Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Builders.


Milk and one. Milk and two. Milk and three. Milk and four. Strong and black. Strong and white. Black with no. Just some water. Do you have fizzy? Have you got a biscuit to go with that, love? Hahahahaha. 

Directed at my boobs not at my face. Flirting. Joking. Friendly. Moody. Condescending. Sarcastic. Lying. Educated. Rude. Polite. Not educated. Good English. Bad English. Helpful. Not helpful. White. Black. British. Polish. Italian. English. Crap at spelling.

Late. Postponed. No reply. Just coming. On the way. Terrible traffic. Looks bad. Worse than I thought. Cost you more. What a comedian. Parking permit. Bum crack. Beer belly. Dirty boots. Loose rubbish dumped in the bin/garden/road. Just nipping out for supplies...

If any of that is familiar then you too have had builders in. I've had a bellyful in the last year. I could write a book. Lucky for you this is only a blog post, but still, you can count it as therapy. My therapy. For free.



Builders at the top of our garden having a nice sit down.

Are we unlucky or are all workmen in London unreliable porky pie merchants who can't look you in the eye and tell you the truth for toffee? Or even for a nice sweet cup of tea and a load of tax-free cash stuffed in an envelope?

Maybe that's a bit strong, like most of the tea I've been brewing. I know I annoyed someone by writing that all builders are wankers on Facebook recently but in my defence I was at the end of my tether, and I'm not even friends with any builders on Facebook, unless some of my 'friends' are moonlighting behind my back, which they could be I suppose because God knows there's money in it. Loadsamoney.

On that particular occasion a builder had just decided to charge us extra for tidying up the mess he made of our neighbour's wall. He'd already been paid a princely sum for the job which, it turned out, took him only a couple of hours and not the whole day he had predicted. So did he reduce his price? Did he hecklers like: he charged us more.

And that is a mere trifle compared to some of the cock ups, like getting the main load-bearing steel wrong for the new kitchen extension. Twice. And lying about it. To the building inspector. And us. Or laying a concrete floor that wasn't level and didn't set properly so it all had to come up, all 50 square meters of it, back through the front door because we live in a terrace. I reckon most of that floor is still in my lungs, which is why I succumbed to asthma at the time and have since had a bad bout of bronchitis.

And then there was the decorator who was engaged to paint the woodwork on the front of our house, who out-sourced the job without telling us, didn't watch what was going on, and was responsible for all our beloved Virginia Creeper being ripped off while we were away, when we expressly asked for it to stay, and then the front door key went missing. When I asked for the key back pronto in a text message, he sent an instant reply that said… actually I'll copy and paste you exactly what it said because it's priceless - 

"Key, no, need to pick up from epsom hospital. The last decorator had an hart atack on Sunday he has it on his key ring with him… Will getnit back as soon as visiting hours are alawed." 

All sic by the way, and English is his first language. He comes from Guildford. He went to a private school.

The good news is we are nearly at the end of it all, for now. We moved into this house seven years ago and are nearing completion of the first pass: where every inch will finally have been painted, carpeted, mended, wired, plumbed or generally renovated and brought up to scratch at least once. And then we will need to start again with what we did at the beginning. 

And finally, after all those builders and scaffolders and roofers and plumbers and electricians and carpenters, we have just hit upon someone who is actually good. Really good. Someone who ran a tidy team, operating like a silent disco for decorators, all of them listening to Radio 4 individually on their headphones, discreetly creeping from hall to stair to landing, brushes softly stroking walls in unison with glistening pristine emulsion, who when I asked if they wanted a cuppa variously replied: not really, no thanks, that's okay, er, do you have any Red Bush at all?

I have glimpsed the future of workmen and it has no workmen in it. It is a future that is tidy, reliable, quiet, intelligent, considerate, not in the least flirty and tidies up after itself at the end of the day. A future in which, if you put a pile of washing on the bottom of your stairs to go up, one of them notices and takes it up for you. Yes, that's right, you guessed it: it's a team of work-women. The future, my friend, is FEMALE to a man.

E x 

So shoot me if I'm being sexist I don't care. I am the mother of three sons. They are wonderful. I adore them. Do I ever want them to decorate my hall and stairs? No. 



Newly painted book shelves on the landing.


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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Someone of my close aquaintance gets a job.


