Good morning. I hope this missive finds you cosy.
I have been up since silly o’clock. Drinking too much coffee and trying to fix something that won’t be fixed. Frustration tempered by the bliss of working by candlelight and making Finley giggle when he discovers me somewhat drunk on caffeine. Some days hysteria rather sets in doesn’t it? Some days hysteria sets in and you find yourself dancing in the kitchen.
During the night there was a hailstorm, an auditory fright of relentless gunfire on the conservatory roof. So many ambulances went by: the blue lights illuminating a tangle of dreams during which most memorably I served Ste a rat pie and vomited in horror when I realised, before insisting that he wash it down with a pomegranate smoothie and calling the police to investigate what had possessed me.
And now I am here and it is so deliciously Wintery and snuggly I really rather wish I could invite you in. Serve you a slice of warm banana bread straight from the oven and share secrets over our teacups. I wish you could smell the amber candles burning on the tray on the coffee table. A brass pot laden with succulents glowing next to them. The blind over the window pulled down so I do not have to share my hygge with the men still nipping in and out of the outdoor loo in my garden, occasionally waving to me when I stand washing dishes in lavender bubbles or popping in to say that the fuses have blown and can they do something fiddly to my fuse box so they can carry on using our electricity to build the house in the back garden. (I do hop they aren’t powering a generator). Sitting on the wet step to remove dirty boots before they trudge in barefoot and spending so many hours just standing chatting over dirty mugs of tea that is quite astonishing that the house has gone up at all. I think I might miss them when they have gone.
I have the weekend to myself. Tonight Finley will be spirited away to Mark’s house and Ste went to work this morning and will not return until late tomorrow night. He will sleep and then return to work on Sunday morning until Monday evening. Thank heavens then for a promotion that means these endless exhausting shifts will be no more: for the blessing that a nine to five routine again will once again be. For the joy of a job that will challenge him.
But for now I am alone. My laptop my companion today and drinks with a friend planned for this evening. Tomorrow I am going to fashion Christmas for our plans have changed and suddenly it looks as though I might be in sole charge of creating the very first Christmas Day I have ever had to conjure up for a house full of guests: a rite of passage that strikes me at the grand old age of forty-four as proof that I am no longer the child someone else will look after. Though I am still blessed by Mums. My own Mum’s sister Barbie always at the end of the phone, Ste’s Mum a reassuring hug whenever I need it and Mark’s Mum, who rings me and though she has long been my shy, reassuring friend, tells me that now my Mum has gone, she is my Mum and makes me want to weep tears of relief for this unexpected kindness. I am blessed by Mums. And by those of you in my Living Room who know all my secrets and let me in the safety of our inner sanctum, spill out my sometimes ugly guts.
I quite like being alone. Watching the world go by. The girl with the mustard scarf she wears like a roll of carpet around her neck. The jazzy little geriatric in the leather pants who wanders up to the post office for a newspaper each morning pulling at what is left of his greying quiff. The Siamese cat in the little terraced house across the road. Entire days could be spent just watching other people spend theirs. But there is work to done. And as a reward for doing it, at the end of the day there will be a book so painful and elegant I cannot begin to describe the joy of it. Though joy is not quite the right word: but how else is one to describe a book that tells of unrequited love and loss in fine detail that both manages to get under your skin, create the subdued loneliness of another place and time right there in your bedroom, and have you looking forward to stepping in to that place though we anticipate only anguish when we get there? What is that? If not joy then what? The very act of reading – the experience of it, bewilders me.
I am hungry now. Caffeine burning a hole in my empty stomach, but hungry for I know not what. And isn’t that the most awful thing? To know not what we hunger for? Cheese on toast or freedom? A bowl of soup or a day lying in the arms of someone we love? I am hungry and rambling as I so often find myself doing in these morning pages. I am hungry and the kitchen floor could do with steaming. That pile of laundry carried up the stairs and tucked away. The problem that won’t be fixed tackled once again with determination. The steps up to the house sprinkled with salt so none of us kill ourselves on slippery hailstones. Maybe a trip to the shops for something that will make me feel beautiful tonight. And afternoon nap in orange blossom sheets?
I am hungry and wish someone else could tell me what for. I want to feel sated by life all over again. I want to read books like Winter for always.
