Hit Me Baby One More Rhyme

Maternity leave. One day you’re a fully-functioning member of society, heading up meetings at work and studying Stylist magazine for your next fashion splurge; the next you’re watching Homes Under The Hammer in crumpled pyjamas with two-day-old baby sick in your hair. It’s frightening how quickly the descent can happen.

Fortunately, there’s no end to the amount of baby-orientated pursuits your days can be filled with: baby bonding, baby sensory, baby rap, baby massage, baby yoga, baby bungee.

Okay, so I made the last one up. But it’s got ‘baby’ in front of it so mums would probably pay good money to come anyway.

And if the tag line said something along the lines of: ‘Baby bungee has been proven to strengthen your little one’s core muscles; the increased blood flow to their head created by dangling upside down encourages accelerated brain development, while providing a unique mother and baby bonding experience…’, well, they’d be queuing out the door.


But first up, how about something just for the moms…

Baby cinema

My first thought on hearing about ‘baby cinema’ was that it sounded horrendous. Why would I want to watch a film with hordes of rugrats crying in the background?

So it was with some trepidation that I headed down to Everyman cinema on Tuesday morning.

However, it wasn’t half as hellish as I’d thought. Everyman, in case you haven’t been, is a great cinema – all fancy furnishings and sink-into sofas (perfect for clandestine nappy changes). Coffee and cake is brought to your seat (Yep, more cake. I take issue with the fact that people feel the need to constantly feed women on maternity leave cake. It’s incredibly patronising, as if they’ve thought, ‘hmm, what can we give these frumpy mums? Yes, let’s feed them cake – that’ll keep ’em happy’. But still, I’m not one to pass up a slice of lemon drizzle…).

The only slightly unnerving part of baby cinema is the amount of interest the baby takes in the film. My own little pudding is absolutely transfixed and sometimes I feel like I should be shielding her eyes from certain Cert. 18. scenes. Forget Peppa Pig… She’s far more interested in seeing Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant and Tilda Swinton’s legs akimbo in The Bigger Splash.


It’s the stuff of nightmares. But boy does she love it.

Then I figured that as our daughter had spent her early days being raised on back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, what’s a bit more gratuitous sex and violence during her formative months.

Baby sensory

I’ve yet to be convinced by baby sensory. Like all of these structured classes, the baby has to be actually in the mood for said sensory experience. This is tricky. If you sign up for a regular class like this, there’s a high chance the baby will be otherwise engaged in one of their main activities, namely feeding, sleeping or pooing. In the early days, the window of opportunity for any level of entertainment is preposterously small.

Baby sensory starts with a cheesy ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ song. It’s the kind of event that if – as a non-parent – you happened to stumble across it you’d probably run for the hills. I feel like fleeing the minute we sing, ‘I love the flowers because they gladden me’. Then I remember I’m actually here of my own free will. And not only that, I actually parted with money. I must have lost my mind. I probably HAVE lost my mind.

But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The pace is fast; the activities relentless. One minute you’re attempting to keep up with ‘Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you…’, the next you could be crinkling foil, blowing bubbles and learning the sign language for ‘milk’ – all at the same time.

Despite the baby lying on a mat right in front of you (part of the bonding experience), the reality is they’re always far more interested in the person next to you. Otherwise, they spend most of the session gazing gormlessly out of the window or strangely fascinated by the ceiling lights. Basically, doing anything that does not involve participating in whatever activity your £6.50 has paid for.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. Since our six-week sensory course, the baby has really excelled at chewing on her own foot.


Baby rhymetime

Not set foot in your local library in the last decade? Nope, I hadn’t either. Now I’m in there several times a week. I’m pleased to report the slightly musty smell remains, the librarians are still largely sporting beards and Birkenstocks, and there’s the usual strange, greasy-haired people surfing the Internet for hours at a time.

The reason for my frequent visits is the library’s free ‘rhymetime’ sessions. Yes, note the ‘free’. You’ll be pleased to know your taxes are providing half an hour of light relief for frazzled mums across the country.

Rhymetime is like baby sensory but without the surcharge and none of the fanfare. Actually, what am I saying… it’s not like baby sensory at all. But the free part means scores of parents descend on the library every Thursday morning.

You’d think with this level of interest, the library would pull out all the stops – perhaps getting their best and most entertaining employee to lead the sing-along.

I’m afraid this isn’t the case. What we do get is a rather weary librarian, clutching a sad-looking teddy bear. She leads a few mono-tonal renditions of ‘Alice the Camel’ and ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and then she looks in desperation at the assembled throng of mums and babies and feebly asks for requests. Someone usually pipes up with ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ and then off we go again.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like a hearty rendition of The Wheels On The Bus at the best of times. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that the librarians are in any way trained in children’s entertainment but the half an hour rhyme time can often be a little, well, unimaginative.

That is until the Gruffalo came to town.

The Gruffalo made a guest appearance at the library three weeks ago and he was absolutely brilliant. He’s a theatrical 40-something year old with boundless energy and bags of songs up his sleeve. I have no idea where the city council found him.

He charged around the room booming out, ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Chocolate Bar’, occasionally tooting on his orange trumpet, and releasing bubbles from his special bubble machine.

Next up, he donned bunny ears and bounced on one leg for a round of, ‘Hop Little Bunny, hop hop hop…’

And at the end of all this giddy fun, he announced he would be coming back again next week. Hurray!

Who needs baby sensory when the Gruffalo’s in town?!

The following week he had a lot to live up to but he didn’t disappoint. Week 2 saw him lose his Gruffalo disguise and pad around in giant panda slippers, singing, ‘I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor’. Out of his special prop bag appeared a furry pink and yellow puppet called Rhubarb And Custard, which occasionally pecked people, à la Emu.

This was supposed to be his last week covering for his weary predecessor but then he announced he was coming back again for a third time… (goodness knows what’s happened to the original librarian – maybe the boa constrictor ate her!).

By week 3, news of the best library rhymetime in the country had begun to spread across Leeds.

The library was full to the rafters as the artist formerly known as the Gruffalo bounded around in a tiger onesie, complete with oversized spectacles.


We sang ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ really, really fast and then again but this time really s-l-o-w-l-y. He pranced around in a floppy hat for ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’, led an uplifting rendition of ‘The Woman Who Swallowed A Fly’. before he announced he’s going to be back for one final hurrah next week (the final week again? Talk about dangling the carrot!).

Talking of carrots, he’s actually coming dressed as a carrot for the next session. No, really. It’s going to be the highlight of my week.

Now pass me some cake.

Baby Love

So the blog’s had to take a bit of a backseat for a while. Images of sipping a latte in Caffe Nero – baby in one hand, laptop in the other – haven’t quite materialised.

Turns out, having a baby is a quite a time-consuming business after all. Who knew?!

But here I am three months into parenthood: somewhat haggard, a tad greyer but willing to bore the socks off anyone who asks about our awesome little girl.


