I’m on holiday this week so I am re-posting a guest post I wrote about country life for the lovely DulwichDivorcee a while back. We’ve gone even more country this week on holiday but I’m hoping it’s less mud and more private hot-tubs and fine dining.
I‘m very excited to be guest blogging here at Dulwich Divorcee but I am a little nervous. I mean, this is Dulwich and therefore automatically cosmopolitan and cultured and I’m so, well, so not.
I live in the country. Not the country you see in Country Life, but the dirtier, more rural version of that. Our house backs onto wheat fields, filled with poppies in the summer and haystacks in the evening sun at harvest time. It’s glorious. But look the other way from our house and you will see the mud-laden field full of sick sheep – the ones the fox didn’t quite get – bleating pathetically. That’s once you have looked past the pigs the neighbour keeps across the muddy lane that runs alongside our house. The pigs that have a distinctly piggy smell, particularly on hot summer evenings when you are having friends over for a barbecue. On those evenings, it’s all I can do not to reach across and have one as a barbecue sausage (the pig that is, not the friend).
In this part of the world you might see a mother or two on the morning school run, heading down our lane in a farm Jeep, navigating the pothole chasms on the path. It’s not uncommon to see six kids or more being thrown around in the back, seatbeltless. The mothers figure, possibly quite reasonably, that even though the children are not pinned in by seatbelts (there aren’t any), if you stuff enough of them in they are pinned in by each other. And anyway, who are they going to crash into? It’s so rural, there’s no traffic except the pheasants playing chicken as they cross the road.
It’s perfect for four small boys of course. Who wouldn’t love all the mud, the hiding places, the freedom? Go out after breakfast, come back when it gets dark, filthy dirty, don’t let your mother know a thing. Sometimes I try to make an effort at pretending to be just a little bit cosmopolitan, forgetting temporarily that there are two things against which I cannot compete: country life and four boys. In an attempt to be more environmentally conscious with the mountains of laundry that four boys produce, I once tried to switch from chemically-laden washing powder to soapnuts. But then my children appeared in the doorway covered head-to-toe in mud, baby included, breathless with running, with living. I felt like I was in an advert: can this mother get those stains out with this pretend washing powder? So I did the only thing I could do, the thing that a mother of four small boys can do expertly – I smiled beatifically and turned and poured myself a glass of wine in defeat. I am so not going to war with myself over washing powder.
It’s not all countrybumpkin round here though. There are a fair number of celebs and plenty of people with money. They bring a little frisson of excitement on a Sunday lunch trip to the pub. Will we see Madonna, the children ask? (not since she left the country pile to Guy) will we see the man with twelve helicopters? (possibly, although I don’t think he’ll bring the helicopters for roast lamb I say to their disappointed faces). What I love about the rich here though is that they just muck in and apart from the occasional new Barbour coat it’s often impossible to tell you are talking to someone who is seriously moneyed.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself standing in the aisle in church so that I could monitor the actions of my four boys on the loose during the family service (if you ever thought Hell wouldn’t dare make an appearance in a sacred building, you haven’t seen my boys bored in church). I was very visible. And possible quite audible what with all the hissing to get them to sit down, and to not stab holes with the pen in the kneelers, and NO, you cannot have a race down to the altar. After the service, a stout woman who had been sitting at the front of church approached me. I could tell simply from her drill-like walk and focused manner that she was the mother of many boys: there is never any dawdling with all-boys about, it’s a full-time business keeping them rounded up and out of the nearby metaphorical river. She had seen me in the aisle attempting to control my children with hand-signals like a novice runway controller bringing planes to the gate, and spotted me as a kindred spirit.
She introduced herself and admired my four boys. ‘I’m the mother of four boys,’ she declared. ‘I would have liked a girl but it wasn’t to be,’ she went on matter-of-factly. ‘Anyway, mine are a bit older, but I can tell you, you do get used to all the cricket gear and having the larder emptied every few hours.’ She laughed, forcefully.
I nodded. She looked a bit muddy round the edges, a bit beaten down, her energy quite possibly sucked out of her by the process of mothering several energetic boys. It was, rather frighteningly, like looking in a mirror. So we chatted over coffee and exchanged stories about our boys and as we talked I thought perhaps I might have found a friend, a kindred spirit. Someone who would sympathise with me when the boys were attempting to drown each other in the birdbath! Someone who perhaps stayed at home and so would be around to have an occasional cup of coffee, not caring as the children trooped more mud into the kitchen. As her children were slightly older she could be my mentor to guide me through the joy and pitfalls of boys at each age, tell me what to expect! And she would ring me for moral support when her boys were attempting to climb on to the roof for the second time that week!
We exchanged telephone numbers and I left church with a lighter heart: at last there was someone who wouldn’t care whether my floor was covered with muddy footprints, who wouldn’t care that I was dressed in the daily uniform of jeans and wellies, who wouldn’t be surprised when our children built a wattle and daub den in her garden by tearing all the small branches off her trees and covering them – and themselves – with mud. We would laugh at our failed attempts to be a bit more cosmopolitan and a bit less country.
A few days later my husband and I were watching a programme about the state of the economy (‘cos we’re fun like that – you must have us over), when I realised with creeping astonishment that the woman I was watching on the television screen was the same woman I had met in church. My new friend with so many similarities was talking about her company worth millions of pounds! My new friend who looked so brow-beaten in church was almost unrecognisable in designer clothes. My new friend who could have had coffee with me on mornings when our children were driving us mad by setting light to each other was in fact a high-flying City slicker who probably barely had time for a cup of coffee between meetings! My new friend with four boys who I thought was so like me was so… so cosmopolitan and cultured. I stared at the screen in disbelief.
So I did the only thing I could do, the thing that a mother of four small boys can do expertly – I smiled beatifically. And turned and poured myself a glass of wine in defeat.