And so it has begun. The season of the carrier bag. Those relentless days where one seems to do little else other than walk in to the house laden with this, that and indeed the lovely other in our efforts to create the Christmas of our dreams.
On the one hand I rather adore what becomes one long shopping opportunity and the other I feel every vein in my body tightening in dreaded anticipation of buying the wrong thing. Of forgetting to buy a little something for someone altogether. Of buying lots and lots of teeny little things I could surely create Christmas without.
Ready then for understatement of the year? I sometimes feel as though the commercialization of Christmas has gone a bit far.
Though I am not quite ready for a true Buy Nothing Christmas, some of me thinks that reigning things in a little bit might go some way to saving our bank accounts, waistlines, sanity and soul. Some of me thinks that if only we could hark back to a time where kids were happy with a tangerine and a handful of copper and grown-ups didn’t see Christmas as one long gin soaked endurance test then the festivities might just be a little easier on all of us…
Oh heck. Am I turning in to Scrooge’s lady friend? Probably not, for I am nothing if not a bundle of contrary emotion when it comes to Christmas. Take yesterday for instance when under the guise of helping her choose a unit for her lovely bathroom, I accompanied Kath to a furniture shop neither of us had previously visited.
And in we went. And with delighted eyes on stalks, and senses so very gently assaulted by quiet festive tunes that were just right and big fat candles emitting the scent of Christmas without rendering our noses outraged, we took mugs of milky coffee from polite men in checked shirts and wandered about in something akin to awe. Here was Christmas made perfect. Cabinets painted in milky colors describing a lifestyle we suddenly found ourselves desperate to step in to. Nothing too festive but on every surface a nod to the season. A tangle of seedpods. An amber scented candle. A pile of Welsh wool blankets. Rooms in which a Christmas without the garish truth of the festivities could be played out. Rooms in which we could hole up, sip hot chocolate laced with red wine (my two favorite things in one cosy bowl, oh heavens yes please!), pretend television didn’t exist and instead spend those precious few days of the holidays talking, and laughing, playing games and eating food cooked exquisitely well: feasts of saddleback ham and red onion marmalade, sloe gin and homemade truffles.
You see I want Christmas but I want a Christmas that doesn’t exhaust me. I want to choose one or two presents for those I love that are just right instead of the endless stuff of carrier bags I tend to offer people. I want to start Christmas the traditional way it has long begun for us with the Christingle service, watching Finn set his hair on fire while holding a candle and singing “Away In a Manger” (one year the Verger sprinted across the aisles to offer a wet flannel to be flung upon Finn’s singed brow!). I want the house twinkly without glitter and baubles. I want an afternoon around Kath’s kitchen table, just me, her and our suddenly teenage babbas exchanging gifts, a quiet Christmas Eve spent wrapping gifts with Ste and Christmas Day at home. Nowhere to be. No people to see. Just the pleasures of the day to be enjoyed without any pressure to entertain.
Though it does of course reek of the lure of commercialization in itself, I want a Christmas like the one in that furniture shop. A mood. An atmosphere. A sense of space in time that had Kath whisper “Oh Ali, I could cry” at which we both burst out laughing and so thoroughly and completely understood.
So much of what is heavenly about Christmas is lost to the very chaos of it and this year I want to experience wonder all over again. While it may be hard to set aside the season of the carrier bag we can at least do our very best to focus on festive hygge, to reign in the relentless urge to throw money at that which cannot be bought and instead to indulge ourselves and those we hold most dear with the kind of joy that the bestest kind of memories are made of.
It is raining here today. The tapestry of leaves on the ground sodden and untidy. There were no teabags left in the copper pot on the counter. Only a trickle of the skimmed milk I favor lingering in the fridge. My feet have turned an unusual shade of purpley-blue because I have not yet made it back upstairs to tuck them in to pompom slippers. Finley came downstairs fully dressed! And Donald Trump is on stage: a confusing mix of humility and gloating shaping his now softly spoken words. That circle he makes with his fingers slightly less pronounced now he is no longer raging against a country that just yesterday seem unwilling to bend to his manic will.
Not so long ago I used to to tell my Mum that the world scared me. And she would say that the world had always been a scary place. That in her lifetime there had always been terrorism, the threat of war, crazy men, religious lunacy. That we have learn to live with a certain level of potential fright or else we might as well retreat under our patchwork quilts and whither away.
