I was informed recently that my Mum has been caught making up hot water bottles for the guinea pigs. This is symptomatic of two things: firstly, her slightly alarming love for the guinea pigs, leading us to believe they are no so much replacement children (the result of burgeoning empty-hutch syndrome) but actually the children she wishes she’d had all along. Guinea pigs never call you crying because they can’t pay their council tax, or eat all the ingredients for dinner as a 4 o’clock snack, or broadcast your more eccentric habits in a series of south coast newspapers.
Secondly: her enduring belief that a hot water bottle is the answer to all ills. My mother is the goddess of the hot water bottle. I’d like to think she might have missed a calling in politics, scurrying around the cabinet room making sure everyone is cosy. Like a superhero update of the Aquarius water carrier, she could wage war on chilly toes, draughty bedrooms and period pain the world over.
Indeed, I think it is Mum’s steadfast belief in the hot water bottle that has got me all the way to December without our turning the central heating on. That’s right, DECEMBER. Or “Decembrrrrrr”, as it shall now be known. In previous years we cracked under all the layers of knitwear, surrendered to our frostbite and turned it on about halfway through October, but this year we’ve upped the ante. With each passing week the sense of achievement grows (though so too, I’m vaguely worried, might an extra layer of insulating fat, like everyone’s miniskirted legs in the 60s).
Now the dream is making it all the way to Christmas, doing workout sessions to Slade and wrapping ourselves in a metaphorical blanket of festive cheer instead. If it gets tough, a combined diet of Ready Brek and Bristol Cream sherry will be implemented for maximum internal warming. We can start hosting lavish parties, under the guise of being sociable, and just fill the house with other people’s bodily warmth. Or we can go to the other extreme and just spend as little time in the house as humanly possible, soaking up all the free heat in libraries and tube stations and other people’s living rooms.
Either way, the hot water bottle will see me through. I will strap them under my clothes, line the sofa with them, and generally slosh my way through winter. And if it all gets too much, I will follow another of my mother’s indubitable pieces of advice - “just sit in the kitchen with all the hobs on.”
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On Saturday, in the name of extreme physical endurance and because it might have made the house seem warmer when we got back in it, I did something I’d never done before. I went to a football match. I know, I know, you’re shocked. I strike you as the type who’s on the terraces every week, pukka pie in one hand and obscene gesture in the other. But no, amazingly, this was new territory for me. I took a book with me, just in case.
And I learned the following three things from the experience: 1) Football is pretty simple. Despite all the offside-rule-fouls-red-card-throw-in-yadayada, it turns out all you really need to know is ‘kick-kick-kick-hopefully-in-goal’. This was quite a relief. 2) There exists a thing called a “Yorkshire wrap”, which is essentially a flat Yorkshire pudding rolled up with beef and gravy in the middle. Like a hand-held roast dinner. QPR stadium might just be the secret centre of science. And 3) I can chant with the best of them. I thought I’d sound fraudulent, like Aled Jones duetting with N-Dubz, but inside me, it turns out, lurks the spirit of Vinnie Jones.
I did struggle briefly trying to fit the words “sky blue army” into two beats, with it coming out “skarbmeurrrh”. “Why don’t they just make up chants with more syllables?” I ask male friend no.1. “Lauren,” I am told, “that’s not the point.