I feel like I was a happier and more content person before the word “fuddle” became part of my vocabulary. For the blissfully uninitiated, a fuddle is an office “party” (I use the term very, very loosely because a party would imply fun and frivolity) where everyone brings in food and drink and you all forego your usual lunch break – you know, the precious 30 minutes in your work day that you get to spend away from your colleagues – to partake in the fuddle. You get to experience the culinary delights of stale sausage rolls, wilted salad and a questionable chicken coronation made by Tracey the Office Admin who you once saw leave the toilets without washing her hands. The ratio of dip to carrot sticks is always low and once the hoards have descended, you’re left sitting in an office that smells like soggy ham sandwiches.
It comes in waves.
The first time it was the sight of the menthol filters left on the side in the hallway. I’d walked over to see her and amongst the chatter about holidays, old memories and a furious discussion about why there are so many cars on the road, she’d slyly looked at me and said “Shall we go out for a puff?”. We’d always shared the odd sneaky cigarette over a cup of tea but this was the first time we’d gone for one since she moved into the residential home. I had to fetch the wheelchair to take her outside (“It’s the black one!” “They’re all black, nanny!”) and we were cackling with laughter at how long it had taken me to manoeuvre her into the chair. Not because she was fragile and slow but because she was bloody stubborn and kept wriggling around and demanding that I pushed the wheelchair faster. And after I’d finally managed to steer the wheelchair out of the room and down the hallway, as she leaned out laughing to one of the staff members “She needs warning lights on this! It’s taken her twenty minutes to get me out here!” and we finally got outside, I told her that we’d get better at it once we’d had some practice. “Don’t worry, eventually we’ll have this down to a fine art and we’ll be out in minutes. I’ll even bring you some menthol filters next time”.
Those stupid filters. I saw them out the corner of my eye as I put my keys down and all I could think about was the fact that I didn’t get to keep my promise because there would never be a next time. I didn’t know there wouldn’t be a next time. I’d seen my uncle on that day as we stood outside with a cigarette and we’d whispered to each other about how good she looked, how healthy. I’d messaged my mum and told her: “Nanny looks amazing!! Best she’s looked in ages!”. It seems impossible to think that just under three weeks later she was gone.
The second time was in the car. We drove past the road that leads to Tansley and I was seized with sudden realisation that I would never have another reason to go there again. Tansley was my home, briefly, but most importantly it was where nanny lived. I would walk there at weekends taking the back route through the woods, walking through the village and then up to her house to surprise her. No matter how busy she was or how ill she was feeling, her face would always light up in exactly the same way when she saw me. We would pop in on the way back home from shopping and my nanny would always descend on me and my sister, lifting up the bottoms of our tops and scolding us because we weren’t wearing thermal vests (“It’s July, nanny!” “Och, you’ll catch your death!”).
I spent so many nights sleeping over at her house, sneaking biscuits from the tin and watching Homeward Bound and Jurassic Park on repeat. She always had a paper copy of the TV guide and we’d read through it circling things that we wanted to watch. We’d spend the evenings watching TV, me on the armchair, my nanny and Arthur holding hands on the sofa, and eating chocolate that she always seemed to magic from nowhere. Arthur would take the cats a walk before bed and my nanny and I would watch from the window, giggling at the odd procession of the man and the two cats walking side by side.
She would always buy Babybels and Capri Suns when she knew me and my sister were coming to stay and I would tease her about when I was young fussy eater and the only thing I wanted to eat was grated cheese so out of relief that I was finally going to eat something, she grated an entire block for me.
Although my early years at Mais Close where my grandpa and nanny lived are hazy to me, I can remember the smell of sweet peas and rhubarb and the mole hills that used to appear in the garden. I can remember the tiny bowl that she used to fill with Smarties to keep me quiet and the snap dragons in the front garden and the memory of nanny waving goodbye from the door as we walked up the path towards home. I used to walk past it sometimes on my way to nanny’s house, I’d take a detour so that I could look at the bungalow and the garden where I spent so much of my early childhood. It looks different with adult eyes, as things always do, but I can still remember how happy I was there.