Of course I still want to blog about nuisance neighbours, my peculiar parents and the local coffee shop crazies

But given that my life for the last 15 weeks has been dominated by our new addition, here’s my lowdown on the highs and low of parenthood…

1. It’s A Game Of Survival

There’s many different types of mums out there: attachment parents, Gina Ford militants, and breast-feeding evangelists – to name a few. Here’s my advice: avoid advice at all costs and just do what you need to survive.

Take the dummy for example. Before I had a baby, I’d never really given the pros and cons of using a dummy any consideration. Yes, ideally I would rather my daughter didn’t toddle around with a piece of plastic hanging out of her mouth (look what a hoo-ha it caused with Harper Beckham). Dummies, apparently, can cause problems with teeth and speech. And let’s be honest, no one wants a child with Ken Dodd gnashers and a Chris Eubank lisp.

But parenthood isn’t an ideal world. It’s a world of survival, where future dental plans count for nothing and all that matters is getting through the next hour.

When you bring the baby home from the hospital, they sleep a lot. You have 24 hours of feeling quite smug. They feed a bit and then sleep for several hours. Heck, you might even manage to settle down to an episode of Homeland while silently patting yourself on the back and commending yourself for producing an ‘easy’ baby.

But soon, I’m afraid, the beast will awaken. And in our case on the fourth night, our beast decided to reign merry hell. It was 1am in the morning. She was fully fed, changed and it had been several hours since her last sleep. Her screams had reached fever pitch, while we sat rocking hysterically in the corner. What could she possible want?

‘I’ll tell you what she wants’, said the husband. ‘She wants to suck.’

I stuck my finger in the crib to test out his theory and she nearly sucked it off. The suck was so strong that I was terrified she was going to suck my nail polish off (not least because I had no idea when I’d be able to get my nails done again). There was only one thing for it: time to reach for the ‘dodi’. The transformation from screaming to sleeping was instantaneous.

From that night on, we vowed only to use the dummy in emergencies, when all other methods of placation have been exhausted.

Let’s just say, we’ve had quite a few emergencies…


2. Your Home Is Overrun With Stuff

If you’ve got a minimalist apartment and happen to be a tidy freak like me, from Day 1 you will begin an all-out war with stuff. There’s no getting away from it: babies need stuff. Great bulky, cumbersome amounts of it. You try and conceal it behind the sofa, cram it under the bed, shoehorn it into every available cupboard.

My previously show home-tidy lounge is currently strewn with: a vibrating chair (soothing essential), an activity mat (eyed with suspicion), a Moses basket (daytime napping necessity), and a spare changing mat (for emergency poo-namis – see below for details).

And the kitchen is another sorry story: a Tommee Tippee prep machine (the dream machine for any bottle feeders out there) has replaced the stylish Kitchen Aid mixer (because let’s face it, rustling up a batch of cupcakes is the last thing on your mind) and a sterilising unit is currently clogging up my microwave.

You can just about cope with the necessary stuff but it’s the unknown stuff that makes it even more stressful. When you arrive home with the baby, an avalanche of gifts descend. And not just from friends and family… Everyone buys you presents – from long lost Aunties to your mum’s next door neighbour’s cousin. People are incredibly generous and it’s a little overwhelming.

Right now, I’ve got 27 stuffed toys in various shapes and sizes taunting me from a box wedged under my bed. We’re not quite sure what to do with them.


3. Your Brain Turns To Babied Mush.

Harbouring an ambition to one day plough through War and Peace? Forget it. These days even half an hour of EastEnders is too taxing on the brain. The husband and I settled down to watch Inherent Vice the other night. The film didn’t start well as I kept anxiously listening out to check the beast was asleep. (Sometimes you’re convinced you can hear them crying, yet it’s just a figment of your imagination).

However, my eyes kept flicking to the piles of laundry languishing in the corner and the myriad bottles waiting to be washed. On the screen, Joaquin Phoenix was mumbling inaudibly. After about 10 minutes, I glanced at the husband, lolling on the sofa in his favourite David Gandy pants (see previous blog here). Was he asleep?

‘I have absolutely no idea what is going on.’ I said, poking him. ‘I can’t tell a word old Wack-in’s saying.’

‘This is too taxing for our sleep-addled brains,’ said the heavy-lidded husband.

‘Shall we just watch The Undateables instead?’

4. Your Social Life Takes A Nose Dive 

Before I had a baby, I thought I might become one of those cool parents, who would continue drinking cocktails with the baby attached to my hip. You soon realise this is completely impractical; bars and babies are not a good combination.

Instead, you find yourself cracking open a bottle of wine with frightening regularity. Friday nights involve inviting a friend round and drinking wine in the dark while shushing the baby to sleep.

And if the baby’s catching zzs by 7pm and you’ve somehow found half an hour to read Grazia magazine in the bath, well that’s as good as it gets.

5. You Will Check The Baby Is Breathing

You seem to spend half your time trying to get the baby to sleep, deploying a variety of methods: Ewan the white noise sheep, the YouTube hoover sound, the Tomy Light Show… When they are finally asleep, they usually make cute little grunts and snorty piggy sounds.

But just occasionally, they sleep so silently that you actually wonder, ‘are they still breathing?’ Your rational brain knows they must be but still, you find yourself crawling on your hands and knees into the darkened nursery and listening intently at the cot for signs of life.

And if they miraculously sleep through (‘sleeping through’ is the ultimate aim in early days’ parenting – it’s all new mums talk about), then you wake at around 5am panic-stricken as to why they are still asleep and ruing the fact that you’re now awake when you could be catching up on some much-needed slumber.

6. You Will Use An Inordinate Amount Of Nappies

There’s a malodorous whiff in the air. It can only mean one thing: the baby needs changing. Down on the mat she goes and off come the nappy. Bingo. There’s a poo – scrambled egg in both colour and consistency. There’s something strangely reassuring about the sight of a newborn’s poo – it signifies a ‘healthy baby’. Better still, daytime poos means there’s less chance of a nighttime poo-nami (nightmare incident where a tsunami of runny poo travels up their back, requiring a full clothing change, one hell of a mess and an inevitable torrent of 2am tears).

As you’re wiping up this eggy mess and strategically placing a new nappy in position, there’s always an outside chance she will choose that precise moment to do a wee. Best case, the new nappy will have contained this unexpected gush; worst case, it will travel in rivulets all up her back, soaking both her babygro and vest, requiring yet another full outfit.

Change complete, you’re just lowering the baby into the pram ready to depart, when there’s a loud parp… followed by familiar odour. Drat! Repeat all of the above.

If you’re lucky, you may be rewarded with a wry smile.


And suddenly, all is forgiven…

7. I Never Knew How Much Fun It Would Be.

And here comes the cheesy bit… You brace yourself for the sleepless nights, the numerous nappy changes and the fact you can never really leave the house post-7pm. But you never realise just what a little personality they would have from so early on.

From Day 1, the baby regarded us with the utmost suspicion. She would suck away hungrily, while all the time peering suspiciously at us with one half-opened eye. It was as if to say, ‘Who are you? And what do you know about parenting?’

