Time And Tide Wait For No Man

It’s the annual family excursion to Cornwall and we are back in our rented house opposite Dawn French’s gothic mansion. But alas! After last year’s ‘Dawn Watch‘, well-placed sources inform us that Dawn is currently on a world tour of her stand-up show.

Still, this does not stop my father training his binoculars on her house every five minutes – ever hopeful that the cheery comedienne might make an appearance.

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Luckily, there’s plenty of other fixations to keep the parents happy. Namely, my father’s new boat. I say ‘boat’ but really its a souped-up dinghy – the type of inflatable that one might use to get from one’s yacht into the harbour (for my father, the dinghy IS his yacht. See previous blog here).

In fact, the husband and I have been known to disembark the dinghy and wave vaguely at a fancy vessel in the distance, on the pretence that we’ve just popped ashore on our tender.

So, my father finally invested in a new dinghy this summer – after spending six months meticulously checking out potential boats in a shop in Garstang. On his fifth visit, he finally decided to commit to the purchase (much to the weary shopkeeper’s relief).

Let me introduce… Chrismick III (and a rather ungainly image of the husband’s backside).

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One might think that this would mean that original Chrismick I (purchased in 1973, gnawed by mice in the garage, and covered in puncture patches) and Chrismick II (purchased circa 1985, world’s most well-travelled dinghy, and part of many a childhood adventure) might have been resigned to the scrap heap.


But, oh no, father is now smugly driving around with not one but TWO boats folded into the boot of his car, while Chrismick I languishes in the garage at home – per chance it might be called upon to sail the seas once again (in the unlikely event that the parents should ever require the use of three dinghies simultaneously).

As we cruise down the River Fowey on board Chrismick III, my mother likes to recite a series of her favourite stories: the time her and my father got stranded in Polperro when a drunk ferryman never returned to collect them; how the trees down the river used to be covered in white China clay from the huge ships that entered the estuary; the time my father ambitiously headed out to sea in Chrismick I, where ferocious waves lapped over the dinghy and she was forced to frantically bail out water with a milk carton.

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Another of the parents’ favourite hobby horses is tide times. My father has an unhealthy pre-occupation with the tide and studies his tide times book several times a day. When the tide is coming in, it’s possible to travel all the way up the Fowey estuary to Lerryn and Lostwithiel – as long as you’re in a small boat. (No problem there!)

My mother has a series of oft-used phrases to explain tide times, such as, ‘it was like someone had pulled the plug out!’ and, ‘it was nothing but mud flats!’. The parents occasionally like to run the gauntlet with the tide, claiming it’s all part of the fun. Nothing pleases my father more than chugging up to Lerryn, having a pint in the The Ship Inn and racing the tide back to Fowey again (following the route of the channel on his special Ordnance survey map)

On one such visit to Lerryn this week, my father was delighted to find it was an extra special Spring tide, meaning the car park was flooded and water was lapping rather worryingly at the front doors of some of the pretty cottages lining the river.

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There’s also a little bridge going into the village of Golant; at high tide the gap between the bottom of the bridge and the top of the water is pretty slim. Everyone has to duck on the count of three. It’s all part of the fun.

The Fowey Hotel is a slightly down-at-heel Victorian residence teetering grandly on the cliff above the estuary. I have fond memories of enjoying cream teas on the lawn there during those endless childhood summers where there was never a cloud in the sky.

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The parents first visited the Fowey Hotel in 1973, after a friend recommended it to them. In those pre-internet days, they simply drove down to Fowey, having no idea what it would be like.

They were so taken with the Fowey Hotel and the area in general, a love affair was born. They even sent my grandparents down the following summer.

But after driving 350 miles, my grandfather arrived to find the Fowey Hotel had closed down and all the furniture was being auctioned off!

Luckily, it re-opened sometime in the late 80s/ early 90s (with a much higher-price tag) and though in latter years my parents couldn’t afford to stay there, they would check-in to strange Keith’s B&B on the road above and visit the bar each evening for their supper.

Now, the parents love nothing more than having a drink in one of the large windows, as they reminisce and watch the boats come and go from the harbour below.

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As time has gone on, I’ve grown to love the Fowey Hotel too. Not least because of its air of slightly naff old world glamour, the rattling original period lift and framed yellowing letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son (he reportedly wrote Wind in the Willows at the hotel) in the lobby, and the seemingly never-ending stream of quirky guests.