Today the women on my Facebook stream, my sister, my friends, my readers have declared themselves scared of Trump. For the world. For their children. There is a lot of pain. Disappointment. Confusion. And anger. There is also too much rage. Too much venom directed by those who consider themselves to be intellectually superior towards whom they consider to be “the great unwashed” – on whom they are firmly placing the blame, forgetting that among that majority there are Mothers scared for their babies too. The world feels broken and they want to have someone to blame so they look to those they consider less than them. An ugly truth if ever there was one.
I am no more political than I am religious. I find any kind of division between human beings to be distasteful. I am also stupid. I want people to be kind in an unkind world. I remain bewildered by angry men and warmongering women, and care only for the politics of my my own household. The politics of step-parenting. The politics of who takes the bins out. Who gets to choose what’s for dinner. And I am telling you this not because I want to publicly declare my own ignorance, but because I suppose, I want to appeal for calm among those of us who want to live a life less ordinary. Because I understand that politics is a necessary evil and we cannot always swing a vote the way we want it to swing. Because I want us all to feel safe within our own four walls despite what goes on beyond them.
We fear change don’t we? We understand career politicians but cannot (do not want to) begin to fathom a maverick, sexist business man standing at the head of one of the most important countries in the world. We confuse personality with politics and forget that in even the smallest of businesses liking or even respecting he in charge is not necessarily key to our own success. We cringe at the toupee, feel our skin crawl at the idea of hopping in to bed with such a vile creature, allow our own instinctive, female revulsion to dictate our feelings, wonder what the heckity-pie could be wrong with that wooden, soulless Melania woman and fail in the midst of our revulsion to understand that Trump will not stand alone. That there will be some good men and women standing behind him, guiding him, reigning in his arrogance, advising him and hopefully taping up his mouth. That a person does not get to be Donald Trump without possessing some nous. Some wisdom. Despite how utterly ludicrous he strikes us. How little we yet understand about who he will be as a President. For we do not know yet whether he will be the dictatorial oaf we imagine he will be. Or whether he truly will rule the world with one hand permanently hovering over the dreaded red button. Or more, whether we will all suffer the kind of catastrophe The Simpsons predicted should this have ever come to pass. We do not yet know and that is I suppose terrifying in itself.
We fear change even when we cannot prevent change itself and must instead, if not embrace it, then at least accept it. If only so that our children are not spooked by our own terror of something that has not yet come to pass. So that our little girls are not forced to see this as the vote for women’s oppression that it so blatantly is and are not immediately reduced by it. Our boys not kept awake at night by fear of war fueled by an impetuous, impulsive man. So that they are not weeping tears for something that has no impact on what we decide to pack in their lunchboxes today. We must therefore refuse to wrap their sandwiches in anxiety. Keep appalled conversation to a minimum in front of them. So that they do not sense our fear and are instead reassured that all remains well. For that it does. For today at least, for our children all remains well. That is our job and it remains our job whoever ends up living in the White House – to make our children feel safe despite whoever walks the long corridors of power.
It could have course have been different. We could have had a woman I have certainly never related to standing in Trump’s place and perhaps we would have rejoiced anyway for it may have seemed like a triumph for sanity. For more of the same. For the safety of better the devil we know. But we haven’t. Something has happened this morning none of us could have predicted and all the wringing of our collective hands will not, in the immediate future, make any difference. We have to be at peace with that for now. Or else we allow something we cannot immediately change to trouble our own four walls. To bring a sense of dis-harmony indoors at a time when we would be better served strengthening the minds of our little ones so that the politics of the future does not stink quite so badly.
Here, there are no teabags and I am sipping coffee instead: my taste buds already recovering from the shock of Booth’s Italian Blend where there should have only been Tetleys. Finley is joking about all the builders in the world lining up for a lifetimes work building Trump’s Godforsaken wall and calling the house in our garden New Mexico as the joiner finally staples up the fence between us and them. Dad is in the shower and Ste, nonplussed by the whole affair, preparing a Powerpoint presentation for an interview.
And I am here. Typing out words that may make no sense to me in the future when we better understand the impact Trump will have on all our tomorrows. Tutting at the fingerprints on the glass on the doors into the conservatory and about to splash my way down to the crazy Post Office for a pint of skimmed. Refusing to be scared.
