Little Donkey

An interesting feature of our sitting room and also something of a talking point, are the 6-inch long wooden penises that protrude suggestively from the back wall. These phallic oddities may seem incongruous surrounded by the paraphernalia of Casa Nevin but they, along with the remnants of a swallow’s nest are a reminder that until recently this room was used as stabling for donkeys. For those of you with filthy minds, the wooden penises were not (as far as I’m aware) sex-aids for the farmer’s wife; they were used for tethering the donkeys in their stalls and for securing hay nets and buckets of water.

Donkeys and mules are still very much part of Spanish life and although tractors and cars have now replaced much of the work that these noble beasts carried out in the past, they are still a common sight here in Andalucía. Last week a car drove through the village with two mules attached to the rear bumper with ropes, trotting along behind it. And the week before, I saw a man using a mule to pull a plough through his meadow. There are many hill top villages and towns where donkeys and mules are the only method of carting goods, people and furniture up and down the steep, narrow streets.

Whilst pondering about life in our finca, the farmer’s wife and donkeys in particular, I was reminded of the time, many moons ago when one of my children bamboozled me in to buying a donkey.


Years ago, my first husband and I drove with our four girls (Theo had not yet been born) all the way from North Yorkshire UK, down to the Algarve in Portugal. It was a long journey and there was many a time when our decrepit long-wheel base Landover almost gave up but despite having to stop every half hour or so to open the bonnet to let out the steam and replenish the water in the radiator, it was an enjoyable and memorable trip. The highlight of the holiday for Serena, my 3rd daughter, was not the swimming pool, the fresh sardines, the constant sunshine or the piri-piri chicken; it was seeing so many donkeys. On the journey back to Yorkshire she could talk of little else and by the time we got back to our farm, the chat about donkeys had become incessant nagging to get a donkey. Serena’s argument was that if we already had 8 cows, 4 pigs, 40 sheep, 8 goats, 8 geese, 2 ducks, 1,000’s of hens, 3 dogs, 3 ponies and 3 cats, why not add a donkey or two to the mix? And who was I to argue.

But acquiring a donkey was not as simple task as I had imagined it to be. My first port of call was the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. Surely they would be thrilled to bits for us to take one or two donkeys off their hands? Yes and no was the answer – there was a long waiting list, home checks, and various other boxes that would have to be ticked before we could hope to re-home a donkey from them. Weeks passed, then months. I scoured newspaper ads, I asked local farmers and friends and then, I had a brain wave. Ireland! Yes, Ireland they have lots of donkeys in Ireland. I’d seen lots of old photos of donkeys with baskets full of peat and fish and all sorts of things, I was sure that we could find a donkey in Ireland.  I rang an old friend in who lived in the Emerald Isle and told her that we were looking for a donkey. And, as luck would have it, she knew a horse dealer that she thought might have a donkey to sell.

Alarm bells should have started to ring the minute that she told me that the dealer’s name was Miley O’Cash. Seriously, you couldn’t make that up, but a fool and their money are soon parted and no sooner had I thanked my friend for his telephone number than I was dialing Galway 73456960 and speaking to the man himself. ‘Ah to be sure I have a donkey for you. And a very fine donkey she is too. Ta’ prettiest feet that you’ve ever seen. No, you wont’ find ta donkey elsewhere like tis, rarer than hen’s teeth she is, a beauty to behold’

Gullible as the day is long, a cheque for £300 was soon winging its way over the Irish Sea and straight in to Miley O’Cash’s bank account. The next thing that I had to arrange was transport and shipping. And by a second stroke of luck, a racehorse trainer was having some horses shipped over from Ireland to Thirsk and the transporter told me that there would be room for a little donkey. When I asked how much her passage would be, I was told it was free. ‘You see Lottie, the Irish are very superstitious about donkeys,  Jeezus Christ rode on them, you know’ ‘tat’s why tey have ter cross on ther back’

A week later Serena and I headed off to Thirsk. She was buzzing with excitement and truth be told, so was I. We’d filled the horse trailer with clean straw, hung up a net of hay and had bought a dazzling blue head collar and lead rope for her. We arrived at the smarty-pants racehorse stud and parked the trailer. Serena gripped my hand as we walked through the large airy barn and stalls looking for our new donkey. A young stable lad showed us round the stable block where priceless equines worth thousands of dollars were whinnying over immaculate stable doors. He pointed to a loose box at the end of the yard.

There, lying on a bed of straw was without doubt the most hideous donkey we’d ever seen. She was not the fluffy grey or brown donkey of Serena’s dreams, with cute furry ears and a mealy muzzle. She was a filthy shade of white, had huge ears, and a most unattractive rim of pink round her eyes that made me want to grab my eye-liner pencil and start giving her a beauty make-over.  Serena looked at me and promptly burst in to tears.