The master plan to stay in London for the sake of the children has paid off as one of them lands a full-time job working for a company in Soho for a year. 

I won’t say which one, for all you know I could be talking about Youngest, or Middle One, except of course that the law requires them to be in full-time education. So let’s just say I'm referring to an 18 year-old of my close acquaintance. An 18 year-old who just did very well in his A’ Levels and has decided to take a year off before going to university. One who will not now be lounging around on the sofa all day playing guitar, watching endless re-runs of Top Gear, getting under my feet, deciding to fry himself bacon covered in brown sugar for lunch at four in the afternoon, just after I’ve cleared and swept and put the rubbish out and the dishwasher is quietly humming to itself and I'm having a moment of fleeting domestic satisfaction. So obviously this is an 18 year-old of my very close acquaintance. 

He could be a lodger or a nephew who happens to be living with us because his parents are posted abroad, say, or one of those sad homeless types who comes round selling rubbish cloths and dusters at exorbitant prices on the doorstep and who, out of the goodness of my heart, because I am exactly this sort of impulsive philanthropic Dr. Barnardo-type, I have decided to take in off the street, give bed and board, and allow to raid the family fridge at will. Just use your imagination.

Anyway, I am now free to have such moments described above, all to myself. In fact, I reckon I am freer now I have been since June 1996, when I had my first baby. Sorry, the baby I found on the doorstep and took in. 

Think about it. There are no pre-school children at home. No primary school runs. No children on ‘study leave’ (if ever there was a misnomer that is it), just the hilarious Middle One and Youngest comedy duo, who head off to secondary school together each morning, one nearly 6 foot tall, long hair, loping gait, the other less than half his height, shaggy mop top, cheeky rejoinder, a recent example -  

Me: "And that is the end of my pep talk for today.
Youngest: "I think I missed the beginning."
Me: "Well he can fill you in on the way to school."
Youngest, to his brother, just as door clicks: "Please don't.

And now, of course, there are TWO workers leaving the house: Husband and this 18 year-old I speak of, heading off in the opposite direction, one on his bike, one to the Tube, leaving me to get on with my stuff – lots of staring out of the window then.

No, actually, not so much of the staring at the moment, some real work. And not just writing articles and blogging, which inexplicably those around me don’t seem to regard as work, probably because I can do it in my dressing gown. 

I have some of the other work I do, in fact it's possible I am constrained from mentioning it due to client confidentiality or something, so let’s just say that my lovely mate Pat and I are currently charged with making a stirring video, all hearts and minds stuff, for a very large national organisation dealing in health. Well it's national at the moment, just about.



A Polaroid, remember those? Taken on a shoot with Pat, rather a long time ago.

I think this is the work I am charged with anyway, I'm waiting for the full brief, currently living in that happy limbo when you know you have paid employment, indeed you have spent the fee already in your head, but don’t have to do anything yet. At some point people are going to expect stuff: ideas, emails, recces, etc, and then I will start waking at five in the morning wondering what I have got myself into - but not yet.

Interesting that this 18 year-old I speak of has 
a job working in this same profession and wants to study Film at university in due course, and fortunate that he can take a low paid job on the bottom of the ladder to learn the craft in his gap year because he is still living at home. Things were very different for Husband and I when we first moved to London in the late 80s. Then we struggled to find somewhere affordable to live, taking soul-sapping temping jobs to keep the wolf from the door as, in my case, I tried to find a way in to TV. 

It was a lovely theatrical agent who let me pretend to type in her hilariously ramshackle office, high on the corner of Cambridge Circus there, overlooking the entrance to Leicester Square Tube, who took pity on me and herself - I think she really needed a competent assistant who could actually type - and found a proper job for me to apply for, in publishing, which in due course led to a job at BBC Enterprises, which led to applying for a training attachment as a director in the children’s television department, which led to… well, you get the picture.



First job. At a work do. Even longer ago. Tbh I've only included this because I look nice. 

For a while Husband and I shacked up (his term) in a couple of rooms in large house in Herne Hill. We paid rent in cash, a week in advance, to the live-in landlady who was the mother of a friend from uni. When Husband was posted to France for a year as part of his degree and we had to leave, we did a mid-day flit to avoid paying the whole of the next week's money. I thought we left the place immaculate, but it turned out Husband had left our half-eaten Sunday roast chicken behind in her oven (that's not a euphemism). She wrote to my mother to complain. We knew how to eat well even then. 