So you know how sometimes I fall off the blogging bandwagon and sometimes its because life is in the way and other times it is because I am entertaining the black dog and more often it is because I am being a floral- pinnied little worker minion busying away behind the scenes here at BrocanteHome? Recently has been one of those times.
You see so many of you have told me that you can’t work BrocanteHome: that some of it is in fact so mystifying as to surely be broken. That you can’t work out where the downloads you have bought have vanished to, you can’t find your account page, and you simply cannot even begin to navigate the Salon and the Living Room.
Now though I come from the rather cosy school of If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It, I do understand that sometimes I can be creating complex muddly systems I thoroughly understand because I invented them, but that you are thoroughly bewildered by and that if this is the case then whether I like it not the system is broken and I need to get on with fixing it. Preferably asap!
And so m’dears that is exactly what I’m doing. My lovely Salon, Living Room, courses and Store are all headed under one roof: The BrocanteHome School of Life, where eventually you will have just one account page with access to everything you have ever bought or downloaded from BrocanteHome and with my gorgeous members-only community organised in to step-by-step blocks you will find oh so very easy to access on the road to a life less ordinary.
This is a huuuuge undertaking and it is costly in terms of both time and finance –which is why you haven’t seen much of me recently. Because although I would dearly love to be back to blogging the way I used to blog, my community has to take priority so you feel less confused by me and my warren like tunnel of ideas and inspiration!
The School of Life will be go live after Christmas: I am busy behind the scenes pulling all the strings together and I am getting more excited by the day about it’s potential for all of us!
Phew! All this and Christmas to plan? Too true… but as Ste will be working and my family down South, Finn and I will be spending our very first, cosy Christmas alone and both of us are almost giddy with excitement at the very idea!
Talk soon Lovely Housekeepers.x
P.S: 100 Scrumptious Things To Do For Christmas is available at a special pre-release price of $12.00 and will be $20.00 after launch on or after November 25th.
So ummmmmm, yeah (embarrased shuffle)… a (good) few months ago I dreamt up the Slow Scrub – ninety teeny little tasks that would help you take your house from hell to heaven without busting a gut in the process, released in three parts over three months, that I would write as I performed each part of the process myself.
So off I set: cleaning and polishing and scrubbing and writing and the first two parts went out over the described two months and then it was time to tackle the final month of the ninety days and… nothing. Nada. Zilch and zero. I couldn’t clean. My life went bottom up and my sense of home was swallowed up in the chaos of having to move twice in as many months and everything was miserable and I got a teeny bit depressed and quite a bit sick and I left us all in housekeeping limbo because I couldn’t write up month three because I hadn’t actually tested it out and I couldn’t bring myself to make it up as I went along so momentum was lost and you were all hanging and I was mortified and when I get mortified I go silent and drive everybody absolutely up the wall. And around the bend.
The Slow Scrub turned in to the Slowest Scrub EVER, EVER, EVER. Performed by a tortoise. A sloth with a pain in her chest. A drama queen in a floral apron.
I am telling you this in the spirit of honesty. I am telling you because if nobody speaks of depression then it cannot be something we will ever learn to understand and I have to speak my truth even if it takes me an age to spit it out. So spitting out I am. Sometimes despite the fact that I am the self-professed Vintage Housekeeper I cannot clean and when I cannot clean beyond the bare minimum, I cannot write about cleaning and then we all end up frustrated.
Luckily the bad times come and go. With the adventure of a new home and the general straightening of life as it should be, I am cleaning with spirit, vigour and zest again. And organising again. And writing again. I am so very thrilled. And more than that plain old delighted to tell you that the third and final part of The Slow Scrub is here. In the Salon Library for those of you who are members. And coming to your account page or in-box over the next forty-eight hours for those of you who are not, but bought it in the store.
So I want to thank-you for your patience. I want to say an enormous thank-you to those who read between my occasionally dramatic lines and understand. And I want to tell you how very grateful I am that you know me so very well and know beyond all certainty that I always return to this my lovely, spiritual home. To you.
May we always have kind hearts and clean kitchens.
