a plantpot. Perhaps they had a dreadful prescience of what was to come and decided to quit whilst ahead. As i sadly disposed of their lifeless bodies in the slurry lagoon, i wondered why nature was so illogical and cruel. I understood the premise behind survival of the fittest, but eight cockerels was phenomonally unfortuneate.
I watched them digging in the back garden for worms. The thought of striding outside, rounding them up, and strangling them, seemed utterly monstrous and filled me with horror. I told myself that they would be fine together. They looked perfectly happy from where i was standing, and after all they were brothers! (I can now appreciate just how delusional those rose tinted spectacles made me....)
I went to a poultry fair and bought 10 bantam hens to redress the balance, and for a while, they all rubbed along together quite happily. Until the hormones kicked in...

12 months later my naive optimism had returned to haunt me. My kitchen window has become a viewing panel for the scenes of violent debauchery that take place daily in the back garden. It is like being a unwilling spectator in the poultry version of a snuff movie. Their wary suspicion of each other has stealthily developed into a burning hatred, which manifests in increasingly ferocious displays of machoism, as they indulge their pathological desire to reign supreme. I had fondly pictured them wandering amiably around the farmyard together like something out of band of Brothers. It is with great sadness that i realise that the pervading atmosphere of murderous intent and brooding antipathy is more reminiscent of a cross between West Side Story and Jeremy Kyle.
Their black eyes glint malevolently as they circle each other like boxers. They crouch down in clumps of grass and ambush each other triggering terrible fights and squawked promises of retribution. They constantly goad one another, jeering, insulting, delivering (and perpetrating) threats of violence.
They ignore my shouted pleas to "STOP FIGHTING AT ONCE!" I have to physically separate them with a broom, whereupon they skulk off together to resume the battle out of sight, like a pair of unruly schoolboys sent home in disgrace, only to begin brawling again outside the school gates.
Occasionally, they will call an uneasy truce, and the whole mob will strut off together to partake in a spot of gang rape. I watch, transfixed with revulsion as they single out a hen, surround her and take turns on her, pinning her down with their wings and egging each other on with a raucous cacophony of clucking and crowing. When they have finished, there is an awkward silence during which they ruffle their feathers and avoid eye contact, before swaggering off in different directions.
The hens are permanently braced for the next onslaught. They wander about the farm yard looking slightly stunned - like an advertisement for Battered Wives Anonymous.
The swiss chalet hen house, once so charmingly kitsch, squats in the tussocky grass like a symbol of violent repression. The cockerels skulk in its shadows waiting for an opportunity to pounce, like ASBO youths loitering in the stairwell of a tower block.
Something has to be done. I take a deep breath and make the phone call.

Pearl's Teddy Bears Picnic. (2nd Birthday)

Just got back from Pearl's 2nd Birthday. It was held on the village playing field opposite the pub. My nieces Hollie and Abi came too, which Lily was thrilled about. Hollie and Abi are nine and five respectively and Lily thinks they are the bees knees - she gazes at them with an awestruck expression whenever she sees them.
We had a lovely time - the sun was shining, and the picnic table was bedecked with a gingham cloth and laden with every different kind of sandwich imaginable, profiteroles, cakes, millionaires shortbread, home made lemonade....
After saying hello to Hayley (Pearls' Mummy) we went over to get some food. I handed Hollie and Abi a plate and asked what they would like to eat.
"Chips." Abi replied firmly.
"There aren't any chips Abi." I told her.
She gave me an artful look before saying "There's a pub across the road."
"Can't you have a sandwich?" I say. I don't like the wheedling tone in my voice.
Abi folds her arms. " I don't like sandwiches"
I turn to Hollie and look pleadingly at her.
She moves closer to Abi to symbolise a United front, and says "Sausage and chips please." And as an afterthought "...and a Mango and raspberry J20"
Humph. So much for Teddy Bears Picnic.
"I'm so hungry" Abi said, rubbing her tummy like a Dickensian waif begging for scraps.
"Me too." said Hollie.
I sighed. "Why are you two so fussy?"
They both shrugged, palms upwards.
40 minutes later we're ensconced in the pub ordering sausage and chips twice and the girls are happily sucking J20 through a straw and plying a delighted Lily with ice cubes, which she loves.
A man walks in and stands with his back to us at the bar . I can't help but notice that he has a large skin tag in a prominent place on the back of his neck.
"Look at that mans Tick! It's massive" Hisses Abi in a theatrical stage whisper.
"Hadn't you better tell him Jess? You can pull it off for him with Granny's special tick remover." she urges me earnestly. I notice that the back of the mans neck has gone very red.
Blushing myself , i say quietly "It's not a tick Abi, it's a mole."
She spears her sausage with a derisive snort. "Don't be silly. I know what a mole looks like." she replies stoutly. "Dido dug one up this morning on Granny's lawn."
I realise it is hopeless to contradict her, so i change the subject.
We are finishing our drinks and preparing to leave when they start singing along to a song on the radio.
"baby baby baby, oh, my baby baby baby, oh my baby baby baby oh...."
"Do you like Justin Bieber Jess? " Abi asks.
I don't. I think he's an over-indulged, squeaky voiced, pre pubescent little cretin and he gives me the creeps.
"Ooh yes, he's fab." I reply.
"Really? Well i think he's weird."
"In what way?" i ask, intrigued.
"One of my friends thinks he's actually a girl. I don't think he is. I just think he's gay, which is fine, it's his choice. He's got a few issues though." she concludes sagely.
"Gay?" i repeat idiotically.
"Yeah, gay. Like a lesbian. But a boy. You do know what a lesbian is don't you?"