And so began a tricky itinerant phase for me, which briefly included moving in to The Royal Free Hospital doctor's wing (I had an ex-boyfriend who was a medic there and he didn't need his room), when my entire 'vinyl' collection got nicked as Husband and a mate left it unattended propping open a door. To be honest I've never got over that.

Because we found it hard so to get established in London, both home-wise and job-wise, Husband and I thought if we ever managed to have a house here, we should cling to it for dear life so our children might be afforded the luxury of living in it while trying to sort themselves out. 

It's nice that occasionally things go according to plan, and very nice that we have one more full year with this 18 year-old of our very close acquaintance. We've grown rather fond of him over the years. Almost as fond, you might say, as if he were one of our own.


Love E x

P.S. Thank you to all you lovely readers, especially the new ones. I try to blog weekly but it's not always on the same day so do keep looking, or follow me on Twitter to find it.

@DOESNOTDOIT

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

How To Be A Wife.


September 2nd 1995

My never-ending tribute to Tim Dowling continues. People will start to talk. Well if he can write about his marriage then I can write about mine, especially since today is our 19th wedding anniversary. Husband and I, that is, not Tim Dowling and I.

Only 19 years? I hear you say. Yes, but that’s 19 years married, 29 years together. Next year will be a big one for us: twenty years married and thirty years together. Thirty years! As Husband says, you get less for murder. We will have to have a party. Want to come? You’re all invited.

So, with 19 years under our belts, what is the secret of happily married life? I have no idea because I only have this marriage to draw on. Ha Ha. No, really, there must be something that makes it work, apart from sheer laziness on our parts to do anything except stay together. 

Well, for a start, the fact that we have been together for so long becomes one of the reasons we stay together. You know, we must be doing something right, look, we’re still here! I can’t speak for Husband (well I can actually, I do it all the time) but I can’t imagine NOT being married to him. 

Somehow, despite the rather random way we got together (I'll come to that) and the fact that we have virtually nothing in common (and I'll come to that too), we have made a life together and, more importantly, a happy family unit that feels like a solid thing. I cannot imagine wanting to break or re-form that unit into anything else for anything in the world. I know people do it all the time, they meet new people and they move on and their families become ‘blended’ (horrible word) and they seem happy about it, for the most part, and I don’t want to tempt fate or anything, I remember Paula Yates wrote a book about how to make a marriage work when she was with Bob Geldoff, and look what happened to her, but that's it in a nutshell for me: we've created something which ain't broke after all these years, so let's not try and fix it. Not very romantic, but apparently people who take a more pragmatic view are more likely to see their relationships succeed than those looking for everything to be perfect with ‘the one’, that and having a joint bank account or something, read T. D.’s book, he knows. 

But one thing I can attribute our success to is Husband's helpfulness. Our marriage may have unexpectedly morphed into a 1950s cliche somewhere along the line, with me at home putting dinner on the table and him bringing in the bacon, or the biggest slice of it, but his willingness to roll up his sleeves the minute he gets in from work, helping with all things domestic, from loading the dishwasher (I think it's true that men who do this get more sex) to picking up a child from tennis, has made him deeply loveable and - I think this bit is his strategy - apparently irreplaceable. Anyway, enough gushing, here are a few ways in which Husband and I are completely different. 

We have never read the same book, except maybe The Diary of a Nobody, and possibly Frankenstein. He reads a lot, probably more than me, but mostly history and other stuff written by men, and French. We don’t like the same music either, except maybe for a few classical things. He has very unusual taste, American R & B, pre-Fifties a lot of it, and a vast knowledge of classical music. He and the boys hog the devices that make music happen in this house, and they know how to get them to work, so I don't get much of a look in. I love The Beatles, Husband doesn’t. To me this is nothing short of tragic.

I like art, going to art galleries, interiors, design, the theatre, films. I especially love films. I like TV and fashion and Italy and romance and candlelight and hand-painted tableware and dinner parties and friends and chatting and socialising and Radio 4 and The Guardian and organising stuff and gardening and holidays and writing. Mmmm.

