Education, Pest-control, Relationships, Sex-education, Things my mother did for me

Rats, Sexual ignorance and what you can do with a Bicycle

Wobbling alarmingly, she rode along the tree lined avenue on her old bicycle, in and out of shadow agitated by the breeze, looking up and seeing me her whole body became animated and moving her hand to give a jolly ring of the bell she was thrown even more off balance and lurched to an oblique halt, one foot resting on the kerb and the front wheel askew under the weight of two huge tomes which protruded from the wicker basket that was fixed to her handle bars.

‘I’ve got them!’ she shouted triumphantly with an excited wave of her bell-free hand.

My mum was forty-three, I was fifteen and she had just cycled the couple of miles from the library carrying two volumes of the Kinsey Report home for me in her bicycle basket.

This was a couple of years before the reform of the law on homosexuality in Britain; it had been discussed obliquely on the radio and I had recently asked my mother what, exactly, was a homosexual.

‘I met some in the war.’ she had said, ‘they were fun and I never minded being on duty with them which is more than I can say for most of the others. One night, I remember, they chased all the rats out of our building; we were over-run; they’d been gnawing at the wires in the telephone exchange; as the buildings around were bombed out, the rats had all moved in with us. The boys opened the gates to the lift shaft and drove them in so they fell down umpteen floors to the basement.

Young Mum2

I asked your father once what they did, the queers I mean, but he wouldn’t tell me… Perhaps we had better get a book.’

My mother wasn’t an educated woman, she could read and write, spell and add-up, subtract, multiply, divide and use a Ready-Reckoner. She had lovely handwriting and knew her tables. She knew the capitals of most of the countries coloured red on the map, in what had been the British Empire, now the Commonwealth and she could spell Mississippi – that was about it.

She had been taught by her mother to cook and how to speak properly (her mother had been lady’s-maid to Lady Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan, and had stayed in some of the grandest houses in Britain and after her marriage she had cooked for all those policemen and attendants who worked at the magistrate’s court in Central London, where her husband was Clerk — so she knew how to cook and how the upper classes spoke, although Granny’s own voice retained a trace of the rural Essex of her birth).

My mother also knew the Ten Commandments, which she took seriously, and the importance of a good marriage and a quick smile – in fact, everything a lady needed to know in the middle of the twentieth century.

We went to the bookshop in Portscatho, in Cornwall during our holiday and (I can visualise the actual shelf) we purchased a Pelican, blue covered paperback, entitled ‘Homosexuality’, this I read with great expectation and disappointment – it told me nothing that I wanted to know but… It had a bibliography – the key to education!

When I went to the Public Library I threw the library staff into consternation, the books I requested from the bibliography were on a list – a restricted list – no one had requested such a book before – Welwyn Garden City had until that date been unaware of Dr Kinsey and his colleagues’ exhaustive study of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male or indeed its sequel, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female.

Again I was disappointed – denied the results of serious research on the grounds of age – the book could only be borrowed by someone who had attained the age of twenty-one (it might have been eighteen). I returned two hours later with my mother. There had been no fuss, I had explained to her my dilemma and she had simply picked up her purse and her library card.

She assured the senior librarian that she was over twenty-one ( he was nearing retirement and she was still very pretty with thick black hair that lolloped over one eye), she proffered her library card and her request and the books were duly ordered and collected a few days later, as described, by bicycle.


Knowledge is Power and there is nothing more embarrassing than ignorance.

Nothing shocked me in those dry academic tomes, nor my mother, who looked over my shoulder from time to time and asked me how I was getting on. I was empowered. I became an authority within the fifth form of my girls’ grammar school on all matters sexual and from a position of knowledge, if not experience.

Later, when I went to medical school I was fore-armed; nothing, in those innocent days, caught me unawares (unlike a fellow student, a man, much older than myself, who was overheard in a fertility clinic cross examining an attractive female patient , ‘How can you be having intercourse eight times a week when there are only seven nights in the week?’)

When my school friends expressed disgust at hitherto shady aspects of human sexuality and asked ‘Ugh, How low can they get?’ I knew the answer: A Jack Russell!


