Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Phew, I'm tired.

Is there something in the water this Christmas? Something that is making me, the undisputed Christmas whore of South East Cornwall, want to leave them all to it and check into a Travelodge, switch on the telly and return home in March.
It just all seems such hard work this year. Where once I breezed through a mall full of frantic people, whistled through thronged supermarkets of crazed housewives hell bent on the last vacuum packed can of chestnuts then returned home to make four dozen mince pies from scratch whilst sipping a sherry and humming along to Carols, today I feel like cancelling the whole proceedings.
Hubby, already having not been here the past fortnight and true to form of many men at this time of year, went on an office jolly yesterday. Now it’s not the run ashore that I take umbrage with, oh no, it is just the absolute impunity to leave the car at home in the morning and kick back in the afternoon knowing that all is well at home due to the very reliable baby sitter, me.
I cannot imagine there ever being an opportunity when I, because I’m going out drinking in the afternoon, leave the car behind and go for it. Jeeze, social services would be involved. Mothers just don’t have the capacity for afternoon debauchery. More’s the pity.
My own festive get together involved a very well behaved bunch of mums, a few bowls of steaming soup, a mince pie and a coffee. How terribly decadent if we’d said, “Ah let’s go home at six. Why not, the dads are there to look after the kids?” As it was, we all duly turned up at the school gates without so much as a slight flush.
I’m now running out of time. Hubby, absent from all them preparations and list writing, is out of the loop and thus no good whatsoever to me apart from peeling veg and sticking his finger ‘just there’ on a present. All the cards and parcels have been sent and have safely reached their destinations: Hubby wasn’t even aware of the design on them, less to whom they were sent. He doesn’t have a clue where my secret stash of goodies is, where the wrapping paper lays, the sellotape, the bows or indeed what is on the menu. He has no idea what Santa will bring down the chimney with him nor for whom and yet the occasional groan is emitted whenever he finds a receipt.
His first words on returning home, where not, “Phew, I’m glad those pigging exams are over. Here’s to Christmas Alice darling”, nor did he then lay a long and lingering kiss on my lips with a breathy, “I don’t know what I’d do without you angel. The house looks like a magical winter wonderland”. Instead he said, with a very dour expression,“We must discuss our financial situation.”
I was icing the Christmas cake at the time and was just about ready to wrap a length of ready rolled marzipan around his head. I mean I ask you, talk about peeing on my parade. I would love to take his cavalier attitude to the whole event i.e do absolutely zilch, then sit back and moan whilst everyone else runs around ensuring that the children’s faces on Christmas day light up with delight. As it was I was very calm. I pointed out that I would be only too happy to oblige in discussing any pecuniary issues with him, but not until January the second and so until then would he be so kind as to smile through gritted teeth, enjoy the proceedings and not, as he has done every year before now, berate me on Christmas morning when he sees the amount of gifts Santa has left.
We weren’t going to buy anything for each other this year, but to be honest as the day approaches I was feeling more and more resentful towards this idea. After all would Hubby be genuinely happy within himself on Christmas morning to give me absolutely nothing? Me, the love of his life who has made it her life’s ambition to ensure that all within her family are achingly happy and fulfilled on any given day, especially at Christmas when said fulfillness is even gift wrapped and sprayed in silver glitter? The answer is probably yes given that I overheard a conversation on a bus recently where a woman told the person sitting next to her that, “Last year, no-one noticed I hadn’t been bought anything”. How could everyone in a family forget the one person who makes it all happen? It was a heart breaking tale and one therefore that I was not prepared to risk which is why I told Hubby that our idea of no gifts for each other was a rotten one and that he should indeed traipse around M&S with another twenty or so terrified men, looking for something, they haven’t a clue what, for a woman that they’ve only been with hell, for most of their adult lives.
So, with just a couple of days to go, I have only the turkey to collect, the ham to bake, the pressies to wrap, the bread and cranberry and rum sauce to make, the sausage rolls to create, mince pies to assemble, the party to host, the stockings to stuff, the house to clean, the family to feed, the church to attend, the children’s hair to wash and the table to lay. Did I forget anything?Oh yes, wishing you all a warm, safe and very happy Christmas hoping that you are cocooned in the metaphorical bosom of the ones you love. Here’s to the next one xxx

Monday, 17 December 2007

So much to do, so little time..

Hubby it transpires does not like examinations. This is a great pity given that he is presently sitting a week’s worth for his MSc. Every telephone call has been along the lines of,
“Oh Alice. This is the worst week of my life. I feel sick. There’s a gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach”, or, “Oh Alice. The exam this morning was horrific, I mean truly horrific” and then he regales me in great detail of why said exam was such a trial to him. Of course, with the subject matter being what it is, I find it oh, so very hard to sound interested as it is oh, so very, very boring. Acronyms and algebraic equations fly over my head as I desperately try to make all the right soothing noises. There is a limit though to how many times one can convincingly sound sincere and this afternoon Hubby caught me out.
As he told me once again about how all the other guys on the course are engineers and thus eat mathematics for breakfast (his metaphor not mine) and who thus flew through the exam whilst he almost cried, I attempted to fix the dishwasher, which was resolutely refusing to be fixed. I swore loudly when, at the third attempt, the dishwasher did less than it had the previous time. I turned its knob again and blasphemed.
With the phone under my chin and my hands in the filter system, sitting on my haunches with the Red-head between my legs, I had been comfier.
“Alice? Why did you swear?” Think, Alice, think quickly.
“Darling, I was just thinking of you sitting there, your biro in your sweaty palm, struggling away at some heinous applied mathematical conundrum, surrounded by other men with their tongues sticking out in earnest contemplation.”
“But I’d just told you that I was wrapping my hand in for a couple of hours and going for lunch. You weren’t even listening to me were you?”
Oh boy, was it best to come clean and admit that I hadn’t the faintest idea about maths and management science and therefore, no interest and to be honest, the fact that my dishwasher had given up the ghost a week before Christmas was vying for my attention. I lied instead.
“Of course I was listening to you sweetie”, I said breezily, “You said that you felt very tired and needed a break which I think is a very good idea. I swore because I felt for you”.
“You are lying through your backside Alice Band”, he muttered, obviously not convinced that my attentions were solely dedicated to his woes. My thighs were killing me squatting on the kitchen floor and the Red-Head was now inside the dishwasher. My patience had worn thin.
“Ok”, I admitted, “I wasn’t listening to you and I don’t wish to be mean, but really darling this is all you’ve gone on about for weeks, your pathos reaching a zenith now that you are actually sitting the exams. Look”, I went on, “ at least you’ve got some time away to concentrate solely on them, hell when I did my degree, I had two small children and you were away. Try swotting under those conditions”.
“But yours was only a B.A”, he added, rather foolishly in my opinion.
“What the hell do you mean only a B.A?”, I barked down the phone, clutching onto the kitchen counter to pull my ceased up body from the floor.
“Well, you’ve never done anything with it have you? Never earned any serious money. I’m doing this so that, when her Majesty kicks me out of the RN, I’ll be a little more marketable on the job front and thus capable of continuing to pay our crippling mortgage and the continuing education of four bloody kids”. The phone line went dead.
I called him several terrible names which seriously questioned his parentage and lobbed the phone across the room. Mags, as if by magic, walked in. Without saying a word she picked up the phone and replaced it in its cradle, took the Red-Head out of the dishwasher and into the other room where she flicked a switch and C-beebies came to life. Walking back into the kitchen, she then flicked the switch on the kettle and said “So what was all that about?”
“Oh the usual. He thinks I should be grateful to him for putting himself through this academic hell for the benefit of his family, is stressed because the exams are very, very hard and the age old nugget of my not earning an income is adding to that good mood”.
“Well, how do you feel?”
“I’m in thrall to his genius, but really Mags there’s a week to go before Christmas, he’s absent, I am up to here with PTA commitments, nativity plays, dance concerts, nursery parties and a hundred and one other things on my to do list. The dishwasher has gone tits up and the internet has followed suit, which means that I cannot check on Santa’s deliveries, especially now that he’s decamped from Lapland to the Amazon”.
“D’you mean Amazon dot co dot uk?”, she asked carefully.
“The very one”, I replied.
“Ha, ha. Look, I came around to see if I could persuade you out of your Marigolds and pinny and into a party frock? I thought I might throw a little festive soiree tonight.”
There were times when Mags sounded so much like Margot Ledbetter, it was uncanny. Unfortunately the only thing I had in common with Barbara Good was exhaustion, dirty fingernails and a penchant for Richard Briers.
I looked around me. There were dirty dishes stacked a mile high. Upstairs, the equivalent of Dingles gift department needed wrapping and my Christmas cards needed licking and mailing.
“What the hell”, I said, throwing caution and Hubby’s angst to the wind, “Count me in”.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Being heavily involved in my youngest children’s school fundraising activities has been a dubious honour this week. Very early on Saturday, I left Hubby with a house to clean and four children to entertain whilst I meanwhile, was to be found in a lay-by clutching a clip-board, waiting in the freezing pitch black with 52 other ladies for a coach to take us to Bath on a PTA shopping trip. It had seemed such a good idea a couple of months ago. Now with rain threatening to soak us and several elderly ladies looking as though they were about to surrender to hypothermia, I was very uneasy. One after the other they asked, “When will the coach be here Alice?” Omnipotent, moi? I’m only the vice-chair, not the chair, whom is often mistaken for God.
“I’m sure he’ll be here soon”, I answered animatedly, whilst secretly worried sick that perhaps he wouldn’t turn up at all and I’d be left with 52 women baying for my blood. Finally, in the dark of the early hours his headlights were seen approaching and if I thought for one minute that a cheery, jolly driver would bound down the steps and welcome us aboard then I was much mistaken. I climbed up to meet him and was met with an exhausted looking man rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Ugh, morning”, he yawned, “I’ve been up since four and I’m really tired”. Oh deep joy.
I ushered my ladies on board and the driver asked where we were going. This was getting worse.
“Bath?”, I replied tentatively.
“Which way do I go?” Did I just hear him properly?
“Well, you have to turn around?”, I started before he groaned,
“You mean I can’t carry on in this direction?
“No, sorry the ferry won’t take a huge coach”. Muttering under his breath, he swung his coach around and we went the Saltash Tunnel way.
By Taunton Dean he was desperate to stop for a coffee because, “I’m nearly falling asleep here”. Considering that a few years ago, on a similar outing, our driver had actually fallen asleep at the wheel and I’d had to keep him going with stimulating conversation all the way to our destination, my nerves were shattered but thankfully, after the largest latte he seemed a little more perky. That is, until we got to the outskirts of Bath.
We and 399 other coaches full of excited shoppers were all attempting to enter one road that takes you into the city centre. It was an impenetrable snarl up which took an hour to negotiate by which time many of my ladies were huffing and puffing with frustration.
“Well, this is just bloody marvellous”, said one, “All that money I paid for a ticket only to have a couple of hours shopping. It’s a disgrace”. I put an asterisk next to her name on my clip board and vowed to blacklist her from further excursions.
Our entry into the coach park was met with further obstacles as the coach company had failed to obtain a parking permit and so the driver had no option other than to abandon us with the parting advice of, “I won’ t be here at 4.45, just look for the coach on the road somewhere near”. I grabbed the microphone to let my ladies know, but most were anxious to get off and go and thus never heard the announcement.
To say that Bath was busy would be of such an understatement that it’s barely worth describing suffice to say that around the Christmas market I actually sat on an old ladies lap in a wheelchair having been pushed there by an enthusiastic shopper and now was hemmed in as we were gridlocked. No-one was moving and there were bodies literally pinning one to the spot. It was most disagreeable.
Fortuitously, I met a couple of friends from the recent ‘burlesque’ party for lunch. They had booked a table at a lovely restaurant and plied me with Prosecco for much of the afternoon. Things took a turn for the worse however, when, perhaps buoyed by Dutch courage, the two skinny girls insisted on a little Trinny and Susannah tough love and, in the middle of the restaurant hoisted my breasts up declaring all I needed, “Was a bloody good bra”. If that be the truth: if all my physical, emotional, familial and fiscal issues could be sorted by the purchase of a good bra, then what a world it would be. Instead I felt cross and finally left them in an expensive dress shop arguing over whether or not it would be permissible to buy a dress in last season’s print.
At 4.45 I walked to a patch of pavement near to where the driver had dropped us off. Forty beleaguered women had thankfully mustered and the coach arrived and I safely deposited them on it. Eleven were still AWOL and into the dark I dived, clutching my ubiquitous clipboard again in the faint hope that it would sustain me as I trawled the coach station. Half an hour later and my shepherding skills paid off and all were safely rounded up and on the bus. Many had booked dinner in restaurants at home and all were disappointed when the driver announced that he would be stopping at Exeter services for 45 minutes, because, extraordinarily, he hadn’t eaten all day. God only knows why he hadn’t packed himself a lunch but it meant that we didn’t get home until 9.30. I was not flavour of the month.
Later in the week I went to the theatre with my youngest and her preschool to see a play for 2-6 year olds. It sounded Christmassy and jolly - in fact it was about bereavement and loss. A real hoot, especially when in front of an audience of toddlers the main protagonist declared, “Someday I wake up with nothing to look forward to”. Someone pass me a rotten tomato..

