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Archive for the ‘Columns 2000-2001’ Category

WE were all invited to a wedding on Saturday. The Hill family’s great dressing-up show involved reluctant and grumpy Geoff, clueless and harassed me, daughter returned from a year’s backpacking with not a decent stitch to wear, and stressed-out, exhausted son down from London with a suit in need of dry cleaning and a body craving fresh air and relaxation.

This was to be no laid-back, relaxed, country wedding, however. This was a military operation with brass knobs on (and in attendance). Centre stage were a dashing Army officer as the bridegroom and my pretty god-daughter as the bride.

Marching around them in perfectly drilled formation were small platoons of ushers, bridesmaids and assorted flunkeys being indispensable.

Milling chaotically on the periphery were families like us: mothers wrestling with drifts of flyaway chiffon and self-conscious in hats, fathers uncomfortable in funeral suits and shoes, and offspring wishing they were anywhere but here with their parents.

The planning that must have gone into this event would probably have equated with what went on in all the high-tech ops rooms around the land when Mrs Thatcher decided Britain should recapture the Falklands.

However, like the Falklands, a few unseen obstacles to a seamless campaign soon became apparent.

On Saturday, you may remember, it rained. Where we were it rained not only cats and dogs but very large elephants as well.

This meant that by the time everyone was mustered at 1500 hours in the church there was a great deal of steam rising from hot, wet bodies that had made a mad dash from the cars parked in the field opposite, and there was a veritable battalion of dripping umbrellas lined up in the porch.

Another little Falklands-style hiccup was the ancient cleric, a family friend winkled out of retirement for the day, who gave the address. He spoke for about ten minutes and said absolutely nothing that made an iota of sense to anyone. Now I know who that lovely rose, Rambling Rector, was named after.

There were more verbal problems at the reception, where the speeches lasted a bottom-numbing one hour 17 minutes (Geoff’s watch has a timer).

From our table we could hear about one word in ten of what the speech-makers were saying, the rest drowned out by a mixture of bad acoustics and the drumming of rain on the roof.

The best man took our table’s prize as the main culprit. Despite his long-winded and much-rehearsed efforts we laughed loudest at the wag who sent the whisper round our table: “What’s the difference between the M1 and the best man?” Answer: “You can turn off the M1.”

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YOU know that moment of blankness, that split second when the fog descends and wraps you in an impenetrable state of helplessness. You are usually standing at the top of the stairs, or in front of an open cupboard.

Why, why, your brain pleads, why am I standing here? What impulse brought me here, full of purpose, only to abandon me?

Like a toddler with its nappy round its ankles, you stand rooted to the spot, slightly amused by this predicament of your own making but incapable of deciding what to do next.

For you, there is no kind mummy to pick you up and sort out the muddle, no caressing and chucking under the chin while sharing the silly joke.

This is serious. This is the ‘what am I doing here?’ syndrome and, as far as I can tell, it strikes indiscriminately. You are just as likely to be afflicted by it at the age of 25 as you might at 85, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you are female or male.

How many times did I tramp up the stairs last Friday, only to stare blankly at the landing wall as I struggled to remember what had brought me there? Just three. On the fourth journey, after chanting ‘towel, towel, towel,’ to myself, I finally remembered and walked confidently to the airing cupboard.

The blankness can sometimes descend when I’m speaking. I hear my voice and, while I’m still talking, I begin to panic inside and wonder where the sentence is going and what it was I wanted to say. It all peters out in a pink-faced muddle with lots of hand-flapping. From my research (actually, just asking a friend) it seems I am not the only one with this ability to interrupt and hijack my own train of thought.

It was the same friend who told me about her best ‘what am I doing here?’ experience.

She was at home writing a letter one evening and the rest of the family was away. She went upstairs to get an envelope from the desk in the spare bedroom.

At the top of the stairs the fog fell and the brain emptied. What am I here for? No amount of head-pummelling could produce the answer, so, feeling tired and finding herself by this time in her own bedroom, she got ready for bed and turned in for the night.

The next morning when she went downstairs she thought she had been burgled. The lights were still on, the radio still playing and it looked as though intruders had really made themselves at home.

Then she remembered.

And don’t we all understand – and sympathise?

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WHO are these people whose freezers look and behave like the ones in adverts?