She treats bathtimes with bewilderment, observes her surroundings in wide-eyed wonderment and seems to wear an expression of perpetual shock.


Our inquisitive little meerkat has developed a dislike of hats and reserves a special cry (the hat cry!) if you attempt to wrestle one onto her bonce. And if it falls over her eyes, well, all hell breaks loose.

She chortles at funny faces, frowns at silly toys and studies books with serious intrigue.


And when you lean over the cot in the morning, she beams back at you like you’re the most important person in the world.

The husband and I now spend our evenings talking solely about the baby. We coo over pictures of her and gush about her latest achievements.

When we got out for dinner, we actually have to wrack our brains to remember what we talked about pre-baby.

We’ve basically become THOSE parents: fully signed-up, unapologetic baby bores.

Oh help…

Don’t Call Me Baby

Okay, so you’ve grappled with the eye-wateringly expensive pram, practised manoeuvring the cumbersome car seat into the car, washed and ironed all the brand new baby clothes (for reasons you still can’t quite fathom). And now there’s just one job left…. 

What are you going to name the baby?


If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about baby names over the years, it is this: Don’t, whatever you do, tell anyone the name you are planning on calling your baby. Names are hugely personal and everyone has an opinion. This includes close family members, well-meaning friends – and even the woman who serves you coffee at Starbucks. 

Even if your mother-in-law attempts to keep her opinion to herself, a raised eyebrow is all it takes. So keep mum until the baby is born.

If you and your partner like the name, that’s all that matters.

Golden rule number two: you are not just naming a baby; you are naming a child, a teenager, an adult and a grandparent. Ask yourself, ‘does the name pass the board room test?’.

Take Don, for example. Don was our frontrunner for a boy for quite some time. Don Doherty…. I love it. It’s got all the sophistication of Mad Men’s most debonair character Don Draper (favourite-ever TV series). 

The reality is that no baby should really be called Don, hence our reluctant vetoing of it. But Don does pass the board room test. 

‘Let me introduce you to… Don Doherty, CEO of the company.’

‘And the head boy for this school year is… Don Doherty.’

‘Captaining the Yorkshire Cricket team this year is… Don Doherty.’

Competitive mum? Moi? Anyway, you get the idea.

And I still haven’t fully ruled out D’artagnan (quelle horreur!)… I’m a sucker for an alliterative name.

Don aside, here’s my list of favourite names for boys:

Bertie – Bertie has been my go-to boy name for years. I love Bertie. I even love Bert. If only the husband could be convinced. Still, I honestly believe that if we have a son, I’ll probably call him Bertie regardless of his actual name. Sorry, hubster. Similar favourites: Boris, Pip, Buzz, Claude.

Roscoe – This is a cool name. If the husband was a bearded musician and I was a fashion-forward PR girl, we’d probably go for something hipster like Roscoe. Is it a bit try-hard? Probably. Is it the name of a dog? Possibly. I still quite like Roscoe though. It’s edgy and a bit quirky. Similar favourites: Rafe, Remy, Raffy, Quinn, Jude.

Stanley – Part of a band of vintage ‘Grandad’ names that have recently come back in vogue. Stanley’s a great name but I’m not so sure about the shortened ‘Stan’. Still, who didn’t love Stanley Lambchops, star of the Flat Stanley books, when they were growing up? One word of caution: the popularity of Stanley is on the rise. Old Lambchops was number 80 in the charts last year. Similar favourites: Alfred, Arthur, Archie, Wilfred.

Frank – You can’t mess with a Frank. Strong and enduring, and with a definite whiff of war hero about it. There was once a boy in my class called Frank. He was a handsome little chap, captain of the football team and his popularity knew know bounds. Enough said. Similar favourites: Max, Fred, Tom, Ned.

Fabien – An exotic take on a boy’s name – very French, perhaps, dare I say, slightly effeminate. But who wouldn’t want a son with Parisian chic? Similar favourites: Yves, Etienne, Emery, Emile, Leon.

And for the girls:

Beatrice – Classy, beautiful and with a touch of royalty to it, Beatrice has swiftly become a firm favourite. It’s perhaps becoming a little too popular with the Waitrose mums. But I still love it. I had a Great Auntie Beattie, who lived til 94, and she was quite the character. The good thing about Beatrice is that all of its derivatives – Bea, Beattie, Bee – work well. Similar favourites: Charlotte, Mary (touted here as the ‘ultimate’ name), Emily, Isabel, Evelyn, Harriet.

Anna – I’m strangely drawn to the name Anna, (not least because it’s the name of one of my most fabulous friends). I don’t absolutely love the name but I feel it garners a certain level of respect. You know where you stand with Anna; it can’t be shortened or messed with. Like your Helens, Rachels, Lisas and Emmas, there’s plenty of Annas around now but there won’t be by 2050. At this point, I believe Anna will take on a vintage – almost ethereal – elegance.

Wren – My friend called her daughter Wren. I’ve got to hand it to her. It’s a genius name: unusual yet classic, strong, not too girly and can’t be shortened. It’s everything Anna is… and more. I love it. Similar favourites: Augusta, Brooke, Jasmine.

Georgie – Firstly, banish all thoughts of Georgie Porgie. Georgie is a fun name for a girl. It’s playful in a tomboy-ish, Enid Blyton kind of way but hopefully unusual enough for her to be the only Georgie in her class. In my mind, it’s a good alternative for the ubiquitous but eternally-elegant Grace or Gracie. Similar favourites – Edie, Audrey, Evie, Maisie, Janie. 

Marais – I’m not sure this is strictly a name but the husband and I came up with this while we were trotting around this cool little area of Paris. I like Marais. It has a cosmopolitan, slightly-exotic feel. I’m almost certain there won’t be another Marais at the toddler group. Perhaps for good reason? Similar favourites: Mariella, Mallory, Lucia, Vivetta.

Still not convinced? There’s a whole band of names reportedly teetering on the brink of extinction… so if it’s uniqueness you’re after, why not snap up one of these gems?

For the girls: Maud, Marjorie, Gertrude, Gladys, Hilda, Edna…

Or for the boys: Norman, Horis, Humphrey, Willie, Elmo, Cecil, Rowland…

At least you will be safe in the knowledge that little Willie will be the only Willie in the village.

Speaking of which, I think Humphrey Doherty has quite a ring to it, don’t you?

Feathering The Nest

Nesting. Ew! Who invented this word?

Nesting is apparently an obsessive urge to clean, organise and get your life in order – before welcoming a new being into the world.

Obsessive organisation? That sounds like my normal daily life, with or without an impending addition to the family.

Whatever you want to call it, this strange lull between finishing work and awaiting the baby is a last-chance opportunity to do all the jobs you’ve been putting off for years.

This is because – as everyone keeps pointing out – when the baby arrives you won’t even have time to trim your own nostril hair let alone clear out the condiments cupboard.

Here are some jobs around the home that I have finally got round to tackling (mainly out of sheer boredom at not being at work, rather than any primal nesting instinct).

