Heather Smith

This week I have been taking care of two sick kids, all the while being sick myself. After the first five days of misery I decided that a trip to the doctor was in order. The verdict: step throat. Once I got over the guilt of not getting my children checked sooner, I went home and continued my Florence Nightingale role.

Needless to say, my house has been neglected this week. I haven't even bothered to "fake it" (see previous post). So as I sit, up to my ears in clutter listening to the Smith family hack-sniffle-cough-cough chorus, I feel the need to escape. So I allow my mind to wander back to the Yorkshire Dales (as it did in my post dated January 9):

It's wet and rainy outside, but the wood fire burns brightly inside my thatched cottage. My husband, Edgerton Smythe, sits next to me, his spectacles resting comfortably halfway down the bridge of his nose. He is engrossed in a novel devoid of elves, trolls, hobbits or anything otherworldly (this is my imagination after all). In fact it's a mystery book. The plot revolves around the murder of one Lord Kendrick Kenneth Kensington, who disappears during a fox hunt only to be found later, dead as a doornail, in a hastily vacated hippy caravan. "Release the hounds!" my husbands yells, in his excitement. I pat his hand gently, "Maybe it's time for some chamomile tea." "Capitol idea!" Edgerton exclaims. I put on my wax jacket and wellies and go pluck some from the garden.

We sip our tea, listening to the pitter patter of the rain and the crackling of the fire. Just as we get into a discussion about the controversial fox hunt, we hear a scratching at the door. It's Frank, one of our beloved pigs. I scoop him up in my arms. "He has the sniffles!" I declare. My husband jumps to his feet. "I'll ring the veterinary doctor at once."

The rain, now hammering the cottage, comes down in sheets and floods the windows. We wait. Then ... a knock at the door. I open it. A figure stands in the rain. The sky, once a mixture of greys and blacks, suddenly turns to crimsons and purples. It is a phantasmagorical sight. As the identity of the figure becomes clearer, I realize my wildest dream has come true. No it's not the Queen Mother, resurrected. It's James Herriot himself. My fourteen miniature schnauzers greet him happily.

"Hello there good chap," says my husband. "Very good of you to come."

"Where's Jack? Our usual vet?" I ask, my voice trembling with excitement.

"Why, my good lady," says James. "When I heard the call was for Heatherington Cottage, I knew I must come. Why, you are my biggest fan. I couldn't let you down."

He sticks a thermometer up Frank the Pig's bum.

"Let me take that for you," I say, as he gently pulls it out. I wrap it, unwashed, in a Victorian lace handkerchief, and put it in a keepsake box.

James Herriot turns to me, his brow furrowed, his face one of seriousness and concern. "I'm afraid Frank is a very sick pig."

I open my eyes as wide as I can. "Sick?"

"He won't make it through the night."

"Noooooooo!" I screech, collapsing into Mr. Herriot's arms. I can sense that he and my husband are exchanging surprised glances so I take this moment to burrow my nose into his tweed blazer and caress the suede elbow patches lovingly.

After a while, Edgerton pulls me off of James.

"Mr. Herriot is a busy man," he says tersely.

"Yes, yes, of course," I say, my index finger lingering on James' pinkie finger as I slowly separate from him.

"Say hello to Tristan for me," I say as we bid each other farewell. "And of course, Helen, your lovely wife."

And he was gone.

"What the hell was that?" asks Edgerton.

"I'm a big fan."


My husband throws a pitcher of water on the fire. "Why is it always bloody sweltering in here?"

"I like wood fires."


I stare out the window and watch James Herriot turn out of our lane and onto the country road.

"Now what shall we have for tea tonight?" my husband asks.

I shrug, not really caring. "Frank?"

Okay, now I feel much better.

I hope my husband understands that the use of his middle name, Edgerton, was essential to this story. "Rob" just doesn't lend itself to a character that says "Capitol idea."

And I realize,too, that Edgerton's snobby accent doesn't suit that of someone who lives in a thatched cottage on the Dales but this is a fantasy after all.

Anyway, this post would have been a lot shorter had I just said what prompted me to write in the first place - that when I am sick I reach for a "comfort book". A comfort book is like comfort food, but, um, not edible. It has the same effect as a bowl of chicken noodle soup. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. As you can tell, my comfort book is anything by James Herriot.

So please, feel free to share with me your comfort book(s) by posting them here, at Old Biddy Rambling.
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Heather Smith