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


“Oh Alice!” Hubby’s tone was so condescending.
“How could you?” he added, reading the letter and tutting whilst shaking his head. “That’s another sixty quid down the drain. You really ought to be more careful” and you really ought to be less of an arse I wanted to add but didn’t, preferring instead to go for the shamed look and so I hung my head in disgrace.
The letter, to which he was referring and responding to like a disappointed parent reading their child’s awful school report, was from Somerset and Avon Constabulary. A speeding fine. Bugger. Caught at 37 miles per hour in a 30 mile an hour zone. It had been back in the summer, very early one Sunday morning as I returned my American friend to Bristol airport. I didn’t even see the flash.
“You’ve already got three points haven’t you?” he demanded rhetorically. I nodded my head meekly.
“What were you thinking? It’s so irresponsible. Honestly Alice, I’m so disappointed and bloody cheesed off that we have to pay the fine”. He was beginning to make me feel like Richard Hammond. It was only 37 miles per hour after all, not the world speed record. He chucked the envelope on the dining table and flounced out. I took out the letter again and was surprised to see that not only was there a speeding ticket but also another letter that advised I could chose the option of attending a speed workshop instead of receiving 3 points on my licence. It seemed a fair deal to me – after all six points looked so reckless. Evidently these things take time to organise because although I got my ticket last August and although I replied to the letter quite quickly, my ‘Speed Workshop’ date wasn’t until last Friday.
Because I had been ‘pinged’ or ‘flashed’ or whatever the verb is for being caught on a speed camera in the district of Avon and Somerset, the only workshop available to me in that jurisdiction was in Taunton. Now, I have never been to Taunton before and would have loved to have stayed longer, but by the time I’d driven off the M5 and negotiated at least 20 roundabouts and tried to find a car park in an unfamiliar city, I was feeling stressy and running out of time. So, after a very nice man generously gave me cash to park my car – my purse, on finding myself at the Pay Machine, was empty – I had a brief stroll and an even briefer lunch and before you can say chicken piri-piri it was time to find the venue. Let me tell you that reading the directions whilst once again negotiating the flipping roundabouts was probably more of an issue than driving too fast and more than once I almost mounted the pavement. I felt ever so slightly vindicated when, on arrival, several people were late because they had misinterpreted the directions and had headed off towards Chard.
I registered my details by way of saying to the lady at reception, “I’m here for the driving borstal”. This went down like the proverbial lead fart and she replied, icily, “Down the corridor. Second door on the right”. Blushing, I did as I was told, took my seat and quietly stared at my hands. Within ten minutes, all the other driving reprobates had gathered: all middle aged or elderly, rather aggressive men. Great.
Our instructor issued us with stickers with our names on, which we all duly stuck on our chests. I was on the end and thus the first to be addressed.
“Alice”, said the instructor, with teacher like expectations, “Would you please stand and tell everyone who you are and how fast you were going”.
Reluctantly I got to my feet. I don’t think I’d ever been this mortified since my mother had found condoms in my bedroom as a teenager, but they really had been a friend’s and we really had only been curious. Try telling your mother that when she thinks you’re a trollop.
So, clearing my throat I confessed my sins and sat down desperately willing the floor to swallow me up. But, if I thought that was the end of it then I was much mistaken.
“And when you got your fine, how did that make you feel Alice?” I’d like to say that I was the maverick rebel who cockily replied, “Bloody cheesed off to be honest. I wish I’d been going at 90”. Of course I didn’t and instead replied, “Very foolish and ashamed. I truly understand that it is very stupid to go over the speed limit especially in a 30 mile an hour zone”. This was obviously the right answer and he smiled as I sat down. Like alcoholics in an AA meeting every person there was asked to introduce themselves similarly, “I am Steve and I am a speeder” or something like that.
It was all very touchy feely. A lot was made of our ‘feelings’ and we were asked to work in groups . It was hell. At one point we were asked if we knew what a green light meant. I kid you not. There were a lot of moments like that. I could quite easily have been very rude. Jeremy Clarkson would have had a field day.After three hours, two cups of tea and several custard creams it was over. Was it worth it? Well, due to the current climate for political correctness we weren’t shown anything really horrific and gory that may well have made an impact on us lest we got ‘upset’. I did learn though that anywhere with street lamps has a 30 mph limit, I also learnt the definition of a dual carriage, which incidentally, has a speed limit of 70mph and there is no denying that it has made me more aware of the horrific ‘ripple effect’ of an accident. The Highway Code, my instructor can rest assured, is on my Christmas wish list.

