Friday, 26 June 2015

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day.

I drove my daughter, Taylor, back to her student house to empty it of the last of her belongings and give it a good clean before handing the keys back. The journey was easy, her things fitted effortlessly into the car and the cleaning satisfied an urge in me that surfaces from time to time to restore pristine cleanliness to where once was clutter and dirt.

The University uses a credit system whereby students have a card that can be topped up with money and spent in food establishments on campus. Taylor had a few pounds left on her card so she bought a lunch for us both that had become something of a tradition for her on Thursdays when lectures had kept her on campus all day. A freshly baked baguette generously filled with brie and salad eaten in the glorious sunshine on the central piazza was a perfect reward for all the scrubbing and vacuuming.

Our final job before heading back home was to collect Taylor's results.

We all knew that a mathematics degree at a prestigious university was never going to be easy and having now experienced it, Taylor would be the first to concur. She found it extremely challenging for all sorts of reasons beyond the simply academic ones, yet she persevered. Her boyfriend did everything he could to support her (including sending her a very prickly cactus that outgrew the box it had been delivered in thus causing a few concerns about how to transport it home!) Big sister Liberty made sure she had colourful post-its and notebooks to help with revision. I did my best to encourage her without putting her under any pressure to live up to my perceived expectations. We all did what we could and so did she... but would it be enough.

Taylor's first and second year results coupled with how well (or otherwise!) the final exams had gone meant that a first class degree was not going to happen. The dream was to scrape a 2.1 but a 2.2 was a more likely outcome. A 2.2 could still open doors, just not as effectively as a 2.1.  Of course, the worry was that after all her trying, all her enormous effort... she wouldn't get a 2.2. I would need all of my consolation techniques ready to deal with that particular outcome.

We walked to the maths building. We were moments away from knowing. I grabbed a coffee and waited outside as she and her friends went in to face the truth. Students were emerging from the building, mobile phones to their ears, sharing their news with anxious parents. There was jubilation. There were tears. I waited.

Taylor is a petite little thing. She was wearing dark clothing. As she emerged from the gloomy interior of the building into the bright sunlight, I saw her smile before I actually saw her. A huge, beaming smile.

A huge beaming smile followed by a thumbs up as she waved her piece of paper at me... the piece of paper with an unfathomable jumble of percentages AND the magic number... the number we had dared to hope for.


We drove home letting the good news sink in and sharing it with friends and family by the magic of text and facebook.

We celebrated with a rather unusual meal created by cooking all the partially defrosted frozen food that had been left in Taylor's uni freezer. Nobody cared how odd the meal was because Liberty arrived with a bottle of bubbly. As I toasted my daughter and sipped my drink, I could rejoice that the stress of 'not knowing' had been replaced with the joy of a fantastic result. I may have it all to go through again with the A level results, but today was most definitely a good day.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Gingerbread Man that wasn't a treat

I wouldn't normally write a post like this but my mum is keen for me to do so..... mum, this is for you.

My parents visit once a week. Usually, they alternate between spending one week with my sister and the next with me. When it isn't my week, they pop in for a coffee before going on to my sister's house. As I am going to be moving away this summer, they have broken the long established routine and have decided to make every week a bit special by taking my sister and I both out for lunch.

This week, we chose a local pub restaurant of the Fayre & Square franchise - The Gingerbread Man, Market Drayton.

We were quite surprised when we arrived to see that the normal 'order at the bar' service had been replaced by a more formal 'wait to be seated' and waitress service. There was also a brand new menu.

We perused the menu and my sister and I both decided on the vegetarian sausage and mash option. Dad stayed true to form and ordered his usual - fish and chips. The waitress was friendly and took our orders.

This is where it started to wrong.

Dad is firmly stuck in ways (not just in his choice of lunch). He likes his food served at a certain time and gets a bit agitated if he is kept waiting longer than necessary. I'm sure he will deny it when mum reads this post out to him but sorry dad, it is true.

We were kept waiting.

Mum made assurances that it was taking as long as it was because they would be cooking it all from fresh. It would be worth waiting for.

It wasn't.

The food arrived about half an hour later. It wasn't much of a big deal for me to wait half an hour but dad is in his eighties. If he sits in one place for too long, things start to seize up and that would spoil his enjoyment. We are all very aware of this and can start to feel on edge if we think he is struggling. If he was struggling, his mind was taken off arthritic joints and worn out knees when he laid eyes on his piece of fish. The dish named The Codfather certainly delivered on the size of the battered fillet. It was enormous and dad tucked into it with wide eyes and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the chip component of the fish and chips was far less satisfactory. The chips were actually cold.

Dad's cold chips were less of a concern than the plates my sister and I were served. I say 'plate' , they were actually large bowls which did not lend themselves well to good presentation which consisted of a dollop of mash with some peas thrown on, drowning in a sea of watery gravy with three mediocre looking veggie sausages plonked on top.

We all know that the first bite is with the eye but I have always been more interested in the second bite.
Sadly, things only got worse.

I am of the firm opinion that if the menu states 'mashed potato' you should be served with potato that is mashed. This may have been a potato once but processing and reconstituting had rendered it quite unrecognisable from the original tuber. Not only that, it had not been reconstituted adequately. I had lumps of almost rubbery goo in my serving that I had to actually spit out for fear of it making me sick. However discreetly I tried to remove the nauseating mass from my mouth,  my weak stomached sister did heave and could barely look at her own food, let alone try to extract something vaguely edible from the mess.