Getting Closer to the Edge

P1060368 (2)

I have been getting to know the stranger who will soon be in our midst — the new arrival to challenge all our preconceptions and established relationships — presently a nudge to my proffered hand, like the mumble of a presence in another room, but soon to be much more.

You see, nothing is ever what it seems — you are not what you seem — not what you were a moment ago — time changes everything.

A first baby, at any time, changes a child into a parent and sends the parent from centre stage to the wings —  maybe a relief after 35 years in a leading role, to emerge in a new role which could be tricky but could be amusing, even liberating.

A baby makes little sisters into big sisters; little brothers become big brothers, mentors and protectors; siblings become aunties, next in line of responsibility in case of disaster — and dogs…  Sorry, Pedro, but dogs become a threat.

We are all looking forward, or are oblivious, to our impending rebirth,  meanwhile we wait.

Gwithian Sands


The Post-Nuclear Family

Looking forward from childhood, all we ever knew was a nuclear family — Mummy, Daddy and 2.4 children (black Labrador and a cat – optional)

John William Ashworth &family c1911
Looking back – the nuclear family was never ever what it seemed.
Now that I’m old I can tell you, as people have told me, it only seemed to work because of hypocrisy and deceit – it was a construct – like a Facebook persona – all those role models were having you on.
Your parents were never who they seemed – they stayed together because they saw no other option and (perhaps) because they loved you. Your uncle and grandfather and half the men they knew had mistresses and their wives had unhappy love affairs – sometimes lesbian, or were just unhappy, eventually – deeply dejected and rejected. Your respectably married, professional, cousin had homosexual adventures. The vicar was at it with a series of lonely housewives and the headmaster was patting the bottoms of the little girls and a little boy was unbelievably raped at school camp – nobody believed him.
Even the smallest village had a couple of convicted paedophiles and several prostitutes (if only semi-professionals – enthusiastic amateurs) and the milkman and the postman did linger longer than necessary – even the roving green-grocer was not averse to having a go (I remember my Mum’s outrage at his audacity, the vicar would have been rejected more graciously).
All this happened.  It is what the bible called ‘original sin’ – it’s not original at all – it’s human nature and you had better believe it – accept it and live with it.
One day – I don’t remember quite when, the veil was lifted. Perhaps it was the advent of the mobile phone or itemised bills, but suddenly deceit became more complicated and women had more options — we entered the era of family breakdown.
That was very painful.
The worst thing was that it wasn’t supposed to happen (not to people like us) – we were all so unprepared.
But twenty years on I can tell you that there is a post-nuclear family – a reconstituted family – just add water and stir – children, grandchildren, step-children, half-brothers, cousins, biological mums, gay partners, feckless uncles, previous lovers, ex-in-laws, anyone you like! The only rule is to look after the children (and don’t forget the dogs).

Post-Nuclear Family

This week-end we had a party to celebrate the youngest’s thirtieth birthday — cocktails in the woodshed, a bonfire, barbeque and then the team hide-and-seek they used to play as children (now Bear Grylls-style in the  wet fields and complete darkness around the house) — no turning out at 4 a.m. to collect them from a sleezy nightclub or from A&E, just a pile of wellies and water-proofs to climb over next morning! 


All you need to know about female sexuality — for free.

‘How to get your man, and hang on to him,’  Or something like that – that’s what the smooth young man on the internet was promising to reveal if you registered on his site – ‘what you do that turns men off!’
Pin back your ears, Men. Here it comes! From the other side of the sexual divide – all you need to know about female sexuality – and it’s free.