Husband doesn’t like any of that much. He hates films. He doesn’t really watch TV. He would never go on Facebook or Twitter let alone blog, I don't even think he's on LinkedIn. He’s not interested in interiors or fashion, although he knows what he likes. He does like architecture and Italy, I suppose. He’s happy to travel in Europe, particularly western and central Europe but has no desire to go further afield. He is crazy about his retro push bike (it’s a Pashley Guv'nor, don’t ask me), so much so that I find him chatting to complete strangers on online forums about hubs and sprockets. Now if it was porn I would understand it.

We met at a student house party in Norwich in 1985. I had just split up with my boyfriend from home, everyone was ‘getting off’ with someone except me, my friend Manesh said, “Is there no one here you fancy, Liz?” and I looked around and saw a guy leading a group of wide-eyed Freshers in his game of ‘let’s see if we can keep ourselves up off the floor’ in a narrow corridor off the kitchen. They all had their feet on one wall and their backs on another and now I come to think about it this is exactly the sort of silly, immature, pointless thing that girls looking for nice boys should be wary of. It smacked of a lack of seriousness, it foretold of boy-children who would get up to the same sort of shenanigans in years to come, it was, almost literally, the writing on the wall. And I chose to ignore it because he had a great Nick Kamen quiff.



in 1985, shortly after we met

He was a first year French student and I was second year English Literature and Film Studies student, which makes me sound like a cradle-snatcher when I wasn’t because he had taken several years off before coming to UEA, living an exotic independent life. Not travelling around South America as youngsters do nowadays or building huts for destitute villagers in Borneo, but bunking down in a high-rise block of flats in Catford with a Jive and Rockabilly DJ called Rohan, learning how to perfect the aforementioned quiff. In my defence this was the 80s. Plus he had a south London accent and rather uncouth manners and was therefore the antithesis of what my mother would have hoped for, or so I thought at the time, which was all that mattered. 

I was disappointed to later learn that he’d gone to a posh boarding school. I very nearly had to ditch the whole project for this reason, since it didn’t fit with my high-minded socialist principles, but luckily it turned out he went on a full scholarship because he was penniless and came from a broken home. Hooray.

Anyway, that’s it. That was 29 years ago this Autumn. We have been together ever since. We have a few things in common. We are both homebodies, we love our house. We also love to cook and eat and drink, family meals are a big thing for us. We love to stay in watching The Great British Bake Off or Strictly Come Dancing, which I think surprises Husband even more than it does me. We love London, and parks, and the countryside, and walking in all of them. We like to read newspapers, even if they are not the same ones. Family life is everything. We are both devoted to our three boys and would do anything and everything for them, and often, it seems, we do.

And today we're off out for some lunch together in Chelsea, where Husband is currently working. If it feels a long way from Norwich in 1985, that's because it is.

Love E x



going to a 40th

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Holiday A to Z.


A – is for sitting on your arse. Do this as much as possible. There are families who do a lot on holiday: tennis, surfing, diving, walking, that sort of thing. We are not one of these. We are brilliant at not doing very much, and in this we are united. Our kids do not wake up, as I hear others do, demanding, “What are we doing today?” Ours wake up asking, anxiously, “We’re not doing anything, are we?” and we don’t like to disappoint. After years of trial and error we have hit upon the perfect ingredients for a perfect day: a late start, a long breakfast, a bit of pool/reading, a long lunch, maybe the odd DVD, more pool, some ball games on the lawn, a game of cards, getting showered and changed and then walking somewhere for dinner, along with lots of chat. (See disclaimer below *)

Having said that we do go out for trips, occasionally. It’s all about getting the ratio right, about three to one. So far we’ve done: a boat trip, a drive to southwesternmost point, a couple of beaches and a lake. We have an inland village to go.

B – is for beach. Go and sit on one now and again, but not too often, opt for ones with hardly anyone on them. So far this holiday we have been to the beach twice (if you don’t count walking along it at night to get to the restaurants and the kids playing on it in the evening while we are waiting for food to arrive). Each time we go to the beach lunch figures in a big way. We have a slap up meal, which takes about three hours and then we and sit on the beach and have a swim, for about an hour.



C – is for crisps. You are on holiday so I reckon you are allowed to eat them everyday with your aperitif. Eldest likes salted pistachios, which compared with what the rest of us eat is a health food.




