A Summer of Irritating Events

This header image was what I was HOPING for this summer. My summer was NOTHING like this image.

After a long and tiring year of teaching with the added pressure of a pandemic I couldn’t wait for the summer holiday. It was all planned. Two weeks in Provence in a lovely house with a beautiful pool. It was perfect. It was also screamingly expensive but we decided (well, I persuaded Rob) that we haven’t been on holiday for THREE YEARS (except to the Lake District when it rained every day) and we DESERVED a lovely holiday in the sun.

Then the colours were imposed. Red/Amber/Green. The words designed to bring a chill to every would-be traveller’s heart. France was all over the place; we kept hearing horror stories of tourists having to fly back early else face quarantine. Not to mention the cost of the compulsory PCRs and confusion about whether we would have to quarantine and did the kids have to quarantine as they weren’t allowed the vaccine?

ARRGGH! It was all too much and eventually we decided to move it to next year. We would have fun at home, wouldn’t we? Rob researched a list of fun things we could do to try and take the edge off the family disappointment. Canoeing, trips to the beach, meals out, visiting friends and family – oh, the joy was unconfined.

We decided to spend a few weeks roaming around Kent sampling all the fun it had to offer and then we’d visit Rob’s Mum, spend four days in Bournemouth, see my parents then home. I found a hotel that was slightly less than a million pounds a night, booked a kennel for Dog and we settled in to enjoy a summer in the UK.

Then Son asked if he could have some mates over for a sleepover …

I wasn’t keen, but his campaign was so insistent, so relentless he wore me down like a waterfall wears away rock. Promises were offered, emotional blackmail was employed, passionate and compelling arguments were constructed. Eventually we caved in and two friends were duly invited to come and stay.

I didn’t see them once. They squirreled themselves away in a nest of electronic devices and pizza boxes. The only sign of their presence was the deep bellowing laughs and exclamations peculiar to a group of teenage lads not quite 16. Daughter spent her time sighing, rolling her eyes, and moaning about them to her friends.

The next day the lads caught the bus into town, and I complained to Rob about teenage manners and how none of them had come to say goodbye (or thank you) before they left.

Thank God for the rudeness of teenagers, because when Son came back he went straight to bed saying he’d eaten in town. The next morning I received this text from him.

There are so many layers to this text. The ‘awkward’ emoji. The use of the word ‘also’ as if finding out the friend coming for a sleepover the day before he tested positive for Covid was an afterthought.

So after almost two years of mask wearing, distancing, staying at home, washing hands and bathing in sanitiser, Covid got into the house. At least Rob and I were both double-jabbed.

Poor Son went straight into isolation and I kept everything crossed that he wouldn’t get it. Sadly, it didn’t work. Four days later the dreaded line appeared. Positive. In between having stress nightmares about Son being rushed to hospital and put on a ventilator, or me and Rob getting it, dying, and leaving our children orphans, I rang around cancelling the holiday in Bournemouth and the kennels for Dog.

Our lovely list of fun activities went out of the window. We were trapped. The four of us. Together. (Well, Son was banished to the room furthest away from the rest of us with his own bathroom – I held back from stringing a bell around his neck).

Son was quite happy. he didn’t yet feel poorly, and with a TV and PlayStation in his room, his phone, no adults on his case, and food being delivered on trays three times a day – of course he was happy. Luckily, he was only poorly with a bad fever for two days and very quickly felt better. I knew he was better when he started a vigorous campaign (again) to be let out as he felt fine and was testing negative. We stayed firm, and sat looking out the window, counting the days down until we were allowed outside.

Rob and I tested ourselves and Daughter every day with neurotic obsession. We were completely paranoid. We kept asking each other to check temperatures. Was that a fever? When Rob sneezed we’d exchange panicked glances. I woke up with a headache. This is it. I thought – dismissing the four M&S gin and tonics I’d drunk the night before – I’ve got Covid. I’m fat, over 50 and asthmatic – this is the end for me.