Disappointing for us as it was to be served such rubbish, the worse thing was that my mum felt guilty that our meals were not an acceptable standard and started to apologise to us. Her disappointment and feeling that she had somehow let us down was really heartbreaking. This was probably a good time for the waitress to appear and cheerily ask us if everything was OK with our meals.

I am not a complainer - I always just try to make the best of any situation - but with my mum blaming herself for the disaster I had to say something. The waitress did offer to replace my dad's chips but whether the attitude deeply ingrained from wartime shortages meant that he could not bring himself to waste even cold chips or whether he just wanted the meal to be over as quick as possible so he could get up from he chair to relieve his pains, he refused. There was not much she could do about our dinners other than apologise. I asked for a reduction in the bill and we were offered a deduction to the value of one of our meals.

We really should have refused to pay for the two unsatisfactory meals but maybe the fact that we were brought up by someone so apposed to wasting food that he won't even swap his cold chips or maybe just to try and absolve our mum from her misplaced guilt, we had eaten the sausages (which were as mediocre as they first appeared)

Mum wanted to buy us all dessert to make up for the bad food but I felt disinclined to put any more business their way. We accepted the offer of the deduction and asked for the bill.

Dad (who was paying) was quite satisfied with the outcome but the free meal wasn't as good a deal as it seemed. Their pricing system has 'meal deals' so you can buy two meals for a tenner offering a reduction on the price of individual meals. Our bill was reduced by the cost of one meal which automatically meant we were charged more for the other. The compensation for two inedible dinners and a ruined lunchtime treat turned out to be about  three pounds. Pathetic.

We have all had bad experiences with retailers and service providers. How those companies choose to deal with the customer can make a huge difference to whether you do business with them again.

An apology from somebody with more authority than a poorly paid waitress, a complaint taken seriously by the kitchen, a sweetener in the form of free drinks or desserts, a fair reduction in the bill .... any one of those would have satisfied us and we would have returned for future lunches (although possibly always steered clear of the mash).

It was not an expensive meal even if we were charged more than it was worth. We are not interested in making a fuss even if the whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths both figuratively and literally. I think my mum's keenness for me to write this post is her way of putting it all in order and moving on. (I hope I have done that for you mum).

My dad is a very generous tipper. I think I mentioned a couple of times in this post that he is a creature of habit. When I thought for one second that he was considering leaving a tip, I told him very firmly to put his money away.

He did.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Divorcing my Children

My husband is away this week. He is in India visiting a quite remarkable school nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There is part of me that hates him being away. I want him home with me. I want him in my bed at night. I want him bringing me my cup of tea in the morning. And yet there is part of me that doesn't mind at all because it is the passion he has for doing things outisde of what most would consider the norm that makes him the man he is - the man I love.

It is this passion that has shaken our lives up so drastically recently. He is starting a new job and we are moving from the home we have lived in happily for the last ten years. Ten years of stability and suddenly we are starting over in a new place with new opportunities and new challenges.

Without a doubt, the one thing I will miss above all else from this part of my life is having my two eldest daughters around. They both have homes a short walk from mine and I spend a lot of time with them - running, swimming, shopping or having them just drop by for a chat or inviting themselves to dinner! They help me out in all sorts of ways and I love their company. I know that the relationships will adapt and evolve to suit the new situation but I will definitely miss the 'availability' of them.

Despite living independent lives, both daughters still have possessions in the family home. Of my other two grown up daughters, one is about to finish University and one is about to start. They both have a significant amount of their belongings stored here too. As we will be moving to an area of high property value, we will inevitably be downsizing. This has made it necessary for my girls to claim and take responsibility for as much of their own stuff as possible.

We joked that it was like a divorce as we sorted through the DVD and CD collection working out what belonged to who. Divorcing my children actually turned out to be a lot of fun and quite therapeutic. We  amicably divided and also sorted out a mighty pile that my eldest, Liberty, was able to sell with Music Magpie. I was absolutely delighted when she bought me a present out of some of the proceeds to thank me for the sacrifices I made from my part of the collection.

My present was Volume 1 of a wonderfully dark, interconnected collection of short stories in the graphic novel style by writer Neil Gibson. I have never fully embraced the comic book culture but this particular book entitled Twisted Dark is incredible. It explores the worst aspects of human nature in a punchy, hard hitting yet digestible way. Beautifully drawn, clever narrative, edgy... I just love it. I don't imagine it will convert me to a lover of all things 'comic book' but I am definitely wanting more Twisted Dark!

Another sizeable collection that needed to be dealt with was Liberty's Warhammer fantasy miniatures - paints, craft tools, miniature figures, scenery, the entire Lord of the Rings partwork with most of the figures still wrapped in the cellophane. Back in her teens, she had spent many a happy hour painting the figures - and she was good at it.  A steady hand, meticulous attention to detail and the odd tutorial at the nearest Warhammer Games Workshop and she was achieving a very high standard - a standard recognised when she won a ffty pound gift voucher in a painting competition. The money was immediately ploughed back into the hobby which ground to a halt about the time she got her first serious boyfriend! The collection has been in my loft gathering dust for years and it was time to put it back into her hands. The lovely thing is, her interest has been rekindled. She has no desire to play Warhammer or even to keep the figures once they are painted. The joy is in the doing. She has started painting them then putting them on ebay to sell. She is doing well. She's never going to make her millions this way but she has the pleasure of painting, the slight thrill of seeing how high the bids go and most importantly... they are no longer in my loft.

My house decluttering continues as I wait for my husband to return from his adventures in India. I am almost at the point where I want to empty each room as though we were moving out and then (after a clean and freshen) put back ONLY what we want in our new life. That way, there will be no surprises when we move out for real.


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