D – is for dinner. This year Husband announced that we should eat out a lot and I didn’t argue. We have eaten out so much that we gave ourselves a night off last night and I cooked. “It’s so nice not to go out for a change,” I found myself saying. Which was odd. I've eaten seafood everyday so far. Here is some crab...



E – is for Euros. They are the devil’s work. I don’t deal with them. All foreign money is voodoo. Husband carries the cash or his Caxton card (like a debit card but no transaction fees and you can use it to withdraw cash from machines). I ask for money on a need-to-spend basis, which hardly ever occurs because all we buy is food, oh and crap that the children demand every time we walk past one of those tourist-trap market stalls selling carved elephants. Husband is ridiculously indulgent: I turn a blind eye.

F – try to do it as much as possible it will keep Husband in a good mood, and his good mood will benefit the whole family.

G – is for games for all the family. We have travel Scrabble and Cluedo with us this year and we have also been playing a card game at the dinner table while waiting for the food to arrive in restaurants (it takes hours to arrive everywhere we go), consequently the cards have acquired a nasty sticky quality and several are missing. Middle One introduced us to this game called Cheat which he is brilliant at it because he mentally keeps track of all the cards when no one else can be bothered (or in my case, is able). Now he is severely thwarted by the fact that we have lost some of the cards and so does not win every time. Ha!

H – is for hats. Wear a hat in the sun and make sure your children wear one. Husband hasn’t got one because he can’t find one to fit his enormous head.

I – is for indolence, also see ‘A’

J – is for jacket. You don’t need it. Every year I pack one because I just can’t imagine what hot weather is really like. Leave it at home. It’s going to be 38 degrees today.

K – is for kitchen. I actually like cooking on holiday, as long as there isn’t too much of it, but now that I have a fabulous new kitchen at home the one on holiday is a poor substitute and I’m struggling to get enough heat from the hob - but at least it isn’t one of those awful convection ones. Bleugh.

L – is for lying around on the sun-lounger as much as possible. I’m doing it right now. “It’s quite hard to type my blog while lying on this lounger,” I just said to Husband. “Middle Class Problem,” said Husband.

M – is for mosquitoes. Don’t tolerate them. This holiday has been very short on mosquitoes, which is fantastic and probably because we are by the sea and it’s quite windy. Having spent a good many holidays in Italy (I love Italy, I would quite happily go to Italy every year but we like to mix it up for the kids) we are accustomed to being bitten to death and so I now travel everywhere with a bag full of plug-in anti-mossie devices and enough creams and sprays to stock a small pharmacy. Like with the jacket, I think these are acting as an insurance policy.

N – is for nightlife. Stay away from it. The only exception being if the local village is having a festival, in which case you must drag your reluctant husband and three boys along. Okay so they will kick and scream and moan and then sit with their arms folded scowling at you at the very edge of the medieval square as you throw yourself into the merriment with gay abandon, but do not let this cast a dampener on proceedings. They will hold it against you for rest of eternity but you had a good time for that one half-hour, and that’s all that matters.

O – is for "Obrigada”, the only word of Portuguese I know. Also see "Obrigado" for if you are male, but for obvious reasons I don’t need this.

P – is for pastries. They have these abroad and they are always good. Each country has its own type. Seek it out and eat them in copious quantities. Here in Portugal they have Pastel De Nata. Delicious. Custard tarts where I come from.



Q – is for queuing. Abandon all hope when abroad because they don’t know how to do it, even the Brits opt in to the chaotic foreign free-for-all. If caught pushing in at the supermarket queue, feign stupidity. For some reason the locals will be only too willing to believe you are a half-wit.

R – is for reading. Do a lot of this (see last blog). Take real books because Kindle is for weirdos. Re-order books from Amazon in the UK, at vast expense, if you run out and then spend most of the rest of your holiday waiting for the package to arrive (this is our current state of affairs).



S – is for suncream. Smother yourself and your children in it. You must assume that your husband is applying his own even if previous experience tells you this is unlikely to be the case, this is his look-out. Bring it with you from the UK because it is one million times cheaper.

T – is for tidying up. Don’t bother with it. You do enough of this at home and a holiday house can only get so messy with a mere hundredth of your usual crap in it. Having said that it is remarkable how much mess one family can make with a load of discarded pants, an up-ended packet of Cocoa Pops and a pack of sticky playing cards.