The thing that made me burst in to tears was not her looks, but her feet. As the world’s plainest donkey stood up and shook herself free of straw, I looked in horror at her hooves. They were deformed beyond words. Instead of the ‘prettiest feet’ that Miley O’Cash had waxed lyrical about, this poor creature could hardly walk. Her hooves were so long, twisted and turned up that she had to walk on her heels.

We got her in to the trailer and drove the hour and half home in near silence. I was speechless with rage but I didn’t want to upset Serena any more than she already was. The safest topic of conversation was thinking about what we should call her. We decided on Mildred.

The vet came out that afternoon and examined her. He cursed Miley O’Cash and he cursed the vet who had passed Mildred fit enough to travel over on the boat.  Correcting her feet was going to take time, months and months, but the sad fact was that though cosmetically they might end up looking reasonably good, she would always walk on her heels as a result of the small bones inside the hoof being deformed due to her hooves never having been trimmed. This also meant that she could only carry weight for short periods of time.

But every cloud has a silver lining. As the vet withdrew his latex gloved hand out of Mildred’s bottom he announced, much to our great excitement that she was in foal and would probably give birth within 6-8 weeks. Serena’s face was a picture! And so almost 8 weeks to the day Joy was born. Joy or Joyce as I preferred to call her was the sweetest thing imaginable. A leggy, fluffy bundle of donkey deliciousness. I think her dad must have been brown or skewbald as her colouring was predominantly white but with large brown patches. Over time, thanks to the skill of our farrier, Mildred’s feet started to look much better and a couple of years later we acquired another donkey, an elderly gentleman called Cocoa who stayed with us until his demise at the age of 55. I never got back in touch with Miley O’Cash – what was the point? Mildred was a million times better off with us than with him and even though it was a shaky start, I know that Serena derived much happiness caring for her donkeys and that is all that mattered to me.



From The Mouth Of Babes. Sexual Abuse And Why It Could So Easily Be You.

‘I WANT A CUNTY BAR!’ Leonora wailed as we approached the shop. She’d been in a foul mood, belligerent and badly behaved all morning; the last thing that I was going to do, was reward her with sweets. ‘No Leonora’ I said, taking her firmly by the hand ‘No sweets today, and please don’t call them Cunty Bars, they’re called Crunchies. Cunty is a VERY rude word. ‘CUNTY! CUNTY!’ she yelled defiantly at the top of her voice as I dragged her past three visibly shocked Hell’s Angels stood outside the shop having a smoke

Leonora must have been around four years old when this little scenario took place. A year later she started school. Everything about school life was a pleasure for her and her confidence and strong character made her popular amongst her peers. Indeed all was going swimmingly in the education department until a couple of years later when one afternoon I received a phone call from her headmaster. Could we please come to the school, there was an urgent matter. Perplexed, I rang my husband and asked him to come home early.

It had been a long time since I’d stood outside a headmaster’s office and it reminded me of my school days and being in trouble. Nothing, no amount of imaginings, could have prepared us for what came next. My husband and I were ushered in and told to take a seat. The headmaster of the village primary school was a quiet man but that day he seemed more subdued than ever. ‘I’ve called you here’ he said, nervously clearing his throat ‘because I had a visit earlier from some parents; they are very concerned about your daughter and what is going on at home’ I couldn’t think what it was that there was to be concerned about so waited with interest to hear  what the headmaster was going to say next. ‘Apparently, your daughter told Stacey King* at dinner time that she’d ‘had sex with a man’

My jaw dropped open. I was so shocked, so horrified, so mortified even, that my immediate reaction was to burst into fits of hysterical laughter. Fortunately my husband was better composed than I. He realized immediately the gravity of the situation and the impact of what our daughter had said, and it’s impact, and knew that it could have serious repercussions if we did not take the matter seriously. He urged the headmaster to talk more about it. Apparently, Leonora and Stacey had been eating their lunch and chatting and Leonora had confided in her that she’d ‘had sex with a man’. Stacey had then gone home after school and when asked by her mother about her day at school and whether anything interesting had happened, Stacey had then told her what Leonora had said. The parents had then taken it upon themselves to walk back up to the school and report this shocking news back to the headmaster. If I’d ever heard my children report something like this, I’m would have done just the same.

I can assure you that it is no laughing matter when, you suddenly find yourselves in a position where there is a question mark about you as parent and child sex abuse. Even though we knew that we had done nothing wrong, that we were innocent, our seven-year-old daughter had told her friend that she’d had ‘sex with a man’. As a parent, as responsible adults, that is not something that you can brush off lightly.