First up…  the freezer. Does anyone ever actually clean a freezer? This necessity was only brought about by the fact that people have been helpfully messaging me saying, ‘stock up the freezer’.

I’m not sure exactly what happens when you have a baby but I can only assume that you turn into a sleep-deprived zombie, unable to stagger the 300 metres down the road to the nearest Co-Op, or too enfeebled to speed-dial Dominos.

Still, there did seem to be a worrying amount of frost building up in the top compartment of the supposedly frost-free freezer – so much, in fact, that for several years now, I’ve been having to literally ram items into it, between mounds of ice.


There was only one thing for it: in order to stock up the freezer, I was going to have to un-stock it first… Fossilised fish pies and leftover lasagnes – entombed in ice – were languishing in the bottom shelf, buried beneath Jolly Green Giant’s finest frozen peas. There was even coffee in there. Who freezes coffee? That must have been me! 

I have to say there was something strangely satisfying about chiselling off great hunks of ice with a kitchen spatula.

Next task: washing the duvet. One day, I was enjoying a coffee in my favourite Caffe Nero when I looked out of the window and saw a friend from work bundling her duvet into the laundrette opposite. When quizzed, she revealed that she had taken the duvet to be washed… and does so every six months! Dry cleaning the duvet? This essential housewife responsibility had somehow eluded me.

It’s time to come clean here (no pun intended)…. I have NEVER washed our duvet. The sheets get washed, ironed and changed every week but the actual duvet? ‘Fraid not. My mother-in-law will be horrified.

I asked a few people at work and apparently yes, everyone takes their duvet to be washed at fairly regular intervals. The husband and I are clearly the only people to have spent 10 years lying under a filthy duvet, weighed down with dust mites and dead skin cells. 

One quick trip to the launderette, three hours later and £20 lighter, I was in possession of an (almost) brand-new duvet.


It felt good. So good, in fact, that I decided to return the next day with another duvet. By Day 3, I was seeking out anything that could be dry cleaned: pillows, cushions, you name it…

This was going to become an expensive pastime.

Luckily for me, there was a more pressing matter to attend to: namely the smelly washing machine. Strange as it sounds, our washing machine has been emitting a rather pungent odour for quite some time. I’ve been trying to ignore it but in recent months the smell has been begun to seep out of the cupboard and into the hallway. What could it be?

A quick Google search revealed that a malodorous washing machine is the result of using too much washing powder, easily cured by several alternate hot cycles of bleach and white vinegar. Job done.

It was time to turn my attention to the ‘odd and sods’ drawer. Everyone has that drawer. It’s the drawer that you shove ‘stuff’ in when you don’t know where else to put it.


The odds and sods drawer may contain (in no particular order):

a. Old currency from an unknown holiday destination. The only way of determining which country it is from is by studying the obscure portrait on it for some time and then reaching the realisation that Greece converted to the Euro in 2001, thus rendering those drachmas completely useless.

b: A variety of phone chargers and leads – a great nest of tangled wires with absolutely no idea where they came from or which device they belong too.

c. Hundreds of lighters, most of which don’t work. A legacy from the days where a man would stand on the street corner shouting, ‘gas lighters… three for a pound’.

Also likely to be swimming around in the odds and sods drawer: dud batteries, leaky biros, furry sweets, out-of-date paracetamol, mini rolls of sellotape and myriad spare keys.

I binned the lot. It felt quite liberating.

So there we have it. Nesting complete. The baby will almost certainly be happier knowing that its parents are sleeping under a freshly-laundered duvet and that there’s an emergency charger for the Nokia 8210 (circa 2001) in the kitchen drawer.

And if the baby happens to fancy some lamp chops of indeterminable age, I know exactly which freezer compartment they’re in.

The Gandy Man

The husband has invested in some loungewear.

This is a big deal because:

a: the husband hates clothes shopping, least of all for something as insipid as loungewear.

b: he only purchases items he ‘identifies’ with. It’s hard to fathom exactly what this means. But let’s just say the husband doesn’t identify with garments very often.

c: Just like with fishcakes and cous cous (details here), the husband can ‘turn’ on items of clothing in an instant. For example, he was happily wearing a pair of leather desert boots from Ted Baker until last week, when he suddenly announced he had no suitable winter footwear at all. When I tried to get to the bottom of what was wrong with said boots, he simply said: ‘they are too shoey’. Shoey??

This is what we are dealing with.

But back to the loungewear. Loungewear, in case you’re wondering, is the name given to casual clothing worn around the home. For men, this involves some sort of elastic-waisted, pyjama-style pant (perfect for expanding middle-aged bellies), often teamed with a loose-fitting t-shirt.

For the last five years – possibly more – the husband has been rounging (Lancashire word for lounging combined with a bit of rolling) around in a tired old pair of Ben Sherman joggers.

To sport loungewear around the home and still look stylish is a tricky look to pull off.

Word on the street was that Derek Rose was your man when it came to cool loungewear. I’d seen swanky Derek banded about in Style magazine and other high-end fashion mags.

But a quick gander on Mr Porter (posh men’s clothing site revered by stylish 30-somethings) revealed that buying a pair of Derek Rose’s silky trousers involved parting with approximately £300! Surely there was other loungewear out there that didn’t involve re-mortgaging one’s house?

Luckily, there’s a man for whom stylish sleepwear at affordable prices is his speciality. Let me introduce you to loungewear lothario and king of the cotton trousers… David Gandy.


Gandy has been peddling his super-silky loungewear at good old Marks and Spenny’s for some time now but had somehow fallen under the radar.

We headed into town, the husband trailing reluctantly behind (muttering something about his moth-eaten Ben Shermans being perfectly functional for slovenly sofa surfing).

Pitching up at M&S, our favourite male model was very much dominating the men’s loungewear department. Take a gander at Gandy below (and spot the husband too!). This man isn’t just about shiny dressing gowns, six packs and smouldering looks; he actually purports to be a don in the ‘art of relaxation’.


The husband was dispatched to the dressing rooms with piles of Gandy’s garbs.

There was a long wait and then he called out, ‘I’m going to take them all.’

‘ALL of them?’ I said. ‘Are you sure?!’

‘I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,’ the husband called back. ‘They’re just SO comfortable.’

Armfuls of Gandy pants purchased, we headed off for a drink.

‘I can’t relax,’ said the husband. ‘Because all I want to do is get home so I can change into my new loungewear.’

Driving back, we decided to investigate The Curious Incident of the Tartare Sauce Sachets.

A few weeks ago, during a visit to the husband’s grandparents, his Gran mentioned that she loved tartare sauce but was struggling to find it in the supermarket. I’m not sure why this is but for some reason tartare sauce is not an easy condiment to lay your hands on.

So, on the way home, I hopped on Amazon and before you could say ‘ta-ta’ (another Lancashire favourite!), 50 sachets of Gran’s favourite sauce were winging their way to her retirement flat in Preston.

A few weeks passed and I’d actually forgotten all about the tartare sauce delivery until one night I said to the husband, ‘don’t you think it’s funny that your Gran has never mentioned the tartare sauce we bought for her?’