And even when I was older and I was away at university, I used to love the long summers back at home where I’d hear the sound of the door opening and then a shout of “Yoohoo!” as nanny would make her way into the house wrestling with shopping bags stuffed full of flowers and Mini Rolls. We’d sit in the garden for hours with a cup of tea talking about everything and anything. She used to tell me stories about her time in the RAF during World War II and the friends that she made there. One of her dearest friends was a young Canadian pilot that she met in the queue for breakfast one morning. My nanny was too short to reach the cream cakes so he fetched one down for her and this started their daily tradition of having a black coffee and a cream cake together. This continued for several months but one morning she came down for breakfast and he wasn’t there. She found out that a plane that had been returning from Germany had crashed into the nearby mountains and though she crossed her fingers and prayed it wasn’t him, she was devastated to be told that unfortunately he’d died on impact. I can remember asking her about this story when I was going through a rough patch in my life and I asked her how she managed to move on from something so devastating. She looked at me and said so fiercely “You’ve just got to grit your teeth and move through it. There’s no use worrying about what’s already happened”. She always used to tell me that things would look brighter in the morning and she’s not been wrong yet.
We used to visit the garden centre so we could buy flowers to plant as a surprise for mum when she was on holiday. I refused to let her garden so she would stand above me shouting at me to “Dig deeper! Dig faster!” and I’d be shouting back at her “I can’t dig any bloody faster, nanny!”. We used to reward ourselves with lemonade and smoked salmon sandwiches. I can remember when she was in hospital last year and she was very poorly, lost in her own head. I smuggled in some smoked salmon for her to eat and she cracked one eye open, looked straight at me and said “Good girl, that’s spot on! That’s just what I needed”.
I still can’t believe she’s gone.
Sometimes I’m so gripped with anger at the unfairness of it all that I just want to scream. It’s like this hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that just builds and builds until I just want to howl because it’s so unfair, I didn’t know she was going to die. She had 91 amazing years but she could have lived 91 more and that still wouldn’t have been enough. She was nanny and she was unstoppable and she was always supposed to be here. It’s so unfair that she’s not.
I miss everything about her. I miss her smell and her laugh and the faces she used to pull and her sense of humour. I miss her calling me pet and her smile and the funny impressions she used to do of her cats. I miss sitting in the garden drinking tea and I miss sneaky cigarettes in the shed and I miss her just being here, I miss talking to her.
I’m trying to remember everything about her, trying to imprint it on my brain because I can’t bear the thought of forgetting anything.
I will miss her forever.
Join me as we cast our minds back to the early 90s when I was just a mere baby with out of proportion eyes and no hair.
My parents like to tell an endearing story about how they would lovingly swaddle me in blankets only to have me rip my way out of them, shrieking. Or the time that the doctor tried to hold me when I was a few hours old and I screamed so loudly that he said “Hmm. Prickly by name, prickly by nature”.
Oh how we laughed.
I think everyone thought (or hoped) that this was an endearing quirk that I would one day grow out of. But no, at 25 I am still living up to my namesake and I still fight daily with the urge to tell people to get the fuck out of my personal space.
I thought the British were meant to be stoic and non-demonstrative. So why is it that within seconds of meeting any new person, they’re reaching towards me for a kiss or a handshake or – the horror – a hug.
I am not a horrible, people-hating monster – I just want you to stop touching me. Not everything needs to be celebrated with an over the top display of affection. What happened to a nice handshake? Or a wave?
And it’s not just that I don’t like people hugging me. I am also absolutely terrible at hugging other people. I dread when other people tell me bad news because social etiquette dictates that I should hug them and then we get stuck in a situation like this:
And guess what? Dogs hate hugs too. Every time you hug your dog, you’re making it sad. Next time you feel like giving someone a hug, think of the puppies and how sad they are in your horrid, sweaty embrace.
My sister and I used to be very cunning children and we would make it our goal each year to figure out what our parents had bought us for Christmas. The moment they left the house we’d be scrambling upstairs and rooting through cupboards and drawers trying to find presents or receipts.
My parents cottoned onto this very quickly and they resorted to hiding all the presents in the loft – a place where we wouldn’t venture because my dad warned us that there were “HUGE CHILD-EATING SPIDERS” lurking up there. But sometimes they’d slip up and forget to put the presents in the loft and instead they’d leave them carelessly strewn around their bedroom for anyone to find. And it was during one of these times, as I was rummaging headfirst through the cupboard with my sister holding my legs, that I stumbled across an unusual object: a tin of cat food.
Now we don’t own a cat; we’ve never owned a cat despite years of constant pleading. My dad is very allergic to them (along with all other fluffy, adorable creatures) and we’d given up on the idea of ever owning our own cat years ago. But then why did they have a tin of cat food? What did it mean?
Well we came to the only conclusion that we could: Our parents had finally, finally caved after years of begging and bought us our very own cat. There was a moment of silence and then we lost our shit.