878652598_1e76f15f2d_bDon’t worry about the science, it’s simple – women have two hormones – one called compliance hormone (which make her say ‘bless him – oh I do love him,’ when you say something dumb) and non-compliance hormone (which makes her say ‘That’s dumb!’ when you say something dumb). During her reproductive years the levels of these two hormones go up and down but compliance hormone is dominant for far more days than its brother – this is what makes marriage possible. The variations in these hormones are endlessly confusing to the male of the species. Some say it keeps him on his toes and maintains his interest. It is much simpler than that.
When there is a biological chance of pregnancy compliance hormone says ‘bless him – I do love him.’ When there isn’t, when conception has failed, non-compliance hormone says ‘God, you are irritating, why don’t you sling your hook and let someone else have a go.’ This is called pre-menstrual tension by men. Nature calls it sexuality and it makes life very difficult for some women and most men. It causes infidelity and makes life difficult for counsellors who try to help women decide what they want to do when what they want to do changes with the tides every two weeks each lunar month  (Note — doctors also think it’s more fun not to warn people that various drugs, contraceptives and aids to fertility mess with this system causing perplexing emotional turmoil.)
Not surprisingly women complain about these dramatic changes in their emotional settings… That is, they complain until the menopause when they become blissfully stable and go back to how they were when they were eleven – pretty un-compliant and free from the influence of compliance hormone. Then they complain about the lack of hormones and take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) – this is to avoid re-negotiating their marriage or getting divorced. The former would probably be best for everyone as divorce is distressing and men generally become more compliant and dependent upon their wives as they age due to slight waning in their I’m in charge hormone, sadly this is not the case in my own marriage but that’s another story.
All this evolved when sex was about dominance, about belonging to the strongest, richest, most aggressive man who could protect and inseminate a woman most efficiently – long before love was invented.

This is why it is so difficult for women to leave what we call abusive men – cave men. (note – I’m sure there is another, as yet unidentified, hormone — let’s call it extra-compliance factor, released in women after sex – a project for a PhD perhaps)
Lastly women are attracted to men that make them laugh – thank God for that at least, I hear you say. Laughter is all about dominance – did you not know that?  Big people tickle little people to let them know who’s in charge, little people giggle to show they understand.
Is it any wonder that sustaining a sexual relationship for any length of time is difficult.

Thanks to David Merrigan for his image of the Gerkin, London (cc-Attribution-Non Commercial) via flickr
Hill Farming, Relationships, Sheep, Uncategorized

Love Potion — Or why you shouldn’t wash new born babies!

The secret behind creating the most powerful emotional bond ever known is revealed — remembered from our primaeval past.  It occurred to me as it probably did to our ancient ancestors — when it went wrong.

Yesterday we had to leave our lambing flock for a few hours, it was an imperative.  A friend had agreed to come as a locum (in between lambing a 180-ewe batch of his own sheep) but he wouldn’t get here until after we had left.


I rose at 5.15 am to check and feed the flock — chaos reigned.

Two ewes were fighting ferociously over a new born lamb that was trying to suckle from the younger one, Number Nineteen (you know they are not supposed to have names).  Every time the lamb got near the teat the older ewe, Square Sheep (who you have met before) interposed herself with frantic baaing and butting of the younger ewe.  I chased her off but she would not leave the lamb and with her four-wheel drive and superior power-to-weight ratio I was not going to prevail.  I looked around for inspiration.

All I saw was a square wooly bottom.  A long silken thread of liquor glistened from it in the morning sun.  Square Sheep had given birth, she was right — it was her lamb.  She looked at me accusingly and who could blame her?  Still the battle raged.

The fence was nearby — I ran down the steep hill to the barn, 200 meters away, and returned with a hurdle (a galvanized fence panel — 2 meters long and quite heavy) then I got the other one and a pocket full of baler twine.  I tied them in a V to make the apex of a triangular pen with the fence as its base.

At this point there was a brief intermission in hostilities — Square sheep lay down suddenly and heaved out a second lamb which Number Nineteen licked and looked at me making the purring call that sheep make after birth, ‘look, I’ve got another lamb — I told you it was mine!’   Square sheep struggled to her feet, this was  her 10th lamb — she didn’t need this hassle.

Hostilities resumed — lambs were knocked in all directions but now I knew what to do — I grabbed both lambs and bundled them into the pen.  Both ewes stopped and looked at me as if to say,’That’s a good idea, now let me in.’  I opened the apex of the triangular pen to let in Square Sheep, Nineteen hurled herself into the pen.  I secured it with us all inside  and stirred it until Square Sheep and the two lambs were on the far side , then I opened it and gave Nineteen a monumental shove and ejected her.