Following on from the huuuuuuge success of my lovely Seasonal House series this year, I am excited to be able to tell you that on November 16th this year I will be releasing a rather darling accompaniment: The Festive House…
Created in exactly the same format as the four other downloads in this inspirational series, The Festive House will be a scrumptiously pretty guide to truly indulging all your senses during Christmas and the New Year and will be a gorgeous compendium of little things to do in the run up to Christmas to make your home feel like the cosiest, most festive place on earth…
“With a life in the day of a Vintage Housekeeper during the Christmas season, a list of festive puttery treats, some advice for sprinkling a little glittery magic around the house, and adding a layer of gentle excitement to your Festive house alongside the three housekeeping recipes you need to give the house a hug, a Christmas reading list and a list of journaling prompts for meditating your way through this twinkly season…”
I know you are going to love The Festive House as much, if not more than I know you have so thoroughly adored The Seasonal House series, and as usual if you PRE–ORDER it today you will get it for just $8.00 instead of the $10.00 it will be when it goes live.
My Living Roomers will find a voucher for an extra 25% off the price on the group page (usual code for those in the know!) and finally If you are a member of the Salon you will find The Festive House in the Salon library on the 16th of November absolutely free of charge (along with all the other downloads in my lovely store) – and at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I just want to remind you that the option to pay for the salon MONTHLY is once again available…
So to sum things up: there are three ways to buy The Festive House.
- Pre-Order it today for the discounted price of $8.00 here.
- Join the Living Room today for just $15.00 and get a voucher to buy The Festive House for just $6.00 when you sign in to the Living Room Facebook Group …
- Or join The Salon, get all the benefits of Living Room Membership, all existing downloads and everything I create for the life of your membership absolutely FREE for just $20.00 a month OR the lowly price of just $169.00 for an entire year of BrocanteHome wonderfulness!
I know which deal I would grab…x
Well now, with one thing or another it is taking me longer than I expected to settle in and get my routines and rituals in place. Though heaven knows why I imagine myself to be some sort of Superwoman capable of organizing an entire house in the space of two weeks, with all utilities correctly set up, furniture sourced for all the odd little corners, an extra bedroom created for Stevie where there was no bedroom before, clothes folded and stored away in sensible places, deliveries accepted apparently all day every day, no garden to speak of, an audience of toilet going workmen all day every day, finances helped back on their feet after all the expense of moving, and the stabilizing of a business that is rather suffering in the midst of all this.
Yep. This is a case of Superwoman Syndrome if ever there was one.
The day before yesterday I developed a stomach bug of sorts, ran upstairs to vomit and promptly opened the toilet seat on my head resulting in an egg sized bump on my head that along with the thyroidy bruises I am sporting everywhere from exhaustion, rather looks as though Ste has taken up beating me with a big stick in the dead of night. I am, I am sure, now known as The Battered Woman in the post office down the lane: a post office that frightens the wits out of me so close is the experience of popping in for a pint of milk there to visiting the twilight zone. I am not from around these parts see?
Then yesterday in my haze, I got in to the car to go and meet Kath to give her her daughters much overdue birthday present and managed to reverse the car in to the ditch the gas man had made to channel pipes to the house being built behind mine. Oh yes. The car was in the ditch. The drivers seat was hard up next to the lamppost and I had to scrabble out over the passenger seat, somehow managing to rip a big hole in my trousers on the way and go get a man or ten to heave the car out of the hole.
I now truly believe that anyone moving house should be gifted a week in the Seychelles immediately after to get over the sheer horror of the whole shebang. Because I am telling you, moving house addles your brain.
Anyways. I am writing this post to tell you that as I recently mentioned in the Living Room, I am currently having to reverse some of the changes I made here on BrocanteHome in the Spring because some of the new systems are causing absolute chaos for you my lovely readers. Mostly those of you who visit or shop at BrocanteHome on a tablet or mobile and who thus do not fully see the links you need to follow after becoming a member or purchasing a download. And those of you who email my vastly cluttered ancient old email inbox.
So I am for the moment having to do a little bit of tinkering behind the scenes. It is terribly, terribly dull but it will hopefully alleviate many of the admin problems currently consuming my time. You see it is not only at home that I suffer from Superwoman Syndrome. Here on Brocante I convince myself I can do absolutely everything and that not asking for help or paying for the kind of services that would make all the difference would be foolhardy when clearly it would be EXACTLY what I need. Damn it. Do you think there is a pill I could take?
Today then I am re-opening the original Shopify Brocante store because digital delivery was more reliable and didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to help you find your purchases. I am also setting up a dedicated Customer Service email in-box so you don’t get lost among the flotsam and jetsam of every newsletter I have ever signed up for, slapping a raw steak on to the giant bruise on my head and taking delivery of a bookcase and walnut sideboard I bought on the wonder that is Schpock for the princely, silly sum of just £20.00….