Saturday, 24 July 2010

I awaited my Boden bounty in a state of feverish anticipation. I requested that it arrive after 3pm so that Jasper would be busy milking the cows, enabling me to take delivery of it without any danger of being apprehended. I was then struck by the awful prospect of him coming to the house for some obscure reason at exactly the same time as the parcel arrived! I shuddered at the thought. After some quick thinking i phoned the delivery company and explained every detail of my predicament. The nice lady on the end of the phone was very obliging and assured me, with ill concealed amusement, that she would instruct the courier to phone me when he was in the area and i would meet him at the end of the drive. She promised that she would tell him he MUST NOT GO DOWN THE DRIVE. I sighed with relief, then "You're not just saying it? You will remember? " I almost added "If he doesn't do it my way, the deal's off."
Finally satisfied, i allowed myself to relax.
Three days passed and i had worn a path in the gravel, pacing up and down outside the house and listening for the distant chug of the parcelforce van. Jasper had started to smell a rat.
The phone rang one lunch time and i almost jumped out of my skin.
"What IS the matter with you?" he asked.
"Too much coffee." I mumbled.
I tried in vain to hide my blushes.
"What have you done? Come on, out with it." he said sternly.
"I haven't "done" anything thankyou very much!" i replied in a tone of mock hurt.
He looked beadily at me over the rim of his coffee cup.
"You've been spending haven't you? Don't give me that innocent look bun, i know you too well."
I crossed my fingers under the table before replying "I haven't spent anything ACTUALLY. " i snorted, hoping that he couldn't see my nose getting longer.
"You're blinking. You always blink when you're telling porkies."
"Well really! I have never heard such nonsense!" i said as i stood up and cleared the table. I stuck my head in the dish washer to escape his scrutinizing gaze. I felt his eyes boring a hole in my back as i hummed to myself whilst pulling agonized faces to relieve my internal angst.
Sensing a counter attack, I smiled sweetly at him "I thought i'd make Fish pie tonight. I know it's your favourite." He looked mollified.
"Can you do those courgettes in garlicky butter again?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes my darling!" i trilled, planting a kiss on his nose. "And an apple cake for pudding."
His eyes lit up. I was safe. Distraction technique. Works like a charm...
The next day i was having a nice relaxing bath during Lily's lunch time nap. The dogs started barking outside. Grumbling to myself, i stuck my head out of the window to see who was there.
I froze in horror as a portly little man wearing the parcelforce logo appeared round the corner holding an enormous box with MINI BODEN emblazoned across it. At the same time i heard the ominous rumble of an approaching tractor. Jasper on his way home for lunch!
The man was knocking on the door.
"Hello!" I shouted. He looked up and waved cheerfully.
"I've got a parcel for you love."
"Thankyou. Can you hide it in the dog kennel please?"
"You what love? he said, cupping his hand behind his ear."
"PUT THE PARCEL IN THE KENNEL!" I hissed, hopping frantically from foot to foot in agitation.
"What do you mean?" he frowned.
The penny dropped, and he chuckled as he man handled the box into the kennel and shut the door. He played his part in the covert operation with evident relish , waggling his finger at me cheekily and saying "Whose a naughty girl then?!"
"Quick! Quick! He's coming!!" I whimpered. The man giggled and ran back to his van as fast as his little legs would carry him before screeching off down the drive. I leaned against the door frame, giddy with relief as the tractor rumbled around the corner.
Five minutes later Jasper came in.
"Did you see that van?"
"What van?"
"Doesn't matter."