We frantically hunted through the rest of the bedroom and managed to find another tin of cat food AND a cat toy and that sealed it, we were definitely getting a cat for Christmas.
The days passed e n d l e s s l y. December always feels like it lasts a lifetime when you’re a kid but this year it went even slower because we were finally getting the present that we’d always dreamed about.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived we were bouncing off the walls with excitement and anticipation. By this point we’d already named him, decided who would clean out the litter tray and planned out his entire life from kittenhood to death including who would have him when we moved out.
Christmas day finally dawned and my parents were horrified when we came crashing into their room at 4am already fully dressed and ripping open our stocking fillers in a flurry of wrapping paper and sellotape.
It was the same downstairs; we were like miniature Christmas tornadoes thundering through the living room. There was wrapping paper flying through the air as we unwrapped three presents at a time trying to figure out which gift held the new family cat. Toys were thrown aside unopened as we continued our frantic search and my parents could only watch in bemusement as my sister and I got more and more frenzied as the number of presents dwindled without finding the cat.
Five presents… two presents… finally the last one… it was a book.
We stared at each other in exhaustion as my mum tiptoed around us picking wrapping paper out of our hair and pulling a newly boxed Barbie out of the Christmas tree where it been flung by one of us during the festive carnage.
We finally turned to stare at our parents in wordless confusion as they looked back at us and then at each other and then they finally uttered the words we’d been waiting to hear: “Well we do have one final present for you. It’s a joint present”.
Our faces lit up and gripping each other’s hands, we were led into the dining room with our eyes shut so we wouldn’t spoil the surprise. Our parents instructed us to be very, very quiet because “we don’t want you to frighten him”. You could smell the anticipation in the air as we sat there vibrating with excitement as images of our new kitten danced through ours heads.
We heard shuffling, a muffled giggle and then finally, finally: “Okay, you can open your eyes”.
First of all, obviously beef. Pork has been ruined for me ever since my uncle decided that pork was the ultimate festive meat and in a desperate bid to stop talking to us uttered the immortal words “I’m putting the pork in now”. I like to ignore the existence of turkey because turkeys themselves absolutely horrify me with their beady little eyes and flamboyant plumage. And while I do love a bit of roast chicken, it’s more of a hungover Sunday lunch food rather than a lovely Christmassy main dish. Also beef will go nicely with all the prosecco that I plan on drinking.
Last year we attempted a game of Cards Against Humanity and then gave up and watched Dougal and the Blue Cat. And then Matt arrived and managed to ham-fistedly explode one of his presents (baking sprinkles) which led to me capping off my Christmas day by hoovering his crotch in front of my parents:
I am being hassled and grumbled at because I haven’t produced a Christmas list yet. It’s been a bit of a struggle this year – partly because my internal monologue just consists of panicked screaming at the moment and partly because I have become a stingy penny-pincher.
It’s an unusual position to be in because I have never been a penny-pincher. I have always been a dramatic and reckless money spender – particularly when I’m drunk; my drunk self once ordered £20 worth of cake to be delivered to my university.
But the year that it took me to claw my way back out of my overdraft after university has instilled a feeling of terror every time I spend more than £5. Whenever I start thinking about potential gift choices my brain just goes “NOPE. NO. NOOOO”. I’ve managed to Pavlov’s dog my brain so well that when I went to buy something the other day, I actually started sweating a bit.
It’s also a lot harder to think of gift ideas when you’re older because you start to want things that are either abstract concepts or just impossible. My ultimate Christmas wish would be for Prince to still be alive but that is tragically, heartbreakingly not going to happen. And if I had to write a Christmas list with things that I genuinely want it would probably look something like this:
Which is obviously an entirely inappropriate list to give to my family because I don’t think my landlord would let me have a dog – even one that’s dressed as barbeque food.
I think socks are a pretty solid gift because everyone needs socks. I might even go a bit wild and ask for some new towels. Also I don’t think you can go wrong with a nice scented candle. Though last year I was inundated with them which is all well and good until you light them all, fall asleep and then wake up thinking your house is on fire.
I think I’ve reached the point in my life where I am far more excited about giving people presents rather than receiving them which is horrendously boring. I hope I don’t become one of those people who waxes lyrical about the spirit of Christmas and enjoying the festivities in a wholesome way. It’s complete bollocks anyway as everyone knows the best part of Christmas is getting day-drunk and eating so much food that you end up slumped on the sofa wearing a torn Christmas cracker hat and emitting groaning noises.