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On leaving day today, my mother pushed the button on one final obsession: the need to eat up everything in the house.

As the daughter of a post-war disciplinarian, she simply can’t bring herself to throw any food away. Last year, she was left with a tub of margarine that hadn’t been fully consumed and she actually toyed with the idea of buying some bread just to ‘use it up’.

This morning, my mother managed to empty the fridge, save for a pint of milk: first, she forced my Uncle Stephen to drink a glass. She then drowned my father’s Weetabix in twice the normal amount, and stood hovering nearby, desperate to whip the bowl and spoon off him to wash it up.

Satisfied that the milk was gone, the cupboards were bare, and the ‘boats’ were safely packed back in the car boot, it was time to bid farewell to beloved Fowey for another year.


My Mother-In-Law… and the Towel Obsession

Rule no 1 of the blog: Never write about the mother-in-law.

Rule no 2: If you are thinking about writing about the mother-in-law, refer to rule no 1.

Rule no 3: If you really are hellbent on writing about the mother-in-law, make it light-hearted and humorous, and on no account mention behaviours that could be deemed obsessive or eccentric…

I think my mother-in-law has developed an obsession with towels.

I’ve been observing her growing abundance of towels for some years now. But it was only on a recent visit to the in-law’s house that the full scale of her towel-hoarding frenzy was revealed.

As I plonked my weekend bag down in the spare room, the mother-in-law said, ‘I’ve left some towels out for you… but if you need any more, there’s plenty in the spare bathroom.’


This comment in itself was slightly concerning. There were already four towels on the bed – beautifully matched to the decor. Just how many towels did she think we’d get through in two nights?

In the en-suite, there was another pile of colour-coordinated towels neatly stacked.


Out of curiosity, I headed to the main bathroom to see the state of play. I flung the large cupboard doors open to reveal…


… many, many more spare towels – in every possible colour you can imagine.

It was a petsetaphobic’s worst nightmare (that’s someone with a deep-seated fear of towels btw).

Glancing around, I spotted even more towels, nestling in neat piles.


In total, there were 37 spare towels at my disposal.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my mother-in-law collects towels like one might collect stamps or thimbles.

But I’m not sure how you would wean yourself off a fixation with towels. Cut down on the trips to Dunelm Mill? Steer clear of the towel aisle in old Johnny Lewis? Wean oneself off gradually with say the purchase of a large bath sheet, rather than a whole ‘nest’ (incidentally, who ever really wants a ‘nest’ of towels? There’s always at least two towels in there of an indeterminable size – too small to dry one’s body and too big to pass off as a hand towel.)

As far as addictions go, I think my mother-in-law’s love of towels (petsetaphilia?) is pretty harmless.

At my parents’ house, you’re lucky if you get handed a bobbly old towel, which is usually the size of a postage stamp and as stiff as cardboard (owing to the fact that they don’t believe in costly tumble dryers).

So who I am to turn down a fluffy towel or two – or even 37?

Little Lord Fauntelroy… Comes To Stay

It’s half-term and my three-year-old nephew Max is coming to stay. Max is the apple of my eye but I still like to think that I’m a firm aunty – able to say ‘no’, when he reaches for a gingerbread man in Caffe Nero.


The Husband, on the other hand, is a soft touch, and it took Max all of about two minutes to realise this. It’s no longer, ‘Aunty Katy, can I have a gingerbread man before lunch?‘

Oh no, he heads straight to Uncle Pushover and minutes later, re-appears, grinning like the cat that got the cream – tell-tale crumbs scattered around his mouth.

I left The Husband in charge of getting Max dressed for the morning and he managed to put his shoes on the wrong way round (Max’s shoes that is, not his own – although that isn’t beyond the realms of possibility either).


Having Max to stay is a lot of fun. From the minute he wakes up at 6am to the minute he goes to bed, his conversation is one long series of zany questions.

‘Why do dogs have bones in their body?’

‘Can submarines live in reservoirs?’

‘What would happen if Buzz Lightyear went all the way through space and kept on going?’

‘Where do you buy your multi-grain bread from?’

‘Have all the apartments got taps like your kitchen tap?’

He also has a strange condition called Barry Scott Tourette’s – where he is prone to suddenly shouting out ‘Barry Scott’ at random, usually in a public setting. Given my recent dealings with the hate-mailing Barry Scott impersonator, the irony of this does not escape me.