The hideous fact is that child sex abuse is rife, and always has been. It can happen in any strata of society and more often than not perpetuated by the very people that we would least suspect. You only have to read the papers and watch the news to see that recently, several ‘upstanding’ celebrity figures in the UK have been unearthed as to having a grizzly history of sexually abusing young children and teenagers.

But here we were, in the headmaster’s office. As young parents finding ourselves having to protest our innocence and at the same time worried sick that maybe something that we didn’t know about, may have happened to our daughter? Fortunately the headmaster was sympathetic. As a family man himself, he knew that the implications of what our daughter had said would now be going round the village like wildfire. Allegations of sex abuse, with us in the middle of it, would be rife.

We went back home in somber mood and after putting the younger children to bed; it was time to sit down with Leonora to talk.  Here, sat in front of us was our child, our innocent, a little person that we both loved and adored. A little girl who had unwittingly, brought our names as loving, and caring parents into question.

It is so long ago now that I can’t remember exactly how Martin and I broached this delicate subject. All I remember of that evening is that we had to discuss prematurely ‘the facts of life’ with our 7 year old. In hindsight it was a sensitive discussion, and it was clear to us that Leonora had no idea what sex entailed. In her own words ‘it was something that I saw on the telly’’ Lord only knows what it was that her excited her interest. She was never allowed up late enough to watch TV after the watershed.  Something on the TV had sparked an interest in our precocious daughter. And we, as her parents, now had try to make sense of it.

Looking back on that day, 23 years ago, I am thankful that the headmaster handled things as he did. It could have been so much worse; Police inquires, investigations by Social Services? Fortunately, Leonora’s ‘sex with a man’ was as it happened, something that she’d seen and heard on television. The sad truth is that very often when children speak about these things, it is all too real. As parents, it put us in a very difficult position, something that we would rather not have found ourselves in, and yet Stacey’s mum and dad did what they thought was the right thing and we, as a parents salute them for that, because it was absolutely the right thing to do. They immediately alerted the school to what they believed was a case of child sex abuse. Rather than stay silent like many people do, they decided to act on what they had heard and I applaud them for that.

We were innocent, we’d done nothing wrong, but for sometime afterwards, weeks in fact, we found ourselves shunned by the other parents at the school. ‘Persona non grata’.  We found ourselves, and our children, being avoided like the plague.  And for myself, picking up my children each day from school, I became an object of suspicion. It’s something that I never wish to repeat. A tough lesson, but I learnt from it.

If my experience serves any purpose, then I hope that it will it will remind you as a parent to pay extra special attention to your children when you ask them ‘So what happened at school today?’ You could help a child.

APPENDIX: I shared this post on Facebook yesterday and a friend left a comment. She asked me if the family knew us and I replied that no, they didn’t. I should point out that the families that knew us well, and whose children played with our kids never for one moment thought anything ill or bad of us. They remained good friends and their kids and our kids played as they always had at each other’s houses. It was the families that didn’t know us, that gave us a wide berth and gossiped about us. I think if the whole village had avoided us like the plague, it would have been an unbearable and very difficult situation.

Hello Mother

This is a series of emails sent to me in 2012 from Theodore, my only son and the youngest of my 5 children. I was in New York on business at the time and he thought that he’d chance his luck.

Hello Mother

Now I’m about to give you the biggest list for candy ever! And all I ask is that you bring 99% of the list back  😀

So without further ado, here is my list.

1)    2 x Boxes of Reese’s peanut butter puffs cereal (I assume that you can get it in the supermarket. If you can’t find it, ask someone ok?)

2)    2 x Flips chocolate coated pretzels (you can get them at the supermarket too but if not ask someone again)

3)    If you can get them, please can you buy some Harry Potter chocolate frogs

4)    2 x big bags of peanut butter M&M’s please!!

5)    2x boxes of cookies n’ cream pop tarts!!!

6)    Can you get some Willy Wonka chocolate too?

7)    Some bags of random flavours pop rocks

8)    A big bag of Hershey’s kisses

9)    A few Hostess Twinkies would be great too

10) 2 x 2 packs of Butter Fingers bars

11) And finally! Please can you get me a big bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups?

12) Also get lots of random stuff please, please PLEASE!! Oh, and also any random cereals that you can find?

And now Mother, here is something for you. I was listening to this pod cast and there was a really interesting lady who I thought you might like to hear talking………(Theo then writes about this lady on the pod cast in the most endearing way) and then ends his email with

I LOVE YOU and have a nice time in America but don’t forget to get me all that candy J



I sent him an email straight back.

Darling Boy

You are not asking for much are you? I will do my best but I am making no promises.

It will also mean my having to buy a much larger suitcase to fit it all into.

I assume that this is a money making scheme being the entrepreneur that you are?

