Family ties

It seems we are locking down again. The nights are drawing in and, like it or no, nestling in at home will be the order of the day again, for the next few months at least. Our rules are stricter up here. Household mixing indoors is now generally a no no. As the weather is getting colder, the barbecue option seems unlikely to prove a winner so our recently reopened social life will need to be repacked nicely in tissue paper and put on top of the wardrobe until better days.

Wednesday was the last day of visiting before the new rules bit and also my Dad’s birthday so off Ishbel and I trotted, armed with cards, various goodies Ishbel had made and some apples from the orchard (dad likes the red ones which are almost done so Lyra and I ran round for a frantic last pick before we set off – Lyra played football with hers though). On arrival we were claimed to support different sides in a rather heated debate over my dad’s age. He was claiming 74 (this is clearly nonsense as he is on the free TV licence!). Mum was insistent on 77. Neither had checked his passport, everything was turning on how old dad remembered being during the coronation celebrations…. As official peace broker I suggested we compromise on 76. This may be giving him a 12 month free pass, but this approach is not without family precedent. I was (through rank inattention) 42 a year early, but then stuck at it for a few years to compensate.

The visit saw me add an unexpected new skill to my repertoire. Dad is getting very, shall we say, not bendy, and has been struggling with shaving at the edges and in awkward spots. This had combined with lack of access to the hairdresser to create a particularly bad itinerant Santa from a down at heel town in the Appalachians vibe. Neither Dad nor Mum was keen on this look but, with an eye to survival, Dad was even less keen on letting Mum at him with a razor and scissors. I accepted the baton (or rather Mum’s kitchen scissors and a packet of Gillettes) with my usual gung ho “how bad can it be” attitude and, deeming me the lesser evil, Dad declared himself up for the experiment.

I started with a bit of Turkish barbering. For this my watchwords were “maximum foam” – after all this is what they use to prevent disaster in formula one crashes. It seemed to work and no blood was shed. The hair was next. Being somewhat unsure how to begin I just started by chopping off big chunks all over at the back until the undergrowth was cleared and I could see my way forward. I then thought back to all those sessions in the hairdressers and did that thing where they lift up handfuls between two fingers and snip away from bottom to top. I kept at this for a while and, in the end, the back looked not that bad. The flip over quiffy thing at the front (is there a name for that?) was a bit of a flanker, but (absent other inspiration) I just repeated the process in reverse. After that I just did artistic snippety snips all over, getting quite into the vibe, to reduce clumpiness. I whisked off the towel to reveal my creation and dad scooted gingerly to the bathroom to consider the damage. Mum got the hoover out – it looked a bit like I had sheared a sheep in the front room and there were stray streaks of foam in odd places. The general vote afterwards was that this was a big improvement. To quote Ishbel “really not bad for a Lawyer”. I am booked in for a trim in 6 weeks.

I probably haven’t boggled at dad up close that intently for years. It’s a funny thing what changes, and what stays the same, as you age. One change is that I can definitely see Papa Hill in dad now, as I never could before. I wonder if Jock looked like dad when he was younger. We have no photographic record of Papa and Granny Hill when they were young so it is all a bit of a mystery. Dad has not provided much help in recreating their look, contributing only such gems as “He could be an auld bugger” and “she made great dumpling”. Some things have stayed the same though, is hard to put a finger on exactly, it’s the way he has of looking sideways at you under his eyebrows, head tilted, just about to toss the quiff back – the head flick gesture survived long after he discovered hair gel – measuring you up for the deadly one-liner.

A walk with mum around the Haining followed. We munched brambles, admired the squirrels and had a general letting off of steam on myriad topics before returning to base to consume a birthday tea and watch a TV programme about antique repairers (which was lovely and we all sneakily wept over the renovated guitar). I left with two buckets of quinces, a bucket of sloes and two huge bags of assorted wool for a fair isle experiment (query – is mum secretly breeding sheep in her attic – the supply seems endless). Today I was tasked with sorting out dad’s birthday present – a minuscule share (perhaps an ear) in a two year old jump racehorse. This will add a personal touch to his regular charitable donation to the bookies. It rejoices in the name “Sandalwood” and we look forward to our share of the Gold Cup.

Yesterday was Ishbel’s last day of holiday. She brambled with Keith and we knitted and nattered and made lip balm, hand cream, soap and wonky headbands with buttons on (apparently wearing masks all the time is causing Nursie Ear and the in thing on the Surrey wards is to sport said headband and attach the knicker elastic ear pieces to the buttons thus saving your shell likes. She is off back to work with two in “Bedroom Curtain” and two country designs, one sheepdog, the other sheep. If all else fails this can be a talking point with poorly patients.) The fun was tightly scheduled!

It’s hard to think we might not see her smiley face for ages, but we are hoping for the best and a prodigiously long walk with Lyra and a good inner rant this morning has largely restored my equilibrium. The chocolate orange buttons Ishbel gave me for my birthday have also helped. Dumbledore was not wrong about chocolate…..

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