Monday, 21 June 2010

Diary of a Provincial Lady


Recommended reading: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. Although it was written in 1930, any woman who feels harried, ineffectual and even occasionally ridiculous, will find much to identify with – and laugh at – here. So in the spirit and style of the inimitable Delafield, I offer up a few highlights from the past week of my life. An affectionate homage . . . from a 21st century provincial lady.


June 12. – Sports Day once again. We arrive late and miss youngest daughter’s first and best event: hurdles. Daughter’s face is as thunderous and chilly as the weather. Discover that daughter has no other events until after lunch, so we meander around the fields, dodging dogs and engaging in conversation about the weather with various acquaintances. Universal consensus that weather is not as bad as last year, but not as nice as the year before that. Congratulate myself on getting clothes right: am wearing pastel linen, as a nod to June, with a trench coat for warmth. (End up not taking off trench coat for the entire day; might as well have worn jeans and a fleece.)


Feel intensely jealous of better-organized sorts who have brought flasks of coffee. Speak at length to woman with five children who has attended fifteen Sports Days in a row. Feel profoundly glad to have only two children. Feel intensely jealous of better-equipped sorts who have brought attractive deck chairs. Eat my hog roast sandwich and strawberries and cream standing up. Experience intense back ache by 4 pm – and more than six hours of continuous standing.

Commisserate with daughter, after humiliations at the high jump. Of course she feels herself to be the cynosure of every eye. Attempt to convince daughter that no one really notices or remembers these things. Cannot help but feel that sporty parents with equally sporty offspring derive more enjoyment from this sort of event. Decline to participate in Mother’s Race. Help clear up empty bottles (beer, wine and champagne) from the Leavers’ Tent and marvel at the English constitution. A couple of weak Pimm’s are enough to do me in.

Take two ibuprofen the minute I arrive home and fall asleep, fully clothed, at 6 pm. Later rouse myself to make some popcorn and watch South Pacific with youngest daughter. Am impressed, chiefly, by the smallness of Mitzi Gaynor’s waist. (Query: What happened to the small waist? Not just mine, but everyone’s?) Cannot help but think that the film was not nearly as good as I remembered. 1950s production values and acting style have aged badly.

Later in the week I learn, from walking partner, that many of the parents at the Sports Day attended a 50th birthday party in a Moroccan-style marquee later that evening. Listen, raptly, to descriptions of costumes – particularly the unsuccessful ones. (Agree that the post-40 bosom requires support.) Marvel again at the superior English constitution.




June 14. – Visit senior school in Oxford with youngest daughter. (After Sports Day, youngest daughter gets a three-day break from school.) Ponder the conundrum of private education. Realize that neither child has attended a full week of school since mid-March. Consider that oldest daughter, who is on study leave for her GCSE exams, sports the tan of a person who lives in the Caribbean.


Accompanied by two impossibly gorgeous and self-confident 13 year olds, we view the playing fields, science classrooms, art studios and theatre of the school in Oxford. Admire the large Wind in the Willows themed mural in the dining hall. (Remember that Kenneth Grahame is alum of the school.) Wonder aloud if youngest child will go in for rowing. Youngest child expresses doubts as to the likelihood of this event. (Query: Why is that all school tours consist of the same constituent parts, and yet leave such different impressions?)

After school tour, youngest daughter and I – weak with hunger – walk to Mamma Mia pizza place. Feel most keenly that pizza place in walking distance of school is huge asset. Youngest daughter wants to attend school in Oxford. Feel most keenly that entire family should move to Oxford.


June 15. – Oldest daughter finishes Greek exam by 10 am and needs to be picked up from school. Youngest daughter cannot rest easy until we visit the pet store and purchase some hamsters. Remainder of day occupied by visitations to various pet emporiums.

Mem: parental weakening on pet issue can quickly lead to full-scale capitulation. On Saturday, oldest daughter wins a goldfish from some carnival game at the Marlow Regatta. Permission to bring home goldfish is grudgingly granted. According to some complicated sibling equation, youngest daughter requires hamsters in order to square up the laws of fairness. Mother is final arbiter of fairness; justice must be served. Weak mother is worn down after 48 hours of dedicated pleading and nagging.

Visit to pet shop involves significant expenditure. Internet research has not accounted for items like toys and special snacks. Purchase of hamsters requires visit to aquarium. Single fish is lonely; more fish are required. Also, plants. Unexpected expenditure incurred. Husband not informed of expanding pet menagerie. Children remind mother that fish, hamsters, chickens and a cat don’t really count. Only dogs, which are still denied to children, are proper pets.


June 16. – Email from husband, which didn’t look important, turns out to be invitation to opera.