There was a pause and then the husband said, ‘I know what’s happened.’

‘She’s received the sachets of sauce in the post and won’t know they’re for her. Right now, they’re probably sat on her kitchen worktop and she’s panicking, thinking they’re a mistaken delivery and actually for the restaurant downstairs.’

We phoned my mother-in-law. She confirmed that yes, Gran had received a mystery parcel of 50 sachets of tartare sauce, and yes, she didn’t believe they were for her and yes, she had been wracked with worry that she’d received them in error and would be hunted down for the money she owed.

Poor Gran had, in fact, barely slept for a week. My good Samaritan sauce deed had turned sour.

That night, the husband kept mumbling how luxurious his David Gandy loungewear was.

In the morning, we checked the label to try to get to the bottom of what made them so super soft. They were made of ‘modal’ – an undisclosed mixture of materials.

”It’s a mystery ingredient,’ said the husband. ‘Gandy will never reveal it. He’s the Willy Wonka of loungewear.’

The husband was reluctant to take his Gandy-wear off. He started making noises about wearing his lounge pants out of the house and had to be cajoled out of them.

Secretly, I think he might want to be David Gandy.



‘Perhaps David Gandy will branch out into outerwear,’ I said hopefully. ‘He’s already got swimming trunks and underpants; it’s only a matter of time before he takes his signature look outdoors’.

‘If anyone can, the Gandyman can,’ said the husband.

‘I feel like I’ve really identified with him’.

Far From The Maddening Crowd

Picture the scene. We’ve just arrived in the beautiful hills of the Algarve for a much-longed for mini-break, settled down with a book in a secluded grassy spot away from the hustle and bustle of the pool area, perhaps looking forward to a quiet snooze… when all of a sudden a bunch of raucous Essex folk descend.

‘Babe, babe,’ shouts the korma-coloured woman in the bejewelled bikini, wheeling a pram. ‘There a good spot here. Get Dave.’

‘Daaasvvvvve,’ yells Babe. ‘Get Filipo to bring us four sun beds. And get the beers in!’

Larger-than-life Dave, who looks and sounds just like James Corden but with none of his affability and a belly the size of Mount Vesuvius, bellows for Filipo.

Filipo dutifully trots off and returns, trundling the loungers behind him. Despite being twice his size, larger-than-life Dave doesn’t offer to help but merely jabs a chubby finger to where he’d like his loungers – namely within 30cm from us.

We are surrounded.

‘Oh no,’ grumbles the husband, whose tolerance levels for loud people are generally much higher than mine. ‘TOWIE have arrived!’

We thought we were safe here. It wasn’t by accident that we ended up relaxing on this grassy knoll. After a tour of the available sunbathing spots at the hotel, this particular location was carefully chosen for its quiet ambience: a safe haven from the highly-populated pool area – a mass of reddening flesh and squawking pool splashers – yet with views of the surrounding hills and a soothing babble of water in the background. How wrong we were.


This year has turned out less about The Battle of the Sunbeds (previously documented here and also here… oh, and here too – I’m clearly OBSESSED!) and more about The Battle to Eschew the Essex Crew.

‘Wouldn’t they be better in one of those cabanas down by the pool?’ I whisper. ‘They’d love it down there. Tell Dave!’

‘I’d even buy them a round,’ says the husband, as Filipo meekly scurries over with a tray of beers. ‘Just to get them out of earshot.’

‘Come this way, Dave,’ mimics the husband, in a soothing tone. ‘I’ve found you a lovely spot down by the lower pool, quite some way from here. I’ve even thrown in a bucket of Coronas!’

Larger-than-life Dave obliviously takes one sip of his beer and curls his lip.

‘Filipo,’ he booms. ‘Can I have another one of these but this time make it a cold one, would ya?’

Babe 1 appears to be grappling with a baby. ‘Babe,’ he says to Babe 2, holding up the baby and sniffing at its nappy. ‘Chantelle’s got a full package ‘ere.’

The husband lets out a long sigh.

That night, we decide to venture out of the Conrad compound and head to a restaurant recommended by a friend.

We ask the concierge for a taxi and – bizarrely – he offers to drive us himself. Before we know it, we are ushered into a luxury saloon and are soon purring down the immaculate driveway of the hotel, listening to the croon of Chris Martin.

‘The concierge certainly goes the extra mile – literally!’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Is this normal taxi rates or are we now paying for a private chauffeur?!’

‘No idea,’ says the husband. ‘But I like it!’

Quinta do Lago, famed for its golf courses, is like a colonised version of the Truman show: palatial homes peek from behind perfectly-pruned palm trees, while pearly-toothed families pound down pristine pavements. If it’s culture you’re after, you won’t find it here.

It’s very hot in Portugal and the husband appears to have a shortage of shorts: dressy shorts, that is – the kind of shorts you might wear to visit a restaurant of an evening, perhaps teamed with a pair of… (ultimate middle class horror)… loafers.

The husband has one pair of such dressy shorts; they are a light blue Reiss number and could stain easily, if he is not careful. He is under strict instruction to cover them with a napkin at all times.


We arrive at the restaurant. It’s terribly refined and overlooks a picturesque lake. King of the pearly teeth Philip Schofield is on the table next to us, holding court with a group of TV exec types  – and a gaggle of girls straight out of Chelsea clink glasses opposite. Ex-footballer Graham Souness is apparently at the bar.

The husband orders a black cod broth. He takes one mouthful and somehow manages to douse his shorts in splodges of soy sauce.

‘Something bad has happened,’ grimaces the husband, peering down at his lap, the protective layer of his napkin nowhere to be seen.

‘How bad?’ I ask, craning my neck. ‘It it salvageable?!’

‘Really, really bad,’ says the husband, sliding his lower half further under the table. ‘It’s too distressing for you to even see.’

I throw my hands up in a signal of mock despair and as I do so, I somehow manage to knock a whole glass of wine straight into the husband’s lap, dousing his ill-fated shorts even further.

The husband gasps; waiters rush over… even Schofield stops his patter and turns to stare.

But it’s too late to save them.

I think the husband will be wearing trousers from here on.

The next day, I peer out of the window to check out the state of play on the grassy knoll. The Essex crew’s loungers from the previous day are still there, dominating our quiet spot. Those loungers had never been there previously, I note, but overnight Filipo has failed to move them back to wherever they had came from. This was troubling; Dave and co. had effectively SEEDED the area.


‘I’m going to go down and bagsy our loungers,’ I tell the husband. ‘But I’m also going to move the additional loungers out of the way to discourage any further TOWIE invasion.’

‘Fine with me,’ says the husband. ‘But please let it be noted that this is not the behaviour of a sane person.’

I furtively scamper down to the pool area. By the time I have carted off six loungers (some double ones- who knew?!) and restored the grassy knoll to its original half crescent sunbed formation, I have worked up quite the sweat.


‘All done,’ I say to the husband, who is patiently sitting at the breakfast table, engrossed in his book (Wonder by R.J Palacio).