Busy, busy, busy. Have a lovely weekend won’t you?
My ridiculous child managed to get himself run over on Friday.
No really RUN OVER. By a CAR. Flung on to the bonnet so hard he cracked the window screen with his scull. Then because he is Finley and rates kindness very highly he stood up and apologised to the driver and asked HIM if he was alright.
Having only encouraged him to walk to school alone the week before, my heart had been in my mouth each day as I crossed him over the main road and stood waving in my pom pom slippers and crazy lady morning hair-do, until I could no longer see him. And by the end of the week I was feeling calmer. As if my little bird had flown the nest for the first time without plummeting to the ground like a fluffy feathered stone.
And then the morning came when I waved him goodbye, made a cup of tea and nipped upstairs to the loo. And there I sat. And I heard a knock on the door and I heard a man tell Ste that there had been an accident and I thought perhaps another car had knocked my passenger mirror clean off for the second time in a week and then I heard him say “your son” and that made no sense at all because Ste’s son was miles away and surely tucked behind his desk in his lovely maroon and yellow uniform. And then in my Mummy this isn’t possible bewilderment I thought that maybe Finley had caused this man an accident and was himself now in school and then I heard him say “smashed his head on my window-screen” and I ran.
I ran out of the ludicrously small toilet with my trousers round my legs, dragging myself together and fuelled by sheer fright I tumbled down the stairs and arrived at the door to see a very baldy kind looking man looking stressed with a very confused looking Finley standing beside him. And I listened and kept laughing for that is my wont when faced with a crisis (I somehow managed to laugh all the way through the arrangement of my Mum’s funeral) and I was doing a very bizarre thing and reaching a wobbly hand out to the sorry looking man and apologising profusely to him for RUNNING MY SON OVER and rather perplexingly feeling absolutely LIVID with Finley for stepping out from behind a lorry and not looking after himself when I wasn’t there to look after him and generally feeling much of a muddle and dragging him in and checking him from head to toe and phoning everyone I know who assured me I needed to get him to the hospital as soon as possible and kissing my boy profusely and phoning my Dad and having an unexpected little sob and listening to Finn relay his own astonishment at having found himself flying through the air and running back out of the conservatory to tell him off for getting in the man’s car and apologising profusely all over again for not understanding that all the grown-ups who had watched him get run down, including the lollipop man with the bad teeth and charming manner, had insisted on him getting driven home and then getting muddled over again and shouting “what part of stranger danger do you not understand?” and laughing all over again when he shouted back “I just wanted to go to science and now I’m missing it and I HAVE BEEN RUN OVER and MUM what part of that do YOU not understand??”.
In the face of a crisis I am utterly hopeless.
And then we were in the car on our way to the children’s accident and emergency for the third time in two weeks and I was worrying that they were going to set social services upon me for being incapable of preventing screechy attacks of constipation and road traffic accidents alike. And then the nurse was quizzing Finn on the whereabouts of the earphones she was convinced he must have been wearing and I was trying to say that this is a kid with SPD who feels like his head is going to blow off if he wears earphones and she said he had been very, very lucky and was bruised from head to toe with bruised kidneys and Finley was starting to feel a bit funny and I was a Mummy on the verge of a meltdown and Ste was as sane and reassuring as ever and then Mark arrived in his usual frantic state and repeated with all the same drama I had been displaying “he could have been dead Alison!” over and over again until we were all laughing, and then he took Finn to the road where it had happened and found the man who had done it standing in the same spot, demanding money for the smashed window-screen caused by our son’s head!
Oh my. So yes. I have been Nurse Mummy for a few days and I am writing this to tell you that trauma happens when you are least expecting it. Sometimes when you are minding your own business on the loo and there is no predicting how you will cope with it, but that more often than not your worst nightmare isn’t actually your worst nightmare but a warning in disguise and sometimes those little warnings reveal who we are at the very core of our being.
So it turns out Finn is a kid with a skull hard enough to crack glass and a penchant for science class even when he feels for all the world as though he has just gone ten rounds with Mohammed Ali and I am a woman who never quite reacts how she should and occasionally could do with a short, sharp slap to bash me out of my hysteria.