Monday, August 09, 2010

Bunk Up

I love camping accessories. I have a garage full of lightweight and well-designed outdoor versions of everything else in the house: a miniature table that folds away into a tiny pouch, a dinky kettle, even special matches that light in Scottish weather.

I don’t like camping.

Maude mentioned the possibility of a camping trip to The Lakes with the girls.

‘Imagine Aurora banging in a tent-peg with a miniature mallet. Her own little billycan of cassoulet. Jocasta giggling in the light of the campfire. It would be enough to melt the cold heart of any cynical, grumpy old anti-camper.’

Our trip to Spain was in the early summer. My wife was quite insistent that she couldn’t possibly endure the rest of the holiday without some excursions.

Maude’s face flashed on my Blackberry screen during a ‘catch up’ meeting with Morag yesterday. I excused myself from Morag’s monologue and answered in the corridor.

‘The silly woman won’t accept my card, so you’ll have to pay.’

Unbeknown to me our bridesmaid, Janice, had recommended a campsite near Ullswater.

‘Oh, perhaps I forgot to mention it. I’ve provisionally booked a campsite in The Lakes for you, me, the girls, Harriet and Morton, their kids, Seth and Bella and their two. The woman who answers the phone is obviously the farmer’s wife and can’t work the card machine. Could you call her and sort it out. The place is called something like Sunny Dell. You’ll have to Google it. You’re paying everyone’s deposit. Bye.’

After calling three campsites with names like, but not, ‘Sunny Dell’ I located the correct farmer’s wife and completed the booking.

Last night I took to my room (the garage) for the enjoyable part of the plan: the equipment check. I replaced batteries, put up the miniature table, counted the tent pegs, located the mallet, inserted a gas canister into our new camping stove and lit it with my special matches, made a cup of tea, sat on camping chair and drank tea, inflated an inflatable bed, lay on it for a few minutes, heard Maude calling, put down miniature table, deflated bed, turned off garage light, re-entered kitchen.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Girl with the Courgette Tattoo

Maude has decided that having children need not signal the death of our social life.

After reading one of her lifestyle magazines, my wife exclaimed:

‘Cocktails! In the house. No babysitter to pay, no taxi fares. Cocktails!’

A mint patch has been cultivated in the garden and the new drinks cabinet has been stocked.

‘There’s plenty of mint for mojitos and Morten’s bringing the ingredients for a few other recipes. Harriet tells me he’s a wizard with a blender.’

Harriet and Morten are newly coupled. Harriet and Maude met at a mothering group when Harriet was still married to Fred. From very early on Harriet talked about leaving Fred. I took this with a pinch of salt – Maude talks about leaving me on a daily basis.

Then Harriet left Fred and took her daughter, Bronwen, back to The Lakes.

Arrangements were made with Fred and then Morten arrived on the scene – on a very large motorbike. With the speed of a superhero in a phone booth, Harriet donned leathers and straddled Morten’s impressive engine as often as childcare allowed.

Kenny and Simone were also invited for cocktails. Kenny too has a motorbike, but it didn’t seem worthwhile to get Simone into leather for the trip – they only live 2 doors away.

Morten took control of the cocktail preparation and maintained a steady flow of mojitos and strawberry daquiries. Maude and I were happy to delegate and distribute the drinks to our guests on the terrace. The terrace overlooks our kitchen garden. As I arrived with a tray of drinks I noticed Kenny and Simone peering over the fence into the raised vegetable beds.

‘I see your courgettes have failed,’ observed Simone with a faux pained expression.

‘Not in the least,’ I replied. ‘I chose a miniature variety this year, so that Aurora could pick them easily.’

Simone smiled an indulgent smile and reached for her phone.

‘We went for a giant variety’, she said as she flashed an image of Kenny posing with a courgette the size of a toddler.

Kenny is a former soldier. He and Simone share a penchant for tattoos.

‘Simone’s getting a new one on Tuesday – right across her back. A dragon.’

Kenny and I were in the kitchen with Harriet. Harriet was thrilled at all the tattoo talk – she and Morten were contemplating some body art expressing their newfound love in østnorsk.

‘Only problem is‘, continued Kenny, ’she can’t decide what to put in the dragon’s hands. I was thinking Samurai sword in one and a red rose in the other – to symbolise the opposing sides of her personality.’

Thankfully Simone was out of earshot. I could see that she and Maude were stood looking into my vegetable plot with the sombre expressions of funeral-goers looking into a grave. I tried to help Kenny with his quandary.

‘Not sure she would go for that, Ken. The dragon, I believe, already symbolises strength. I’d suggest a design that shows that strength coupled with horticultural skill: dragon proudly holding courgettes of garden fete-winning dimensions.’