I definitely want a share in the profits, as I’ve had to put my money up front first.

That’s the deal partner, take it or leave it.

I miss you lots and love you loads Mummy XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


To which Theo replied

Oh you’ll be pleased to hear Mother that I have one last thing to add to the list.

Fluff spread – It’s like marshmallow and you spread it on toast. You’ll be able to get it in the supermarket along with the other stuff. Ok Mommy? Oh, and I so nearly forgot, can you get me an American football please? Just a small one is ok. Thanks Mum.


Theodore xx


Dear Theodore

What’s with the Regards bit at the end of your email?

Lots of love Mummy xxxxxxxxxxxxxx


Dear Mother

Regards is something polite that you write at the end of a business email. Didn’t you know that?

Love Theodore xx


So here we have a flavour of some of the emails sent trans-atlantically during my stay here in the States. The loving communications between a Mother and her son. Some may see it as blatant cupboard love, others as witnessing the makings of an entrepreneur.

One of the funniest conversations that I’ve had here in New York was last Friday when I started to look out some of things that Theo had asked me for. I went to the M&M’s store first and at least managed to tick Peanut Butter M&M’s off the list.

When Cerise at the checkout asked me – ‘Can I help you with anything else today?’ I don’t expect she was thinking that I would start pulling a list a metre long out of my pocket and ask her to help me go to find all the things. ‘Scuse me lady, where d’ya says you’s from?’ asked Cerise.

‘I’m from London originally, but I live in Indonesia now’ I replied. Cerise looked puzzled and raised an eyebrow

‘You tellin’ me that you can’t buy this candy over there? In Indo? or in London, England?’

‘Well no not really’ I replied, – ‘you can buy some of it, but only a few things like Hershey bars and a few Reese’s bit and pieces, oh, and M&M’s of course’

Cerise threw her hands up in the air in shock and horror and let out a load yelp.

‘Oh my Lord!’ she snorted laughing ‘I would just HATE to live in a place like that, just HATE! to live somewhere that you can’t buy this sort of candy. That’d kill me for sure’

‘No ways I’d ever wanna live in a place like that!’

I was slightly lost for words whilst taking in the enormity of Cerise’s disclosure.

‘The thing is Cerise’ I said after a moments pause and finding myself feeling somewhat defensive about my homeland ‘We have different things in England. Things like Marmite and Shakespeare, thatched cottages and castles…’

But Cerise was already serving the next customer and asking ‘Anything else I can help you with today madame?’

Confessions Of A Bad Mother

I have so many stories, anecdotes and tales about our holidays spent in the Outer Hebrides that I could probably write a book about them. My eulogy of the island alone, would take up at least half the book. Describing the rich wildflower machair, the white sands, the giant Atlantic waves, the smell of peat smoke curling from the chimneys, crofting life…. Evenings cooking herrings in oatmeal with mustard sauce, a glass of Talisker whisky in hand.

Our first visit to the Isle of Lewis did not have what could be described as an auspicious start. At the time we had 4 children (Theo was still in the pipe-line so to speak) aged 7, 3, 2, and a 6 week-old baby. Add to that genetic mix, two exhausted parents, an ancient wheezing long-wheel base Landover, an 8 hr drive, a 3hr ferry crossing and all the other little incidentals that make family life what it is, and it was always bound to be something of an adventure.

When at last the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry sailed into picturesque Stornoway harbour we were relieved and excited to have finally arrived. Bags, children and various bits of miscellanea where carted down from the passenger deck to the car deck below. Engines started to rev up from the lorries and cars and soon the great ferry doors were opened and we were out on the open road once more. I was driving and my husband was endeavouring to map read us out of Stornoway and onto the road that headed southwest down to Bragar on the western side of the Island. We’d probably been driving for around 20 minutes when one of the children asked us where Georgia was? I slammed my foot hard on the brake, forcing the car into an emergency stop, and did a quick head count. GEORGIA! Where the hell is Georgia? I screamed at my husband, and he in turn screamed at me and then everyone screamed in unison ‘GEORGIA’S still on the boat!!’

How any Mother could be so utterly hopeless that they leave their tiny infant on a boat, I just don’t know but the fact is that I did, I’d left my darling 6 week old baby on a boat and had gone off without her. I don’t believe I have ever driven so fast in my life. We flew through Stornoway, narrowly missing pedestrians by inches, drove down one way streets the wrong way and finally screeched to a halt on the quayside in a cloud of dust and a smell of burning rubber just as the last of the cars, lorries and passengers where being waved on board the boat for the next trip back to the mainland.

I found my cherub exactly where I had left her. Sound asleep in her Moses basket up in the cabin on the passenger deck, blissfully unaware of her Mother’s negligence.