I turn back just in time to see feeble Filipo wheeling the sun loungers BACK to where I had moved them from, with larger-than-life Dave swaggering brashly behind him.

‘There. Is. No. Escape,’ says the husband.

My Husband’s Eulogy To His Father

My dad always claimed to be five feet seven. In reality, he was only five feet five. But in my eyes, he was a giant. Distilling down the ingredients that defined my dad has been incredibly difficult for he was greater than the sum of his parts. The best bits of my character are all his doing and the worst bits are entirely my own. He never told me what to do, he showed me. He led by example. And so I followed in his footsteps, the footsteps of a giant.


His beginnings were humble, emigrating with his mum, dad and older siblings from Ireland to Preston in 1947. His was a working class Catholic family and they arrived with nothing, to seek a better life in England. My grandad was an old-fashioned Labour man and no doubt these socialist principles influenced dad’s later beliefs. He enjoyed school but finished at 15, without sitting his final exams. He was bright and had shown entrepreneurial flair throughout his childhood, wheeling and dealing from an early age and running the school tuck shop. He was hard-working too and growing up would regale us with tales of what he had to do before the school day started. This would include: getting coal for the fire, running a paper round and serving mass as an altar boy. All before the school bell even rang. This work ethic stayed with him until the day he died and he loved every second of his working life.

Leaving school prematurely meant incurring his father’s wrath. So rather than go home and ‘fess up, he found a job instead. He rattled doors in his local area and came across Bob Wellham who ran Globe and Simpson, an auto electrical parts distributor on Walker St. Bob asked him what religion he was, and on replying R.C, Bob – himself a strong Catholic – offered him a job on the spot working in the stores. He loved it. He adored buying and selling, had an excellent memory and an affinity with numbers, which made him perfect for the role. Growing up, I would marvel at my dad’s ability to reference any part code with the product and ironically, in later years, I fell into an equivalent position, just selling computer parts instead.


Aged 17, my dad and his friends would catch the train to Blackpool for a night on the town. And it was on this train that my mum and dad first caught sight of each other. He was wearing a 3 button shirt, dark trousers and black suede Chelsea boots, with a lustrous quiff of thick, jet-black hair. After disembarking the train and heading for the Tower they lost sight of each other and didn’t see each other again until catching the last train home later that evening. Keen not to miss the opportunity again, he asked her for a date at the pictures the following night. They went to The Ritz Cinema in Preston and he talked of his love of Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. Unimpressed, my mum enthused about Cliff Richard. It must have been love at first sight for him to forgive my mum’s taste in music. It became an annual joke in our family about who would swallow their pride and buy mum Cliff’s latest calendar at Christmas time. It was also a race to draw the first fake moustache on Cliff’s face, preferably around December – so we could enjoy the whole year knowing the vandalism was yet to be revealed!

They dated for a few years and on a summer holiday in Rhyll, got engaged and chose a ring in a local jewellers. After the initial flush of romance, my mum lost her nerve and feared her own mum and dad would think it too soon, so they kept their engagement a secret. Six months later, on New Year’s Eve, he had built up sufficient courage to ask my granddad his permission to marry his daughter. By this stage, my grandad was already very fond of dad and so happily gave his blessing and they were married the following year, in 1967.


During their 18 month engagement, my parents saved hard to find a deposit for their first home. My dad wheeled and dealed and they managed to afford a house in Harold Terrace, Lostock Hall. After marrying and honeymooning in Cork, they moved in to their new home with just two armchairs and a bed. They solicited gifts from friends and family and made their humble terrace into a family home. Within a year, their first son Gary was born and they were overjoyed. But sadly, before his 3rd birthday, Gary contracted Leukaemia and died. And so at the tender age of just 24, they had to endure the loss of their beloved child. Thankfully, they were able to rebuild their lives and were fortunate enough to go on and have three more children: Louise, Michelle and I.


My dad had steadily climbed the ladder at work and had become their youngest ever area manager. After 14 years learning his trade, he recognised the opportunity to start his own business and after a year of planning, he decided to take the leap. It was not without risk. My mum and dad had to sell their home, as did his business partner Bob Attewell as they pooled their resources to finance the start-up and rent some premises on the newly formed industrial estate at Walton Summit. Mum and dad then moved into rented accommodation on Daisy Meadow, Clayton Brook with their two young children in tow. My dad and Bob worked tirelessly and their new business, Leyland Auto, became a success. As the business grew, so too did his family and I was added to the clutch in 1979. The work/life balance was always a bone of contention for my mum but my dad’s time was only ever split between work and the family and he never made any time for himself. He did not covet material gain but sought the security and opportunity money could bring. The ability to help others in need and provide better life chances for his children were his driving forces. And for this he made huge personal sacrifices.


After living and breathing work for 35 years, when he finally sold the business retirement was not the most natural thing for dad. He took up golf, attended computer courses and finally did his Maths GCSE. He also learned a bit of Spanish, which he used whenever he was on holiday in France. Grandchildren soon arrived and he was a wonderful grandad to his 5 grandchildren: always playful, always affectionate and always fun. Just like he was as dad but with more smarties and chocolate buttons. The lure of work proved too strong though and he ended his life, just as his working life had begun back in the stores at Merlin Diesel. He loved his time there too, helping the business grow. The buzz of industry was in his blood and he was never going to put his feet up and relax. He was at his happiest dashing around and that’s exactly what he did until he fell ill.

And that is the bare bones of my father’s life but it gives little insight to who he was and how he was. So let me tell you about my dad.

He was affectionate and loving. He understood the value of a kiss and an embrace and was always demonstrative with his love. I have never ever not greeted my dad, as man or boy without a kiss and a hug. And the same at every bedtime I have spent at home for the past 36 years. He made it unambiguously clear that he loved you without condition and the security and self-worth this gave me as a child was immeasurable. Such love is the foundation on which you build your life as an adult, so thank you dad.


He was kind and generous, some would say foolishly so. He always rooted for the underdog and was prepared to lend a hand to anyone in need. And he did this on many, many occasions. People often thought my dad’s generosity was taken advantage of but they were wrong. He knew full well the risks. But always felt they were worth it. The risk of being let down or not being paid back was far outweighed by the chance of helping someone to better their circumstances or avert disaster.

He gave and never expected it back. And whatever the end result he would forgive easily and never bore a grudge. He understood the transformative power of having someone believe in you. His faith in others and trust that they would not let him down, inspired people to believe in themselves and changed lives. Everyone deserved a chance in my dad’s eyes and more often than not a second chance too. He gave quietly and without fanfare and many of the good deeds he did throughout his life are only coming to the surface now as those he has helped over the years have come forward to say thank you for acts of kindness we knew nothing of. We have received the most beautiful letters of gratitude and it has been a huge comfort to my family and I.

My dad was charismatic and could light up a room. He made a lasting impression on people. When he died the nurses wept and the paperboy cried. The doctor’s receptionist sent a card and even the lady at the dry cleaners sent flowers. He was charming and he was a gentleman and he’ll be missed by everyone who knew him.