Friday, 23 July 2010

I have left the brochures behind the S bend. If Jasper knew that i had found them, he would probably be quite alarmed, filled with horror at the thought that their discovery could trigger a financial splurge. He will soon be adding The Autumn Collection to his stash. He'll need to find a bigger hiding place. The current one is running out of space.
One of the fun things about having a baby girl (or boy) is choosing her outfits. When i was pregnant i passed many a happy hour in The White Company gazing dreamily at all the beautiful clothes. Surprisingly, I only bought a couple of things, deciding that he/she could wear white baby-gro's for the first 12 months. It was, after all, highly practical, enabling me to wash everything on a 60, liberally sprayed with Vanish to maintain a pristine whiteness. I bought her a little dress "for best" and was proud of myself for being so frugal.
Consequently, i was slightly dismayed by the relentless stream of babywear brochures that landed on my doormat to test my resolve. I stoically ignored them at first, binning them without so much as glancing at the front cover. One day i made the fatal mistake of opening the Baby Boden brochure before chucking it out, exposing myself to the irresistible charms of outrageously cute clothes, modelled by equally cute babies. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a pastel pink romper suit with an applique of Mother Goose and a navy chunky knit woolly jumper featuring a cartoon fox. I threw it in the bin and carried on loading the dishwasher...5 minutes later, i was rummaging in the bin to retrieve it and scraping the congealing morsels of fried eggs and cornflakes off the front cover. These companies are clever. They realise that if they tempt you for long enough, your resistance will eventually crumble. Slowly and insidiously , they work their magic, tempting you with the siren call of white broderie anglaise smock dresses, cashmere mix rompers, corduroy trousers with pink turn-ups, angora hats and matching mittens. It's a no-win situation. Eventually, i succumbed.
When Lily was 4 months old, i wearily admitted defeat and locked myself in the bathroom with Baby Boden Winter 09, the telephone and my debit card. 10 minutes later i emerged, £200 worse off. I sneaked down the stairs, opened the woodburner and shoved the brochure into the flames.
I have been wondering why i haven't received any Little White Company or Mini Boden brochures lately. Imagine my surprise on discovering a whole stash of them, wedged unceremoniously behind the S bend of the (little used) downstairs loo. When i had recovered from the surprise of this remarkable find, i pondered upon how they came to be there.
I am fairly sure that the Post man is not responsible, and therefore can only conclude that for the past 6 months, Jasper has been stealthily intercepting them in a last ditch attempt to curb my lust for buying baby clothes. I can't say i am really that surprised - my obsession with smock dresses, applique t shirts and cashmere mix romper suits in every conceivable style and colour, is an issue that i realise i have to address. It isn't healthy. Here i was confronting the unequivocal proof of my addiction: the irony of the situation was not lost on me.
One would normally imagine a bottle of Smirnoff, not babywear brochures, to be artfully concealed in the grimy recesses of a downstairs loo.
It is official. I am a Bodenaholic.
I am looking out of the window at a very clean and tidy hen house. I couldn't put it off any longer. A) I had run out of excuses and B) i was starting to feel a bit guilty.
After lunch one sunny morning, Lily and I got to work. Well, Lily sat on the grass and kept a close eye on proceedings as i climbed into the house and started sweeping out all the poo, feathers and straw.
It was a boiling hot day and the house was stuffy, dusty and claustrophobic. My heart sank as i discovered a new infestation of Red Mite - horrible parasites that live on chickens. They hide in the roof of the house in the day, and once the hens have gone to bed for the night, they drop down, burrow under their feathers and feast on their blood all night. They're incredibly persistent too. You can kill them by treating the house with special sprays and powders, but within a few months you will see the tell tale signs of their pestilential presence - feather loss, furious scratching, and an air of dejection about the hens.
Being on your hands in knees, sweeping up sticky poo in a stiflingly hot, dusty henhouse wasn't my idea of a treat, especially when combined with the grim sensation of red mites scurrying across my scalp. My irritation was compounded by the discovery that the access door for humans had jammed and no amount of pushing and kicking would open it. This meant that my only means of escape was via the pop hole, (the chickens front door if you like), a square hole about 18 inches in diameter. Grimacing and frantically scratching my seething scalp i lay down on my stomach atop a layer of oozing chicken faeces and prepared to make my escape.
Wriggling forward i stuck my head through the pop hole, whereupon Lily started to squeal with laughter. "Ha bloody ha." i muttered, edging my shoulders through the gap before staring my ungainly descent down the ramp.
Suddenly the dogs started barking and i heard a car pull up outside the house. I barely had time to ponder upon how absurd i must look, when an official looking man wearing a pinstripe suit appeared round the corner. He stopped dead in amazement when he saw me. I assumed he must be a farm rep and pointedly ignored his irritating expression of facetious surprise as he curiously surveyed me from a safe distance. I wanted to scratch my head but my arms were pinned by my sides in the narrow entrance.
"Can i help you?" i asked tersely.
"Er, I'm looking for Mr Miller."
"Sorry, i don't know where he is."
I writhed a bit more and slowly edged my way through the wretched pop hole.
"Is Mrs Miller here?" he asked, glancing towards the house.
"I'm Mrs Miller." I grunted crossly.
He looked at me in unflattering disbelief. I scowled defiantly back at him.
"If you leave your card he'll call you if he wants to make an appointment." i snapped, resisiting the urge to add "Now sod off."
He watched Lily plunge both hands joyfully into a mound of chicken shit, before smiling indulgently as though humouring a moron... "I don't make appointments. I'm a Hygeine Official from the Ministry of Agriculture, and i'm here to inspect the cleanliness levels on your premises..."