The second faux pas that I made was on the following day, Sunday. After breakfast, I put on a laundry wash and taking full advantage of the perfect drying conditions, sunny weather and fresh hebridean breeze, I pegged it out to dry on the line outside before heading off with the family to enjoy our first day exploring Lewis.

It did occur to me as we were driving around the island that it was very quiet. We saw the odd crofter tending to his haystack in the fields, a procession of villagers all dressed in black on their way to church, but there were no shops open, which was fine as we had our sandwiches, our flask of tomato soup and everything that our hearts desired for a perfect day out, safe in the knowledge that we had at least this time remembered to bring all of our children.

Later that evening when the children had been bathed and put to bed, I poured myself a large whisky and sat down in front of the fire with the ‘Guest Book’. I opened it and there on the first page was a reminder of the Do’s and Don’t’s when staying at the cottage. Rule Number One: Never hang your washing out on the line to dry on a Sunday. You will upset and offend the neighbours. Sunday observance is very important here in Lewis and we ask that you respect it, thank you.*

Oh dear, not only was I a terrible mother, but I’d now become a terrible neighbour as well.

There is much to do and see on the islands, especially if you love nature and wildlife and our first two weeks there went all to quickly. I was determined that we should see otters and it became a standing joke with the children and my husband, every time I pulled off the road and ran down to the shore hoping to spot one. This fanaticism did pay off as early one morning on a subsequent trip after I dragged everyone out of bed at sunrise and we drove down to the shoreline a mile from the croft and watched and waited. You can imagine our excitement when a family of otters and their babies suddenly appeared and then spent the next half and hour or so playing and swimming. Baby Otters are quite enchanting and very playful – I could have watched them for hours.

Our Moby Dick trip was not quite such a success. I’d read somewhere that occasionally whales and dolphins can be spotted from the top of the island at the Butt of Lewis (Interestingly this famous lighthouse was built by the Stevenson family as of Robert Louis fame) so I had a fancy to go and check out the lighthouse and throw in some whale watching while we were there. The weather that day was  changeable, one minute sun, the next rain but undeterred I made a stack of sandwiches, pulled together a picnic of sorts and we headed off on the 40 minute journey up to the top of the island. By the time we arrived at the Butt, a gale was blowing and the sea was looking very grey and rough. Rather than risk losing a child to the perils of the sea, I decided it best that we stay in the car so, there we sat, eating our sandwiches, windscreen wipers on at full pelt and the car windows all steamed up.

‘Don’t worry darlings, I’m sure we will see a whale very soon’ I said through mouthfuls of sandwich and swigs of molten hot tomato soup, trying to convince them that I wasn’t a total nutter and determined to keep family morale up. With visibility not much further than the tips of our noses, they knew, and I knew that even with the best will in the world this was just not going to happen.

There was one particularly memorable evening when, after we’d all eaten supper at 9pm, we decided to make the most of the late daylight and take a walk down to the shore. (Due to the proximity of the islands to the north, daylight hours are long in the summer months with only 2 hours of darkness during the night) It was a still, almost balmy evening as we made our way down to the shore and picked our way along the rocks. I should add at this point that however white the sands are, and as azure as the sea may be, the water is not warm. Hell no! It’s cold, bitter in fact, but despite this, and because I may have over dosed on whisky earlier in the evening, I suddenly felt a burning desire to go skinny-dipping. Stripping off I then launched myself into the water and swam away from the shore. The water was so freezing that I had no option other than to swim as fast as I could. I waved back at the children who were standing on the rocks watching my madness when all of a sudden a huge creature loomed up right in front of me – it was a Bull Grey Seal. I was so shocked and surprised at the sight of this magnificent creature that I remember first feeling elation then absolute terror. This 400kg, 3 metre hunk must have been quite surprised by me too, as he let out a loud and deep ‘oink oink’ sound. We eye-balled each other one last time before  he dived then swam one way, and I swam as fast as my frozen legs could take me  back to the shore.

Over the course of our family visits to the Outer Hebrides we had some wonderfully happy times and great experiences. We never did get to see the whales but we did see porpoises and I know from talking to folk and doing my research that it’s not unheard of to see Minke Whale, Killer Whale, Basking Sharks, Pilot Whales and Dolphins if you are lucky.

The Outer Hebrides is certainly not a place to visit if you like your entertainments laid on for you, myriad bars, blazing sunshine and heat. However if like us, you enjoy beauty and peace, nature, the joy of walking along a beach with no one else on it save yourselves, the sound of the wind whispering through the machair, watching sea birds dive, otters playing, and eagles soar, then this place will touch your soul forever. I haven’t yet even mentioned the culture, the first Mesolithic settlers, the pre-historic sites, the extraordinary Callinish standing stones that pre-date the Egyptian Pyramids, the beautiful Gaelic singing – that’s for you to find for yourselves, to explore and  hopefully delight in.