I mean, their freezers always seem to have room in them for that gorgeous little dessert they’ve just whipped up, sweetie, or that side of lamb Jeremy bought for a fiver from that quaint little chap in the pub. They knock up pies and cakes and buns and great vats of soup, all of which get neatly labelled and stowed in the great bottomless pit that is the freezer of my dreams.

And what is my freezer in reality? It is a sad little inadequate, bought second-hand many moons ago, when I was going through a stage of resisting the home-maker label and trying to ‘do’ fresh in a big way.

The concession to freezer ownership was this apology, which skulks in a draughty corner with its door pinging open from time to time because of the great build-up of pressure from inside.

I stuff its innards, showing no mercy, ramming home bags of peas and prawns, pushing and forcing and finally barging the door shut with my bottom.

Imagine my amazement, then, when a friend asked me if I had my freezer full of goodies for Christmas.

Well, I spluttered, it’s certainly full, but I couldn’t tell you what’s in there and whether any of it would be suitable for Christmas.

She was imagining that my preparations for the hordes who are to descend on us for supper on Boxing Day would have involved buying lots of grub and ‘putting it down’, as my late mother-in-law would have it.

 No. My preparations have involved a lot of silent panicking while lying in bed and staring into the blackness at 4 o’clock in the morning.

They have also involved ignoring the vast displays of party platters and ‘nice’n’easy catering packs in the supermarkets. I’m not serving any of that, I say, because I’ll be making it all myself. Huh, fat chance. The only thing I have time for is making a mess.

And now we’re nearly there – the invasion forces are mustering on the north-west flank.

I approach the freezer timidly.

Beyond the bulging bags of peas and prawns I glimpse shadowy shapes that could be my salvation. But I can’t go into the unknown all on my own.

Come on, Delia, you’re in this with me.

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MY glass will be raised this Christmas to all those teachers who have been involved in end-of-term productions.

You know who they are. They’re the ones with a ghostly pallor, wild, staring eyes and red-raw knees. They are the ones who are so exhausted by the trauma of coaching, cajoling and pacifying hysterical little angels and shepherds that sleep will only come in ten-minute cat-naps during the day.

They are also the ones who can be seen beating time to muzak in the stores and mouthing words to all the synthesised carols because their brains have been programmed to be all-knowing but not to join in.

Their knees are wrecked for life because they have spent so many hours sledging along floors from where they have pinned hems, conducted choirs, hissed out lost words to a confused innkeeper, mopped up unmentionables, soothed temperamental Key Stage 1 chorus lines and operated dodgy, way-past-their-best tape recorders.

Then, when they eventually manage to stand upright, they are expected to look eager and bright and be able to engage in meaningful conversation with parents who have come to see their little darlings under the spotlight.

My heart – and my enduring admiration – goes out to all these teachers. They are, without doubt, the real stars of the Christmas plays.

What they achieve, from such desperately unpromising material, is truly amazing.

I saw what this was when I had the privilege of watching a nativity play at a little school just outside Salisbury last week.

A large number of small children with 100 times more enthusiasm than talent entertained an audience of 120 to an evening of sheer enchantment.

I, certainly, will never forget it and I’m sure the children won’t, either.

My fear is that for different reasons the memories will linger in the teachers’ minds for far too long.

I just hope that the boxes of After Eight and the Yardley gift sets of bath cubes and talc with which they are showered at term’s end will help wipe away the bad bits of memory and put glitter and sparkle on the good bits.

Thank you – and have a great Christmas everyone.

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I’M a sucker for a nice Christmas card. I like to choose bright and cheerful ones, not too soppy and sentimental and definitely not the sort with nail file tendencies caused by an inadequate­ly-glued swathe of glitter.

Some people get a bit jumpy if they receive cards with a strong religious message.

I don’t object to that, but I do give a wide berth to the ones with cutesy kittens and winsome pup­pies.

What is their role in this Christmas business, I ask myself, other than to get over-excited and throw up on someone’s new slippers?

My favourites are interesting winter landscapes with or without wildlife in evidence (snow scenes give me a cosy glow when I’m in the comfort of my home) and, my chart-topper of last year, a glo­rious profusion of Tibetan prayer flags – enough to instill a desire for love, harmony and world peace into the hardest of hearts.

For Christmas 2001 the Hill household is send­ing a variety of cards, all bought to beneift one charity or another – and all, I am very sorry to say, still in their cellophane packets awaiting attention.

You see I do know how important it is to get the cards done early. I do know there is a last posting date and the Post Office (or whatever it’s called this week) always urges us lazy types to get a move on or hell and damnation will assuredly come to call and Santa will give us a wide berth.

