Friday, 29 April 2011

A tale of two nuptials

Today the Infant Phenomenon and I stood waiting - she clutching a posy of flowers - to wave to the bride: one of the young ladies from the house next door. No, we were not in London, waving to Miss Middleton (as she was), now the Duchess of Cambridge. We were at home in Brighton, waving to another bride, whose nuptials were planned and announced some time before those of the royal couple were made public.

Those of you who know me will not be shocked by my frank confession that I am no royalist; one might almost say that my Irish blood rather leans in the other direction. I have huffed and puffed like a big bad wolf ever since the announcement of the royal engagement. Those who troubled to listen might have heard me chuntering about 'real news'. I have muttered about the cost to the taxpayer (should I present myself at the Circumlocution Office and demand to know?); I have sneered at the overblown sentimentality of some of my compatriots (the references to the late Princess Diana have much in common with the popular misquotation of East Lynne 'Dead, dead and never called me mother!'); I have advocated the abolition of the royal family though have as yet no thoroughly well-considered alternative to offer, though I am sure that some exist.

Suffice it to say, my refusal to engage with this so-called national event was not uncommon (Mr B was a great deal louder in his protestations, it must be noted). And then our kind neighbour Mrs D told us that one of her daughters had planned her own wedding for the same day. We were vociferous in our exclamations about 'real brides'. I am sure you can imagine our comments and our unwearying (and frankly tedious) repetition of them.

However, as the moment has arrived, my mood has softened. And do bear in mind, that I am a hardened republican who despises 'Majesty' magazine (the existence of which I discovered as a humble bookseller at Harrods). This does not indicate any softening of my republican attitude (I still have a qualm at the thought of the cost of all those policemen). No, it is simply that a bride is a bride, all the world over.

Why did I ask lovely Mrs D at what hour her daughter the bride would leave the house, so that the Infant Phenomenon could wave to her? Because everybody loves a bride. Miss D looked wonderful, glowing with the radiance proper to a bride. And thus emotion clouds politics. Whatever one thinks of constitutional monarchy and the British version of it in particular, when the day came I was delighted to see that both brides looked beautiful and radiant.

And then, the London bride entered Westminster Abbey to the stirring music of Mr Parry: I Was Glad. This is the same as Mr B and I had for our exit from church at our own wedding. I looked at Mr B, the Infant Phenomenon (on my lap) and the Inexhaustible Baby (fast asleep in the perambulator) and grew misty-eyed. And while the royal couple have a very grand evening indeed ahead of them, our neighbours will be holding their reception at a pub owned by some friends of the bride and groom. And I am sure that hearts and heels will be as light in the pub as at Buckingham Palace.

I feel I cannot do better than finish with the words of my own dear Mamma. She 'texted' me thus this afternoon: "I am not a staunch Royalist but I do wish them well. There is nothing as nice as seeing a happy couple on their wedding day." Well said Mamma! In fact, with or without benefit of clergy, a happy couple is a happy sight. And however grand a wedding might be, it is, in the end, a wedding: neither more nor less than the most important decision two people can make about how they spend their lives.

Monday, 25 April 2011

In which the Infant Phenomenon is in for a penny

I mean the title of my latest instalment quite literally: she swallowed a penny and ended up in hospital. The next stop after the awful event (Mr B was on duty with her and I fear was sadly shaken by her somewhat melodramatic screaming) was the Accident & Emergency department of our local infirmary (again! As if a broken leg  last year wasn't enough for her, let alone the other alarums and excursions of recent years involving the Royal Sussex County Hospital). 


I will be the first to admit that the 'ingestion of a metallic foreign body: non-hazardous' (that is the technical terminology, I saw it on the form) is considerably less vexatious than a broken leg, but I did experience considerable misgiving, as well as some not unreasonable annoyance, when we were advised to take her to the hospital.

With all the admiration I have for our marvellous health system, my experience of the Accident & Emergency Department indicates that a visit there is usually a matter of hours rather than minutes. Please, before you start to hurl offensive missiles in my general direction, remember that I am not saying that this is anyone's fault. Sometimes, one has to be monitored in a given situation, which is simply a medical way of loitering aimlessly, not doing very much and wondering how severely afflicted one/one's loved one actually is. At other times, it is a question for waiting for a particular member of staff who is fully occupied at that moment with someone much more in need of their care. When the Infant Phenomenon suddenly developed an alarmingly high temperature and a rash, we had to spend several hours simply loitering aimlessly - to ensure she wasn't developing meningitis, which might have killed her. When she broke her leg, we had to wait some while for the orthopaedic specialist who had been dealing with an injury far more serious than hers. I simply felt that we were in for a very long evening of waiting. Particularly in view of the fact that she seemed perfectly well and after the initial shock, perfectly composed. It was not an emergency.

I was annoyed with her, I will admit, on the one hand for doing something which at the age of four and a half she knows full well is ill advised; and on the other hand for doing it at bedtime. This meant I had a supperless, comfortless evening as a prospect. Our hospital is many wonderful things, but I don't think I could honestly tell you that the Accident & Emergency area is comfortable.

Imagine then my amazement when I found that we were in and out in just under half an hour. I was frankly amused when told that the first necessity was for the radiographer to examine the Infant Phenomenon with a metal detector. Yes, really. Similar to those with which one is examined at airports. And she bleeped in the right places, if I may be allowed to so express myself. The penny was safely lodged in her tummy, and thus was no immediate cause for alarm. This, though welcome news, was hardly unexpected: had it been lodged in her trachea she would probably have gone black in the face some considerable time before.