N.B For all non UK readers: There is a tv show on in this country called Top Gear - it's a lads show all about shiny cars and speed and races and all manner of things that entertian seeminlgy grown men. Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond are the presenters. Jeremy loathes do-gooders and the politically correct and Richard Hammond was in an appalling accident a few months ago where he crashed at almost 300mph. Somehow he survived. They are both 'national treasures'.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


The only man to ask me to dance only did so after a sharp poke in the ribs by his elderly mother’s walking stick. We shuffled uncomfortably opposite each other for the interminable length of the record, before he dismissed himself with a Darcyesque bow – that’s where the comparison ends and he settled himself once more at his mother’s side.
I slugged another glass of champagne and for the nth time readjusted my décolletage. Looking around me at Wiltshire’s beautiful set I tried to resist the urge to pull off a table cloth and wrap it around myself. Never had I felt so inappropriately and badly dressed.
‘Vintage Glamour’, read the invitation. I have plenty of clothes that fit the bill, or at least a nice bit of velvet that can be dressed up with the appropriate sparkle and bling, why then did I follow my friend’s advice - whose party it was, to wear a corset.
“We’re all wearing them darling”, she purred down the phone, “I really want a burlesque party but as mummy is going to be there, I really didn’t want to see her exposed. Ugh”, she shuddered, “Perish the thought. But you and I and my best friends can wear our corsets. Didn’t you buy one recently?”
Ah yes, I did and when I wore it I genuinely thought I was the dogs you-know-what but to be fair I wasn’t wandering around in it. I was not aware of how badly it fitted me, given the last and only other time I’d worn it I’d been lying down with a very appreciative audience. To now find, with nothing else to change into that the ‘boning’ warped, oh so unattractively above my bottom and that the cups would not, however much I tried to persuade them, adhere themselves to my bosom, thereby displaying a generous and mesmerising embonpoint. Instead the bloody material rode up every two minutes leaving the cups somewhere under my chin and my breasts near my waist. It’s not a look that’ll catch on.
Hubby had been left behind to nurse the ever vomiting Red-Head. To leave her wan on the sofa was not an easy decision but after much nagging from the friend whose party it was and Hubby, who’d had enough of me, I decided to go, albeit anxiously. Filling up with petrol at South Brent service station I rang home to be told that the Red-Head was now eating an apple. An hour later Hubby rang with the news that she was dancing along with the stars of Strictly and by the time I arrived, was playing Barbies with her sister.
Never in my life have I been to such a glamorous party, although it has to be said that I am a sucker for a pair of bay trees robed in fairy lights and, as these were the first things to greet me outside an exquisite marquee that housed chandeliers, silver chairs and floral displays that would have had Elton John green with envy, I felt as though I were Alice in Wonderland walking into the pages of House Beautiful magazine. My hostess, who was not dressed in a cheap corset with an old skirt pinned up to display a bit of leg, greeted me in what can only be described as what Marie Antoinette might have worn under her frocks. Gold brocade, strings of pearls, silk and enough lacing at the back to satisfy the most insatiable fetishist, she looked a million dollars or indeed every penny of her bespoke corset.
Champagne flowed freely accompanied by a variety of high class canapés. They most certainly do not do vol au vents in Wiltshire, in fact I doubt that half the fashionable ingredients have yet to hit the shelves of the South West and I ate far too many before sitting down to a dinner of venison. As my dad said, “Well, well fancy. They gave you a hot dinner as well?” He doesn’t get out much these days.
Of course the darlings at my table who were as thin as I am corpulent, graciously refused the canapés and picked at the venison, whilst I ate rapaciously and gluttonously, only too happy to enjoy such fine food. I was born in the wrong century. Had I been a Georgian I’d have been feted for my appetite and handsome hips. Unfortunately I was a 60’s baby and as such expected to grow up thin and willowy. There were far too many thin and willowy types there for my liking and whilst I didn’t have a beau to dance with, I was actually relieved that Hubby wasn’t with me there is no way I’d have believed his feeble, “But you look great Alice love”, as his eyes belayed his lust for another gal.
Having literally licked my plate clean and all had been cleared away, my table played a game of ‘fantasy shag’ which is akin to fantasy football only with a slightly smaller team. When this game caused a little consternation between a couple due to their choice of lover - it’s never a good idea to say ‘your best friend’ - everyone took to the dance floor. The good, great and gorgeous shimmied, sparkled and shone, whilst I sat like a spinster aunt, smiling benignly on. This is when the gentleman, prodded by his mother came on the scene. After our awkward dance, I was only too thrilled that he returned to his mama: the idea of being chatted up by him was too awful to contemplate. Unfortunately they were sitting right next to me and as I threw a glass of champagne down my throat I overheard his mother whisper rather too audibly, “But Charlie darling press on, she looks as though she’d be so grateful ". It taught me a lesson though. Never, ever go alone nor dress down, unless under the age of 20. You may just get away with it then.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


It’s a double edged sword not going out to work. I don’t earn any money and yet I am at liberty to go out during the day to spend the money that I do not have. With the build up to Christmas and a pathological hatred of shopping on a Saturday, this has meant that I have been shopping three times this week already, parking the bloody car twice, unfolding the pushchair twice and jostling, and boy do I hate to be jostled.
It all started off so well this week too. My uncle Dave, a dear old sort who lives alone and yet shops at the Cash and Carry - when will he ever get through a 10kilo box of Daz, an industrial sized amount of loo roll and gigantic jars of mayonnaise? - offered me a day out to Cribbs Causeway shopping mall. He has no ulterior motive, by that I mean he didn’t need to do any shopping, he just wanted a bit of company and he loves driving, so at eight am on Monday the horn was sounded outside my house; my mother in law, who had stayed over the night before to be in situ for breakfast, was given a list of instructions regarding various child pickups then I kissed them all farewell and jumped in the car.
Apart from the appalling music, unless you are partial to early Queen, a bit of Lynnyrd Skynnyrd and the odd Moody Blues track, we had a pleasant drive. Uncle Dave was at pains to show me all the gadgets and gizmos in his car and we were almost by Ashburton before he’d stopped demonstrating the various buttons on my seat.
“Are you comfortable?”, he asked for the hundredth time as my seat went forward then back, then up then down, then reclined then sat up again. I was beginning to feel a little queasy.
“It’s ok, Uncle Dave”, I finally said, firmly, “I’m just right”.
Suddenly I felt a bulge in my lower back and almost shot out of my chair.
“Bloody hell what was that?” I asked, somewhat alarmed.
“Lumber support Alice love. Good for you, especially with your back problems”. I settled back and he was quite right, after the initial shock of thinking my sacral region was imploding I relaxed and it was very comfortable. After another twenty minutes though, I felt very hot and my back and bottom were steaming. Initially I was a little too embarrassed to mention it until finally, I could stand it no more.
“Uncle Dave, please pull over into the next service station. I’m going to have to take my tights off. It must be my time of life or something but I’m seriously overheating. I can’t regulate it; my bum is just getting hotter and hotter”.
Uncle Dave guffawed and flicked a switch, “Sorry, Alice love”, he chortled, “That’s the seat heater. Thought you might appreciate it on a cold day like this”.
I was so relieved that my internal organs weren’t self combusting that I laughed too. We opened the window for a few miles for me to cool down and before you knew it, we’d arrived. Now whether it is because he has never had children and is thus never truly, hair-pullingly, stressed out or whether maybe he has just found his inner Zen but the man is a saint to shop with and, where I was getting terribly hot and bothered and flustered and agitated in various shops he just stood calmly by, holding my bags without so much as a bored sigh.
All was going fairly well until we entered H&M. After an hour of deliberating as I mustered together an ensemble of an outfit for my eldest daughter for Christmas, we went upstairs to find shoes to match. I left the clothes that I had already chosen on the shop counter with the request to the staff to keep an eye on them whilst I chose shoes. In the minute that it took me to put my hand on a pair the correct size and turn around again, the skirt that I had selected and of which there was only one size 10 had been snatched away, never to be seen again. I was demented and like a crazy stalker waited outside the dressing room in case I could apprehend the thief. Ten minutes passed to no avail and after giving every woman with a carrier bag a very dodgy, evil and accusatory stare I finally had to admit defeat. So, with a histrionic sigh I dramatically plonked my basket of assorted knitwear on the counter, threw my scarf around me and, with Diva-esque aplomb, left the building.
The following day I strapped the Red Head into her push-chair and visited H&M Plymouth. This time I plucked the same skirt from the rails even though they only had a size 8, gathered together various matching items and took them home. When my daughter arrived from school I blindfolded her so that she wouldn’t see the skirt and demanded she keep her arms in the air so that she wouldn’t feel it either then, with optimistic anticipation, hoiked the skirt up over her hips. Of course, it goes without saying that it didn’t fit and the realisation that I would have to make a return visit with a wilful three year old in tow was disheartening indeed. The third trip at least resulted in the manager of H&M realising my exasperation and the elusive skirt was finally found, elsewhere, but will be sent to me. I foolishly mentioned my frustration to Hubby who, instead of soothingly saying, “Darling you are so thoughtful. You make Christmas such a magical time”, immediately barked, “Where do you think all this money comes from Alice? Do you think I’m on flying pay?” When he launched into his ‘it doesn’t grow on trees lecture’, I too attempted my inner Zen. I think it takes practice.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Pickles, schmickles.