Thursday, 22 July 2010

I'm trying to summon enough will power to clean out the hen house. It's a horrible job and i always try to find excuses not to do it. The last time i cleaned it i gave it a thorough spring clean inside and out. I am rather proud of my hen house. I bought it from an up-market company called FlyteSoFancy for the princely sum of £550.
It's ridiculously kitsch. It looks like a swiss chalet on stilts, with a sloping roof, 5 roomy nesting boxes and a heart shaped window. There's also an oblong window in the back of it so that the hens can enjoy watching the sun rising over Whitmore Coppice every morning.
I was so excited the week before it was delivered that i kept waking up in the night.
Chicken expert and poultry breeding enthusiast Barry Dunning lives in Ibberton, our neighbouring village, so the day before the hen house was due to arrive, i went to buy some hens. I had £50 in my pocket which i thought would be more than enough money...
When i walked around to the paddock at the back of his house i felt like a child in a sweet shop. I actually squealed. There were at least 50 pens, each one housing a different breed of chicken - there ranged from enormous great chickens which looked like they were wearing fluffy boots, right down to tiny little bantams
I didn't even try to hide my excitement. I rushed around the paddock, dizzy with glee, shouting "That one!" and "Two of those please!" as the man trotted along behind me scribbling furiously on his note pad as he tried to keep track of which ones i was choosing. There was great excitement when i reached the furthest pen and clapped eyes on a pair of Black Brahmas - enormous birds with dark velvety plumage, fluffy feet and a gaudy yellow circle round their throats like a naff gold chain. They were unbelievably bling - the unrivalled chavs of the poultry
world. Even the way they moved was pugnaciously chav-like; swaggering around with an air of loutish belligerence. If you walked past them in Yeovil town centre you wouldn't bat an eyelid.
I ordered 6 of them.
Finally, my order was complete. I ran back to the car for the money whilst the man worked out the cost. Imagine my dismay when he said "That'll be £278 please."
"I've only got 50!" i squeaked.
If he heard me, he didn't show it.
Two minutes later i was driving home for more money.
I was whimpering slightly as i raided the housekeeping jar. As i looked at the wad of notes i felt giddy. Could i really spend almost three hundred pounds on some chickens? I imagined what else i could pay for with that much money. A package holiday. Five weekly shops. Six sets of horse shoes. 30 bottles of wine. A quarter of our Hunting Subscription....
I stuffed the wad of notes back into the jar. Then a vision appeared in my mind, of the 4 Chav Chickens lounging in the garden outside the kitchen window, strutting majestically down the ramp from their penthouse suite.
I grabbed the money and jumped in the car....
The deal was sealed. The chickens were being delivered two days after the hen house had been erected. That night, and much to Jasper's amusement, i went to bed early and read "Starting with Chickens" from cover to cover.
The house was delivered in flat pack form the next morning and by lunch time it had been assembled and was standing in the back garden. I had angled it so that the ramp (or "pop-hole") was facing the kitchen windows, so that i could watch the hens emerging in the morning. I filled the nesting boxes with a thick layer of dust free wood shavings and wasted no time in painting the house Farrow and Ball Lilac with a white roof. When Jasper caught me making a little pair of curtains for the heart shaped window, he asked me if i had taken leave of my senses and remarked, rather sarcastically that i should do away with the perches and furnish the house with bunk beds.
It looked marvellous when it was finished and i was besides myself with excitement at the thought of showing the chickens their new home.
The little white poultry van rattled down the driveway on Monday evening, and chicken man and i carefully unloaded the chickens straight into their house. There were 25 of them in total, and i brimmed with excitement as i watched them jostle for space on their new perches and settle down for the night.
The next morning i could hardly wait to open the pop hole and watch them file down the ramp. Jasper hadn't yet seen any of the chickens so i decided to wait until he finished milking and came in for breakfast before i let them out. I couldn't wait to see the look on his face as he marvelled at them all!
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity he waved through the window and i went out to join him in the garden. He stood watching while i slid back the bolt of the house and laid down the ramp. Nothing happened for a minute or two.