The radiographer was charming. The Infant Phenomenon had brought with her a favourite toy, her surest resort in all times of stress. The lovely radiographer tested the toy first with the metal detector and did her utmost to reassure my bewildered child that there was nothing to fear. Her previous experience of radiographers left her with an expectation that their function was to cause pain, so she was exceedingly suspicious. But all passed off smoothly.

We were then sent back to the nurse who had interviewed us on our arrival. It was at this point that I noticed the form 'Ingestion of metallic foreign bodies'. It turned out to be a kind of 'flow chart' of which the top two options were 'hazardous eg batteries or sharps' and 'non-hazardous eg coins'. This immediately made me feel better as I really couldn't contemplate the ingestion of metallic sharps with any equanimity. But to me, the most impressive thing about this particular part of the incident is that there actually is a special form for this exceedingly common, but for a parent still unnerving, incident.

I know many say that there is too much bureaucracy in the National Health Service, but I can honestly say that knowing that our particular accident was so common that it warranted its own particular form, was indescribably reassuring.

Perhaps my favourite moment of the whole trip was the puzzlement on the Infant Phenomenon's face when the nurse rather solemnly suggested that he hold her upside down by the ankles and shake her until the coin came out. She really couldn't tell whether he meant it or not.

The Infant Phenomenon is now perfectly recovered from this little mishap. I will not go into the revolting details, but suffice to say the penny has dropped. And I am so grateful to the kind and professional people who made this whole incident so much less alarming than it could have been - as well as faster.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

In which I muse upon an anachronism

I feel as though I ought to apologise in advance, because I know full well I shall indulge myself in some unrestrained digression in this chapter. You will have to wait until halfway through to actually find out what the anachronism was.

The other day I was out and about in the town (I beg its pardon, the city of Brighton & Hove-actually) doing some of my usual errands. This generally consists of buying bananas for the Inexhaustible Baby, who has one for breakfast every morning. Note that I say advisedly 'has one' and not 'eats one'. Some mornings he devours his banana in the most gluttonous fashion as though he were indeed a starving million. On other days, most of it will 'adorn' the floor. And at this point I sigh for my previous life as a lady gainfully employed, who earned enough and was busy enough to justify to herself (and to Mr B) the employment of someone who obliged with the cleaning and ironing. Then I clean the rapidly decaying banana from the floor while the Inexhaustible plays watering cans on the table with his cup and the Infant Phenomenon takes half an hour to eat one extremely small apple.

I am no longer gainfully employed. Again, note that I say 'gainfully employed' not 'employed'. I am on the whole fully employed in trying to manage the household, persuade the Infant Phenomenon to eat and the Inexhaustible to sleep, as well as actually find a new avocation for myself. I look forward to the time when I will again receive those charming monthly billets-doux and corresponding augmentations of vulgar material wealth. In the meantime, in our attempts to master domestic economy and avoid expensive luxuries, I have changed the way in which I go about my shopping for groceries. Instead of simply doing one large Waitrose order online (as a lady in the 19th century would simply have ordered the cook to procure the necessary items for these dishes) and putting it away when the helpful delivery person has carried it into the kitchen for me, I now end up buying most of the crucial fresh foods in the usual way, but shopping for dry and tinned goods in less expensive emporia. The end result of this is that I seem to be perpetually shopping and - woe is me! - perpetually running out of something. So much for the Domestic Goddess. Perhaps I could aspire to be an Angel in the Home instead, that sounds much grander and one would expect such a lady to enjoy the ministrations of an excellent housekeeper...

Hence my frequent trips to the shops and we return at last to the day on which I spotted the anachronism. It was simply this: an elderly gentleman on a bicycle. I saw him twice and was incomprehensibly struck by his appearance. In an attempt to understand why I found him so noticeable, I have expended much thought (cooking, cleaning, ironing and shopping generally allow much time for such musings) on finding out why.

The first and most obvious reason is that he reminded me of one of my dear grandparents: my grandpapa in Ireland (the photo of Grandpapa below most kindly supplied by my dear aunt, Mrs F). He wasn't as handsome a gentleman as was my grandpapa, but he was dressed identically in the same kind of respectable overcoat and good flat cap. For some time, I put the strong impression down to this and indulged in fond memories of some of his inimitable sayings. ('He knows as much about that as a pig knows about a clean shirt' being one of my personal favourites.)

Then I started to reflect on what looked wrong about the picture because something was bothering me. I realised that in the not-entirely-appropriate wire shopping basket on the front of the bike (it should have been wicker), instead of the usual shopping bag there was a rucksack. I simply could not envisage this gentleman off his bike, in that garb and with a sports-type rucksack on his back. That was problem number one. Problem number two was that you generally don't see elderly people on bicycles any more. It used to be a common form of transport for people of all ages, but is so no longer. The omnibus and horseless carriage yes, but not the bicycle. Especially not in Brighton, which is excessively hilly and in consequence where you don't often catch me on my bicycle either (in spite of my former 'Urban Warrior Queen of Hyde Park Corner' status).

In fact, near my home you see many cyclists of the extremely dedicated and sporting kind: clad in all the correct accoutrements, which include helmets. Not flat caps. And so the list goes on. You often see people on bicycles without helmets (more fool them, frankly) but not in flat caps. They sport lycra shorts or tights and wraparound sunglasses, they glow in the dark like a Japanese nuclear reactor, they have particular shoes which clip to their pedals, specific kind of shirts with cunning pockets in odd places - and no shopping baskets on the front.

Some, myself included, will occasionally use the machine about daily tasks in the conviction that we are achieving our aims and getting the needful exercise as well. The bicycle, in the midst of our beautiful South Downs, is perhaps more of an extreme sport than a form of transport.