Results came though for my final OU course.

I have have been offered, and have accepted, a BA (Hons) in English Literature.

The offer came through sometime between when my three anaethetists were arguing over the safest place to buy petrol, and when my daughter lead me, sobbing and looking like a battered hamster, though the hospital to the taxi home.

My swollen face has now developed more of a Cat-in-the-Hat appearance (I was concerned that this post may have to be in rhyme).  Here I am attempting to smile at my accomplishment; note how carefully the pjs have been chosen to harmonise with the bruising.

Cat in the Hat


My girl

Matt, the preppy one has a can of lager between his knees.

My girl, looking relaxed and hopeful, clutches a bottle of Oasis.

Andy, the needy one, caresses his bottle of white wine.

Beth, the drama queen, juggles a red bull between her estimable thighs

Sarah, the one who never swears, sips at a glass of water.  (Later that evening she will OD on speed, but she will be ok)

A photo posted of the newly-introduced flatmates.  My girl is the most beautiful.

Judgement day

Now, can you tell us, Rachel – what do you think you could bring to this role?

Well…. I am good with information systems, and… and people, I’m good with people, and… um…

I take a sip of water, a deep breath, and start over:

well, I like to think of myself as kind of a buffer zone, actually, you know, between people and technology and I think that’s going to be important for this job, and… um, and I have a real passion for… I really want this job and, and… really, and… um.  And I…. I’m very…. um.  And I….  …  … so yeah.

My mouth lets me down again.  Under pressure, communication between my brain and mouth are severed.  In extreme cases, such as here, lines of communication are diverted to my fingers, so that while my mouth gapes lifelessly, my hands sweep complex movements in apparent efforts to form a new and intense sign language.

The interviewer is a woman just a little older than me.  She has an air of integrity and composure that leads me to believe that she would be the ideal boss.  A thin cardigan the colour of pine needles is draped around her shoulders, and as she looks at me over her spectacles, I see that the desperation she recognises in my eyes is met with a calmness she hopes will be infectious.  It helps, but I’m too far gone.

Thank you, she says, and smiles at me.  She looks down at her papers, and I notice a momentary twitch of her forehead, as if she is denying a frown.  She holds the papers up and reads deliberately from them so that I know this final question is planned, and not born of her own capriciousness:

what have you done to improve your communication skills?


I came home early for this interview.  I spent the week away, me and five teenagers; daughter brought two friends and son brought one.

The boys cycled, swam and messed on their skateboards, then lay on their beds and watched videos of other people cycling and messing on their skateboards.  Every now and again they’d come and tell me the headlines and highlights.

Each of the girls, individually, is lovely: friendly, intelligent and witty.  But together they formed a three-headed monster that glided round the place with its pretty noses in the air before draping itself over the settees, each set of perfectly-painted eyes fixed on a pod, a pad or a phone.  They compared twit-feeds, searching out images of young women to criticise: too fat; too skinny; not enough arse; too much cleavage; orange face; tan lines; wrong hair colour; wrong brow shape.

As I unloaded the dishwasher I reflected on my bare face with its deepening lines, my unstyled hair, my comfortable jeans and jumper older than my daughter.  I realised I am not even in the game; I saw myself through this beautiful youthful monster’s eyes, as something almost sub-human; I understood why it judged me as fit only for cooking and clearing away its vodka glasses.

In return, I judged the monster by my own standards and found it shallow and inconsiderate.


My ideal boss phones me with the news I am expecting.  But although she has to judge me, she doesn’t condemn; instead of giving me up as a bonzo, she offers practical advice and encouragement:

hello Rachel, I’m sorry that we can’t offer you the job at this time.  But it looks as though we are going to readvertise the post, and I’d be very happy for you to reapply.  If you do, please give me a call and we can have a chat about the job so that you feel more prepared next time.


A little passion for Valentine’s Day

Sigrid Frenson: watercolour of Rosa ‘Francis E Lester’ hips

It seemed I was the only customer at the David Austin Plant Centre today. Certainly, I was the only one in the gardens, striding purposefully through the mizzle, garden plan in hand.


A few weeks ago I came here to attend a session on rose pruning.  I’d seen the picture of David Austin on the website – silver-haired, golden-faced and pensive – and I knew that if I met him, he would recognise a kindred spirit.  We would talk for hours about about technical and creative aspects of rose breeding; he would value the freshness of my novice insights and would come to name his next rose after me.  This was a certainty, if only he were to spot me, so I put on my prettiest coat of peacock blue velvet, to attract his eye.

I met my fellow pruners and the six of us took morning coffee and polite conversation in the oak-beamed tea rooms.  A lovely lady named Diana led us to the gallery, where she described the different types of roses and explained how each should be shaped and trained.  After questions, it was to the gardens for practical.

