Monthly Archives: March 2016



I am lost for words. A word.  Which I’m not very often. But there you have it. I’ve been sitting here a good twenty minutes now, and I simply do not know where to start.bouquet

Not that I’m light on ideas. Because what is a wedding, if not a rich seam of anecdotal gold? So, even as Moss Bros said the immortal words “we’ve lost your husband’s suit”, I remember thinking what a paradox it was that such a major inconvenience could be such a blessing.

Heaven knew, I could write screeds about the business of wedding attire generally and how we flap too damned much about things that don’t matter. Pete needed a suit. Pete has several suits. And as Father of The Groom (and I think these were his actual words) nobody ‘would give a flying one’ where he even WAS, let alone what suit he was wearing.

Then, the next day – the day before the wedding, to be specific – I thought ‘blow me, this really IS a gift’.

Well, where ‘gift’ can be translated as follows.  ‘Driving to Oxford, via Bristol Airport, to collect Georgie and her boyfriend Llŷr offb and w luke and charlotte their morning flight from Geneva (they are both currently working in the alps)  but having them emerge through the arrivals door sans luggage. Then finding out that said luggage is still in Geneva and might or might not make it to the UK on a later flight, and if not, sorry an’ all – it’ll be Tuesday.’

How well I remember, even as I gaped at the airline’s idiosyncratic relationship with the term ‘customer service’, what a gift this little gem would eventually be.

How well I remember, as we begged for food in a local pub, on Mothering  bloody Sunday, how the five hours in Bristol would eventually become part of an ‘oh, how we laughed’ family treasure.

I even remember how amused I was when we finally arrived in Oxford only to discover that the contents of Georgie’s toiletry bag had so spectacularly exploded. Run over! We agreed. Either by a Geneva Airport trolley, or more likely – hahaha! – by an Airbus  320.

And then there is The Perennial Hair Thing, of course. I have hair. It’s a Wedding. I am Mother of The Groom. That I have some sort of ‘do’ is non-negotiable.

But is it? Now I’ve seen the photos, I seriously wonder.

Because EXACTLY the same madness overtook me for my own nuptials, in that not only did I rock up looking exactly like Mary Poppins (pie-crust collar, billowing sleeves,  prissy late Edwardian-chic), I was also persuaded that I should have a ‘shaggy perm’, which meant I spent the wedding looking like I’d put a finger in an electrical socket and the first weeks of my married life like a cocker spaniel.

And here I was again. This time persuaded  that an ‘up’ do would make me look glamorous. It did not. It made me look like an ageing American TV news anchor. Crossed with Joan Rivers.  Plus a smidge of Sarah Palin.

And when you throw in the nude courts and flesh-toned ‘shimmer’ hold-ups, I can hardly bear to dwell on it, even now. Ah, but, again, lots to write about THAT.

Except I can’t. Because, like I say, I am completely lost for words. I simply do not know where to start.

They call childbirth an everyday miracle, don’t they? And, perhaps because there’s less in the way of primeval screaming, a wedding – even your own child’s – a pretty everyday event.

Which is why, in my naivety, I thought I knew what it would be like. An amazing day out. A watershed. A jolly. A cause for celebration. A do.

An opportunity to dance the Macarena with your granny. An excuse to drink Prosecco before noon, wearing rollers. A photo opportunity. An Instagram splurge.

A coming-together of two families. A chance to hatch new mother-in-law jokes. To become one. To welcome a new, cherished daughter, officially. To have a little self-indulgent weep.

And Luke and Charlotte’s wedding has been all of these things. But what I wasn’t quite prepared for – what I wasn’t at ALL prepared for – was the overwhelming, all-consuming JOY of it all. A joy so much more than the sum of its parts.  Astonishing. Coruscating. Shocking.

You know that thing when your heart is so full-to-bursting that you can’t quite catch your breath?  Well, THAT.

And when I find the word for it, I’ll let you know.

First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine 12th March 2016

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We were in rural Oxfordshire last weekend, there to celebrate Luke’s Birthday. (He was twenty nine last week, and is getting married this week. Which will mark lots of sniveling and my debut as a mother-in-law. Expect to hear a LOT more about that.)

Anyway, on this chilly February Saturday we were out for a wander when I spotted a large bird of prey in the sky. Which – and I seriously surprised myself, because Pete’s the one with the binoculars and the little bird book – I recognised immediately.

That’s a Red Kite,’ I told Charlotte, my lovely Daughter in Law to be. ‘See the angle of the wings? The red belly? The deep ‘V’ in the tail…’ (I know – I don’t know where the hell that all came from either. Go me!)

So we both stood and watched as it wheeled and dipped and hovered, because, heck, isn’t that the only thing TO do? (I don’t know about you, but I’m always just a little bit suspicious of anyone who can see a magnificent bird of prey performing acrobatics in the sky and just think ‘whatever’.)

But better still, walking on, we saw another. And then another, and another… Yes, there could have been some repeat sightings obviously, but when we saw several more driving home the following morning, I was moved to wonder quite where they’d all come from. Because, let’s face it, magnificent birds of prey aren’t exactly all over the shop, are they?

And it turns out that none of this is random. Far from it. It’s actually something of a conservation miracle, because, as recently as 1900, the Red Kite (which is up there with the best ‘woweeee!’ bird types) was almost extinct in most of Britain. Actually, it was. Go to England or Scotland prior to 1989, and you’d no more see a Red Kite than a Dodo. And that’s because (hard to imagine, this) it has been persecuted by humans for centuries.

It wasn’t ever thus. Back in medieval times, it was considered a valuable cleaner of ye olde thoroughfares, and, as such, protected by law. Slay ye a Red Kite, as I believe the legislation went, and be advised, sir, that thou woulds’t have an appointment with the gallows!

But, humans being fickle, this did not endure. By the modernist mid 1600s it was a very different kettle of fish, as the Red Kite (now so numerous as to be scavenging in pots and pans as well as kettles) became seen as a menace – like rats, say, or Justin Bieber fans (JOKING) – and began to be slain with impunity, right across Europe.

Which rendered it extinct, pretty much, as I said. Except in one place. A special place. A place with lots of hills and mountains. A place of incomparable rugged beauty, and lots of sheep.
No, not New Zealand, silly – it was Wales! Yes, a remote pocket of mid-Wales was the Red Kite’s last stand, being home to the only remaining 40 British birds, and still persecuted, of course – here an egg thief, there a taxidermist – because they were obviously now so rare. And, worse than that, was that it turned out, once they analysed the DNA, that they were the spawn of a single (and presumably knackered) female.

So there was obviously some concern about the gene pool. In Red Kites, of course, as in the film ‘Deliverance’. But bonkers banjo-playing birds were the least of their worries – the birds just failed to breed much at all.

Cue more urgent research, which finally revealed that, nice as the view was from Mynydd High-y-Draughty, the lady Red Kites, unlike party girls on St Mary Street on a weekend, weren’t up for it because they were just too blooming cold.

Isn’t science – come on, isn’t it? – just great? Because that piece of knowledge changed everything. And, quietly, efficiently, without so much as a tweet of self-importance, the RSPB (who’ve been toiling away at this since 1905, folks) joined the Welsh Kite Trust, Natural England, and Scottish Natural Heritage, and, having been given a bit of money, have reintroduced birds at sites all over Britain, and seen to it that the Red Kite is no longer in danger of extinction.

Which is why, when in places you’d never think to see them, you will once again – or if you’re young, perhaps for the first time in your life – enjoy the privilege of seeing Red Kites in the air.

And I think that’s rather wonderful. Don’t you?

First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, March 5th 2016

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