"Why aren't they coming out?" Jasper asked.
"Just give them a minute. They're probably a bit nervous."
Another couple of minutes passed.
"Do i have to stand here all morning?" he sighed.
I gave him a cross look.
"They must be stupid." he tutted.
Suddenly, one of the Chavs entered stage right -high stepping cautiously into view. The Pom Pom on his head caught the sun magnificently, and his necklace shone white gold.
"What the hell is that?" Jasper asked in an incredulous voice.
"Don't be facetious darling. you know perfectly well what it is."
He gawped at Chav Chicken, lost for words.
Then - "What's that thing on its head? And why is it wearing a necklace?"
I mustered all the dignity i could and ignored his remarks. One by one the chickens filed out into the garden.
"How many more are there?" he demanded after the tenth one had strutted down the ramp.
"Fifteen" i whispered.
"Fifteen more! Fifteen more? You were only supposed to get FIVE! I know you're disnumerate but this is ridiculous!
"We'll never have to buy another egg!" i ventured. "They lay an egg a day."
He snorted "What are we going to do with 175 eggs a week?! I haven't eaten an egg since you told me that they're chicken periods."
I hung my head.
He put his arm around my shoulders. "Sorry bun, i didn't mean to be cross. It's just that, 25 chickens for a 2 person household!"
"I got carried away", i said in a small voice. "Sorry."
"There there, never mind. You are a silly billy aren't you?" he smiled giving me a big hug.
He started laughing.
"what is it?" i asked
"The hen house. "
"What about it?"
"It's a bit twee isn't it?" he tittered.
We watched the last chicken emerge, and went inside for breakfast.
"By the way, how come the house keeping jar's empty?"

I used to dread the weekly shop, but it's actually quite good fun since having Lily, particularly since she is now big enough to sit in the trolley seat. I push the trolley the wrong way round, so that she sails regally down the aisle as though she is at the helm of a ship. Other shoppers turn and smile at her as she glides past them and she beams back at them.
Last time we went, we were in the fruit section when she spied a huge display of blueberries, which she adores. She pointed at them whilst kicking her legs furiously to let me know that she wanted them. I picked up a punnet and put them in the trolley behind her. She squirmed furiously in her seat., twisting around to look at them.
"Not now. You can have them later." i said, and handed her a rice cake. She threw the rice cake contemptuously into the bananas and looked at me with a mutinous expression, before glaring at the blueberries again.
I made a big show of examining the raspberry section. Out of the corner of my eye i saw the bottom lip come out (run for cover), her nostrils flaring and and her face turned puce.
I fixed her with a stern look and told her "Now don't you even think about having a tantrum. I won't stand for that any nonsense."
She stared at me with the same stricken expression as Toad in The Wind In The Willows after he crashed his car. Oh dear. She took an enormous intake of breath, and just before she opened her mouth to scream i dive for the punnet of blueberries, wrench the lid off and thrust them into her lap. She stuffed a fistful of them into her mouth, looked me straight in the eye and smirked...
I popped down the dairy aisle to get some yogurts, and when i return, she is being admired by an elderly couple. She smiled winningly at them and fluttered her eyelids shamelessly as the old dear tickled her under the chin and called her a "little beauty". Her whole face was stained with blueberrys which seemed to enhance her preposterous cuteness.
I was starving so i grabbed a donut from the bakery and gave Lily half. She was soon blissfully preoccupied with covering herself in jam and sugar. There was an elderly man in front of us at the checkout. He looked like an old Sargeant Major dressed in his military tweed, ramrod straight back, hands clasped behind him as he glared fiercely ahead. His hand basket was full of meals for one.
Lily sucked on her donut and gazed thoughtfully at his patrician profile for a minute or two. Suddenly, before i could stop her, she leant forward and tugged the sleeve of his jacket. He turned, frowning. Hesitantly, with a shy smile, she offered the remainder of her donut. The mans face softened and he smiled and held out his hand. Lily solemnly placed the soggy morsel onto his upturned palm and watched as he popped it into his mouth and gave every impression that he was savouring a culinary delight. He wiped the sugar off his hands with a silk handkercheif, bent down level with Lily and said "Thankyou very much my dear. That was delicious!" Lily squirmed in delight and gazed at him from underneath her eyelashes, and there was a loud collective "Ahhhhhh!".....

