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  • Writer's pictureRobyn


ELIZABETH TAYLOR, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.

Tomorrow is 39 weeks. There is still no baby. Well, there is a baby, but she is still existing in the limbo land of my womb. For all her threats and bluster, threatening to arrive whilst walking up the stairs at work, she now seems to be more than happy to resist all attempts to get her to budge so everyone else can see how very good she is at wiggling her legs and jabbing her elbows sideways and at the time of writing this I remain the sole person in appreciation of her hiccups and wriggles. A few daft errands have been devised in the name of passing time and possibly making her uncomfortable enough that she wants to come and meet everyone else, but no such luck as of yet. I might just have to learn patience and let nature do her thing. Tuesday's mission was a foray into town, Sally was coaxed into coming with me with the bribe of a new dress or two - she insists on wearing dresses almost continuously and the less suited to the weather they are the more she likes them - flimsy floaty party dress to school? Erm, as long as you wear a vest and tights!

In terms of dresses for Sally, the trip out was a rollicking success - I also achieved purchasing of books, the other goals of of the outing were somewhat less successful. (a) a trip on the bus and a walk around town did nothing to encourage the appearance of baby three, but (b) I think she might be taking her revenge at my efforts to mobile by sabotaging my brain. One of the objectives of town was to buy a second set of sheets for Pip's bed. This should have been an easy task, but no. Baby has made me stupid, so stupid. Sally helped me select a dinosaur print, but it was not until we were home that I discovered I had bought a set of bottom sheet and two pillows. If this were all, I'd let myself off a little - after all, what weirdo's buy matching sheets and pillows in dinosaur print? No, you buy duvet covers and pillow cases that match, this is the normal thing. My defence fails at the point where, printed in a sizeable font, on a brightly coloured label was the information that this was for a double bed. Maybe this is why Debenhams is not making as much money as they want, they're making stupid products - I'm sure there are just hundreds of people in Reading whose children sleep in double beds with dinosaur print fitted sheets. Oh, and the story does not end here... if such behaviour wasn't idiotic enough, the following day I asked my Dad to drop me in town and watch Sally for half an hour whilst I sorted out this act of idiocy. I hopped out of the car eager to complete my mission and waved as Dad pulled off and away up the road with my handbag which for some reason I didn't pick up off the seat next to me. Thankfully there was was one duvet set at the same price as the stupid bottom sheet set, and whilst I had no phone or means of identifying myself, I did have a receipt and was thus able to complete the transaction. I swear I am not normally quite this stupid. Daft happens, but not on a every bloody daily basis. Anyway, Pip now has two sets of spaced themed sheets, he doesn't even particularly like rockets and the moon and I have become entirely culpable of gender pigeonholing my children. I hope it doesn't screw them up too much, I do let Pip wear Sally's sparkly magic shoes and put hair clips in his hair whenever he wants...

I digressed, I was supposed to be writing about books. I think I forgot during the slog to read War and Peace that I actually like reading. I did zip through another couple of books whilst I was embroiled in the endless Russo-Napoleonic wars, but I think they were a little tainted with that slightly guilty feeling that I really ought to be reading the big book, as though I was watching TV when I really ought to have been doing my homework. And it was always there, sitting like a lumbersome weight on my bedside table mocking my inability to finish it. Now it is sitting on the bookshelf downstairs, perched on top of some other books as there isn't room to actually put in the right alphabetical slot - it still looks like a cumbersome tome, but now when I see it, I can say 'ha, beat you' rather than the other way around. This, however, is not the relationship I really want to have with my reading choices.

Since finishing that, I ran through Eleanor Oliphant is Absolutely Fine as it was suggested on the Apple Book store and it occasionally appeals to me to read books that were written in this decade. For all the hype it had I found it somewhat odd - yes we get that she's more than a little damaged by the events of her childhood, but I don't believe that someone could get through a Classics degree in Glasgow (snap) without some basic knowledge of how somewhere like MacDonald's operates or that different genres of music exist. Also, all the other characters in the book are just too nice, nice boss, nice waiters in the cafe, nice nail painting people and old guy who fell over in the street, and nice IT guy who loves his mum, seems mostly perfect aside from his smoking habit (ugh, how awful) yet apparently has no friends. I think we're supposed to see that this supporting cast do have their foibles (how very dare a woman be 'high maintenance'), but, no, not enough nuance, sorry.

Subtlety and nuance? Yes, Elizabeth Taylor can do that. In my sortie into Waterstones - Sally went straight to the colouring table in the Children's section, excellent child, so I had all of 5 minutes to look at books rather than the 20 seconds to run past a table or two that I'm normally allotted - I was on a mission for short books, or at least short stories. I'd been given a book voucher for my birthday (best present from mother in law!) so I decided I could have many short books. Well, four. Plus a picture book for Sally. The bright colours of Mrs Palfrey stood out and into my grubby mitts it went.

I read At Mrs Lippincote's a few years ago and didn't massively love it, but Mrs Palfrey was about as perfect a book for right now as I could want. Just enough detail and sly observations about people to feel rich, but enough sparsity that you have to fill in the gaps. Beautiful and sad, tender and blunt in equal measures - it's not really an end to life that one sees anymore, old people living out their last bits of freedom in a dingy London hotel ignored or abandoned by their family. Mrs Palfrey remains much more dignified in her straightened circumstances than I imagine Eleanor Oliphant would - and Ludo her excellent fake grandson, though much more far fetched, is somewhat more believable than the scruffy but otherwise perfect son of Raymond.

Oh, have I mentioned it was short - I bought it on Tuesday and finished it this afternoon while the little darlings were watching CBeebies. If I didn't have children to attend to, I could have read it in one go - I'm back to loving books again!

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