My dad loved to play the fool and mock authority. He hated rules for rule’s sake and had a subversive streak running through him. He was rarely serious at home and was forever being silly, telling jokes and seeking out fun. Once, when in hospital following a blood infection many years ago, we peered at his notes as he slept in bed. Upon them we found written in a familiar scrawl, ‘Fine specimen of a man’. He couldn’t help himself even when ill!

He loved Christmas and Bonfire night and anything that celebrated the pure unbridled joy of being alive. I often think he loved children so much because he saw the world through the eyes of a child. He would snigger at the ridiculousness and pomposity of grown ups. He never lost his sense of wonder at the beauty of the world around him. Nor did he lose his faith in humanity. He remained an optimist no matter what life threw at him.


He was not flawless in every regard, however. He was absolutely useless at anything remotely practical. The only household duty to which he was entrusted was changing light bulbs and even then he struggled with the fiddly halogen ones. But all of my dad’s limitations were easily overcome by the goodwill of those around him, eager to repay a favour and help him out. He was also not the slightest bit artistic and his abilities in that department were limited to drawing a caricature of Elvis, which bizarrely resurfaced at the advent of his illness. He was found scribbling pictures of Elvis on the menu in a restaurant as the gravity of his illness hit home. It was heart-breaking and endearing in equal measure.

He was a father figure to many but it was I and my sisters alone who were blessed with the good fortune of calling him call him Dad. My whole life growing up my chest would puff out, as people would speak glowingly of my dad. I was then and am now immensely proud of him. He was quite simply my hero, my role model, my heart and soul. I will miss him with every fibre of my being but I will see that is legacy continues.

Dad, it has been a privilege to walk the last few steps of your life with you. For you to finally need me and have the opportunity to pay a fraction back in your hour of need has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have held your hand and given you comfort as I lost you piece by piece. My heart ached as I lost a little more of you each day but in the coming weeks we will rebuild you with the countless wonderful memories you have given us.

My father goes to his grave with no regrets and no enemies. As John Lennon once put it, a ‘working class hero’. He lived a life far beyond his dreams as a 10-year old boy. He loved and was loved. My own child will enter the world in just a couple of month’s time and despite never meeting you, they will always know you. For you are in me. When we go hunting for chestnuts in Autumn time, it’s grandad who will shake the tree. And when we ignite fireworks on Bonfire night, it’s grandad who will light up the sky.


I will miss you singing in the morning. Normally to your own lyrics.

I will miss your overly-theatrical sneezes.

I will miss the smell of diesel when you came home from work as a child.

I will miss the bristles on your chin as you kissed me goodnight.

I will miss your impossibly long answerphone messages.

I will miss your silly dancing in the kitchen.

I will miss you calling me at work and staring every conversation with, ‘Sorry to trouble you,’ as if you ever did.

I will miss bonfire night as you charged round the garden, perilously lighting fireworks and returning to half-spinning Catherine wheels.

I will miss the way you’d hitch your trousers up, over your tummy.

I will miss the smell of your aftershave.

I will miss you picking the vegetables out of your food.

But mostly, I will miss you calling me son.

It’s time to say goodbye now as you re-join you father, mother, sisters and brothers. And of course, the son you lost all those years ago. No amount of words can do you justice and I’m sorry if I’ve fallen woefully short. It’s been an honour to call you dad.

So for one last time, goodnight dad, and Gary: Daddy’s coming home.

Wisteria Hysteria

Until two weeks ago, I had absolutely no interest in gardening. Now, I’m concerned that this whole blog might turn into an extension of Gardeners’ World – where I just wax lyrical about my petunias, peonies and pagodas.

After the departure of the old gardener, and a small interlude where I attempted to manage the garden myself but realised that the water supply to the house had been cut off and I had no idea what I was doing (details in last blog here), a saviour appeared in the form of a lovely lady called Margaret.

Margaret was recommended to me by a friend and she offered to come down to the house to explain exactly what was in the garden and what I needed to do.

When I arrived to meet Margaret at the house, she was already deep in conversation with Zak the baby-faced foreman.

‘Is that boy actually in charge?’ said Margaret. ‘He looks about 10-years-old!’

‘I know!’ I whispered conspiratorially. ‘He probably should be at school!’

Margaret and I pottered round the garden, while she pointed out various plants, such as this shy clementis lurking in the shadow of an over-bearing conifer.


And this yellow peony tree which with a little bit of TLC, could produce more of its buttercup-coloured flowers.


But how lovely does this wisteria look?


The saddest thing, according to Margaret, is the wisteria up the front of the property (which was destined for the skip anyway). Because it had been stuck in a pot for years, it hadn’t been able to grow properly. Same goes for the sickly-looking clematis armandii, draped listlessly over the side fence.


Knowing how lovely the wisteria looked on the pegoda, I immediately started a Save The Wisteria campaign and decided to replant it on a different part of the pegoda.

Cue The Husband (aka. the muscles behind this futile operation). First, on Margaret’s instructions, he smashed both the wilting wisteria and sickly clementis out of their pots (the husband enjoyed this bit the most).


Then he had to dig a big hole.


Next, plonk wisteria in hole.


According to Margaret, water like mad.

(With the water turned off, I daren’t go back to beg at the nearby restaurant like last week – so have taken to watering the plants with large bottle of Co-Op’s finest spring water – oh yes, only the best for our precious perennials!)


On Sunday, I told the husband that he had to dig two more holes that day. This did not go down well. The husband is fed-up of digging holes. There’s a book called Holes, which I read with my class at school. The protagonist, Stanley Yelnats, is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp out in the desert and forced to dig several holes a day.

In short, the husband said he felt like Stanley Yelnats. It probably doesn’t help that while the husband is digging his holes, I stand around issuing instructions in my role as Chief Delegator.

‘This is an entirely fruitless operation,’ grumbled the husband, as he stabbed resentfully at the clay-like earth.

‘But if I does work, think how nice the wisteria will look,’ I said.

‘Think of The Sense Of Achievement!’

‘You’ve gone wysterical,’ said the husband. ‘And you’ve got hydrangea mania to boot!’

He begrudgingly continued with his digging.

I, meanwhile (in my new alter ego of Margo Leadbetter) was already plotting my next gardening adventure… namely, what can I grow in these boxes?!


To Fetch A Pail Of Water

This time last week, after being unceremoniously sacked by the gardener (Yep, the gardener we’ve foolishly been paying £16 an hour to – to mainly to sit in the sun, read his newspaper and eat sandwiches for the last year and a half. Details here), I was contemplating a future where our back garden turned into an unruly forest and there was… (first world problem alert!) no-one to mow stripes in my lawn.

There was only one thing for it: become a gardener myself. Despite years of horticultural indifference, I’ve started piously pruning plants with my own bare hands, watering them obsessively, and religiously tuning into Gardeners’ Question Time. I might even get really serious and invest in my own pair of secateurs.