At the end of ten days I had a pile of Covid tests and Rob, Daughter, Dog and I had all escaped Covid. (Well, I assume the Dog was OK – she was strictly forbidden from going anywhere near Son). We flung open the windows and doors and breathed in the air of freedom.

‘I’ll rebook the hotel!’ I announced. ‘It’s a flexible booking! It’ll be fine!’ Joy all round.

Sure enough, when I rang the hotel they were very helpful. ‘Of course!’ they said. ‘We can re-book the same rooms.’

‘Great!’ I said. ‘How much?’

How much …. I crossed my fingers and squeezed my eyes tight shut, sending up a quick prayer as she clattered away on her keyboard to see how much it would be.

ONE THOUSAND POUNDS MORE.

FOR FOUR NIGHTS!

S**t and corruption. As my mother would say.

But all was not lost. Every morning I stalked booking.com until the prices fell and then I pounced like a fat, middle-aged tiger and grabbed the rooms for the original price. Triumphant I told Rob and all was good until he reminded me about Dog. Where would Dog go?

Guess how many kennels had spaces?

None.

Not a one.

The roller coaster of the summer hit the skids again but, hooray! A cancellation! The roller coaster shot up in the air again. But! In an attempt to be super organised, I read the requirements on the kennel website. She must have kennel cough within three weeks of arriving!

One frantic call to the vet and jab was organised. Dog went in, came out jabbed. Sorted! I thought.

Then arrived at the kennels and was told Dog couldn’t be allowed into kennels until three weeks AFTER the kennel cough jab. Goddammit!!

The kind man at the kennels saw my aghast face and took pity on me. He had an isolation room Dog could go into as she was still kennel-cough-virus-live apparently. ‘Don’t talk to me about viruses,’ I muttered as I handed over wads of cash.

We FINALLY arrived in Bournemouth. I had forgotten how beautiful it is there. Over the four days we had two days of glorious sunshine – so hot we could swim in the sea. I rented a paddle board and Son, Daughter, and I paddled about in the freezing sea for an hour. We all fell in regularly and it was salty and cold but listening to the sound of my grumpy teenagers helpless with giggles made it one of the best days of the summer.

I even amazed myself by getting up early one morning and going for a run – Rob caught me as I set off down the empty streets next to the hotel.

I’m wearing my ‘Hell has no Fury like a Woman in Pink’ Cancer UK t-shirt as I’ve signed up to run a 5k in September. I really need to keep running as much as I can because at the moment I am running so slowly people will be packing up and going home and I’ll still be panting along around the 2k mark.

Running merrily down the path to the beach I didn’t think through how horrendous it would be running back; it nearly killed me getting back to the hotel. I must have looked awful as three separate people yelled encouragement to ‘keep going!’

There are two pictures that sum up our Bournemouth break. This video is half way through my run (before I turned round and realised I had a huge hill to run up – excuse the heavy breathing)

And this one is THE NEXT DAY, when we visited the pier in the middle of a howling rain storm – Son and Daughter wanted a go on the giant slide, despite the wind and storm clouds on the horizon.

English weather, eh?

The other highlight was this incredible cocktail which marked the first time we’d eaten inside a restaurant since the pandemic started.

Back home we went to collect a very over-excited Dog from the kennels. All seemed well, though she was behaving a bit oddly – very clingy, and kept doing that paw on your knee staring into your eyes and whining thing where she seems to be asking you to go and rescue some animal that had fallen down a well.

I noticed she kept licking her tummy and when I rolled her over to have a look I saw a full set of very engorged nipples. Odd, I thought, and pressed lightly on one of them. An enormous jet of milk shot out.

What the hell? I thought. Dog regarded me calmly as I … well, sort of milked her. Yup. All nipples fully functioning. Dog was lactating.

Had she got knocked up in the kennel? Was I to expect a bundle of puppies? Kids were delighted, Rob. Not so much.

Turns out she is having a phantom pregnancy, of all things. Apparently quite common and the vet advised us to ‘ride it out’ until she settled back down. I asked how long it would last and he replied, ‘no idea.’