The Magic Invisible Thread

Serena is my third child and the third of my four daughters. We decided to name her Serena because as she was placed into my arms just moments after making her grand entrance into the world, instead of shrieking and bawling as most newborns do, she gazed up at me in the most knowing and serene way, and smiled.

I’ve heard people say that when young babies smile it means that they’ve got wind but personally I think that’s a load of crap – For starters, who the hell smiles when they’ve got wind? I don’t that’s for sure. Also I’m not sure it’s possible to have flatulence the minute after you’ve just been born? Please stand to correct me if I am wrong.

It’s a pretty tough call being the middle one of five – you have to be very loud if you want to get attention and most definitely have to stand out from the crowd if you want to get noticed. Serena has never been a shrinking violet despite being the filling in the sandwich of our family life/loaf. She’s a beautiful, passionate, wild creature who at times in the past has been very, very naughty.  There have been moments over the years when I could have quite happily have wrung her neck due to the grief she’s given me, but I adore her and shall do so until my dying day.

You might wonder why I am writing this but there is a reason. Who knows, but after reading this, you too may someday want to use this for yourself and for someone you love. I’ve asked Serena if it’s ok to spill the beans and she’s cool with this even though as far as I’m aware, none of her siblings know about it either. The reason being that it was a special pact that she and I made together eleven long years ago

It is inevitable that there are going to be times when you have be away from your children and those times can be hard especially when it is for longer periods than one would like. Serena was very sad and finding it difficult being away from me, but what she didn’t realise at the time, was that it was just as tough for me, in fact it may even have been even tougher as I had the dreaded Mother’s guilt to deal with as well.

One day I sat her down and told her about a magic invisible ball of string that I had in my pocket. ‘This ball of invisible thread is so long’, I explained ‘that it can stretch all around the world as many times as you like, it can even stretch to the Moon and back. In fact it can stretch as near or as far as you need it to stretch because it is magic’. Serena stared suspiciously at me – ‘Mum, what’s that got to do with my missing you? How’s that going to help when I need you?’

‘Well’, I replied  ‘The thing is that it’s top secret so you have to promise not to tell any of the others, or else it won’t work’. Serena nodded her head in agreement and I then took the magic ball of string out of my pocket. I found the end of the string and tied it securely onto the little finger of her right hand and then I took the other end of the string and got her to tie it onto my little finger on my left hand. (You have to tie it onto the littlest finger of the hand that you write with otherwise it doesn’t work)

‘Ok’ I said to Serena, can you feel this when I tug?’ I did a tugging motion with my left hand and Serena did a tugging motion with her right hand. We could both feel the little piece of invisible thread between us. We practised a few times to make absolutely sure that we both felt the tug properly.

‘Right’ I said, ‘This is the deal. From now on and anytime day or night, whenever you miss me, wherever you are, just tug on your end of the string, and I will tug right back so that you know that I’m there for you and, anytime day or night I will tug on my end when I need you too’.

Being on the other side of the world away from those that you love, is tough. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of our children and there are times when it’s quite unbearable the distance between us. However, hard as the physical separation is, at least I know that any time I tug on my end of the magic invisible thread, 7,278 long miles away, someone I love and miss will know that I am thinking of them and vice versa which makes it a whole lot better.

Chicken Annie

Five years ago on the 19th January 2009  my second daughter Annie, turned 21. Joyous and special though the occasion was, she got a terribly rude shock. Instead of a fabulously expensive piece of jewellery or some other significant gift to mark her coming of age, all she got from her lousy Mother was a small notebook containing handwritten recipes and a few quickly scribbled illustrations. Before you all shout ‘Meany, meany, meany…’ I would just like to say that, at that time my financial situation was pretty dire, in fact very dire.

More than anything I desperately wanted to give Annie something special, something significant, but alas, I did not have the funds to do so. I wracked my brains for days beforehand trying to think of things that I thought she might like or need (aside from the obvious) and came up with the idea for a cookery book. Not just any old cookery book, but one that had all the recipes that I had used from the moment that she was weaned off the bosom and could chomp her way through real, sustaining hearty food, not watery blue stuff. I called the book ‘Chicken Annie’

My Mother died when I was 24, the exact age that Annie is now. She was the most fabulous cook, the sort that can dive into an almost empty fridge and conjure up marvelous meals in minutes. She was, as my youngest brother once proudly boasted to one of his school friends ‘A Condom Bleu’ chef.