Walking around Morrison’s last Sunday I was struck by a sudden fatigue. We had just been swimming, the youngest children were in the car being cared for by the eldest and Hubby had a face on him.
“You might like to adjust your hair”, he suggested as we walked into the shop. I glanced at my reflection and nearly jumped in fright. He had a point but what could I do now? It was scraped into some sort of pony tail, although more piggy than pony to be fair and dripping down the back of my shirt. My fringe was plastered like Bobby Charlton across the top of my head, and loose tendrils, hanging down either side of my face looked less Julie Christie and more orthodox Jew.
I attempted to rake my fingers through it to tidy it up but Hubby’s helpful comment of “I wouldn’t bother love” stopped me short.
So, sinking in shame over the trolley, I pushed whilst Hubby manfully hunted and gathered comestibles. The thing is Hubby does this once in a blue moon and, considering the fact that I cannot remember the last time I spotted a blue moon then, by implication, it’s been quite some time since Hubby has wandered around a supermarket and has no idea of not only the amount we need but ultimately the cost.
My choice of organic milk was over-ruled in favour of gallons of ordinary semi-skimmed. The butter and yogurt were also ‘value’ as well as crisps and biscuits.
“See how much money we could save if only you didn’t buy brand names and poncy organic stuff?”
“Yes dear”. I decided to be acquiescent only because I always shop without him and he has no idea, generally speaking, of the luxury items that reside in my cupboards and so, with thanks to Rick Stein, I have saffron, harissa, preserved lemons, Noilly Prat and vanilla extract and pods to hand at any given moment.
“What else do we need?” he asked, clearly fed up now and wanting to go home.
“I have a list”, I said, drawing from my handbag with magician like flair, a scroll as long as your arm.
“Oh God”, moaned Hubby.
“This list contains all we need for my Christmas home baking” and with each kilo of sultanas, raisins, currants and mixed peel I chucked into the trolley, I ticked the list triumphantly.
“Right that’s the dry ingredients; we just need the booze now”
“What about pickled onions?”, he asked, as though pickled onions were somehow synonymous with festive home baking.
“What about them?”
“Ooh Boxing Day. Cold cuts, bubble and squeak, salad, cold bread sauce, chips, chutney and pickled onions.” He sounded like one of those pervy, ‘Suits You’ men from the Fast Show. Was the idea of a pickled bloody onion turning him on? It was a worry.
“But there are jars of them on these shelves in every vinegar, from Shiraz to Jerez. Why bother?”
“It won’t be the same unless they’re homemade” and he dashed off to find a bag of pickling onions before I had the chance to call after him ‘wife made’.
Just as I entered the booze aisle rooting for the cheapest French brandy, Mags came dashing around the corner looking as always, a million dollars.
“Jeeze Alice where have you been?”, she exclaimed.
“Swimming” I answered flatly.
“Swimming? You look as though you’ve been dragged by the hair though the filter system” and she laughed, only not very heartily as her Botox has yet to wear off and so any facial expression is a big effort for her.
“Well thanks for that”, I replied. Hubby returned from ‘Vegetables’ carrying a two kilo net bag of little onions, dropped them in the trolley and proceeded to drown himself in Mag’s lustrous hair and expensive perfume.
“Cor Mags, you smell gorgeous, better than municipal chlorine eh love?” he added, yanking my wet pig tail.
“Hm”, I smiled, grimly.
“So what are you doing here on a Sunday?” I asked, as it was unusual to see Mags waste a weekend day in a supermarket.
“I’ve just been to Pilates and dropped in for a bottle of wine on the way home, but there are a lot of bargains and I thought whilst I was here I’d get my Christmas Cake. Then I saw the puddings and all the mince pies and, as I’ve got so many people coming for Christmas I thought I’d buy them in. Saves me looking puce and harassed on Christmas day doesn’t it?”
“Alice favours the puce and harassed look, don’t you love? She even wears her pinny at the table”. For some reason this was hysterical to them both and I wanted to scream, “But I’m the one lugging pots and pans and stirring gravy and turning spuds, before calling everyone to the table.” The ‘everyone’ is either a bit tight having been at the sherry or brandy since dawn, or high as kites having been munching Quality Street from even earlier, consequently I don’t have time to look like Nigella, all radiant in cashmere just as dinner is served.
“You really ought to give yourself a break Alice”, said Mags, “Buy mass produced”.
“Ok. Shall I take the onions back?”, I suggested to Hubby. He looked crestfallen.
“Don’t be hasty. I like homemade”. Which is why, atop my shelves, I have a two pound cake waiting to be decorated, a pudding waiting to be re-steamed, chutney and six jars of pickled onions. My fingers are so brown from the skins that I look as though I have sixty a day habit and I cried for a full twenty minutes my eyes stung so. I did ponder on asking Hubby whether he’d prefer me hot and bothered on Christmas Day yet with everything homemade or, a glamorous, shiny wife who couldn’t give a damn that her Christmas food was produced ‘shoreside’. I chickened out. I know the truth and the truth hurts...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Consultants Confusion.

I feel as though at war with Devon and Cornwall. Someone, like the director of education in Cornwall perhaps, who decides on school dates and holidays has made the anomalous decision not to follow Devon and their new six week terms. When I rang to find out what was going on, all I was told was that term dates are, “Sent out to consultants”. Consultants who don’t consult - seems a daft idea to me. You’d think these directors of education would enjoy a day out with their other county counterparts and over a coffee and muffin, open their dairies and decide then and there the convenient dates for all parties.
As it stands now, Devon and Cornwall education authorities are out by a week, resulting in completely different school holidays from the other county and thus making life as difficult for families as possible. Now this may not affect those living at the counties extremities but any family living on the edge –and of course, we are one of those families (literally and methaphorically) – can empathise because their children can quite easily be at two different school authorities. Thus families all the way down to Liskeard , up to Callington and across to Tavistock and Ivybridge are struggling. Take for instance my children. I have two younger ones who go to school locally in East Cornwall and two older ones who go to grammar school in Plymouth, Devon. It has become a bloody shambles and this half term is no exception.
Of course this being the first holiday of a new academic year it has a knock on affect and so the Christmas hols vary by a week, the February half term thankfully coincides but don’t get me started on Easter. This is the real bug bear. I don’t go out to work but my friends who do have a real headache in trying to sort out over a month of childcare. For instance my two youngest break up just before Good Friday and then have a fortnight off, whereas my oldest have only the Easter weekend off, then they go back to school and two weeks later they have a ‘Spring holiday’ and eventually return to school sometime in late April. I have one or two friends who are genuinely going to be in crisis next Easter as they cannot afford nor work out the logistics in having to find someone or something to look after and do with their children. The very helpful person to whom I spoke on the phone told me these holidays had created “real issues” for families. You don’t say.
Apparently, lots of families have taken to taking their children out of school for a week so that they overlap. Requests are already in for families wanting to take their little darlings skiing at Easter when they should be in double maths. I was hoping for a more modest few days in Pembrokeshire on my friend’s put-me- up but even that looks questionable given that on a Bank Holiday weekend one should allow oneself two days to travel up the M5.
The person to whom I spoke tried to reassure me that the Easter ‘issue’ would not be too much of a problem for the next few years as an early, March Easter only happens every seven or eight years and so, after 2008, the six week terms introduced by the government but ignored by Cornwall, should not have too much of an impact. We’ll see.
So, as my eldest children have returned to school, sulky that their younger siblings are still in bed, I have been left to entertain them. Hubby, just as I was getting used to him being here, has cleared off to somewhere near Swindon to pursue his Masters Degree course and is thus oblivious to the needs of entertaining small people. Now, I am not much of a mother when it comes to doing things with my children in the home. All those creative things that involve finger painting and glueing and sticking i.e lots of mess, I leave to other mothers. Personally, I feel an overwhelming desire to sob when after having squirted various coloured paints into adequate receptacles the thoughtless little blighters carelessly shove their paintbrush willy- nilly into every pot, therein ensuring that within minutes the only colour available to them is brown. Ditto Playdough and Plasticine. Luckily the weather has been extremely favourable and, with the older children more amenable to the idea of being latch-key kids I have been able to get out of the house all day long.
You’d be surprised how much of a day out you can make of a two centre visit i.e Endsleigh Garden Centre and Tesco’s. The little ones were overjoyed when we pulled into the car park at Endsleigh and my God they weren’t disappointed. It already is a winter wonderland there with snow covered Christmas trees, twinkling lights in every shape and hue, hidden Santas, electronic deer and waving, life sized polar bears. My girls actually squealed with delight and, fortuitously for the parrots and small mammal department, we were an hour in ‘Seasonal’ before my girls hurried off to tap their glass cage habitats. Suitably harassed, the Rabbits ran for cover before I dragged my severely scolded girls to Tesco’s.
Luckily in a place such as Tesco one’s children do not have to be so free-ranging as there are trolleys and straps with which to tie them down and, as long as they are chewing on a baguette and reading a comic, I am at liberty to mooch for a good couple of hours.
The rest of the week saw us at Dartington – we didn’t go near the glass or kitchen shop, concluding by running on the beach whilst I huddled under a blanket, muttering to myself. What I’ll do next spring when I’ve five weeks to kill remains to be seen but somehow I don’t think an outing to Tesco’s will cut it for the teenagers.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Basquing in it.