Nineteen now danced around the pen, distraught, wailing and I had a sudden nagging little doubt — it could just be that the first lamb was hers — I had to examine her to see if she had just given birth.

We have a permanent pen by the house, but how on earth was I to get her there?

I climbed out of the pen and leaned over and picked up the first lamb, let Nineteen sniff it, and started down to the house carrying the lamb and encouraging Nineteen to follow.  A third sheep now started to wail further up the hill and my husband came out of the house to remind me it was time to go.

With lots of running back and forth and sniffing  and bleating and baaing we got down to the other pen and got her in.  I ran up the hill and returned the lamb to Square Sheep, pending further tests, then ran down — the other, third, sheep now wailing more urgently, husband tapping watch.  I pressed Nineteen in the pen, inspected her pristine, dry and tightly closed vagina and booted her into the next field.

As I ran up the field with a bucket of water for Square Sheep and some feed, by way of apology, I noticed the wails of the third ewe were now closer together and more imperative.

Now I applied myself to the wailing ewe — she had been lying on her side in strong labour but had now rolled almost onto her back with her legs kicking in the air, which was a bit of luck because I could catch her more easily.  I fell upon her and turned her on her side, she tried to get away but there would be no second chances — I was not letting go, we rolled over as she pulled me down the hill but she remained in my tight embrace.  We lay panting when the cavalry arrived to hold her head end.

The lamb was well positioned, just huge, I freed its head with the next contraction, which shook liquor all over my face and the half-born lamb baa-ed, it needed a big pull to deliver the body which was presented hastily to its mother who licked it.

We rushed off to our appointment, face and hair still splattered with the magic liquid.

Around the time of delivery it is the smell and the taste of the liquor that switches on the maternal behavior in sheep, and probably in humans.  That is how a curious young ewe (like Nineteen), nearly due herself and programmed to sniff out her own lambs which might be born in the black of night can accidentally get bonded to the wrong lamb.

This love potion is powerful stuff.

What happened to poor Nineteen?  She’s fine, within 24 hours she had twins of her own.


Number Nineteen earlier today with her lambs born a few hours earlier.

Number Nineteen, earlier today and none the worse, with her lambs born a few hours earlier.


Relationships, Uncategorized

A Love Story

A Love Story

‘You make me so angry!’ I bellowed, I was stamping my feet.  We’ve been together nearly twenty years, when we met our joint age was 100.  Now he was standing, unsteadily, on top of a curved and slippery plastic fuel tank which, in turn, stood on a concrete plinth as tall as a man.  ”I can’t turn my back for a moment!’  In his hands was a large but silent chain-saw.  All around a hail storm raged; he moved his feet a little, they crunched, he wobbled; he laughed.

‘It’s okay,’ he said, ‘It’s quite stable.’

‘It’s slippery. It’s round.  It’s wet plastic.’

There was a tree suspended, uncertainly, above his head; it spanned the space between its base, where it normally stood on the bank behind our house, and the house, on whose corner it now rested; it had been blown over in yesterday’s storm.

‘Come down!  If you fall you’ll break your femur or you neck and by the time I get you to hospital you will have bled to death.’ I’m always mindful of his anticoagulant status.

‘Don’t fuss.’

‘Please come down.’

He pulled the starter and raised the roaring saw above his head with both hands, showering me with saw dust as I looked up, both arms raised in supplication or ready to catch him and have my head chopped off.  The tree wavered above – whether ‘twas better to knock off a few more tiles or knock the old man off his perch.

‘Pull the rope.’ The old man shouted.  I pulled the rope.  It was attached to the tree (now that’s a first: he generally attaches the rope after he cuts).  One of us groaned, it might have been the tree clutching at the guttering.  The end of the gutter came away and the pipe sagged, shooting out ice-cold water and wet leaves.