So I choose the cards, buy them, admire them for some time, look out last year’s list of lucky recipients, consult address books, admire the cards again, buy some more, think about buying some stamps . . . and still the cards sit there in their reproachful heaps, waiting for the Sickeningly Well-Organised Fairy to get them written, posted and on their way to their new homes.

Quite a large number of these fairies have been busy already, but in other people’s homes and not mine.

Consequently, we are now receiving a steady flow of cards each day, from such far-flung points of the globe as Singapore, Australia, California and Amesbury.

Some contain long and jolly missives detailing recent achievements of offspring, grannies and best-friends-once-removed. The word processor has a lot to answer for.

I can’t get my head round this. Do our friends really want to know that our son has  . . . oh no, I’m quite sure they don’t.

So there’ll be no neatly-typed letters packed full of news – and at this rate probably no cards either. Help!

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WHEN friends from Devon rang to say they were going to be in the area on Sunday and would we like to meet for lunch, of course we said yes.

For me it meant a meal I didn’t have to cook, and for Geoff it meant a meal he could probably enjoy because I hadn’t cooked it. For both of us, it meant a few hours in the lovely, lively company of our friends in one of south Wiltshire’s better-known pubs-that-do-food.

When the four of us met at the appointed hour of 12.30pm we found a table without a problem, but ordering food was somewhat trickier.

There was one terribly harassed young man behind the bar trying to serve drinks, take food orders and perform the hundred and one other tasks demanded of someone employed in a pub which appears more interested in its profit margins than the service it provides.

When our food finally arrived it was lukewarm because it had been taken on an extended tour of the premises being offered to all and sundry. When no-one claimed it and it finally shipped up at our table, we fell on it with some relief (not literally, you understand).

Actually, falling on it from a great height would probably have done the meal a power of good. Pulverising it and scraping the whole horrid lot straight into a waste bin would have done us a power of good, too.

Geoff and David both said they had never had a more unpleasant roast meal in their lives. Gail had a pasta dish that was so dry it must have been reheated several times in the past fortnight, and I had a goat’s cheese salad that was covered in bits of black shrapnel that may once have been onion.

It wasn’t cheap, either. But because we’re British and we don’t complain, we paid, of course, and just vowed that we would never go there again.

We were about to go when a weary young waiter (looking as though he had slept for some months in his T-shirt and jeans) appeared with a tray of coffee and crashed it on to our table.

We didn’t order coffee, we told him.

Well, he said, I don’t know who did so you’d better have it.

We had little choice but to relieve him of his burden.

Ah, but here’s the final insult. We are a table of four. Here is the coffee. There are only two cups.

It was just that kind of a day.

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HOW long can it possibly take to shake off a cold?

Here I am, on Day 11, unable to speak without sounding like Fenella Fielding’s Liverpudlian great-aunt, unable to go anywhere without a tissue clamped to my face, and still needing regular infusions of hot, soothing drinks.

The common perception of a cold is no more than a bit of a runny nose. It seems unfair that my epic performance should be bracketed with something as wimpy as a snuffle.

Round about Day 6 I decided I had caught my mother’s flu jab, and thought it might aid my recovery if I could lay a bit of the blame at her door.

But in the end I didn’t have the heart, especially as I realised it would be a long time before I had enough strength to explain to her that I didn’t really mean it.

Being confined to the house for so long, including two days of total sloth in dressing-gown, slippers and granny-style tartan rug, meant a severe clipping of the wings.

I read a lot and dozed even more, I counted the layers of dust on various surfaces beside my bed and the sofa, I wrote illegible letters and mis-spelt e-mails to all and sundry and I thought, several times, what a shame it was that I hadn’t yet bought any Christmas cards because I could be getting them all sorted and ready for sending before the last posting day, for the first time ever.

All this enforced inactivity caused me once, just once, to switch the television on at about 8.45 one morning. It was on Channel 4 and it was called Big Breakfast and it made me feel very old, very out of touch and very deaf because everyone was shouting. I became very frightened and switched it off.

Happily, I can report that I have not felt ill enough to watch anything else during the day, so programmes like Countdown and Watercolour Challenge (what on earth can that be?) have still not entered my little world.

However, if this goes on much longer and I find myself on the brink of pulling my hair out with boredom, I might just take a peep at the Teletubbies.

If nothing else, they might make me feel better about my figure.

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