I knew when I bought the underwear that it could go either way. I’d squeeze into it, feel a fool, be embarrassed, Hubby would laugh, and I would cry and there endeth an attempt at a dirty weekend.
So, having checked into our hotel in Fowey, we opened the champagne, sipped it on our balcony, and went for a stroll and coffee, then returned to our room. Hubby scoured the TV channels for anything with any reference to the rugby and I took to the bathroom. After a languorous bath with oils and foam, I peered into my Ann Summers bag and thought, “Right then. Here goes”.
For a white cotton undies type of girl, to squish and pummel myself into an hourglass basque was a bit of a learning curve. I almost snagged my red nails on the fish net stockings and got a sweat on by the time I aligned all the hooks and eyes, straps and poppers. After rearranging my décolletage several times I was florid, not the look I was aiming for, wanting instead to look cool and in charge. As I said earlier, had I emerged from the bathroom all coy and inhibited I would have looked like a middle aged mother, trying her damndest to dress up as a tart. No, in these situations, I had to and I believe the expression is, ‘own it’. So, whilst my heart may have been pounding as I emerged from the bathroom, I strutted my stuff with all the confidence I could muster. By the look on Hubby’s face I must have been doing a fairly convincing job, because he initially looked a little frightened.
“Bloody hell Alice!”, he said rather slowly, his eyes out like a robber’s horse, “Where have you been shopping?”.
All further details are for the imagination only, but as anyone who knows me well will testify all can not run smoothly for me and my family and this weekend was no exception.
Happy as Larry, Hubby took my hand and led me down to the stairs to dinner. We sat in the bar of our hotel and enjoyed a gin and tonic, “Sip it slowly Alice, it’s the most expensive G&T I’ve ever bought”. I nibbled on some fantastic nuts and Hubby popped olives into my mouth. It was bliss. No rushing, no children to shush, just gazing knowingly at each other. We undoubtedly looked sickeningly in love and just as Hubby was whispering extremely naughty things in my ear, our waitress directed us to our table. Giggling we sat down to the most divine food. An amuse bouche of a quails egg was followed by a starter of salmon on a beetroot risotto. All was going well, until the lamb appeared on my plate. The lamb itself was fabulous but by now a dreaded, cold sweat had broken out on my brow and my tummy was beginning to feel slightly aggrieved. I attempted a morsel. Earlier that day I hadn’t felt right but put it down to excitement, I couldn’t believe that on a weekend away from the children and on my birthday that I would feel unwell. This wasn’t fair at all.
Hubby looked up, “You alright love? Only it’s not like you to savour your food. You usually trough the lot within seconds”.
“Thanks for the porcine like metaphor.”
“Well what’s the matter then? It looks fab”, he said, digging his fork into my plate.
“ I just feel a bit dodgy”, I replied, rubbing my stomach.
“Well get over it love, at twenty three quid a go I could have bought you a meadow of sheep”.
I took another nibble, but I was no use, I felt really sick.
“I’m going to have to go and lie down”, I whispered. Hubby rolled his eyes to the heavens.
“For God’s sake Alice”.
“Please be nice to me. Just try and remember it’s my birthday in the morning”. And so I stood up, laid my napkin on my chair and raced upstairs. Hubby found me twenty minutes later, rocking gently back and forth on the bed, groaning quietly.
“Mind if I put the rugby on?” he asked. I shook my head. Perched on the edge of a bed, a sick wife on one side, a TV turned to mute on the other was evidently not the sporting atmosphere Hubby desired, “This is hardly the Stade de France is it? Would you mind if I went to find a pub?”
Once again I shook my head. Had I not returned to a hurling five year old, I swear that Hubby might have poisoned me to ensure that he saw the rugby, after all he saved quite a bit of money by my lack of pudding, coffee, liqueurs and petit fours but as it was, the three year old soon followed suit, followed almost immediately by her big brother and grandfather. I escaped the bucket, the mop and the disinfectant for one brief interlude to accompany Hubby to a cocktail party on board a German warship. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a WAG as I was an invisible presence at his last appointment, like Captain Mainwaring’s wife: they knew I was there but no-one saw me. Whilst not exactly eye candy these days, there must be some decorative merit to me being on Hubby’s arm - Hans, Fritz and Klaus were certainly very attentive and my mug of Holsten was rarely empty. It was an interesting evening: berthed along the wall of Devonport Dockyard the irony of what I was on did not escape me but I was surrounded by such genuinely warm people whose English was mortifyingly perfect that even listening to the Captain extol the virtues of his central rudder didn’t faze me and surely, that has to be saying something.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

My Friend

My friend Linda died on Wednesday. She was young and beautiful and left a wonderful husband and two glorious children James 9, and Clemmie 5. For those 'virtual' friends of mine out there who have faith, please pray for her family that somehow they may find the strength to cope with her loss. Linda had an unfailing, unfaltering faith in Jesus that I couldn't even begin to understand but it was formidable and steadfast and it humbled me, always.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Filthy Weekend.

For years I’ve been having run ins with Admiral Nelson, that erstwhile naval hero who lost his life on the 21st of October. The 21st is thus celebrated by the Royal Navy as Trafalgar Night, an evening dedicated to remembering their former leader with lashings of alcohol, a fine repast, jolly japes and no spouse. The 21st of October also happens to be my birthday and, since I married Hubby, have over the years become increasingly cheesed off with good old Horatio for stealing my thunder and my husband, because he ‘just has’ to go to Traf Night instead of wining and dining me, “Sorry, three line whip love”.
This year, the 21st being on a Sunday, I thought I’d got away with it. I thought I’d have his undivided attention as Mags, in a moment of decadent generosity has bought Hubby and I a night away at Villa Marina in Fowey as a thank you for having her and her children stay over the summer.
I have been very excited about my little getaway. I’ve looked up the hotel’s web site and browsed its pages and it really does look fabulous. We have a balcony room, filled with gorgeous bath treats, white fluffy bath robes and a table booked at their phenomenal restaurant. I have bought new lingerie and something satin for under the sheets. My hair has either been depilated or dyed, my nails filed, polished and buffed.
Childcare is arranged, my bag is packed. You’d think it was a win win situation. Well think again. Only last night Hubby threw a little off the cuff remark in my direction, a way of jocularly preparing me for the weekend ahead. Usually when we have time away together in a hotel, the jokes are of a sexual nature: a wink, wink, cor blimey love, double entendre, ridiculous nature where his eager hands have to be slapped away at regular intervals.
Last night however, as I dished up his Moroccan chicken tagine, he rather nervously said, whilst attempting a laugh, “Hey the only groaning going on this weekend will be if Johnny Wilkinson injures himself or we lose”.
“What’s that?” I asked, distracted by the turmeric infused chickpeas which had escaped my ladle and which were quite happily staining my work surfaces.
He laughed again, “Johnny Wilkinson? You know, plays rugby for England”.
“What about him?”, I was now attempting to curtail the couscous which was being liberally sprinkled on the floor.
“Alice love, haven’t you been following the World Cup?”
“Not religiously no”, I counted out six knives and six forks, “Would you lay the table for me please?” I asked, before carrying the steaming dish into the dining room.
“KIDS!” I yelled at the bottom of the stairs, “Grub’s up”. A herd of elephants stampeded down the stairs, the littlest one trailing in their wake, her floor length princess gown and high heeled, plastic glass slippers, impeding her descent.
“Oh yum” said one.
“Oh no”, said another.
“Oh yuck”, said another and finally, the youngest clambered onto her chair, surveyed the yellow dish, the chickpeas, the peppers, the herbs and spices then crossed her arms and pronounced,
“It yellow. Me not like yellow. Me not eat it”.
I let out a deep sigh, “That’s all there is. Like it or lump it”.
“Why can’t we have pasta?” asked the five year old.
“Because we had it last night”, I replied.
“And the night before that” added the 12 year old.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea you were scrutinising my menus. Please, should you have any recommendations I should be happy to hear them, especially if you would like to shop for the ingredients, pay for them, place them in a carrier bag, put them in the car, drive home, remove them from the car, remove them from the carrier bag and then squish them into any available space in the fridge, freezer or cupboard?”
Funnily enough this sarcastic eruption was met with silence, until my son, ever the peacemaker attempted conversation.
“So dad, are there any sports bars in Fowey?”
I saw my husband look at my son with what can only be described as terror in his eyes and he shook his head and mouthed, “Not now”.
“Why do we need a sports bar?”, I pursued.
My son looked conflicted, on the one hand he obviously wanted a ‘boysey’ chat with his dad, man to man, on the other hand he sensed he’d said something he shouldn’t have and whichever way he turned he was snookered.
He looked at his father pleadingly over his couscous.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” I demanded.
“Darling, I tried to explain to you earlier, England are in the final of the World Cup”.
“Congratulations. So what?”
“The kick off’s at eight”. I dropped my fork.
“Are you trying to tell me that, when we have a night away together for the first time in over a year, in a fab hotel with a sexy room, with a Michelin dinner, that you would rather watch a game of rugby instead of, well instead of the alternative?”
“Please mum, you’re putting me off my tagine”.
“Don’t interrupt. Well, would you prefer to watch rugby than eat a glorious dinner then seduce your wife?”
From the look on his face it was obvious that’s exactly what he'd prefer.
“Can’t we get the seduction bit over with first then?” he asked.
My children looked stricken.
“Oh ever the romantic and what about dinner?”, I was livid.
“Well darling it is rather expensive. I thought we could have an early pub supper somewhere, a pasty and a pint maybe and then I’d run you a nice bath, open a bottle of wine and you could read whilst I watched the game. I take it there is a TV in our room?” I’m ashamed to admit it but the tagine was upended and Hubby is still picking chickpeas out of his ears. So, if anyone fancies a filthy weekend, well you know where to find me.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