Alas, I am not a Condom Bleu chef, but I was the daughter of one and so, along the way I have learnt a few tricks or two. When I wrote Annie’s personal cookbook for her 21st birthday, I realized that nothing is more special than recipes handed down from generation to generation, especially when those that have lovingly cooked them, have shuffled off their mortal coil and are no longer here.

I included all our own family favourites but the one that stole the show and the most disliked by all of my five children, subsequent lovers and husbands has got to be ‘Peela’s Mess’. I’m not going to bother giving you the recipe as I know that you will all wretch, but I love it and I included it in the cookbook. I also thought that Annie might be interested in the little anecdote about Peela who was my Dutch Oma’s best friend.

Peela was an alcoholic who tragically came to an untimely end. One night, whilst very drunk she drove her car straight into a Scottish Loch and was never seen again.

This recipe that I am about to give you, is very simple and straightforward. Just make sure that you keep tasting it as you go along. The first time I made it, it was absolutely disgusting but that’s partly because I thought that I could get away with not using Rice Vinegar and just use normal. Trust me, you can’t.

Green Ginger Sauce – a recipe that I begged off a restaurant here in Jakarta

No cooking involved, just a bit of chopping and slopping stuff around. It’s delicious as a side sauce to go with grilled chicken and rice, or slurped straight out of the bowl late at night.

One cup = 250mls

Very finely sliced Spring Onions ¼ cup (not sure what they are called in America, but something fancy I suspect)

Grated Root Ginger 1 tablespoon

Light Soy Sauce 2 ½ tablespoons

Sugar 1 ½ tablespoons

Rice Vinegar 1 tablespoon

Sesame Oil 1 teaspoon

Mix, mix, mix. Delicious (make extra and keep in fridge)


The Day That You Were Born

Isabel helped to bring you into the world Theo. She was my midwife. When she wasn’t delivering babies, she’d be delivering lambs or calves on her own farm. She was a large, strong, Yorkshire woman, down to earth and practical. I reckoned that if she could pull a calf out, she wouldn’t have a problem with us.

On New Years Eve afternoon it started to snow. I was in the girls’ bedroom changing sheets when I looked out the window and noticed large, goose down snowflakes, starting to fall. Your dad and I had been invited to a party that evening but the snow didn’t let up. By early evening it had become a blizzard and strong winds felled the electricity lines. We lit candles and cooked soup on the wood stove.

January 1996 seemed like a very long month to me. Your dad struggled to get to work because of the snow and he was away in London quite a bit. When at last the snow melted it then turned bitterly cold again, and the yard became a sheet of ice. I was frightened about slipping and falling over especially now that you were becoming a noticeable bump. The school in the village was open but the roads were closed up where we lived. It didn’t stop your determined eldest sister walking the 3 and a half miles down the hill and going to classes as normal. She even stopped at the shops on the way home and bought us all some treats. Your other 3 sisters stayed at home, they were too little they might have got lost in a snowdrift!

Something wonderful appeared in the skies over that winter Theo. It was a comet called Hale-Bopp. At first it just looked like a large star but then it slowly developed a tail that blazed out behind it. We were lucky living where we did. There wasn’t a street lamp for miles around so the sky was as black as Indian ink. The comet was easy to spot on cloudless evenings. Sometimes you’d wake me in the night with your strong kicks or when you rolled over inside my belly. I’d creep out of bed so as not to disturb your father and go downstairs; put a coat on over my nightdress and go out into the yard. There I would stand, gazing up at this extraordinary sight until I could bear the cold no longer.

By the end of February the geese and chickens had started to lay again. The geese laid their eggs in the stupidest places. Only one out of the 8 geese managed to hatch her eggs and only 4 of the goslings survived. You were terrified of the geese when you were a toddler. They used to chase you around the yard, hissing and spitting at you.

At the end of March the sheep and goats were just a couple of weeks away from lambing and kidding. While I was still able to do the other farm work, Isabel had given me strict instructions to keep away from sheep and goats once they started to give birth. There is a bug that pregnant women can catch if they come into contact with the afterbirth or blood of a newly birthed sheep or goat. This bug causes abortion in women. I didn’t want to risk losing you Theo so just for the weeks of lambing I hired some help to take care of the ewes. Leonora took over the goats. I taught her how to milk them. She was wonderful. Every morning before school, she’d go down into the goat shed with the milking pail and churn and I’d hear her singing as she settled down to milk the 4 nannies. There was a special tune that she used to hum, I can’t remember it now but it was her ‘milking’ song. She’d milk them again in the evening after she’d finished her homework and let me know how things were progressing with the ladies. Your sister was a great help. There aren’t many 11 year olds who would do that.

May finally arrived. Because the winter had been so long, spring was late in coming. The leaves on the trees were only just beginning to open and there was still a nip in the air. You were supposed to have put in an appearance on May 5th, your great-aunts birthday but following in the tradition of your sisters you also decided to be late.