My sister had drilled it into me that Max needed to go to the toilet just before he goes to bed, in order to avoid to any nighttime accidents.

‘Now, you need to go to the toilet before bed,’ I said, having overseen bath-time, pyjama-dressing and teeth-brushing.

‘I’ve tried,’ he said. ‘But nothing would come out.’

‘Can you try again?’ I pleaded, having visions of my pocket-sprung Habitat mattress being stained for ever.

‘Okay, Katy,’ he sighed, with an air of world-weariness.


That night, there was a wail at 1am.

‘Aunty Katyyyyyyy!’

Alarmed, I scurried down the corridor. ‘What’s wrong?!’

‘I can’t see Big Ted,’ he said. Big Ted is a big teddy bear that I’ve had since I was 2 years old. He was safely ensconced under the sheets next to Max (you can see his head in the picture).

‘He’s right next to you!’ I said.

Two hours later, and there was another wail. I hared down the corridor like a scullery maid.

‘I’d like some freshly-squeezed orange juice,’ he said.

I didn’t have any oranges and I didn’t have a juicer. I fetched him some water instead.

4am. Another wail. Back down the corridor I went.

‘What is it now?!’ I said.

‘I need my curls flattening,’ said Max, patting his hair.

Curls flattening? Freshly squeezed orange juice? This was like dealing with Little Lord Fauntleroy.

The next afternoon, Max said he wanted a tuna sandwich for lunch. We bought him a tuna sandwich but it wasn’t up to Fauntleroy’s exacting standards. Apparently it had cucumbers in: slimy, green things that his delicate palate just couldn’t contend with.

‘Can’t you just pick them out?’ hissed the husband.

Driving frantically around Leeds, looking for another tuna sandwich (sans cucumber), it slowly dawned on me that far from being the firm but fun aunty, I had lost all control.

Later, I phoned my sister to tell her of Fauntleroy’s demands.

She was flabbergasted.

‘He’s running rings round you,’ she said. ‘You need to GET FIRM.’

His lordship arrives tomorrow and this time I’m determined. There’ll be no flattening of curls in the night; no thoughts of feverishly juicing ripe Valencian oranges in the early hours, and certainly no careful removal of cucumber from Fauntleroy’s dolphin-friendly tuna steak sandwiches.

He’ll be lucky if he gets a bowl of gruel before being parceled off to bed early.

You might wonder how I’m going to resist these angelic blue eyes.


But NO-MESS aunty’s back in town. And this time, she’s getting tough.

My Parents… and the Christmas Wish List

My phone beeps. It’s a text from the parents: ‘Please can you text us your xmas present lists.’


Every October, my mother requests a christmas present list from me. If I don’t comply, she will keep texting every week until I give in and text back: ‘I don’t know – just get me a book!’. It’s stressful trying to come up with gifts they can buy for me.

The Christmas Present List works both ways. The parents are not keen on receiving random presents for birthdays and Christmases – for fear of ‘unwanted tat’ taking over their home. So, every year, they present family members with a wish list, that usually contains a series of strangely-practical gifts.

This was my mother’s recent Christmas present list:

  • Prestige 24cm frying pan. Argos catologue no. 861/7134
  • Egg Poachers: Lakeland catalogue no. 12116
  • Nivea face cream
  • Hand cream (Body Shop)
  • Slippers (leather)

The funniest part of this long-held family tradition is that once you’ve sourced the items off the present list, wrapped them up and popped them under the Christmas tree, my mother pretends that she has no idea what she’s getting at all.

As the presents are passed to her, she shakes the box with a convincingly quizzical expression, before feigning mock shock when she finally unwraps her egg poachers: ‘Egg poachers?! My goodness – just what I wanted!’

Despite the parents’ detailed present list, there’s still the occasional surprise come Christmas Day. Uncle Stephen (my mother’s brother) went ‘off list’ last Christmas and splashed out on one of the strangest gifts for my mother yet: a blood pressure monitor (him and my mother are a little obsessed with their cholesteral and blood pressure).

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No sooner was it unwrapped, than the whole family were strapping it onto their arms, in a strangely competitive game of ‘My blood pressure’s lower than yours’.