‘Come down – please.’   He climbed down with surprising ease, having brought the wobbly step ladder out of the airing cupboard and placed it against the back of the tank.  I was thinking on my feet.  I picked up the long ladder that was lying nearby and flung it against the bank.

‘Look!  Climb up that – you won’t slip and you won’t fall so far – worst case scenario – you’ll roll.  Cut it at the top and I’ll pull.’  He did.  And I did and the tree let go of the house and fell to the ground.  He chopped it up on the ground and I pulled the logs and branches out of the way.  I looked up and he was back up the bank, silhouetted against the sky, gleefully rocking a large rotten tree trunk back and forth.

‘Look at this one,’

‘Oh, Alan.’

‘There, you see, it was alright, wasn’t it?’

Relationships, Uncategorized

Generation X

We chose to live on the edge; wrestling with physical adversity seems to be something we need to do.  It makes us pivotal in our own existence.  We built our home here and there is little that needs to be done that we haven’t learned to do ourselves; we cut down trees that threaten our electricity wires, we mend our bridge and tend the well, we poke sticks through the crust on our cesspit and nod our heads wisely. Our barn and woodsheds are full and we have enough lamp oil to last a whole winter without power.

I get perverse pleasure from asserting myself over an animal that weighs more than I do but doesn’t understand the need for immunisation.  We can gather and marshal our herd with ease now, albeit more with cunning than physical fitness — still very satisfying.

It’s only when our grown-up children arrive, bringing their own worlds with them that we start to feel marginalised on our edge.  It’s not that they sit in silence texting, they don’t anymore, or have a hybrid stealth car (we used to enjoy bump-starting their old wrecks) or that they don’t want the benefit from our experience about routes home — it’s okay we’ll probably just follow the sat-nav.

They bring their films and music, grab the remote and find channels on our TV that we didn’t even know existed, channels which have their own familiars, strange creatures that leer from the box making jokes that aren’t funny (to us) but they laugh;  their cultural allusions are lost on us and ours on them.

6795936483_af9f9fc7b4_nThanks to Laura Mountford for the photograph of Noel Fielding (CC BY-ND 2.o) Laura Mountford

They ask for mysterious bathroom products that are not soap or toothpaste, they want to know if the cheese is pasteurised.  They are outraged that the baked beans went out of date in 2006 and the cloves in 1994 and fill the fridge with essential dietary items that are unknown to us.  They ask their father not to smoke in the kitchen and are shocked by the lack of a toaster and hair conditioner and the suggestion to use washing-up liquid when they finish every drop of shampoo in the house.  They definitely look slightly put-out when one of us absent-mindedly breaks wind.

They can’t understand a plumbing system that refuses to act as a garbage disposal unit and which exercises its own water-rationing.  They put all the lights on all the time and use unbelievable amounts of toilet tissue.  They download all sorts of strange programs onto our computer, change the browser (so we don’t know where we are) and complain about the broadband speed and the poor wi-fi signal.  They put everything in a different place and worry about our poor memory and declining powers when we run round in circles looking for things.

They go for a 10k run or climb one of our little mountains, we provide back-up or bring up the rear, panting, feeling our age, feeling bad because we’ve held everyone up, made everything more complicated; we are no longer central to the exercise.

Then something occurs that bridges the gap, that slots us all back into a familiar place: they produce another generation.


Suddenly we’re all on familiar ground, all singing from the same song-sheet — the Oxford Nursery Songbook to be precise.  We ‘re all saying the same daft things that we did 30 years ago — blowing raspberries, funny voices — Tweetie-Pie is going south for the winter again.

Now generation Y is learning why.  Another little girl is learning to be gentle with the pussycat, not to pull the doggies tail.  Another boy is learning not to put the fish-hook through his finger

cornwall 015Expeditionary forces again march behind their trusty leader without benefit of sat-nav:

Expeditionary forceAnd trudge home tired for tea:

031Kids in CornwallThis Christmas there was someone new to show to the sheep and to introduce to the joy of muddy puddles and carried away by it all the Mummies and Daddies were soon entering into the spirit with a planned Boxing Day dip in the pond — it’s not chlorinated you know!