So, we are back home, it’s been raining constantly for the past week and Dog is, yet again, encased in a cone. She is not happy about it. I think this may be the fourth time in a cone. We’ve had a lump removed, a grass seed worming into her paw, a hot teabag incident, and a broken toe nail. So it’s the FIFTH time in a cone.

Food has been a highpoint on my summer holiday roller coaster. Firstly, I discovered Gousto. As you know, I’m a ham sandwich kind of girl, and cooking is absolutely not my thing. Luckily Rob is quite proficient in the kitchen, and he usually cooks. Unfortunately he expects me to cook over the holiday pointing out that he’s still at work and I have nothing to do all day so I should cook. I argued, but it would seem he had right on his side.

Gousto came to my rescue. They send you everything in a box and you just throw it all together. It’s got us out of a rut of spag bol/cottage pie/chops/pasta and roasts we’d got into. Check out these beauties!

I have also discovered this in the Marks and Spencer’s BBQ section. On the handful of days we have had some sunshine we bolted outside to fire up the coals and I am completely obsessed with these halloumi kebabs.

It didn’t just rain over the summer, it also stormed. It stormed so bad our house got struck by lightning. Did you know you should unplug your modem if there’s a storm? Well, I know now! The lighting strike took out the wifi and all the spotlights in the kitchen. At least it didn’t set the roof on fire. Lesson learned, if you hear thunder, unplug the router!

Reading, as ever, saved me during the long rainy days where I hid in my room so I couldn’t hear the children asking every 18 minutes whether there was any food. This one was lovely. A gentle tale about a young girl growing up in the country. It was sweet and funny and a wonderful escape. I’d highly recommend it.

I am in the middle of my prequel to ‘The Woman and the Witch’ and I have to be careful what I read as authors I love infect me with their style. I have this waiting next to my bed. I love everything by Lisa Jewell and I have no doubt this will be as brilliant as all her others.

After months of agonising procrastination and writing a word at a time, I have finally got into the swing of my prequel ‘Frieda’. It is bouncing along but I am touching wood as I write this as I am worried I’ll jinx it. It tells the story of Frieda or Mrs B, the witch from my first novel. It starts in Paris in 1959 on New Year’s Eve and I am loving researching all the fashions of the time. I keep calling my Mum up and saying things like, ‘what kind of shoes would a down-trodden 20 year old wear in 1960?’ and ‘did you use the word teenager in 1960?’ or ‘how much would a bunch of roses cost in 1960 and would you have been able to buy them in winter?’ She is being very patient with me, bless her.

My 81 year old Dad, once I published my third book, finally decided to have a read of them and, obviously inspired, has now embarked on writing a memoir. After writing about 30,000 words about his life on the note app on his ipad, I stepped in and introduced him to Word and bought him a little keyboard so he didn’t have to write the whole lot using the screen keyboard, which was painful to watch. He was delighted when I managed to reprint his book on A4. He couldn’t work out the printer so he had about 300 tiny pages – around 10 pages to one sheet of A4 – which was so tiny he couldn’t read them. He was getting roaringly frustrated before I managed to sort him out. I blew his mind about seven times that morning, my favourite was when I showed him he could dictate his book by talking to the ipad. Unfortunately he had trouble turning it off, so there are a few pages in his manuscript containing a word-for-word record of his argument with Mum about whether the new light bulbs were energy saving or not.

I also ended up falling down a rabbit hole looking up Russia in the 1960s and learning all about the centenarians of Abkhasia. Writing is a very strange thing.

I still have two weeks of holiday left before it’s back to work. Despite Covid, lactating dogs and constant rainfall, it’s been lovely getting to know my children again as almost-grown-ups. They are beginning to look out towards the big bad world but, for now, they still seem to tolerate hanging out with their aged parents. Long may it last!

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’m off to make Rump Steak with Spicy Rice and Peri-Peri Sauce!

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