For my birthday in August, I was forced to provide my own present list. In the end, I asked the parents to get me an ‘Jawbone UP band’ (for more details on this device see Curse of the Cankles – my mother is completely bamboozled by its purpose), and from the sister, I requested a new hairdryer.

Being an obsessive control freak, it didn’t want just any old hairdryer. I wanted a Parlux Ionic 3200, which I had decided on after several hours of reading reviews. I even sent my sister the Amazon link to make things as easy as possible.

I suppose that if was feeling truly helpful, I could just have purchased the presents myself, cutting them out of the equation altogether, and then just getting my sister and the parents to give me the cold hard cash.

But that would mean I wouldn’t be able to slowly unwrap each present with a well-practised look of pseudo-intrigue on my face, and say, ‘Hmm, I wonder what on earth this could be…’

Great Uncle Keith… and the Scotland Road Trip

I’m not sure quite how it happened but I found myself on a 600-mile road trip to the far recesses of Scotland with a toothless 85-year-old in my passenger seat.

We hadn’t seen my Great Uncle Keith for 25 years so it was a bit of shock when the phone rang at my parents’ house and a feeble voice rattled down the line, saying, ‘Hello, It’s Keithhhh.’

Great Uncle Keith, my father’s uncle, had slipped off the radar some time in the early 90s. He met a ‘lady friend’ called Valerie, who had seemingly wanted him all to himself and as a result, he had severed ties with the family.

A quarter of a century on, and with grasping Valerie having passed away, Great Uncle Keith had decided to re-connect with my father, his long-forgotten nephew – from all of 25 miles away in Manchester.

My father is an only child but his father George (now dead) had two other brothers – the aforementioned Keith, and Jack, who married Jill (!) and moved away to Scotland to lead a hardy life of hiking and extreme outdoor pursuits.

We hadn’t seen Jack and Jill for years either but would occasionally receive a postcard from them, usually from far-flung places like the Himalayas, accompanied by messages such as, ‘Did a steady 30-mile hike yesterday; tomorrow tackling Everest…’ or, ‘On the Inca Trail. 40 degrees. Terrain easy.’

Given that Keith hadn’t seen his brother Jack for many years either, I rather generously offered to drive him up there for a Scotland for a family reunion. My parents, never ones to miss out on an adventure, were to accompany us on the trip also, in order the provide some light relief or drive me to despair, depending on how you looked at it.

The first shock was the kind of surprise that you can only get when you haven’t seen someone for 25 years. Far from being the sprightly piano-playing uncle that my father fondly remembered, Keith was now a dithery old man, with only a few silver wisps of hair and, more worryingly, a distinct lack of teeth. He was to stay at my parents for the night before we embarked on the Great Road Trip to Garelochhead.

Somehow, at 2am in the morning, he managed to bring a whole glass shelf crashing down in the bathroom, causing my father to nearly have a heart attack and my mother to get terribly flustered indeed and make statements such as, ‘What on earth was he doing, CLATTERING around in the dead of night?!”

Morning came and the great road trip had begun. I was behind the wheel, with toothless Great Uncle Keith safely ensconced in the passenger seat. My mother was giving a running commentary of the scenery, while my father sat studying one of his Ordnance Survey maps. Four hours later, with a short lunch break (in which gummy Keith attempted to eat a sandwich like a gurning Les Dawson), we arrived at Jack and Jill’s little house on the edge of Loch Lomond.

I vaguely recall Jill from my childhood. She was rail thin, terribly fit and as sharp as glass. A retired headmistress through and through, she didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Jack was much more affable, very quiet and extremely fit also. Now 89, he was – unbelievably – still running up the fells and back before breakfast.

As the car pulled up, Jill waved a spindly arm. And the first thing she said as she greeted her long-lost brother-in-law was, ‘My goodness Keith, where on earth are your TEETH?’

It was a question that all of us were itching to know the answer to. We never did really get to the bottom of it.

She cast a shrewd eye over all of us and turned her attention to my father, who was visibly attempting to hold his stomach in.

‘And Michael,’ she went on. ‘Haven’t you put on weight?!’

Somewhat ironically, given her obsession with how porky we’d all become, she emerged from the kitchen with a mountain of cheese scones and insisted that we all tuck in immediately.

Jack, who had been out doing a spot of windsurfing on the loch and also appeared to have grown a handle bar moustache, arrived shortly after, and they both proceeded to regale us with tales of Pensioners Do Extreme Pursuits.


