Posted in Travel

Dorothy Was Right: There’s No Place Like Home

Living as I do in an area that’s a tourist destination, I’m always curious when I go away on holiday to see whether I can find any other tourist spots that are equally homely. It’s rare to find another place that’s a match for our little corner of the Cotswolds.

Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland from the tr...
"But, Toto, how will I ever get home to the Cotswolds?" (Photo: Wikipedia)

I’m therefore taken aback to come across a small Scottish town that seems on first glance to meet my demanding criteria.

Late one afternoon, en route in our camper van from Perth to the coast of Fife, we encounter a small market town with a familiar air. Spotting brown tourist information signs to a nearby castle, we decide to stay the night and visit it in the morning. We find a place to park near the centre of town, and while my husband reads the paper and my daughter plays with her toys, I combine a recce with a run (I’m in training for the Bristol 10K).

I gently jog down the narrow high street, making a mental note of the facilities. There’s a craft bakers, an award-winning butchers, two charity shops with a high class of junk, and a useful old-fashioned hardware shop.There are signs to a library and a leisure centre and an edge-of-town supermarket. (Sound familiar, anyone?)

The calorific perils of a chippy, a Chinese and an Indian take-away are offset by a slimming club in the old market hall,which also hosts a cafe offering hearty soups, sandwiches and cakes. (Well, this is Scotland). I jog on to the end of town and I’m immediately amidst farmland, where fingerposts beckon me on to pleasant footpaths through sheep-strewn green fields.

Hmmm, this is home from home, I begin to think. I could get to like this place.

Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots, wishing she had Dorothy's ruby slippers (Photo: Wikipedia)

There’s even a local royal connection, albeit not one to ever make the pages of Hello magazine: Mary, Queen of Scots, was once a guest at the local castle and later a prisoner.

Turning left onto a footpath, I jog happily round the perimeter of the town and am rewarded with a glimpse of the castle, in the middle of a small loch. I pause to catch my breath by the ticket office and mentally book a family boat trip to it for tomorrow. Culture, a boat and a spooky-looking setting that would do Scooby-Doo proud – there’s something here to keep all the family happy.

When I head back into town, the charity shops are opposite me, and I notice for the first time that they are in aid of a Scottish children’s hospice. A little further down the road, in the direction of the other end of town, is a sign to that very hospice. A few yards further I pass the high school. It is closed down and boarded up, peppered with danger signs. I’m sure there’s no connection between the closure of the (dangerous) school and the presence of a children’s hospice, but it still makes me shudder with horror. I’m so sad for the children affected by either building.

I run on, hoping to find something cheery to negate the effect of these discoveries. A little ahead of me is a large building, by far the most grand and imposing on the high street. I run a little faster, spirits rising. Level with the gated entrance, I read the sign. It is a funeral directors.  Now feeling thoroughly chilled, I turn on the heel of my trainers and plod back to the van, to find my family waiting. I couldn’t live here, not amidst all this sadness. After all, there is no place like home.

(This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, May 2012 issue.)

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one about the lure of home: East, West, Our Village Show’s Best or this one about another country dear to Mary, Queen of Scots’ heart:   Lost In France.

Posted in Personal life

How to Cut Down on Your Laundry

6 smiling women under tenement clothesline; ca...
Image via Wikipedia

Now that the days are short and damp, and the weather has forced us to abandon the garden washing line, dealing with the household laundry has become even more tiresome than usual.  But do not despair.  I have some simple tips that will help you reduce your load. Follow them if you dare:

1.  Only put things in the washing machine if they have conspicuous signs of dirt.  This will happen much less frequently if you…

2. Ensure that every member of your family always dresses in the most suitable colour for their scheduled activities. A muddy brown is best for walks in the autumn woods, while acid green is good for football or cricket. (Cricket whites were invented by a man whose mother did his laundry.)

3.  Only wear white if you’r planning to spend your day emulsioning white walls – or you work in a salt mine or flour mill.