Domestic bliss, I can highly recommend it. Seriously, we’ve only had one serious row, a mild squabble and an evening long impenetrable silence. For Hubby and I that is some achievement.
Of course it all kicked off when he unloaded the car last Friday. Good Lord, there was a lot of stuff – duvets, bedding, another cafetiere, microwave, digi-box, DVD player and a humongous television that has seen better days and now which sits on our son’s chest of drawers, temptingly.
“Don’t you hear me when I say that I have enough trouble with him and that MSN stuff?”, I reproached Hubby as he stuck scart leads and heaven knows what into the back of the box.
“He’ll be alright.”.
“He is in year ten. He needs to concentrate on his school work and there are just too many electrical gadgets in this room.”
“Chill out mum”, added my son, who was valiantly addressing the tuning in instructions. “Yeah, chill out love”, repeated Hubby
Chill out? I was feeling positively frosty when ten minutes later Hubby came downstairs and joined me in a cup of tea.
“Alice love, you must turn off the lights when not in that room. Not only is it extremely unfriendly to the environment but no bloody wonder our fuel bill is so high. Where are the digestives?”
“Who gives a flying fig”, I spat.
“What’s wrong with you now?” I took umbrage that he added ‘now’ to his question. Did he honestly think that by installing gazumpingly great pieces of media equipment into my son’s already crammed room, followed with a dismissive put down, then a chastising for my irresponsible attitude to the utilities bill and carbon footprint was going to put me in a jolly mood? He was delusional.
“Look, don’t start asserting yourself all of a sudden. We have managed quite well thank you very much without your advice and general wisdom. The house is just about standing and the children are fairly well adjusted, clean and fed. You are my husband not my commanding officer”.
“Alice you are being hysterical. I was only suggesting, due to the alarming nature of our bills that you be aware of switching off lights when you leave a room.”
“It’s not just about the lights”, I was standing up now and facing him, my finger wagging furiously.
“What then?”, he asked.
“It’s about being tyrannical and making me feel that for the last two years I’ve been struggling and that now, hallelujah, you have come to save me from collapse”.
“But Alice, you tell anyone ready to listen, how hard it has been for you these last two years, coping on your own with four kids, running a house, doing everything, blah, blah, boring bloody blah”.
At this point I was about to launch my new NEXT winter catalogue at him, which, as it is a very heavy tome, would undoubtedly have been fatal. A very judicious entrance by our eldest daughter however made me rethink my actions especially when she looked so condescendingly smug.
“That’s right, have a go at each other. I told you didn’t I that it would be hell for the first few weeks. If it were just you and Dad you wouldn’t have to worry about it but as you have four children, could you find it within yourselves to be mutually respectful if not of each other then at least of us? Oh and by the way the Red-Head is in the kitchen making a milkshake”.
Mortified, I replaced the catalogue on the sofa, smoothed the seat and then, with every bit of self control I walked past Hubby and into the kitchen.
Of course what met me was a scene of such utter devastation, that I could have fallen to the ground, a crumpled heap. Two glasses, which were almost filled to the brim with chocolate powder, had then been topped up with milk from a four litre carton evidently far too big for a three year old to control, which is why she had missed the glass almost entirely and why two litres of white, sticky liquid was running off my work surfaces and down the kitchen floor.
The three year old was paddling amongst it, a roll of kitchen paper in her hand, dabbing ineffectually at the mess, repeating, “Oh-oh, mummy tross. Oh-oh, mummy tross”.
“You can bet your bottom dollar that mummy is cross. Just look at this mess for heaven’s sake. Just look at it”. She of course burst into tears and Hubby came to inspect the scene.
“So, you are managing just fine are you?” he asked. Just as I was about to spit an abominable profanity, the door bell rang and Mags walked in.
Her customary immaculate dress further illustrated my complete lack of any sort of class, wearing as I was, a filthy skirt, stained sweater and holy slippers over my ankle socks. My hair was scraped into a pony tail and my complexion was ruddy due to earlier events. I expected the typical intake of breath from her and a lecture on letting myself go, instead she picked her way over the mess and opened the fridge.
“Any wine?”.
“Only red”.
“Oh that’ll do”, she replied. As Hubby poured her a glass and I got down on my haunches to mop up the floor and looked at her. She looked even more serene than before, quite expressionless.
“Are you ok?” I asked, “Only you normally screw up your face in distaste when you come here”.
“Well, I can’t today”, there was a pause, “I’ve been botoxed.”
I was rooted to the spot, even Hubby was taken by surprise.
“My husband”, she went on, “Asked me why I looked cross even when I wasn’t”.
Hubby snorted, “Mags, give Alice the botox guy’s number. Only get him to inject her mouth. She won’t be able to move it then”. And that is when the impenetrable silence began.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


As I write Hubby is packing his things for the last time, bidding Portsmouth adieu, signing off on his computer, giving his replacement a firm handshake, wishing him well with a ho, ho, ha, ha navy style joke before getting into his car for one more commute.
The children and I are trepidatious. It has been a long time since we have lived together as a family. A long time since anyone has kept tabs on me during the week. Does he know for instance how much time I spend on my computer emailing and MSNing various global friends. Does he realise how much time I waste just watching auctions on ebay or browsing on Amazon? Well no more. From now on I shall be expected to make two dinners of an evening, one for the children who are ravenous by 5.30 and another, a deaux version when he comes home from work. Worse than making dinner I shall be expected to make conversation, something I have longed to do for years when the only people in the house who could have engaged with me have either grunted or talked endlessly about Princesses. But I am out of practice. To suddenly find myself at the end of a long day being expected to comment on world affairs and current issues is going to take some doing. I shall have to listen to the news intently and not just when the showbiz stuff comes on. I shall have to buy a newspaper so that I can talk intelligently about Bosnia and not Britney and worse, I shall have to express an interest in Hubby's job. This is the hardest task of all because for the past two and a half years as soon as Hubby started to wax lyrical about his beloved RN, I on the other end of the phone and thus invisible, could do all manner of things: stir gravy, change nappies, answer emails and glug wine but , as long as I occasionally murmured, “Really? Gosh! Fancy! Never?”, then Hubby never knew that I was totally disinterested in the glittering careers of the Royal Navy's finest.
I shan't get away with it when he is sitting directly opposite me, regaling me with the day's events. I shall have to practice an expression that does not betray a look that implies the desire to pick up the TV controls and watch any bloody rubbish. Besides what can I contribute in return? “Red-Head made a lovely glueing and sticking montage today. She actually managed to get at least three milk bottle tops to stick to the paper. Do you want to see it?”, or, “Your son had a good walk to school. He's got plenty of homework to keep him busy, do you want to see his quadratic equations?” or even, “The middle daughter is coming on well in her dancing classes, you should see her disco dancing to Mica”. You see, it works two ways; whilst I have been feigning an interest, then so has Hubby, now – far from tell me that he has a meeting to attend or a call on the other line and therefore dismiss me, he will have to read bedtime stories, practice spellings, nag interminably for his eldest children to get off the computer, put out the rubbish, embrace house maintenance and generally muck in.
I think there will be a period of adjustment, a resettlement if you will, where everyone gets used to the other. My eldest children whilst looking forward to seeing their dad more are dreading a new regime. Up until now they've had it easy, with, apart from the occasional demented outburst, little aggravation from me. I am mostly laid back You don't get to be a Commander however by being a soft touch and so, if they think that a collection of mugs, glasses and plates with old bits of food on them left to putrify in their bedrooms will still be acceptable, then heaven help them.
“Am I going to have to change out of my school uniform the minute I get home?” asked the 12 year old.
“Well dad doesn't like to see you lounging in it does he? He sees your uniform as part of your working day and therefore, when you get home, you should hang it up and change into something a little less formal. He doesn't watch TV in his does he?”
This information did not go down well and the 12 year old flounced off, slamming the door behind her but not before bellowing, “Anyway, you two are going to be screaming at each other for the first two weeks until you get used to each other”. She has a point of course, all the little nit-picking that will undoubtedly initially go on, will make me feel undermined. I can't think of any woman who finds handy household tips from her husband grateful. Most just want to stab them, so when Hubby suggests I have a rota for doing the household chores I shall just have to bite my lip lest I am arrested for manslaughter.
Years ago I remember, on the first day home after a seven month deployment, with a young baby attached to my hip, finding Hubby in the kitchen rearranging the condiments on the kitchen counter.
How our marriage survived and we went on to have three more children baffles me to this day.
My son is concerned that he will still get to see his favourite TV shows, one on channel 4 which starts at 10pm.
“Hmm”, I murmured ruefully, “I'm not too sure darling. Dad really likes Newsnight, so I doubt he'll want to watch Skins, but look at the positive side”.
“Which is?”, he asked,
“You'll be bright eyed and bushy tailed in the mornings and will therefore excel at your GCSE's”. His expression implied he was not convinced. Neither am I but we all love each other and that's what counts. Isn't it?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007


