Hanging up our sombreros


1 February

Mr Young has been suffering from one cold after another this winter, punctuated only by my migraines, so ours has been a House of Misery and Pain, like some sort of Dickensian nightmare.

Our only consolation has been that they haven’t coincided, so that I have been able to bring him soothing cups of tea and paracetamol and place the remote control in his feverish little hand, whilst he has been fit enough to bound upstairs with icepacks and paracetamol and soothing cups of tea when I have been lying in my darkened lair.

Ruby and the kettle have been working overtime; the former with warming dog breath (which hasn’t really helped, to be honest), and the latter with boiling water for tea and menthol inhalations.

So much fun.

But we are consoling ourselves with our upcoming holiday to Mexico. As our first grandchild is soon to arrive, we imagine that exotic trips to the sort of places with swim-up bars and a lovely pile of paperbacks to read in the sunshine will disappear for a good few years, and our future will be Centreparcs and self-catering cottages with stair-gates. I remember vividly that I was lucky if I ever got to read an entire sentence, let alone a book, on holiday with a small child.

I can’t wait. No, seriously, I can’t wait!

2 February

The flight is a long one, so I’ve found a wonderful thing called a Trtl Pillow; not only has it eschewed (so pleased to have an opportunity to use that word at long last, just to demonstrate just how damned clever I am) vowels, it is “scientifically proven" to provide better support than one of those little semi-circular pillows that you have to inflate. Or so they say.

I buy two, one for me and one for Mr Young.

“There’s a special present arriving for you today,” I tell him. He looks both pleased and apprehensive. It’s not his birthday, after all.

They arrive in Amazon’s customarily giant packaging which we have to manhandle through the front door, only to find a small box inside. Mr Young eagerly rips it open.

“Oh,” he says, looking baffled, as he pulls out the Trtl and inspects it. “It’s… a fleecy grey scarf with Velcro and what looks like… a neck brace inside?”

I can tell that this is not the exciting surprise gift he was hoping for.

“Yes!” I demonstrate how the special vowel-free pillow works – according to the illustration on the leaflet – hoping to rekindle his enthusiasm.

It is an odd sensation, certainly, with my neck completely immobile and my head perched on top. A bit like Queen Nefertiti if she ever had to wrap up because of an icy Egyptian wind. But surprisingly comfortable and yes, I could certainly nod off on an aeroplane in my Trtl for a nap.

Mr Young isn't happy in his, however. I think his neck is the wrong shape. Too thick? Too short? Or maybe he's just taken against it because as far as surprise presents go, it's probably the most unexciting thing he could have rushed downstairs to rip the paper off. I suppose I would have felt the same if he’d ordered me some energy-saving lightbulbs.

Note to self: classic case of over-promising and under-delivering.

3 February

We pick up my new car, which is so unbelievably shiny and clean that I can hardly bear to look directly at it, a bit like the sun. Joe takes me through all the features, and programmes in my phone; I do listen to a lot of what he says, but am mostly impressed by the fact that it has a little holder for my sunglasses above the driver’s door and two glove compartments!

“Don’t forget it’s diesel,” he says sternly several times, showing me where the petrol – sorry, diesel – cap is. I am of course terrified that I will forget it’s diesel.

Diesel, diesel, diesel.

He takes me back into his office for the usual multiple-choice post-purchase exam; I only get 50% right, and so I’m not allowed to drive my new car home, because I’ve can't remember which side the indicator is on, or how to open the bonnet, and I’ve already forgotten that it’s diesel and not petrol.

No, I’m just kidding.

I am allowed to drive my new car home; but I can tell Joe is concerned that I haven’t been listening.

So, “Diesel, diesel, diesel,” I mutter under my breath for most of the journey until it turns into “Diddle, diddle, diddle,” and is therefore meaningless.

I haven’t had to refuel yet, but I’m hoping that I won’t just automatically reach for the unleaded petrol pump.

Diddle, diddle, diddle.

5 February

I’ve been assembling my holiday clothes wardrobe, which has been depressing. We’ve already sorted out everything that Mr Young will be taking, and he’s just had to buy some new swimming trunks. All the outfits I wore when we last went away have either shrunk (mysteriously), disappeared (mysteriously), or are now hideous (mysteriously). I’m 60% sure they didn’t look hideous before.

Anyway, to long-windedly get to the point, I’ve had to heavily (yes, yes, pun intended) invest in new holiday clothes.

There are plenty of skimpy items about in shops and online, but – sadly – my beach body exercise plan clearly requires more than six weeks to get me into optimum shape. I am in a shape, certainly; it’s just a bit blobbier than the overall effect I was hoping for.

So this year, I will mainly be wafting, in kaftans, and maxi dresses, with wraps and stoles.

Mr Young, of course, will be wearing what he’s worn for the last three years on holiday, namely the above-mentioned stalwart shorts, t-shirts, short-sleeved shirts and linen trousers. And looking damned handsome and elegant to boot, of course. (Or to flip-flop, in this case.)

Life is so unfair.

7 February

Now that I’ve finished writing my second book, and am sending it off to agents, I’m remembering all over again that the hardest part of this whole process isn’t finding those 85,000 words and arranging them so that your reader will keep turning the pages with avid fascination.

No, it’s composing the email that you send out with your sample chapters. The one that introduces you, and your book, and tells them a bit about yourself.

Because if that doesn’t grab their attention enough to get them to read at least the beginning of your first chapter, then you’re buggered, really. It shouldn’t be too long, or too short; don’t try and be funny, do make them like you. It helps if you’re a celebrity, too.

So, my advice is, if you’re thinking of writing a book, get your email perfected first, and make sure you have an interesting life – preferably by becoming a respected celebrity – and then you can relax and get on with your 85,000 words.

Oh, and spell properly too. That helps.

8 February

Harry, Jonny and me go to a pub quiz. Mr Young is supposed to be part of the team but is mid-stream with another of his interminable colds. We are nervous because none of us is any good at general knowledge; Harry and Jonny because they are young and haven’t acquired much, and me because I am old and have acquired a lot and forgotten most of it.

Mr Young – irritating as he so often is about so many things – knows everything about everything, which is why we believe we are doomed when we first sit down. But, Food and Drink, that should be an easy first round, surely?

What spirit is made from the blue agave? We look at each other blankly.

What plant family does the lettuce belong to? Perhaps this isn’t going to be our round after all.

The rest of the quiz continues with questions that are equally as difficult; I lose count of the number of times my daughter and son-in-law say wistfully, and annoyingly, “I wish Mark was here”.

I am so relieved when I finally know the answer to a question – what is wrapped around rice to make dolmades – that I nearly fall off my stool with excitement as I whisper triumphantly “Vine leaves!”.

To our surprise, we come joint third, proving that our opponents found the quiz just as challenging.

“If Mark had been here, we’d have won,” says Harry. We all nod; this is true.

I am better than him in oh, so many ways, but never in a pub quiz.

Diddle, diddle, diddle.

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