The following list of helpful hints will help you keep up appearances in the housekeeping department with little or no effort. Enjoy.
  1. Have you just received a telephone call from a friend saying they're popping over in 15 minutes? Two words: Lysol wipes. Not very 'green' I know, but in about 30 seconds you can give your bathroom a once over and your friends will never suspect the slovenly conditions in which you normally live.
  2. Employ the "interrupted vacuuming" ruse. To do this, simply plug in the vacuum cleaner and place it in the middle of the living room. Then go about your usual daily business - watching television, eating bonbons, writing the next best thing in young adult literature, etc. If someone drops by, or if a family member returns home, greet them slightly out of breath and declare, "Oh, you just caught me in the middle of my housecleaning." This works a treat. Trust me.
  3. Never, ever, have glass kitchen cupboards. Not only is it just another thing to Windex but no longer will you be able to stock your cupboards in a quick and easy nilly-willy fashion.
  4. Ya know how some people have a junk drawer? Get yourself a junk closet, or even better, a junk room. This is the spot where you throw all miscellaneous items. Why spend time sorting things when you could be writing the next Giller Prize winner or watching Coronation Street? It's all about prioritizing.
  5. Hand your significant other a pair of rubber gloves and declare a sensitivity to chemical cleaners. Tell him/her that you've tried your best but the Windex spray is deep in your lungs and you feel breathless and lightheaded. While lamenting your environmental allergies, squint, cough, sniff, gag and, most of all, look disappointed in yourself, as if there was nothing you wanted more than to be able to provide a squeaky clean environment for your family. Then, while your partner is scrubbing away, you can go lie down to recover from the so-called Mr. Clean induced dizziness.
  6. To give the illusion of being a good housekeeper, frequently update your Facebook status with the following: (your name) is cleaning, (your name) is scrubbing, (your name) has a lemony fresh house, (your name) loves the new Lysol outdoor fresh scent, (your name) broke the vacuum again from overuse. (You name) has dishpan hands. You get the idea. Something to note: It is very satisfying to write these status updates on days when your house is particularly untidy.
  7. Have a child in your house under the age of five? Hand them a duster. Looking industrious, they'll wave it over the surfaces and then, at the end of the day, you can update your Facebook status to say: (your name) is happy to say that the duster was in full use today.
  8. Speaking of children, get yourself some. A messy house is always easily blamed on them. If you can't get your hands on any little runts at the very least befriend someone who has a few. Then, when visitors come, you can say "Oh, Mary, was here earlier with her six children, and let me tell you those children are busy. Just look what they've done to the house!"
When all else fails, say screw it. Post these quotes around your house and be done with it:

"A clean house is the sign of a boring person." ~author unknown.

"At worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived." ~Rose Macaulay

"Housework, if it's done right, can kill you." ~John Skow

and my personal favourite:

"Our house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy." ~author unknown

This last quote sums up my house. I refuse to spend my time ragging on my kids to keep things "just so". They should be free to be comfortable in their own house.

So while my house is kept sanitary, it is not perfectly in order ... and that's fitting, 'cause neither am I.
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Heather Smith
My very best friend in the whole wide world, Lisa, gave me a spa day gift certificate for my fortieth birthday. The plan is for us to go together. But I, um, lost the certificate.

In my hunt for it, however, I came across something else 'Lisa' related. A handwritten note from Douglas Coupland. Here's the story:

It started way back in 2002 during a visit with Lisa. The following letter, written to Douglas Coupland that very evening, explains it all:

Dear Mr. Coupland,

I wanted to tell you how I ruined my friend’s autographed copy of Life After God, a book that she has kept in pristine condition for 8 years, and a book that, after only 1 hour in my possession, is now not as it was. I went to Lisa's house and we had a great visit sitting around drinking coffee and talking about books as our children played together. She recommended that I read Life After God. She said it was a good read that both my husband and I would enjoy. She showed me the inside cover which you had signed. The inscription, (which you had written within the outline of your hand) said:

To Lisa, Thanks for helping me hold up that 7-Eleven. Doug. 3-18-94”.

We had a good laugh over the inscription. I then placed the book inside my canvas bag along with all of the other things I have to tote around in a day: diapers, toys and, regretfully, my kids ”supposedly” spill proof cups. You know where I am going with this, don’t you? Yes, little did I know, that on my drive from London to Waterloo, one of these cups was leaking onto the book, smearing the inscription.

Shortly after I got home I decided to take the book out and have a look. When I opened it and saw the damage my heart sank. I called my friend to tell her what had happened and apologized profusely. “It’s ok. Don’t worry about it,” she said. To which I replied, ”Don’t ever lend me anything else again. I can’t be trusted.” Lisa laughed. “Really. Don’t worry.”

Still, I worry. I want to right this wrong. I know it is a long shot but I would love to have that inscription re-written on a piece of paper so that I can place it inside the book, next to the smeared one. I wonder if it is possible for you to do this. It would be a great help. I would again be able to live guilt-free!!
Thank you.

Heather Smith

PS I am sincerely hoping that you do not receive another letter that starts: “Dear Mr. Coupland, I wanted to tell you how I loaned my copy of Life After God to an irresponsible friend….”

I didn’t tell Lisa that I wrote this letter, as I wanted to surprise her with a new inscription when returning the book. I wasn’t sure if I would receive a letter in response from Douglas Coupland but I was hopeful. And then one day a letter appeared in the mail. When I saw “Coupland” on the return address I was ecstatic! Inside was one of the nicest, most touching, handwritten note cards I have ever received. The top half of the card, for me, said:

To Heather, you are a kind and thoughtful friend and the world needs more of you. Best wishes, Doug. ”

The second half of the card, for me to place in Lisa’s book upon return, said:

“To Lisa, who has a good friend in both Heather Smith and Douglas Coupland.”

I was glad to came across Dougie's personal note to me. It was nice reminder that people with a certain amount of celebrity are not always as untouchable as one might think, that they are real people, and that some of them do, indeed, care about the people who feed their success.

Douglas Coupland said I was kind. And thoughtful. I think I love him.

It took me a couple of more days to find the spa certificate but, eventually, I did. On Saturday I will be pampered like a queen, another experience shared with Lisa, another memory in the makings. I just hope I don't spill a bottle of nail polish over her or something while we're there.
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