Poetry and Couscous

29 May Mr Young is not very happy with me today. He’s read my diary and seen I’ve mistakenly written that our anniversary was on 22 May, instead of 21 May. Although he’s obviously in the wrong for reading my diary, I am even more in the wrong for getting the date wrong. So in terms of wrongness, he is down at the very bottom of the scale, while I am way up at the top, cresting the peak, as it were, of wrongness. Actually, the more I’ve been writing wrong (a pretty impressive play on words there, even if I do say so myself), the wronger it looks. What is all this business with the W in front of an R still being pronounced R? Who thought that one up? It’s clearly just something they invented in primary school so, no matter how great your poem about birds was, they could still just give you a B instead of an A because you missed out the W when you wrote about the Wren in an otherwise flawless verse.

(Bitter? Me?) Talking of poems, I found another one (what I wrote) in an old exercise book:

My Dog If I had a dog I would feed him every day He’d sleep in a basket And he’d be very gay.

If I had a dog I would call him Scot Because he’d be a Scottie And I’d love him a lot. Bless. Written back in the Sixties when gay still meant happy.

Do you remember ‘happy’, Mr Young? (If you happen to be reading this? AGAIN.) Happy as in when we just celebrated our anniversary instead of telling each other off because we'd forgotten the date? By one day?

3 June In a flurry of impulsiveness, we decide to go over to my sister Rachel’s for lunch. All the way to Suffolk.

I make a couple of jokes about my passport being up-to-date, but they go unnoticed and unappreciated. Which is, coincidentally, the leitmotif with most of my jokes in our marriage. A perfect opportunity to introduce my newest word; leitmotif, a recurring theme as in the operas of Wagner. Sadly, I can’t see myself having many opportunities of dropping it casually into conversation.

Especially as most of my conversations nowadays seem to be struck up with the person next to me in the checkout queue at Waitrose. Usually we just talk about the weather/the Jubilee/what an extraordinary amount of wine I seem to be buying, rather than Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

There’s always a first time, though.

Predictably, Rachel asks me to make my “famous” goat’s cheese couscous salad. At every family get-together, whenever I offer a contribution, my sisters always ask for my couscous salad.

It’s really not that good, either. I think it’s so it can sit quietly in a corner, not interfering with any of the stars of the show (Rachel’s whole salmon or Janny’s home-made pork pie, for example), just giving a quiet 'ahem' every now and then to remind people to take a polite spoonful which they can push around on their plate and finally hide under their fork and the remains of the rocket salad.

After lunch, we all play poker, even though we know my nephews will win. They always win. After the game, they sit together in the corner, counting their huge piles of chips. Mr Young pretends not to mind as they cackle together over their loot. “You two are just like the Kray twins,” I tell them. Now that they’ve taken all our money, they can afford to pretend to be interested. “Who were they?” Ben asks.

I’m just about to tell him when he nods in comprehension.“Oh, yes, they’re the ones who invented the aeroplane.” I’d like to comfort myself with the fact that at least my knowledge of history is better than my poker playing, but, to be honest, I rather be a better poker player.

4 June It’s our street party! And I’ve done absolutely nothing at all to contribute towards it (apart from making, yes, another goat’s cheese couscous salad). Mr Young has been doing all the work this time. He’s been on the committee, organised stuff, and is in charge of taking photographs today. In spite of – actually, probably because of – my lack of involvement, it all goes brilliantly.

There’s enough food and drink to supply this Jubilee celebration and probably the next one as well (if we only had enough freezers). There are a few other couscous salads on the buffet table, I see – infuriatingly, mine is the only one that goes untouched, even though I surreptitiously move it to the front. Small children run about in the street, there is wine and beer and cup cakes and live music. Mr Young takes a great deal of photographs early on in the day then later, weary from all the beer-drinking – a challenge he manfully takes on at every kind of celebration – he runs out of creative steam and sits on a patio chair in the middle of the road, ordering me to fetch him hot dogs and fried onions. Eventually, I leave him, still sitting in the middle of the road with ketchup stains down his front, and slink home with my untouched couscous salad.

