Monday, February 24, 2014

Jumping up and down in muddy puddles

Izzy’s hero Peppa Pig loves jumping up and down in muddy puddles. 

Quite how the UK’s broadcasters ever allowed this cartoon celebrity to trigger such an increase in the nation’s laundry bills is beyond me. I thought there were regulators who banned programmes that incite anti-social behaviour. 

“Let’s go jumping up and down in muddy puddles,” says Peppa to the rotund Daddy Pig, whom Izzy, rather unkindly, says looks exactly like me. 

“Everyone loves jumping up and down in muddy puddles,” says Daddy Pig, donning his wellies. 

Daddy Pig is the world champion muddy puddle jumper. If they had included this sport in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Britain might have won another medal. After all the training we’ve had this winter, surely not even the Russians could match Team Muddy GB. There are people in Somerset who have done nothing else for months. And even though she’s only five, Izzy would be a dead cert for the Under 6 individual freestyle event. 

She says, “Daddy, let’s go and take the dogs on the Heath,” which means, “It’s been raining again, so there are even bigger muddy puddles to jump up and down in.” 

The dogs love Hampstead Heath as much as Izzy. There’s even more mud and fox poop than on our farm back in Northumberland, which is saying a lot. Our two spaniels used to be brown and blond; now they’re brown and browner. 

I am so pleased that our preparations for the (unsuccessful) sale of this house included new wall-to-wall cream carpets. Perfect for any house on the edge of a thousand acre muddy park. It took the dogs just half an hour to destroy them. 

Right now, our planned move to America has been put on temporary hold. After the experience of the last three weeks Jo and I never want to see a moving van again and we’re still surrounded by unopened boxes. Besides, who’s going to buy a house with brown and cream carpets? 

And anyway, there’s a drought in California. Last week I was driving down the 405 freeway from Los Angeles airport past huge illuminated signs warning: Serious Drought, Help Save Water! Who could live in a place without muddy puddles, where the temperature’s an annoying 82 degrees Fahrenheit in February? 

I was there to pitch to broadcasters who universally enthused at my ideas without the slightest equivocation: “This is wonderful, perfect, great, just what we’re looking for!” and then rang my agent a few days later with: “Maybe it’s not quite right for now.” 

On my way back to the airport, the sign on the freeway had changed: “Serious Drought of Good Ideas, Help Save US television!” 

Our house in London overlooks the exact spot where my parents first met and courted. Although I moved to the North East when I was Izzy’s age, and so Tyneside will always be my true home, many key moments in my life have happened down here. 

When Ben, my eldest, was just 16, Granny embarrassed him by taking him, with his shocked new girlfriend, to select the tree where she wanted to have her ashes scattered. She chose a young sapling and carefully paced out the distance from the house. 

This week Mum passed 93, and is still growing strong, whereas the council has just removed Mum’s chosen tree to strengthen North London’s flood defences. 

Nearby, another much larger tree has survived. It’s where I used to bounce Sam when he was Izzy’s age. It’s the same tree that my Dad used to bounce me on when I was a toddler, before we moved up north. Yesterday I took Izzy there, and her eyes lit up when she saw it. 

“Look at the riding tree, Daddy,” she said, embracing its worn old trunk. 

I lifted her up and, as it bounced, made horse sounds, just as my own Dad had done 62 years ago. I love this place Daddy, said Izzy. 

As much as Northumberland? Her eyes paused their smiling. 

No, not as much as Northumberland, because that’s always going to be her real home. But it’ll do for now. 

Though I know that, if we stay here much longer, we’re going to have to buy some new carpets.

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