Two hours later and having been force-fed several more cheese scones, the parents and I began to make noises about leaving for Glasgow – thankful that we’d had the foresight to book into our own hotel – and telling Great Uncle Keith that we would return to collect him in 48 hours. He looked petrified.

Driving back two days later, Keith was already waiting on the path with his battered suitcase. He had never looked so pleased to see us. As we bundled him into the car, Jill peered in and said, ‘Now Keith, remember what I said. Straight to the dentist as soon as you get back. And then you must consult a dietician immediately.’

Privately, I thought the chances of Keith, who only ever ventured as far as the corner shop, consulting a dietician were extremely slim (excuse the pun) but I didn’t dare voice this under Jill’s steely gaze.

‘No Teeth’ Keith just smiled compliantly, showing his gums.

On the journey back, Keith told us that Jack and Jill had marched him several miles up a hill – not to fetch a pail of water – but to explore the former residence of Glasgow-born designer Charles Macintosh (famed for those silly chairs with an elongated back). Reaching the summit, they found that the house had yet to open for the day.

‘Never mind,’ they said. ‘We’ll just walk several miles into town for lunch and come back in a couple of hours.’

On the verge of collapse, puffing Keith had to plead not to be taken back up the hill, at which point Jill expressed her horror at how unfit he had become.

Overall, he’d enjoyed his mini-break, Keith concluded. But he was glad to be getting home.

‘Perhaps you’re getting a bit long in the tooth for these trips away,’ my father quipped.

My Family… and the Dawn French fixation

We are in the middle of the annual family sojourn to Cornwall, where my father has taken up residence on his favourite seat in the garden to study the passing ships with his binoculars (no doubt contemplating his own imminent foray out to sea in his beloved dinghy ‘Chrismick‘).


This was, until his binoculars fell upon a particular palatial home, built into the cliff directly opposite. My father sat studying the house for quite a long time and pondered who might live in such an opulent mansion.


That afternoon, my sister visited the cove below and reported that she saw a girl ‘fitting the description’ of Dawn French’s daughter Billie, padding from the beach and into the mouth of its imposing gates.

A lengthy discussion was then held by the whole family (along with lots of Googling) at the end of which it was decided that all the evidence pointed to a firm conclusion that this was in fact the residence of non other than Dawn French.

The next morning, my father rose early, filled his flask with coffee, took up position in his chair and trained his binoculars on the house, looking for any sign of movement.

‘Dawn Watch’ continued that evening, followed by another discussion about the rotund comedienne. My sister had been following her on Twitter and discovered she had been at a book signing in nearby Falmouth. There was every chance that Dawn might be at her Cornish home, fuelled by my father’s report of a light going on in the house at approximately 9pm.


And then, finally… a firm sighting! At 2.09pm yesterday afternoon, my father excitedly summoned us all to the garden and one by one we peered through the binoculars. Before our eyes was the unmistakable silhouette of Dawn French, on the balcony of her 40-room mansion enjoying the afternoon sun in a billowing kaftan.


Swept along by the excitement of the celebrity spot, the family began a running dialogue of her movements, with even my mother getting in on the act: Dawn’s looking out to sea; Dawn’s now leaning on the balustrade; Dawn’s now going inside the house; Dawn’s just scratched her bottom…

Dawn French is beginning to take over our holiday: my sister has been googling all about her divorce from Lenny Henry and recent marriage to a man called Mark Bignell (after a 16-month romance!); my father has been on Google Earth investigating the layout of her gothic-style house (it can’t possibly have 40 rooms!); my mother has become something of an expert in Dawn’s weight loss and then subsequent gain (it must be all those Cornish cream teas and pasties!).

Gripped by ‘French fever’, my father was last seen roaring off to Fowey in Chrismick to get a closer look at Dawn’s house from the sea.


I’m not sure where this obsession will end. Camping outside her house until she invites us all in for a traditional cream tea?


Watch this space…

The Big End

I had a very random thought today: What is a car’s Big End exactly?

My childhood was dominated by my father perusing his maps and then attempting to drive down various pot-holed roads, always in a vehicle completely unsuitable for such ambitious pursuits.

And each off-road adventure always resulted in my mother clinging onto the dashboard as the car bumped and banged along, crying, ‘Slow down! You’re going to DAMAGE THE BIG END!’

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