As we filed out into the January sleet, Diana looked critically at my coat and offered me her spare wax jacket, which I declined.  She led us around the gardens, pointing out the differences in form between shrub roses and hybrid teas (one natural and voluptuous; the other upright and overbred), and in habit between climbers and ramblers (climbers generally have stiff growth and flower continuously; ramblers tend to be more lax but vigorous in growth, with one big burst of flower often followed by hips).

We stopped to admire a particularly handsome rambler, rosa mulliganii, its clusters of deep coral-bead hips dripping from a pale stone wall: ‘Mr Austin says the best way to grow a rambler on a wall is to plant it behind, so that it cascades over,’ Diana told us, and we all nodded.

We were still admiring and nodding when I felt the thud of two muddy paws on my thigh; the jowly face of a stout black labrador smiled up at me.  I don’t do animals, and this seems to make me a target for them, but while I know that cats are sent from the devil purely to antagonise me, I am prepared to believe that dogs have more benign intentions, evangelical even; they see me as unconverted, convincible.

With outward acquiescence, I said ‘hello doggie,’ then, with my eyes: ‘my soul is as stone to you and you shall not have it’.

‘Hello Betty’, said Diana, then looking over to a white-haired old gentleman on the gravel path beyond, she said ‘good morning Mr Austin.’

David Austin nodded at Diana and tapped his walking stick at Betty, who gave up on me happily to returned to his heel.

I knew I would never wash that coat again.


I passed from the Long Garden into the Renaissance Garden and, still studying the plan closely, walked beside the water channel towards the Pergolas.

‘Won’t do you much good at this time of year.’

I looked across the water to see that same white-haired old gentleman looking back at me, and I realised how ridiculous I must appear to him, using a plan to try to distinguish one set of bare twigs from another.  Betty spotted me and bounded over.

‘I’m looking for hips,’ I explained to Mr Austin, as I patted Betty.

He nodded, and moved to tap his stick.

‘I was thinking Francis E Lester,’ I said quickly, ‘planted behind a fence, so that it cascades over.’

‘Best way,’ he said. ‘How high, the fence?’  He drew the tip of his walking stick up in a vertical line.

‘About there,’ I said when his stick-rule reached nearly six foot.

‘Yes, that will do,’ he nodded, and tapped his stick. He continued his walk, with Betty at his heel.

I glided through the Lion Garden and on into the shop, where I bought Francis E Lester and the biggest book on roses I could find.


A treat for those with misspent 1980s:

The house of the rising sun


Every morning now I creep up early, into the silence before the kids waken, open the curtains in the front room and watch as the big winter sky brightens over the allotments opposite.  I watch as shadows take shape and eventually colour: the outline of barbed wire over the allotment gates; beyond the allotments, the chimneys and gables of a Victorian school; to the east, the distant minarets of a mosque stand out against the cloud-streaked sky; the copper beeches lining the allotment entrance slowly assume their tawny burnish.  Every morning now I watch and appreciate, because soon I will look out my front window and see only the front window of the house opposite.Sunrise over the allotments

My world has been falling apart recently.  Not in a dreadful, catastrophic way.  Rather, many constants are coming to an end, many big decisions are having to be made: a period of reassessment and readjustment.  It is just now starting to come together again.  I accept the inevitable losses and begin to look to the future with hope, to plan.

As you know, I am blessed with two amazing children.  I moan at them when they are running late for school and ask for a lift, but secretly I love to drop them off in town and watch them walk away chatting together, suddenly all grown up.  Generally, they talk of school gossip and of music, but sometimes they plot, and a seed previously planted led to my daughter having A Serious Chat with me over tea one night;

Mum, we need to move.

But I thought we were happy here…

No, you were right before, we should move.

I look at the boy, he nods his head.

But we can’t afford anywhere better than here.

So why don’t we rent somewhere?

Because we like the stability of owning where we live.

Well, Dad has just bought another house to rent out, I’m sure he’d let us have it as long as as we wanted.

I see…

I asked him about it, he said he knows how proud you are so he wouldn’t do mates rates or anything patronising like that.

Bless him.

It’s in a decent area, the house is a bit bigger than this but still cosy.

Hmmm… I was kind of banking on having the mortgage paid off by the time I retire. If we start renting, I’ll be renting forever.

That’s ok, by the time you retire we’ll have decent jobs, we’ll help you out.

The boy nods.

By then, you’ll also have families to support.

Oh no, I’m going to be career-woman-bitch-from-hell, I ain’t having no brats.

We’ll see about that.

Seriously Ma, you do realise you’re not going to be blessed with grandchildren?

Your brother’s a good boy, he’ll give me grandchildren.

Nope, he’s gay.

He is not.

Really, he’s all gossip and hairstyles, he’s my gay best friend.

Look, I’d be happy if he was gay, but I just don’t think he is.

Don’t you remember how happy he looked the first time he put on my pink Cinderella slippers?

You’re just jealous cos he’s always been better at walking in heels than you.


My boy follows the conversation, interested to discover what is to become of him.


(Happy New Year)