Oh poo. My flipping computer has crashed taking everything with it and, should another smug clever clogs says to me, “But Alice, didn’t you back-up your work?”, I swear I’ll thump them. That’s the trouble with computers, no-one cares when they go awry, wiping out years of photographs and documents. When a car breaks down, any number of friends will throw up their hands in despair too, empathising and groaning when you tell them how much it cost to repair. Or, should a washing machine give up the ghost, friends rally around, offering to help either with the telephone number of a ‘marvellous’ plumber or more practically, by offering to do a few loads.
When your computer dies though, you get a minute of someone’s attention and that’s it. Men ask technical questions regarding reformat and restoration dates and the women, or at least the women I know, just say “Gosh how awful, do you want a coffee?” Well, yes actually, I do want a coffee but I also want to know how to mend my laptop. Doesn’t anyone care to enquire how much stuff I’ve lost? Can’t they look reflective for a moment and say, “You, poor, poor thing Alice. Did you lose all your lovely photographs? What about all your letters? And what about the stories you were writing? All gone too? All that work.” It should be enough to make them shed a few tears, but it never, ever does. Wait until the PTA find out though that all the templates and letters that were stored on my PC have been wiped out. They won’t be impressed that we have to redesign the posters for the barn dance and Christmas Fair but ultimately that sort of thing, although a chore, is replaceable. But my photographs, oh my photographs.
Subsequently here I am, hunched over my eldest daughter’s computer, which is completely alien to me and which is making me very cross and frustrated as I lumber my way through it.
Hubby of course is as much use as ever. When I rang him to say what had happened, he too asked all those totally alien questions, then asked if male friends of ours had had a look.
“Yes they have”, I said, desperately trying to be patient.
“And what do they say?”
“That they tried to restore it to another, healthier day in the life of the computer but that when they rebooted it, it didn’t work and that I still lost all my files”.
“Yeah, they are on the plot and hopefully by moving him to London it will free up a sea going position”. Hubby was distracted, talking to the ‘new boy’. It is his handover week.
“Are you listening to me?”, I said loudly
“Not really love. I’m totally snowers as you can hear. Sorry about your PC but really you should have backed up your work” and then he hung up.
My son was equally sympathetic, “Don’t go near mine mum ok? I’ve got it set up just as I want it, besides all the MSN messages will be sent to you and I don’t want you reading them”.
My daughter thankfully has been a little more generous, although I have sworn not to touch her programmes, games and ‘cheats’.
“Don’t veer from the Word documents mum ok?”
Awful though it is to admit, I am quite lost without my computer. I must spend an inordinate amount of time on it checking emails and blogging my virtual buddies, although it goes without saying that it is not the same as flesh and blood friendships. For instance I have recently been privy to the modern marvel that is Facebook. Now, having teenagers in the house, I feel that I am pretty well versed in computer speak and am proud to know what MSNing is, along with Bebo, My Space and You Tube. My children conversely are quite uncomfortable that I email and send instant messages as prolifically as I do, but this Facebook thing is quite another thing altogether and it is so impertinent and presumptuous.
Somehow or other my contacts in my email address book have been released into the ether and so all and sundry have been contacting me to be ‘friends’. Only unlike in the human world where relationships are built up over time over a succession of croissants, coffee, and shared experiences, in Facebook you are ‘poked’ when someone wants to be your friend and several, irritating little emails are then generated saying, ‘such and such’ wants to be your ‘friend’. Yeah sure they do. I have been somewhat startled to find several old lovers coming to the fore, once again wanting to be friends. Wasn’t that the last thing they said to me all those years ago? Curiosity of course gets the better of me and on clicking on their personal profiles I find all the other old girlfriends are listed as their friends too, like a latter day, ‘I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales’ – just makes me wonder who they danced with last.
I just can’t see the point in Facebook unless I’m missing the point. It seems to be a very visual thing, the young and gorgeous post all their most beautiful photographs on it of when they were in Ibiza with a big tan and little clothing and there seems to be a big deal made of how many friends you have, but actually I can see it as yet another tool to make me feel unpopular or at least inadequate. It’s bad enough when flesh and blood buddies have been having lunch together without me, but to discover that I am a ‘virtual Billy-no-mates’ and that anyone with access to the world wide web can snigger at my meagre cluster of associates, well, it’s truly mortifying.
Well for the time being I needn’t worry as pen, parchment and a book of stamps are the communication du jour.

Monday, 24 September 2007


As Hubby continues to improve his mind on his MSc residential and is thus non-contactable, I came downstairs a few days ago to find a pool of water on my kitchen floor suitable for wading in. My reaction to such disasters is high drama along the lines of a Greek tragedy. This is how my son found me, the back of one hand against my forehead as though swooning, the other beating my chest.
“What is it now?” he asked in a rather bored voice that suggested this was an everyday occurrence.
“What is it now?” I repeated, “Look, look” I wailed pointing to the floor.
“Mum, there is a small amount of water underneath the tumble dryer. As water rarely pours out of tumble dryers may I suggest that perhaps we move it away from the wall to see if the washing machine is leaking?”
“Good idea, good idea”. I kept repeating myself but it was soothing, like a devotional mantra.
We heaved and jiggled and pulled and jostled and eventually the two machines were away from the wall. My son, proudly wielding his brand new, ultra bright, LED torch, shone it behind.
“Bloody hell there’s a lot of crap behind here”.
“Please don’t say bloody and crap darling”, I replied.
“Gosh mummy, I say, there is an awful lot of detritus behind here”.
“And don’t be facetious. Let me look” and taking the torch I squinted into the damp and dirty space. The cold tap feeding the washing machine was dripping.
“Aha, eureka!”
By now my son had lost all interest and was laying bacon on the grill pan.
“Do you want a bagel?”, he asked me.
“No. I do not want a bloody bagel. I need to stem the flow and tighten this tap, pass me a bucket and a towel.” I duly place a large orange bucket under the leak and twisted but my efforts did not have the desired effect and far from stopping the water I seemed to have increased its flow and the slow drip-drip turned into a constant splosh. I swore.
“And you tell me off”, reprimanded my son who was plastering HP sauce onto his bagel.
“I’m going to have to ring a plumber. That’s another 40 quid just for the privilege of calling him out”.
I went into the sitting room to find my address book when I heard an almighty scream and running into the kitchen I found the Red-Head wallowing in the water, her brother almost on top of her, the bagel and the bacon afloat around them both.
“What the hell happened?” I asked, picking my son up before lifting a soggy child onto my hip.
“She ran into the kitchen, slipped and collided into my leg, I lost my balance and dropped my plate.”
I hadn’t noticed the plate in smithereens in amongst the water. Luckily no-one was cut but it was a heck of a job to pick out the larger pieces and mop up the tiny shards, resolutely sticking to the wet floor.
“Right you”, I said, plonking the Red-Head onto a kitchen stool, “Don’t move, I’ve got to ring a plumber”.
My son, now truly fed up with not having enough time to cook more bacon, sat glumly opposite her, chewing miserably on a bowl of muesli. “Keep an eye on her”, I instructed, “I won’t be a minute”.
The plumber was extremely amenable and, as it was so early, could fit me in on his way to work. Within minutes he arrived with all the correct tools.
“Now then what’s the problem?” I showed him.
“No worries” he said lying down on my damp kitchen floor. Within seconds not only had he tightened the washer but the Red-Head had clambered down off the stool and was watching him intently. You’d think in such circumstances she might have uttered,
“It’s dark in there”, or “You mend it?” or even, “It’s very wet” but her off the wall, “Me not wear knickers”, surprised us all.
I gave an embarrassed giggle and explained, “Sorry, she’s rather proud that she’s out of nappies”.
“Me wear nappies in bed. Me do poo in nappies”. This was far too much information. My son, through a series of elaborate hand signals was silently imploring me to strangle her and the plumber was more than happy to leave which he did immediately, a fat cheque in his hand.
“You sure you want to study history and politics?” I asked my son as I saw the plumber out, “This job seems far more lucrative”.
“I’m not putting my hand up anyone’s u-bend”.
“Yeah? Well just you keep it like that”, I added euphemistically, before handing him his lunch which I had thankfully prepared the night before.
He kissed the top of my head before leaving for school but not before telling his youngest sister that she was a freak.
“Me not freak, you farty.”
Eventually all four children were at various learning establishments and I was free to tackle the mess in the kitchen. I cleaned, mopped and swept. I filled the washing machine with all the wet bath sheets that I’d used before finally putting them in the tumble dryer as I went to get the Red-Head from nursery school.
On our return we carried the dry towels upstairs, where, because the door bell rang, I dumped them on the bathroom floor. I received a parcel then ran back up the stairs where all the towels were now at the bottom of a full bath of cold water. The eldest daughter had forgotten to empty it the night before.
“Me help mummy do washing”, beamed the Red-Head proudly.
When Hubby rang during his lunch break, his vocabulary peppered with long corporate words that made little sense, he sensed my lack of comprehension.“Sorry love, boring stuff. So how is it in Mummyland?” Mummyland??! Excuse me while I kill myself.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Teenage icks

There’s an old Italian proverb that goes, ‘Little children, headache; big children, heartache’. Were it ever thus? As my youngest children continue to cavort around the sitting room and launch themselves off my sofa only to dismount with the practiced precision of Olga Korbut, the eldest are going through their own personal demons i.e adolescence.
A friend in America, so concerned that I’m losing the will to live regarding the little darlings, has sent me a book on the very subject, appropriately entitled, ‘Teenproofing’. Already, having only read a couple of chapters, I am hanging my head in shame because Hubby and I are doing it all and I stress, ‘all’, wrong. When our son was caught with a friend hanging out of the friend’s bedroom window having a go with a cigarette recently, Hubby went wild. No shaking of head or the toe curling, “I’m so disappointed” lecture – no this was a complete flip out and by the time I returned home, ever the voice of reason the consequences of my son’s actions meant that sanctions had been fully implemented, ergo, no sleepovers, no computer, no football, no movies, no going out, in fact full on sack cloth and ashes. My son lay on his bed staring at the ceiling wondering what was the point in going on. I was very cross indeed and I certainly didn’t condone him having a drag on a fag but I felt uncomfortable with the level of castigation. My heart was heavy and I sincerely wished that I could down a glass of wine and sneak one of my kid’s ciggies. What wicked, terrible thoughts. Shame on you Alice. Instead, I gnawed at my nails and considered the options that Hubby had left open to us regarding his punishment when the next thing happened and, with four more teenage years to go, the ‘next thing’ will absolutely, very definitely happen. I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Rifling through the pages of the book what Hubby should have said was and I paraphrase from the child expert’s book, ‘I am going to say just one thing: You will hear adults say they wish they’d never smoked/taken drugs as teenagers but you will never, ever hear an adult express regret that he/she didn’t smoke/do drugs as a teenager. Think about it.”
Of course the upshot is, is that Hubby and I had some serious words to say to each other, the result being that our son’s punishment had to be amended without it seeming as though we had gone soft and yet still showing an united front that we were still disappointed but that, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the end of the world. Our son responded well to this, was glad of a reprieve and has been the most charming young man ever since. Perhaps a little too charming, given that he has fallen head over heels for a delectable young woman and my concern, my nerves and my fervent - ‘don’t rush into anything’ lectures are something he and I will have to endure.
So, where once I went to bed with a hot man and a steamy novel, the man is luke-warm and the book whose sub-title, ‘fostering responsible decision making in your teenager’, is unarguably the least sexy title for any book – so the only steam is coming off my cocoa.
The book is a recent arrival and due to my son’s zealous activities I have yet to unearth advice to give to beautiful young creatures, otherwise known as - girls on the cusp of womanhood. Mother Nature must herself have suffered horribly growing up and thus wants to wreak havoc on every pretty girl so that she too suffers the ignominy of puberty. How else could you explain why young girls with alabaster smooth skin, hair that only needs washing once a week and white, shiny teeth, transmogrify within weeks to moody little madams with blackheads, greasy hair and a ton of metal in their mouths and with attitudes to intimidate the hardiest parents?
Our precious little angel is no exception, although Mother Nature has given ours a break by providing her with the legs of a colt and exquisite skin, nevertheless, she took her place on the orthodontists chair this week and emerged like Ugly Betty, thirty five minutes later. “I’m telling you mum”, she mumbled, clutching her consolation prize of starter pack i.e mouthwash, floss, weird tufty things, toothbrush and wax, “this is hardly my idea of a goody bag and if I find out I need glasses as well, well just keep sharp objects out of my reach.”
Hubby has reacted to the change in his firstborn daughter with his usual demeanor when confronted with issues regarding his family i.e bafflement. His face genuinely seems to struggle with the appropriate expression for fear of what it might belay, which immediately winds me up. I’m either shouting “Don’t you care? It’s not funny you know”, or “Loosing up a little, it’s not the end of the world”. He can’t win.
“So what do we do with her then?” he asked over a bowl of pasta last weekend, one eye on the rugby.
“Give her plenty of affection, boost her confidence and don’t focus on her looks”, I suggested.
“Fantastic! Bloody brilliant!”, I looked up, thrilled that for once he agreed with me wholeheartedly, only to find that England had scored a try.
“Gee great. I thought we were discussing our child’s self esteem”, I said haughtily.
“Of course, of course”, he replied distractedly. I gave up but only for the meantime, for soon Hubby will be as much entrenched with the biorhythms of family life as much as I. There are only three more weekends to go before he returns to the homestead. The Royal Navy may have big plans for him but believe me; mine are bigger, much bigger. Huge.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