U – is for umbrella. Bring one from the UK for in case it rains, this will guarantee that it doesn’t (as with this year). Sit under a sun umbrella at all times. I’m under one now.

V – is for view. Insist on a great one from your accommodation if at all possible, which is hard to marry with being walking distance from the village/shops/restaurants. We have had houses with stunning views these last few years, and one house that ticked both boxes with an amazing view and the local village within walking distance. This year we opted for fairly good view of sea with walk-able restaurants. For Husband it is not a holiday if he has to constantly get in the car when we go out to eat, and it means he can’t drink. Fair enough. I refuse to drive a hire car unless it is an emergency.

W – is for weather. Go where there is some. Last year we went to the Ardeche, in France, which was stunning and mostly sunny but there were a few days of… CLOUD. I hate cloud on holiday. There is little so depressing as being in a holiday house with three children in bad weather. This year we are in Portugal for the seaside and the weather. Blazing sunshine, blue sky, every day, not a single cloud. This is exactly what we signed up for.

X – is for x-rated, also see ‘F’.

Y – is for yelling. Don’t allow it. No arguments on holiday. If you sort out the ‘F’ and the ‘X; it will help with this immeasurably.

Z – is for Zs, as in shut-eye, forty-winks, a long lie in, an early night, sleep, sleep, precious sleep. Make sure you get lots.


Love E x


* Okay, so we did go skiing for the first time earlier this year and we did some kayaking last summer hols, which was fantastic. But mostly we are lazy as hell.

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

How To Have A Holiday


We have arrived on holiday so obviously I’m exhausted. This is because, as all parents know, the first few days of a self-catering family holiday are an endurance test.

After enduring the hell that is packing and the hell that is Gatwick airport on a Saturday in August, and the hell that is the procuring and driving of a hire car, followed by the hell that is finding your accommodation, you then have to find somewhere to eat because you have no food, and this can also be hell with a h-angry husband, three h-angry children, and no idea where to go.

Fortunately this year it wasn’t because a friend had recommended a restaurant and a clever brother-in-law, who speaks Portuguese, among other languages, had booked it for us from England before we arrived.

Still, I thought the first night at the restaurant on the beach, after all that packing and travelling, which actually wasn’t hell this time, just a bit tiring, was the perfect moment to end my self-imposed period of alcohol abstinence (31 days) with half a beer. Here it is…


Day Two, beginning on this occasion with a stunning bougainvillea-fringed glimpse of the Atlantic from our bedroom window, usually offers the prospect of more hell in the shape of a trip to a busy foreign supermarket. And this Day Two was no exception. A holiday with three boys, who are 18, 15 and 12, revolves around food.

I suppose the holiday supermarket hell is marginally better now than it used to be when the boys were little. Then we had no choice but to drag them around the aisles with us, where they would bicker and kick each other incessantly, while also sneaking extra large bags of crisps and chocolate cereal products into the trolley when our backs were turned trying to decipher food labels. Whereas now they are mature and considerate enough to stay behind at the villa asleep in bed while we do all this without them. Progress.

Which brings me here, post-epic supermarket shop, post-first swim in the pool, arms feeling like jelly, wondering how I did all those pounding laps last year (am I officially too old now? has it happened?). Tired of limb and heavy of eyelid, I am lying on a sun lounger watching these three male children, whom I love more than life itself, throw themselves and each other into a small strip of water, surrounding by unforgiving concrete, in a manner that looks as if one ill-judged leap could end in paraplegia, which of course it could.


I have a book to read, I always have a book to read on holiday, whole piles of them. I dashed off Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life before we came, which was brilliant, and this next slip of a thing, which I am about to finish, having begun it on the plane yesterday, is columnist Tim Dowling’s How To Be A Husband.

There must be some sort of law requiring columnists to write books with How To in the title. I’ve read Giles Coren’s How To Eat Out (really enjoyed that) and Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, of course, so now it’s T.D.’s turn. I imagine the conversation with his agent, “You must write a How To book, Tim. Everybody is doing it.”


Actually I think it’s a curious title for a book that will no doubt mostly be read by women, and which, from what I’ve read so far, doesn’t include a great deal about how to be a husband but does tell us something about how to be Tim Dowling, but only as much as he wants us to know, which I happen to think is just short of enough.