Apparently we are last-minute guests for corporate entertainment with company that husband does no business with. Would have been prudent to Google company and attempt to learn something about hosts. Instead, spend morning driving children (and camping paraphernalia) around Berkshire countryside. Husband arrives home at 3 pm to find undressed wife, who is shaving her legs and wondering why she is not a person who keeps an up-to-date pedicure. Cocktails begin at 4 pm in Hampshire. Feel dismay at lack of appropriate opera wardrobe; finally resort to silk blouse, old skirt and ubiquitous pashmina.

Marvel at Russian, Korean, French, Greek and Norwegian fellow guests – all of whom speak perfect English. Despite the lack of language barrier, though, conversation is predictably stilted. Having dispatched the topic of the weather, I attempt to engage a French woman in conversation about differences between English and French culture. Although French woman’s children have spent their entire lives in London, apparently they are inviolably French. Suspect that I have managed to inadvertently insult French woman. Resolve to stick to weather in future conversations with corporate wives. Also manage to disagree on opera – which has a preposterous plot, something to do with three oranges. Husband and I enjoy dissecting guests on long drive home; suspect that one man has rented partner for the night.





June 17. – Endure yet another school visit with youngest daughter. Although she assures me that “there is less than a one percent chance” that she will want to attend this school, we sacrifice the better part of a day in the pursuit of thoroughness. Arrive at school having not received the letter that prospective students should wear their own clothes. Name tag is misspelled. None of this bodes well. Return to school late, having been lost in the town’s one-way system. (Miss tea and cake; do not miss making polite conversation with other prospective parents.) Sat-nav proves bloody useless; only find school, in the end, by doing the opposite to what the sat-nav suggests. Feel sure that inability to find school is a sign.


Oldest daughter’s 16th birthday. Oldest daughter thrilled that no GCSE exams fall on her birthday. Oldest daughter thrilled to be left home alone with friend-who-is–a-boy.

The birthday girl has requested chicken pot pie and red velvet cake for her birthday meal. Reflect that it would have been better to start labour-intensive birthday meal before 6 pm. Unsurprisingly, we do not manage to eat before 9 pm. Husband opens bottle of champagne. Newly christened 16-year-old quaffs champagne like an old pro, which raises questions in the maternal mind.  Cannot help but remember the hot day in June when oldest daughter came into the world.  Reflect that sixteen years is a long time -- which has suddenly gone by very quickly.


34 comments:

willow said...

This was a delightful read, Bee! ....there is nothin' like a dame...

rachel said...

What fun, Bee! Such a busy but well-perceived life!

And oh, that subtle distinction between a boyfriend and a friend-who-is-a-boy.... often laden with conjecture and longing.....

T Opdycke said...

Vastly enjoyable read. Why does it comfort to find out others don't always have the proper attire for every occasion?

ewix said...

Was the opera Prokofiev?
What a very tiring week
makes me quite worn out just to read about it.
What a lot of parent participation seems to be required from those who pay for education.....
ours got semi-educated here on the land tax.
Loved the frantic pace of the post.

I would not worry about the French person. Mostly I like them but some can be a bit sticky and superior.
Needless to say I NEVER have the right clothes for anything.
I'm reading Nicola Beauman's book about the novel --terrifically good but should have asterisks for 'spoiler alerts'....... Sarah would know about this.

Coney Island, of course was quite astoundingly awful but a good photo op.

slommler said...

Wow! I am exhausted just reading all you had to do with the kids and hubby!! And I love the dairy style too! Made for a delightful read.
Hugs
SueAnn

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, this made me laugh. And for some reason, It also made me incredibly happy not to be sixteen. To have to worry about exams again, not to mention hurdles... I'm much more contented now.

Wishing you the best with those hamsters!!

Vote4SafePregnancy said...

great story, i like to have it, so where i can get it?

spudballoo said...

Oh this is such a fabulous read, a veritiable sprint through your exhausting week.

Bravo, wonderful post x

elizabethm said...

My oldest had her 16th in New England and was predictably horrified by great aunt having told the restaurant and the subsequent delightful palaver. Now she is the mother of my first grandchild and visiting Japan with husband and said baby. They live in Oxford. Looks good to me. You would fit in (or not) just perfectly. And both fitting it and not is the way to do it, if you ask me.

Anne said...

I got the biggest kick out of this. Thanks for the fabulously fun read, and I hope you get a chance to catch your breath soon!

Relyn said...

Willow put it exactly right, this is delightful. Plus, am now dying to read Provincial Lady... Maybe you just solved my reading problems. OH, I hope so.

Visiting you today has brought me much joy. I'm with youngest - Oxford. Of course, I really am a know-nothing. I just think it's beautiful.

David Cranmer said...

Terrific pics and wonderful diary style post. I may have to try that myself. ".. post-40 bosom requires support" is unforgettable line of the week.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Whew! You've been busy, dear. Happy sweet 16th to your daughter, Bee! XOX

Emm said...