The First Year (continued...)

Given the macabre nature of my recurring pregnancy nightmare, it's perhaps understandable that i was somewhat apprehensive about the birth and bonding process.
Happily, my fears were unfounded. When Lily was placed into my arms at 10.56 am on August 7th 2010 i was struck dumb by her beauty, and in that split second that she fixed me with her calm gaze, i fell head over heels in love with her. She was (and still is) an exquisitely pretty baby, with a peaches and cream complexion, rosebud lips and huge blue eyes.
Of course, every Mother things that their baby is beautiful, and i thought i was biased, until shortly after the birth, we had a health check from a universally feared midwife, whose brisk manner, and almost aggressive lack of sentiment had earned her the nickname Cruella De Vil.
"Baby Miller?!" she barked as she marched in.
"Yes" I whispered, feeling slightly terrified.
"Any problems feeding her?"
"Are your stitches hurting?"
"Just a bit."
She rummaged around in her pocket and placed a couple of paracetomol on the bedside cabinet before marching over to Lily's crib. I watched in amazement as her hatchet face broke into a huge smile of admiration. She stroked Lily's cheek tenderly as she cooed "Well now, aren't you a beautiful girl? One of the prettiest i've ever seen."
I swelled with pride like a bantam hen.
I recounted the incident to one of the other midwives who would have looked less amazed had i told her that the old tyrant had run into my room naked and performed the Dance Of The Seven Veils.
"She never comments on the babies!"
As i write this, Lily is crawling sideways across the floor, tongue clenched between her teeth and a look of ferocious determination on her face. She is trying to attract the disdainful attentions of the stable cat, whose twitching tail is a constant source of fascination. So far, Rosie has maintained a lofty indifference to Lily's relentless endeavours to detach the tail from the rest of her body.
We are going to have to start moving breakable objects "up a level". At the moment, most of our crockery is stored on a floor to ceiling open shelf, and Lily spends a lot of her time gazing longingly at my beloved Cath Kidston Sprig Flower Tea Set. One of her favourite time is re-distributing the contents of the dishwashers cutlery tray all over the kitchen floor. She is also rather partial to opening Jasper's "filing cabinet" (a kitchen drawer messily stuffed with documents) and decorating the floor with paperwork...
I have just made another batch of food for her. The freezer is bursting at the seams with nutritious organic meals, frozen in ice cube trays and stored in neatly labelled tupperware boxes. I have a Cookathon about every six weeks. For 2 days my cooker is working almost constantly, while i peel, dice, chop, cook and puree a vast assortment of vegetables and simmer the tenderest cuts of meat. The Waitrose bill that precedes these cooking sessions is huge, but far more economical long term, than buying ready made. It's also very satisfying to watch her obvious enjoyment as she chomps her way through a bowl of something that i have made myself.
He latest menu includes Boeuf Bourgignonne, Lamb HotPot, Chicken and Leek Pie, Cheesy Vegetable bake, Moussaka, Pork and Apple Casserole and Lentil Soup (which she loves to eat with buttered wholemeal soldiers).
The last time she stayed the night at the In-Law's house, Granny commented on her refined palate (Monkfish Lyonaisse with creamed spinach, and snacks of olives, sundried tomatos and little chunks of parmesan.
One of her favourites at the moment is a lightly boiled Bantam egg with Asparagus soldiers. Her little face lights up as i peel the top off the egg to reveal the runny yolk. More often than not, she needs a bath afterwards as she is quite literally covered in egg, but it's worth every minute just to see her excitement as she grabs the first piece of asparagus and plunges it into the egg.
On the other hand, i have made a rod for my own back - we were having lunch at my In-Laws recently when i realised i had forgotten to bring her lunch. My sister in law rustled up some beans, pasta and cheese. Lily took one mouthful, and pulled a face of such scandalized disgust, that i found myself driving home to collect a portion of mini salmon skewers, which she received with an expression as much to say "I should think so too! Beans and pasta? Ugh!"
Tor, my Sister-In-Law thought the whole thing was hilarious, commenting that Lily thought that beans were "slumming it".....