Anyway, hats off to the fella because he’s somehow pulling off the trick of writing about hot topics, such as sex in marriage, without telling the reader anything much, plus he letting it be known how much he loves his wife, while simultaneously slagging her off.

I suppose he’s stuck between a rock and hard place. He needs money, he tells us this; he must think of something to write about in order to earn some, his family is the easiest and closest subject to hand, but they aren’t just going to roll over and give him carte blanch to write whatever he wants, indeed his wife’s hovering presence is almost palpable, and he can’t bang on about how great she is because that would look immodest and embarrass her, so he tells us that she’s awful and leaves us to work out that he’s actually fibbing, or at least guilty of huge omissions, and that his wife is, of course, lovely. (I happen to know that she is lovely because someone I know knows someone who knows her and they say that she is, three degrees of separation, and not six, working nicely there.) So really the book is just one long humble-brag.

I think his best bits are about what it’s like to be the father of three boys. He certainly appears more comfortable writing about his children than about his marriage, perhaps because he doesn’t have them hovering around his right shoulder. So maybe he should have called the book How To Be A Father, or better still, How To Be Tim Dowling?

Anyway, despite the book having the tiniest air of something conceived from a list of topics written on the back of an envelope in the pub, or things from his column, I am a nosy person (see last blog entry) and every now and again he gives us a proper sneaky peek into his life and/or writes something I can relate to…

“He suffers from Nameless Dread!” I say, reading out the relevant passage to my men folk.

 “Who does?” they say.

“Tim Dowling,” I say.

“Mummy loves Tim Dowling,” Youngest says.

“Is that the guy who plays the banjo?” Middle One says.

“Not very elegant prose,” Husband says.

“He sounds like a girl,” Eldest says.

Obviously I don’t love Tim Dowling. I have never met Tim Dowling. I certainly love reading his column, but then I love reading a number of columns. Possibly I love successful columnists in the same way that an aspiring amateur footballer might love a famous professional footballer. There are those I really rate, who bare their souls a little and who are lucky enough and talented enough to write columns for newspapers, and this group includes women, or one woman. In fact it hardly constitutes a group at all: it is three people.

In this manner I am in love with Caitlin Moran and, as you already know, I am in love with Giles Coren, although I’m not sure I would get on with Giles Coren if I actually met him, and I know I would be absolutely terrified of Caitlin Moran if we ever went out on the razz together (bear with me, I live in a fantasy world) because she is obviously quite bonkers (lovely bonkers) and would drink me under the table, especially now after 31 days without alcohol.

T.D. seems the most normal and writes about his family and for the Guardian, and I write about my family, and I have written for the Guardian. That was before the lovely editor I was writing for suddenly vanished and things at the Family section went a bit weird and tense (I blame Julie Myerson).

Maybe I regard Tim Dowling, subliminally, as some sort of male version of me, which of course is ridiculous because he is a successful columnist, an American, in his 50s, and a banjo player, and I am none of these things. But there are some similarities, which in no particular order are -

He has three boys
He lives in London
He has been married for a long time (but not as long as me)
He did an English degree
His first son was born in 1995, I think (ours was born in 1996)
He stays in the house all day
He suffers from Nameless Dread
He is a bit of a self-confessed drama queen
He is the romantic needy one in his relationship

Come to think about it he isn’t a male version of me at all and Eldest was right: he’s a girl.

The next book on my pile is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I think reading this after How To Be A Husband might be going from the faintly ridiculous (but enjoyable, let’s not forget that) to the sublime. I’ll let you know…

Love E x


Two bits I particularly liked from How To Be A Husband –

“Never underestimate the tremendous healing power of sitting down together from time to time to speak frankly and openly about the marital difficulties facing other couples you know.”

That made me laugh.

“… make sure you are on the same side when battling outside forces.”

I read that one out to husband. The overdone steak in a restaurant in France last year still rankles. He should have backed me up when I tried to complain, in French, that it was badly burnt, rather than turning to me to echo the surly French waitress: “Yes, that’s true, Elizabeth, you did ask for it well done.” And I certainly don’t think that after I flounced out of the restaurant, hungry and furious, to sit alone in the car, he should have taken his time and then paid for the whole lot having eaten his own meal, and then my burnt steak as well.



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