Oh my. What a stunning post! I devoured every word of it!! You do a very good job of imitating Delafield's writing style!! (Well, i haven't read Delafield but it seems different from your normal style). Lovely!

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

This was such an enjoyable read, Bee. I was in hysterics. So nice that I can sit back and read about other people's experiences with their children without having to go through it myself. I can't even imagine.
I have to come back and read it again...that's how much I enjoyed it.

Catherine

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Oh my! You make a run down of normal days both entertaining and thought provoking! Writing was truly your calling, dear Bee! xx

Star said...

You took me back to the days when I was attending sports at school with my three (boys). Really enjoyed your post. I'm surprised the school didn't put out chairs for the parents. We always did, when I worked in a school. Then we had to bring them all back in again.
You say about the English constitution: well only today I was saying to my other half that I felt very unfit over here in the U.S. because I couldn't get out and about, walking etc. It is too darn hot. If I don't get back to England soon, my muscles will seize up!

Marcheline said...

Dude, that was one HYSTERICAL post! Laughing out loud, which I'm sure annoys my husband, but couldn't help myself.

Side note: You guys can drink alcohol at SIXTEEN over there? Whoa! You'd get a night in the slammer over here for that.

Polly said...

I loved reading that! I think you should carry on and write a book. I'll be the first to buy it.

And great to see a photo of your older daughter.

PS do you remember the nightmarish carpark in Oxford? Somehow I ended up paying a fine for going into bus lane trying to find the entrance. I have absolutely no recollection of a bus lane, but will stick to Thornhill park'n'ride in the future!

kristina said...

Brilliant! You captured the style of the Diary so perfectly, yet it is all your own. I agree you should keep going and write an entire book!

K x

Nimble said...

"harried, ineffectual, and occasionally ridiculous" yes! Thank you for this, I didn't know the book. I expect my mother would like the deadpan delivery too.

I admire your supportive parenting. And I dread just a bit how I will feel dealing with my teenagers in six or seven years time. If only I were going to become more energetic and chic by then.

Poshyarns said...

Wonderful post, Diary of a Provincial Lady is one of my favourite books and I very much enjoyed your tribute.

I just discovered your blog thanks to Rachel at Slow Lane Life and have very much enjoyed dipping in. I have book marked you now and plan prolonged browse through archives with coffee at side, a more pleasant Thursday morning activity I can scarcely think of.

herhimnbryn said...

Fie, but you lead such a busy life m'dear!

Mine consists of waking, lighting fire, walking hound, drinking tea (I do use a bone chna cup), planting plants and vacuuming house(due to hound shedding hair).

A lovley post Bee, had me smiling on a chilly day.

Emily @ Treetops said...

A great post, made me laugh out loud. Loved the Sports Day description too .... ah memories!!

Sarah Laurence said...

I identify with the harried part after shipping one kid off to the wilderness and now getting the other ready to visit grandparents in NYC. That’s too bad about missing your daughter’s event after the effort of getting there. Those school events are more festive with real drinks – Americans should take note. My son rowed this year at school and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was a lot of driving for us parents at odd hours following the tides. Not a problem on the Thames. You would love Oxford too. Congratulations to your oldest daughter and to you for making it to 16 years! It’s a journey…

Dick said...

Miss Delafield would be proud, Bee! Stylistically perfect and in terms of content a sobering reflection on the fact that, in many striking ways, life in the Home Counties has altered barely a wit.

Your next exercise is to essay a journal in the style of the redder-than-red George Orwell...

Merisi said...

You poor soul, I feel the need to take a nap, imagine you having lived through this.

I congratulate you on your sense of humor and your writing skills, which made this a very entertaining read. The trials of parenting, who'd ever forget them?

Debski Beat said...

I remember her as a wee thing in warmer climes .... what a beauty number 1 has turned out to be xxx

Meri said...

Ah -- such is the life of a mom and wife, trying to meet every demand cheerfully. No wonder there's no time for a pedicure!

Barrie said...

Loved reading this post. And I can definitely related to the harriedness of it! I think I'd really enjoy the book. Oh, and speaking of books....I sent you the reminder email for July's Book Review Club. Hoping it made it through cyberspace to your inbox. :) If not, email me and I'll resend.

Relyn said...

I'm baaaack....

Did I tell you that I have this coming from interlibrary loan? Yippie!

A Woman Of No Importance said...

For a harried mother, Bee, you are also a very creative and wonderful one! My love to you, raised macaron in hand! x

Maggie said...

Love your blog! I'm a fellow E.M.Delafield fan. It's been about 20 years since I've read her books, and I think it's about time I reread them!

Lisa said...

I loved this. Really, really LOVED it.