Friday 26 November 2010


The Archers Years are nearly upon me. I can hardly bring myself to say that without a moue of regret, but I think the evidence is irrefutable: I made a Christmas cake at the weekend, using the handy ‘Delia Smith’ bag of ready-measured ingredients from Waitrose, and this fit of middle-aged-middle-class domestic activity came hard on the heels of making jam to use up the plums from my parent’s garden. And whilst I can still concede a quiver of enthusiasm for Gavin Henson’s six pack on Strictly Come Dancing (oh God, I've been watching Strictly - pass the humane killer), the sight of Mr Trefusis loading the dishwasher or wielding the vacuum cleaner is far more likely to get my superannuated sap rising. 

I'd love to reach for the glamour of 'Middle-youth' but it sounds a bit tiring, as if it requires me to do daily pilates, and take on a vigorous campaigning role on the PTA, and buy Cath Kidston or Boden. I'm feeling too past it for that kind of re-branding: my mental wireless is permanently tuned into Radio 4, my favourite iTunes podcast is 'In Our Time' and Marks and Spencer has suddenly reappeared on my radar as an interesting place to shop. I daresay that if I were to tune into the Archers, I'd completely relate to the storyline. 

I suppose there are some benefits to the The Archers Years - I care an awful lot less about what other people think of me. I've almost stopped pretending to like stuff on the offchance it might make me look big and clever. I give up on books that are too worthy, dreary or gritty without a shred of guilt. I'm even prepared to wear comfortable shoes.  I'm not sure whether it's increased confidence or being too exhausted to mind, but the net result is that I'm a little better at knowing what makes me happy -  probably much the same kinds of things as anyone else - not that I intend to admit any of it when the government come round to measure where I am on their happiness index. Reading makes me happy, of course, and  I no longer edit the books on my bedside table to try to reflect a more intriguing, intellectual, adventurous me - the first time Mr Trefusis stayed over (hem hem) he didn't even notice the casually placed copies of The Second Sex or Delta of Venus, or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or The Four Quartets, and eight years later I suppose it's a great relief he doesn't judge me for replacing them with Bernard Cornwall and Ken Follett.

But the regret is still there, nagging away as I line my cake tins with a double layer of baking parchment. Middle-age might be desperate to claim me as one of its own, but I'm not ready to go without a tiny struggle. It's a quiet kind of mid-life crisis I suppose. I wish I could buy a Harley Davidson, or dye my hair an extraordinary shade, or start wearing inappropriate clothing and talking self-consciously about going to 'gigs', which at least would acknowledge the whole damn thing as a rite of passage.  But I can't, and instead the whole thing becomes internalised as mild disappointment and missed opportunity. 

Anyway, it's time to feed the cake its brandy. I might have a cheering tot myself whilst I'm at it.

Sunday 14 November 2010


'I like dragons,' says Trefusis Minor, 'They can throw fire, they're quite like snakes and lizards and they can fly. And they're really quick. And they have armour. The most important thing about a dragon is its wings, its fireballs and its teeth.'

Trefusis Minor is obsessed by dragons. I'm sure many more experienced parents will nod wisely and tell me that dragons are simply the next turning on the left after dinosaurs on the map of boyhood. Mr Trefusis and I are not experienced parents - it's a case of the blind leading the blonde as we struggle to keep up with each new enthusiasm as best we can - though I think we're both secretly relieved we no longer have to remember that a compsognathus was the smallest of the carnivores, or struggle with the pronunciation of Pachycephalosauria.

Anyway, I asked Trefusis Minor why he thought dragons were so popular. 'It's because of St. George,' he said sagely, 'And St. Michael. Everyone likes dragons, even the bad ones.' And, really, that was as much as he'd say on the matter. But everyday he draws pages and pages of them: some have two heads and look ferocious, some are equipped with a terrifying arsenal of weapons, some look amiably bovine, but no two are identical.

Actually, I think the dragon fascination started with a trip to see 'How to Train Your Dragon', a film full of adventure and beautifully realised dragons in exhilarating flying, swooping, gliding and fighting scenes. The hero, Hiccup, is a young and appealingly useless Viking living on the beleaguered island of Berk, who defies tradition when he befriends one of his deadliest foes — the ferocious dragon he calls Toothless.

The film is inspired by Cressida Cowell's book of the same name, subsequently a huge hit at bedtime with Trefusis Minor, though he maintains he prefers the film - I hope his review, which I took down verbatim, makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in coherence.

'Hiccup is brave and very, very intelligent, he likes the dragons and wants to be friends with them. He didn't want to kill them. In the book he can speak Dragon Language: he can't in the film but he captures a Night Fury which is the best dragon there is and he calls it Toothless and he does find out by himself how to train dragons really well and he saves everyone from the Red Death.
In the book no one actually flies on a dragon but they do in the film and it's amazing when Hiccup flies on his dragon. In the book Toothless doesn't look very scary and he's a bit pathetic but in the film he's beautiful like a black flying snake with green eyes.'

Dreamworks 'How to Train Your Dragon' is out
on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, Monday 15th November. It will almost certainly find its way into Trefusis Minor's Christmas stocking, and I shan't be sorry to watch it again either - I'm a sucker for films with unlikely heroes, and there are few as unlikely as Hiccup the Useless (later 'Useful') and his beautiful dragon Toothless.

And, as Trefusis Minor says, 'Dragons are actually in Real Life. they're different from ones in the films because they're Komodo dragons who can't spit fire or fly but they do have armour and they are dangerous because they can spit poison and they are big and scary and strong and can defend themselves'