4. Bear this tip in mind when your choosing the colour scheme for your home.  Try matching your paintwork to your favourite clothes: denim blue is good for me.  That way any splashes will never show up. Commiserations to my good friend whose husband always wears black: you may need to  invest in some extra bright lightbulbs to prevent your home from feeling too gloomy.

5.Pretend you’ve had a power cut and that you’ll have to do your laundry by hand.  This will help you focus the mind on washing only those things that are truly dirty.

6. Alternatively adopt the techniques of the age before the washing machine.  Take a leaf out of Jeeves’ book and clean your master’s clothes with a damp sponge, dabbing only at the patches that need attention.  A quick once-over with the iron, put them back on their hangers, spritz them with fragranced linen spray, and he’ll never realise that they haven’t actually been washed.

7.  Oh, and linen spray.  Buy it in bulk.  It covers a multitude of sloth.

8.  Buy lots and lots of clothes.  That way you will always have plenty more in the wardrobe, however much is trapped in the laundrycycle. I have always bought more sets of school uniform for my daughter than there are days in the week.  That way I’m never forced to do laundry at the weekend if something more interesting comes along and she can still go to school fully clothed on the Monday.

9.  As a last resort, become a naturist.  Admittedly this will necessitate moving to a warmer country, but at least you’ll never have to wash or iron clothes again.

Still can’t bring yourself to break the laundry habits of a lifetime, do not despair.  Then comfort yourself with the thought that there are few tasks as deserving of a reward in the form of chocolate as getting to the bottom of the ironing basket.  Just make sure you’re wearing brown the day you reach yours.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let Blending Commence!

krazy kitchen tea towel
Image by wine me up via Flickr

Still flushed with the success of my recent purchase of a glass kettle, I am stopped in my tracks tonight in Sainsbury’s by the sight of a shiny new food processor, the subject of an alluring special offer.  I take down the huge cardboard box from the shelf and turn it over, admiring the pictures of its smart design from all angles.  Such a contrast to the dusty, rusting 80s model in my kitchen cupboard!  Its awkward uncleanable crevices harbour ecosystems all of their own.  I’ve long since stopped using it for fear of what new lifeforms might have evolved in there.

Can  I justify this impulse buy?  I’ve onlycome in to Sainsbury’s for a pint of milk.  Yes, I jolly well can!

A flashback to our half-term trip to the Science Museum  endorses my decision.  As we looked around its fascinating exhibition of antique household appliances, it had occurred to me that my old cream and brown (how 80s is that?) food processor would have looked right at home there.

This particular machine was a Christmas present from my then boyfriend.  Fresh out of university, we were feeling terribly grown-up and we were starting to embrace a domesticity that had passed us by until then.  I’d made it through my degree course with only a milkpan and a frying pan in my kitchen locker – and I was one of the better cooks in our hall.  My previous birthday present to him had been a “Multiboil” – a kettle that included a little plastic basket in which you could supposedly rest tins or eggs and boil them till done (provided that you didn’t mind turning the kitchen into a sauna in the process).  It pre-dated the “forgettle kettle” so it wouldn’t switch itself off when reaching boiling point.  We thought it was the apex of kitchen sophistication.  The Multiboil was also, inevitably, cream and brown, as was most of my wardrobe and indeed most of my possessions at that time.

My new food processor, by contrast, is snow-white, sparkling, compact and modern. I take it home and lovingly lift it  from its packaging.  Clearing a space on the windowsill, I set it down gently alongside the new glass kettle, as if introducing it to a new friend. It’s much too smart to hide in a cupboard.  By now my old machine is gracing the inside of the wheelie bin.

At this point, my small daughter comes  into the kitchen.  She looks at it and frowns.

“Why have you bought another kettle?” she asks seriously.

I don’t let her criticism burst my bubble.  I’ll treat myself to a new food processor every thirty years, whether I need it or not.