I don’t like Autumn. It’s cold, it’s dark and it’s full of unpredictable, shit weather. All this bollocks about it being the season of snuggly jumpers and cups of hot tea is a load of SHIT. It’s freezing in the morning so you wrap yourself up in so many layers that you can’t move your arms and then by lunch time it’s practically tropical and you’re sweating your arse off.
The other day I was walking back to the office after my lunch break. It hadn’t been windy when I left work but 30 minutes later, it was practically a hurricane. I was innocently tottering down the hill when I heard a rumbling noise coming from behind me that was getting increasingly louder and louder. I looked back and saw to my horror that there was a wheelie bin thundering towards me and my first instinct – rather than just stepping out of the way – was to start sprinting away from it.
So there I was, a grown woman, legging it down a hill while being pursued by a bin on wheels and wondering why these things always seem to happen to me. Because they always do. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve a life in which getting taken out by a wheelie bin wouldn’t be the most ludicrous thing that’s happened to me.
Luckily the bin hit a pot hole in the pavement that sent it hurtling into the road where it came to a slow, juddering stop. I did consider leaving it lying there in the road in the hopes that a car would hit it and end its reign of terror once and for all. But then I felt the judgmental stares of the people walking by who seemed to think that the bin was somehow my responsibility. And someone – who was stood safely on the other side of the road! – actually had the nerve to say “Oh that really scared me!” as though they were the one who had just almost been flattened by a bin.
I did end up wheeling it back up the hill because I am a conscientious and kind person (and also because I don’t cope well with peer pressure). And it’s definitely not going to chase anyone else because I practically buried it in gravel. But it was a bit awkward when I had to explain to all my new work colleagues why I was late back from lunch… and then they spent the afternoon taunting me with wheelie shit puns about bins.
I knew my run of unusual productivity would come to an end.
I’ve spent the day lounging around in bed watching Netflix and eating crisps and it was while I was sprawled out on top of my duvet that a thought occurred to me.
When is flying ant day?
Google didn’t give me a satisfactory answer so I decided to consult my friends.
It was a bit pointless to ask a Londoner, wasn’t it? I don’t think he’s ever even seen a sheep in real life.
I decided to ask my mother, the vast bastion of knowledge that she is:
“MUUUUUUUM! When’s flying ant day?”
“I don’t know but I don’t want a repeat of last year. We’re going to have to stay inside for the next two months and wait it out”
My mum has a huge fear of ants. We had a nest under our carpet one time and she refused to enter the living room for the next three months.
Unfortunately my mum appears to have transferred this phobia onto me and if I thought I was creeped out by normal crawling ants then that is nothing compared to the sheer terror it caused me when the fuckers started sprouting wings.
Picture the scene: It was a warm August evening and my mum had just returned from the shop with a bottle of gin: “I’m not pouring you one unless you come and sit in the garden with me!”
I don’t normally like venturing outside for extended periods of time because the wifi doesn’t reach that far but sod it, it’s a nice summery evening and I really wanted a gin and tonic.
Drinks in hand, we settled down at the table and it was all going swimmingly until this horrid beefy winged thing lands on my hand:
I did the mature thing and flailed around until it flew off. I was a bit creeped out at this point but again: sunshine, gin. I’m not going to let it bother me, I’m just gonna stay calm and enjoy this summer evening.
Until another one lands on my hand.
And then another one.
And then there are some on the table and OH GOD THERE IS A BIG BLACK CLOUD OF FLYING ANTS RISING FROM THE PATIO.
It was like a fucking Biblical plague. One moment there was calm and then the next there was a swarm of goddamn winged insects bearing down on us.
“ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH FUUUUUUUUUCK THE LITTLE ANTY BASTARDS ARE EVERYWHERE”
It was carnage.
Glasses of gin went crashing to the floor, chairs were knocked over, shoes were discarded as we both sprinted towards the house. I was windmilling my arms around my head and my mum was emitting a scream at a pitch I didn’t even think was humanly possible.
I had a sudden moment of clarity and shouted to my mum “THE RABBITS!!”
“LEAVE THEM. THERE’S NO TIME”
We finally made it into the safety of the house and slammed the door shut behind us. There was a moment of silence as we both gazed at each other horror-stricken.The garden was still swarming with ants and even the fact that there was now glass between us wasn’t as reassuring as we’d hoped.
My mum left the room and returned with two sizable glasses of gin. We sipped them quietly until my mum finally broke the silence.
“… I think that’s enough outdoors for today”