5 June Another celebration! This time it’s my sister Janny’s Jubilee street party. No mention has been made of my bringing along a couscous salad, which is lucky as it’s still sulking in my fridge and looks even more unappetising today than it did yesterday. If that’s possible. There’s a huge queue for the food, and we find ourselves waiting in line just behind Stuart Jackson, our MP. Mr Young and I do our best not to catch his eye – what on earth do you say to an MP while you’re clutching a paper plate and eyeing the Coronation Chicken? – but Janny gamely does her best to make small talk. “So, Stuart,” she says, “how are things in the Houses of Parliament these days?” She clearly catches him off-guard. He waves his paper cup about vaguely, and says, “Oh, ok. You know how it is,” just as if the two of them meet up there regularly. Janny nods politely and tries to look interested. The Queen would be proud of her.

10 June Mr Young and I are off to Bath for a few days with my parents and my aunt. We imagine it’s going to be a restful time, pottering about a couple of bookshops and looking at some historical buildings. All very Jane Austen, with me probably in a bonnet and Mr Young in a top hat, strolling arm in arm along the Regency crescents and making witty asides to each other. It’s not restful at all, though. We are staying in a four storey maisonette, and our bedroom is up on the top floor, so we have three flights of stairs to climb several times a day. We charge about Bath, up and down hills, in and out of historical buildings, antique shops, the theatre, glass-blowing demonstrations, cheese shops, restaurants, clothes shops. We barely have time to catch our breath, let alone make any witty asides. We also go over to see Julia at Slimbridge, and then on to see Tom so that we can charge about Bristol too, up and down more hills, and all round SS Great Britain. My ankles and Mr Young’s knees are hurting by the time we get home again, what with all the stairs and the hills and the charging about. We are looking forward to a rest, so we take a sedate stroll with Archie across the fields. Who would have thought that spending time with an English bull terrier would be so much more relaxing than a trio of pensioners?

16 June I am having a very bad hair day today. It’s not the fault of my hairdresser, who creates order out of chaos for a few happy hours once every six weeks. It’s entirely my own fault. I am just being difficult and, for some reason, seem to have convinced myself that if I just stare at my hair in the mirror for long enough, I will shame it into behaving and it will reshuffle itself into a sleek, chic hairstyle. I know this is illogical and, frankly, impossible. I know one has to work at one’s hair with brushes and hairdryers and straighteners and stuff in bottles, but – as I’ve said – I’m difficult. And lazy. I might just try a bonnet after all. They clearly had their uses.

18 June Infuriatingly, the football season has not finished after all. Mr Young said it had, but football matches are still being played. Continuously, it seems. It is a persistent argument in our house at the moment; me and Lucy insisting that the football season can’t be over if football is still on, and Mr Young patiently trying to explain that yes, it is over, but now there is some other competition being played, the Euro Something (apparently not its real name). This means that he has to watch matches that are being played between countries I can’t even spell properly, let alone point out on a world map. “This is exactly what I mean – if football is still being played, the football season is still on,” I say. “No, it’s over,” he says. “This is the Euro Something,” he says. “Even when the football season finishes, they still have other competitions, like the World Cup, or the Euro Something.” “That’s my point,” I say. “So football isn’t over then.” “But the football season is over,” he says. “But….” And so on. It’s a pretty circular and exhausting argument. Maybe even a leitmotif, although I forget to drop this into the debate, sadly. All I want him to do is admit that football is played all year round and there is probably never going to be a week in which he doesn’t tell me that he watching some crucial match between Yugobratislavatia and Crugobratislavatia. That’s all I want him to admit, instead of constantly and rather patronisingly insisting that the bloody football season is over. Oh, if only he was in the habit of reading this incredibly secret diary and just conceding my point. If only…..