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A summary of the first 11 months...

Lily will be One Year old on the 7th of August.
The first year has passed so quickly - it's incredible that the tiny 81b 1oz bundle that i cradled in my arms for the first time almost a year ago, has morphed into this blonde hair, rambunctious whirlwind of energy, who, as i speak, is tearing across the kitchen like a whirling dervish in her stroller. Her favourite game at the moment is to walk backwards, like an athlete before they launch themselves at the high jump, and then propel herself forwards building up as much speed as possible before ramming into a solid object (wall,cupboards,dresser,my ankles) and chortling with glee.
The new mummy nerves that threatened to overwhelm me at times during the first few months of her life, have thankfully diminished. Once i realised that i was not going to drop her on her head, and that the stable cat was not conspiring to access her nursery and smother her to death, i began to relax, tentatively at first, and then with increasing confidence. That said, i still occasionally skulk into the nursery in the silent watches of the night and shine a torch in her face to make sure that she a) hasn't expired and b) that her existence is real, and that she isn't a solipsistic figment of my imagination.
My midnight wanderings are invariably prompted by a recurring dream, in which I decide to take Lily to London to see the sights. We have a marvellous time, taking in the changing of the guards, gazing in wonder at the masterpieces in The National Gallery, and feeding the ducks in St James Park.
During our homeward bound bus journey to Waterloo Station, Lily falls asleep, and i eat a Krispy Kreme Donut and gaze happily at her cherubic sleeping face. Out of the window, dusk brims the shadows in Green Park and the leaves turn red gold in the setting sun....
Several hours later i am relaxing in a Jo Malone scented bath and telling my Husband, Jasper, what a lovely day we had. I am in the middle of telling him about our visit to madame Tussauds, when he suddenly asks "Where is Lily now?", and i realise with a plummenting sense of horror that i left her on the Bus.
Chaos ensues, with Jasper roaring at me for being so "useless and irresponsible", and i try to resist the urge to swoon with sheer terror, whilst scrabbling to find the telephone. After countless mis-dials, engaged tones and wrong numbers, i finally get through to a Police Officer and manage to tell him, through my sobs that "I left my Baby on the bus to waterloo"
There is a pause while he digests this news, before replying in an utterly indifferent voice "Well that was a stupid thing to do - she could be anywhere in the world by now." Then he hangs up.
I wake up at this point, heart hammering in my chest, before groping for the torch beneath our bed and tottering off to the nursery.
I am assured that such nightmares are perfectly normal - the psyches way of processing the enormous weight of responsibility that Motherhood brings.
When i was pregnant i was haunted by a similar nightmare - I am lying a in a birthing pool in a dimly lit hospital room in the final throes of Labour. I am feeling calm and serene; my birthing plan is going smoothly and i am overwhelmed with excited anticipation. With a final push, my baby is born! I lean forward, beaming with joy, desperate to hold her in my arms. The midwives exchange grim looks and peer gingerly into the pool. Suddenly, the surface ripples, and a demonic dwarf rises slowly from the depths, like a monstrous parody of Boticelli's venus. Its maleveolent black eyes blaze in its shrunken skull and the ensuing horrified silence is broken only by the rasp of its breath through sputum flecked lips.
Water drips from its straggly shoulder length hair as it leans towards me, close enough to smell its putrid breath.
I am about to pass out, when, with a terrifying rictus grin, it hisses at me "Ha ha! You thought i was a baby!" before it leaps, cackling, out of the pool and in a staggering display of superhuman agility, hurls itself through the windo in a shower of glass. Once outside, it flips over onto its back like a crab and scuttles grotesquely over the brow of the hill, never to be seen again....