That’s not all. After 18 months of inaction, the builders have descended on the house like a plague of locusts and started stripping it down to the bare bones. I’m trying to not be alarmed by this. Not least because when I peered through the gates, I noticed all the Yorkshire stones had disappeared. Apparently, they’re being stored somewhere for ‘safe-keeping’.


The good news is, they’ve left us a grand piano. But, as we can’t get it out of the room without disassembling it, it’s only a matter of time before that becomes firewood too.

IMG_0514 IMG_0515

It’s probably time for a quick reminder of who’s who in the line-up of characters involved in our ill-fated house renovation.

Prickly planning officers aside, there’s sweet-smelling Jonny from the floor store (details here), who nearly took an injunction out on me after I visited him five times in one week, and affable Gary from Porcelanosa, who has spent many hours with me pouring over every tile in the showroom until a bout of angina nearly finished him off. Luckily for them, we’re a long way off tiles and floors right now – but fear not, I’ll be back!

Last week, I was introduced to our lovely foreman Zak and, after I had recovered from the shock that a teenager appeared to be in charge of building our future home, baby-faced Zak was incredibly obliging and yes, he said he would do everything in his power to retain the cornice in the ground floor rooms and yes, he would take care with the Yorkshire stone and store them somewhere safe etc etc.

‘You know I’m not supposed to just turn up like this,’ I told my new pal Zak.

‘You can come down anytime you like,’ said the baby-faced foreman, with a wink. ‘I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t!’

Anyway, back to the garden. Despite his sudden retirement, I did manage to strong-arm the old gardener into meeting me back down at the house to do a hand-over. This went quite well. It appears we have (amongst other things) a damson tree, blackcurrant bushes and another big old pile of Yorkshire stone hidden away somewhere. Ex-gardener even offered to dig up an Acer bush (below) and re-plant it. It’s the least I can do, he said. Tell me about it!


To cut along story short, the garden has now become a slight obsession of mine. I’ve taken it upon myself to try and save as many plants as possible from the middle section, which is facing an imminent bull-doze.

Guess what the reluctant and not-so-green-fingered husband spent last Saturday doing with his borrowed spade?!


(The husband would like to add a disclaimer that this is not his usual gardening get-up. He was about to go for a run before he was ambushed by his botanically-barmy wife and put to task.)

According to those in the gardening know-how, re-planting at this time of year isn’t ideal and the up-rooted plants need watering every day if they are to have any chance of survival.

So, every evening after work (when baby-faced Zak and co. have clocked off), I’ve been sneaking down to the house to water said plants.

There’s just one problem: I can’t actually gain access. This is because the builders have completed barricaded the site (to stop would-be Yorkshire stone thieves and nosy owners, no doubt).

But as it turns out, breaking into your own home is a lot of fun.


On Thursday evening, I parked up as usual, looked around me to check no-one was watching, and then clambered inelegantly over the fence next door (clutching trusty watering can) and crawled, pretty much on my hands and knees, through the undergrowth to pop out eventually in the garden. Feeling like a criminal, I furtively crept towards the outside tap, only to find they had switched off the water. Drat!

I scrambled back through the rhododendrons and scaled the fence to re-emerge on the road. I scanned the park. Surely there was a source of water nearby? It was the hottest day of the year – the plants needed it!

I pitched up at the door of the The Mansion restaurant nearby, just as the chief waiter was about to lock up.


‘Excuse me. Would you mind just filling up my watering can? There’s a plant I need to water…’ I faltered.

‘It’s going to take a lot of water for all the plants in the park,’ he said, a glint of amusement in his eyes.

‘It’s only a few plants,’ I pleaded, thinking, ‘he thinks I’m a Mad Plant Lady but I’m just going to have to roll with it’.

Watering can filled, I scuttled back to the house, leapfrogged the fence, crawled back through the undergrowth and… Slosh! … I tripped over a stray plank, sending the sacred water spilling everywhere.

I think it’s time to get a new gardener.

Lawnmower Man

It’s Tuesday morning and I am sat on the wall in the sun opposite our empty house (yep, the house that we bought but still haven’t moved in to. Details here). I’m waiting for a gas engineer to disconnect the gas supply, ready for the building work to finally begin.

I’ve been here for two hours now and naturally there’s no sign of the gas man. A few dog walkers have eyed me suspiciously. A little bunny rabbit just hopped by.


This time last week I was in the same spot but with sunglasses on, hiding discreetly behind the wheel of my parked car. This is because I was spying on the gardener.

It’s probably time to come clean about what’s been going on here. Since November 2013, I have foolishly been paying a substantial sum of money to the gardener we inherited with the house. Parting with this cash is particularly galling, given that we don’t actually live there. We visit once a month, largely just to check the house is still standing and squatters haven’t taken it hostage.

The gardener has been maintaining the garden for 30 years so it seemed mean to sack him. I’m not sure exactly what he does for his eight hours a week. To my untrained eye, there seems to be quite a lot of weeds around. However, he mows stripes in the lawn. And I’m a sucker for a striped lawn.


I have never actually met the gardener; I just obligingly transfer large sums of money into his bank account each month. He must think we’re his dream clients and it’s probably no coincidence that he takes three months off over winter to go abroad. I can visualise him in Barbados, surrounded by my bank notes as he chuckles into his cocktail.

Anyway, after 18 months of this madness, I’ve decided to get to the bottom of what he’s actually up to. Quite by coincidence, I drove past the house early one morning and spotted his van there.

‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘Time to find out just what £16 an hour is getting me.’

Resisting the urge to get the binoculars out of the glove compartment, I pulled over and peered through the gates. He was sat reading a newspaper!

‘Fair enough,’ I thought. ‘Everyone deserves a break.’

I decided to return at midday. Pulling up outside the house, I could see him eating sandwiches in his van. It seemed like one long lunch break for this horticultural joker!

At 2pm, I returned for a third time. He was gone! According to his invoices, he’s supposed to work an eight hour day. If he had departed by 2pm, that means he would have had to start work at 6am. This seemed unlikely, lunch break or no lunch break. I smelled a rat.

The next day, I phoned old greenfingers and left an answerphone message asking him call me.

I didn’t hear anything for a week. In the meantime, a large bill came through my letter box.

‘He’s probably back sunning himself in Barbados,’ I thought grimly.

I toyed with the idea of installing CCTV or perhaps a clocking-in system to monitor his hours. I was all prepared to stake out the house for a whole day, if necessary.

But then the gardener finally rang and left an answerphone message.

‘Hello Katy,’ he said. ‘I’m just ringing to let you know that I’m semi-retiring. I haven’t minded keeping things ticking over for you but it’s a long way for me to drive from Otley and it’s probably time for me to step down.’

What?! I’d been sacked by my own gardener. And worse still, despite the thousands of pounds I’d paid him, he made it sound like he’d been doing me a favour!

So there we have it. I now require a new gardener. It’s a coveted role: flexible working hours, extensive lunch breaks, three-months off over winter, dealing with clients who wouldn’t know a dandelion from a rhododendron (but must have the skill to mow stripes in lawn). Apply within.

(Oh and yes, the owner of the house may secretly stalk you.)