I had cleaned and scrubbed the house from top to bottom, been out to buy nappies and had washed and aired all the baby clothes that had been stored away for the previous 5 years. Georgia had just started primary school a few weeks before your arrival. She now smelt of school and classrooms when she came home and as well as bringing back her new reading book, she also brought us a bout of nits. She liked being at school though and looked very sweet in her uniform.

I wasn’t sure what Georgia would make of you she’d been the baby for so long.

Around 4am on the morning of May 15th, I woke with a bad tummy pain. The house was still sleeping but dawn was breaking outside. I went downstairs ran a bath and washed my hair. I wasn’t sure if you were teasing me Theo or whether this was actually it. For about a week my early labour had been stop start, stop start you were very laid back and I was becoming increasingly impatient.

By 6am I knew for sure that you were on your way. I woke up your dad and then went to make the packed lunches and get breakfast for your sisters. There was a lot of excitement in the house that morning and your sisters made daddy promise to ring the school the minute that you were born. They didn’t know that you were going to be a boy. I’d kept it a surprise from everybody apart from your dad of course.

I watched the girls run down the farm track, heard their voices as they scrambled through the short cut in the wood, over the beck, and then up the other side to the road. Mrs Murgatroyd was waiting for them in the school taxi.

Isabel was called ‘I’ll be over soon love. Just going to make ma’ self a cooked breakfast’.

I had to laugh, Isabel had a hearty appetite as most Yorkshire folk do. No matter that my contractions were becoming stronger and were now 10 minutes apart. I put my boots on and went for a walk. The chickens and geese reminded me that it was their breakfast time. I threw them some corn and went up to the fields to check the cows. Every so often I’d have to hold on tight to a fence or a gate try to remember my breathing, try to relax through the wave of pain that was now gripping me harder and for longer as the minutes passed. I rested myself against the 5 bar gate and watched the cows lying chewing the cud in the early morning dew and thought of Ted Keighley. I had a talk to him and a little cry. ‘It’s the circle of life Ted’ ‘Yes’ he answered me ‘Now go and have your baby, the midwife has arrived’.

And so she had. Thump, rattle, thump, bang, bumpedy bump. I could hear Isabel’s beat up Citreon making itself down the track. She pulled into the yard and I went to greet her. ‘Bloody ‘ell Lottie, that’s 2 exhausts you now owe me and probably a couple of new tyres!’

She pulled her bag out from the back of the car and a large canister of entonox. ‘I’ve bought 2 just in case’ she said and winked at me.

The kettle was put on, but not for the reasons that they always do it in the movies. This was purely to slake Isabel’s and her assistant Ann, thirsts. By the time the last mug had been drained, and the contents of the biscuit tin demolished, Isabel deemed it time for us to make for the bedroom.

You were born in an old cast iron Victorian bed. It looked like something out of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Your dear, sweet Granny bought it for me years ago in a junk shop. The base springs were so old that the mattress used to have a permanent dip in the middle. Isabel sorted out the bed sheets and I paced around the room while your dad did what most dads do at these times which is to read the paper or a book. This stage is quite boring Theo and I don’t blame him in the least.

It wasn’t long before I took advantage of the gas and air. A few deep mouthfuls of it and I was feeling as high as a kite. I’d almost forgotten that I was meant to be giving birth until Isabel gently reminded me that it was getting to the stage where I needed to start pushing. When I say pushing, I really do mean pushing. This is why it’s called labour. It’s hard work. Through the numbness of the entonox I listened to the sheep calling to their lambs in the fields outside the bedroom window. I heard the curlews call up on the moor on the other side, and I could hear your dad and the midwives talking but I was lost in my world giving birth to you.

‘Now then, put some back into it lass, we don’t want that miserable doctor coming up here and saying “I told you so”. A bit more energy love, that’s it, just a few more of them pushes and it’ll be over’. I dug my nails hard into your dad’s hands but he never faltered, he never let go of my hands. ‘Here we go, here we go’ I heard Isabel saying whilst she instructed the other midwife to make sure that all clocks and watches were set on the right time.

And finally, at exactly five minutes past midday you were born. For the last few moments before you made your entrance I had closed my eyes, suddenly frightened. I’m not sure why. I came to with a shriek from Isabel. ‘Well, would you believe it! Bloody ‘heck, It’s a boy! It’s a boy Lottie! Open your eyes!’

In all of your life to date Theo, you will never have seen such joy as that of your sisters that afternoon when they raced back down the track, across the beck, through the woods and up to the bedroom. You will possibly also not have had 4 girls all at once asking if they can see your willy! Well I sincerely hope not.


%d bloggers like this: