I called Mandy at 9pm. Kellie (11/365) had said I needed to call someone ‘easy’ for 15 minutes, as I looked tired.
I met Mandy in the first few weeks of our arrival to the area. She worked in tourism which was handy for us, as we had just bought the Aire Valley Guesthouse and she was a font of knowledge. She also had a daughter the same age as ours and she introduced me to everyone in the Kinder.
I was invited to join a collection of mums who were prepared to make an exhibition of themselves, performing a play and a song to the children and parents at Christmas.
The practice and sock-puppet making, was at Mandy’s house and we let off steam singing and dancing until someone, perhaps a neighbour, shouted at us all to ‘Shadddupppp!’
For the performance, which we really hadn’t dedicated enough quality time to, Mandy got up and sang ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ in red fishnet tights, that’s all she and I can remember of her outfit! The play, which was ‘The Night before Christmas’ performed by sock puppet mice, started badly with all the children shouting ‘we’ve heard this before’. Two of the sock puppets accidentally broke a cardboard chair prop which brought on gales of laughter so we just continued to wreck the set for the duration, fighting and throwing the furniture and the decorations into the audience. We would have loved to have seen it.
Mandy is the big-eyed after-thought of a farmer from the Heytesbury region and his reluctant wife. She spent her evenings after school chopping wood and feeding cows and longed to sit on the bonnets of cars with the townie kids outside the milk bar. But now she is grateful for her summers of carting hay, motorbike riding at 8 years old and camping.
She asks me why we came to this region, of all places, and I tell her how much I had wanted to come back after a trip here in ’92 for a day, when I had galloped a horse called Budget along the beach. When I had an asthma attack in London in 2003 and couldn’t shake it off I lay awake at night waiting for a breath for about 30 seconds. With a very light head I would plug in my nebuliser and lie there wondering how to make my life stretch beyond that night. I had two small children and when I remembered that the actress Charlotte Coleman had died of exactly the same symptoms, we knew we had to escape the pollution. Air is important. The air at that blew on to the Aire River was straight off the Antarctic, only the penguins had smelt it before we did. I no longer have asthma.
It is lovely speaking to Mandy. She has a warm, comfortable, empathetic tone to her voice. I could talk to her forever! We discuss tough love with our little ones, teaching them about taking the consequences for your own actions and how justice begins at home.
She tells me that she still has the fishnet tights that she sang in that Christmas, they are a reminder of the good times but now the good times involve staying at home with her family and talking on the phone to people like me for TWO HOURS!