‘Our last Sunday afternoon of summer vacation was spent floating on our backs in a jade green lake, watching the light grow low and golden on the trees that lined the shore.’ Written exquisitely by fellow blogger Mary Alice, her words encapsulated a summer spent with her family, ending in a perfect moment, a snapshot captured in time.
I marveled at her prose, yet my overriding emotion was one of inadequacy. I too attempted one last afternoon on the beach, one more that would be etched in my children’s memory as a scrapbook of long, hot summers, immediate if unsustainable friendships, diving for pebbles in a sparkling blue sea, sharing out sandwiches, finally relishing the much promised ice-cream, eaten whilst shivering under a towel cuddled on my lap.
The reality of course was far from the infant utopia I so often strive for, in fact within seconds of launching herself fully clothed into the sea, the Red Head was shivering and wanting to go home, whilst the five year old was bored and the twelve year old, “Really, really uncomfortable on this beach mat. Why do you get the chair?”
Rather too audibly I asked myself, and for the hundredth time this summer, ‘why do I bother?’ I simultaneously undressed one sopping child, built a sandcastle for the other and removed a couple of intrusive pebbles under the mat of the other. Finally I sat back in my chair and looked out to sea, reflectively. Why was I so hopeless at creating a perfect family life, the ones that yummy mummy’s bleat on about? Much as I tried this summer, my kids have constantly squabbled and made the sort of messes that only a conceptual artist could appreciate. I seem to have spent the last six weeks demented, screaming, yelling and issuing threats. My children, far from being dewy eyed with emotion at the joyfulness of their infancy have been wet eyed due to my storming and switching off of televisions with threats that Santa will never come if they don’t play with the bloody toys they already have. My eldest children, more perceptive to the tensions, have commented that their parents show no demonstrative affection to each other. “Why don’t you kiss dad?” asked our son.
“Yeah mum. Your’e always stressed. Always cross”. Would this be their prevailing memories of their Cornish summer holidays? A crazed mother, to mad and bad even to respond to their father’s embraces.
I attempted enthusiasm, “C’mon let’s go and have one last dip of the summer!”, and extricating myself rather clumsily from the chair I let my sarong fall.
“My God mum”, exclaimed my eldest, covering her eyes, “Haven’t you heard of a bikini wax?” I looked down and sure enough what escaped the confines of my swim suit certainly warranted a whip around with a Bic razor, but hell, it was too late now, I’d have to brazen it out.
“Vat? Are you not coming svimming viz me?”
“Mum. Don’t. That terrible German accent is not going to kid anyone, besides even German women aren’t as hairy as that”. I shrugged my shoulders, took my five year old’s hand and ran into the sea. Fancying herself something of a mermaid, she is quite fearless and loves being in the water. Soon the Red Head joined us and for a brief moment in time, I too looked like a celebrity mummy - all paparazzi shots of laughing and giggling in the surf with my adorable infants. It was heart stoppingly cold however and try as I might, I could not make intelligible conversation, my fight for survival being imperative.
Later, as we left the beach we met an old acquaintance.
“Hello Alice!” she said cheerily as her husband rubbed lotion onto her shoulders before getting down on the sand and building their children a wonderful, sand racing car. “Isn’t it awful? I can’t believe they start school in a couple of days. It’s just been the most perfect summer hasn’t it?” I looked at her carefully but there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
“Do you want a cold beer darling?” she asked her husband, placing a loving hand on his bare back. He turned around to kiss it, “Thank you angel, you think of everything”. They smiled at each other a little longer than was decent. I thought I’d be sick.
“Well I’ve got to go”, I said with equal cheeriness, “Name tapes to sew, you know how it is”.
“Alice! Life is too short to sew on name tapes” and they both laughed, her handsome chest now pressed up against his rib cage, “Buy a marker pen and live a little”.
That night, after the youngest were put to bed, awake and protesting, I swung my salty, hairy legs onto my sofa and took a long slurp at my G&T and watched Nigella.
As the ending credits rolled up the screen, the phone rang. “Cor! Now that’s what you call a woman Alice”. Hubby.
Really? I can’t stand her. Oh I’m sure that she’s very nice but that fake, always harking on about her busy, ‘I’ve only time to look edible as well as flash fry a steak and mash some white beans’ lifestyle and those coy looks to camera that imply us lesser mortals empathise with how hard it is on her. Taxi to Waitrose? And back again? Caramel croissants after a night out when most of us scrabble for the ibuprofen and our pillows? Crunchy calamari with garlic and girlfriends; lipstick, high heels and black satin? It’s a bogus lifestyle, filmed in a mock kitchen, where in one article I read, she is ‘shifty’ regarding the number of servants she employs, but, you can bet your caramelized bottom dollar she has a housekeeper and nanny.
Ditch the act Nigella and fess up… Give me a chance; my husband thinks you’re for real.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


I can’t believe how cruel life can be. In this blameless, cloistered life that I lead, where pleasures are simple and oft involve many children and thus where a glass of wine or two are much anticipated at the end of a long and noisy day, it is a brutal blow to find myself, after years of bibulous activity, allergic to the only salve capable of easing my mind and muscles after another day of frenetic domestic abuse.
I have tried to ignore its warnings over the past few months but it has become more and more apparent as I sneeze and sneeze over yet another glass of Sauvignon that something in the wine does not like me. By the time I have finished a glass the familiar itching in my eyes starts, followed by ten minutes of vehement sneezing, then ugly and deafening nose blowing rendering me devoid of smell or taste and sounding as though I’m suffering from a somewhat nasty, respiratory tract infection.
It begins well though: the coolness of the wine hitting my throat, the flavour of the grape curling my tongue setting off ripples of excitement to my taste buds then, as I approach the midway line of the glass, the alcohol relaxes my body and I take on a more cheery countenance. This has been, for the last two decades not counting four pregnancies and three breastfeeding babies, a highly anticipated, nightly occurrence and one that has kept me from the brink of disaster. I am never drunk as two glasses is sufficient, three when at a party, four when on a bender – joke.
To have to give it up then is like mourning an old friend, one whose colour and demeanour has paralleled every aspect of my life. Deep, dark and red in my darker moments, light white and bright for happier, sunnier days and sparkling, bubbling, fizzing champagne for those ultra wonderful, celebratory moments.
What am I to do now? How can I achieve that ‘manana’ feeling that a half a dozen gulps of Australia’s finest provides? I’m not much of a spirit drinker, cocktails I can take or leave and Pimm’s? Ugh don’t even go there. Once, when young and on a second date with Hubby we went to an afternoon party where only Pimms was provided. We were in the elevated company of a local admiral and Hubby was then a cheery Petty Officer; at one, truly yet unfortunately memorable point, knowing they were both in the Navy, I wrapped a feather boa around both and asked “So, do you work together?” Hubby poor soul, blanched, the Admiral guffawed and not long after I was very, very sick. No more Pimm’s for me then.
Instead I have turned my attentions to Gin and Tonic but to try and replicate the delicious one I had at the Distillery is a bit of a fag. By the time I’ve filled my glass with ice, chopped my lime, wiped it across the rim of the glass, squeezed it, added the gin, opened an individual bottle of tonic and stirred it I could have prepared a light supper. I am thus at a loss and mostly then very cross, especially since having given up wine I thought, due to the colossal size of my arse as pointed out to me by a three year old little girl, that I may as well go for broke and also give up bread. Hubby is very supportive.
“No more communion for you then”, he roared.
Denying yourself simple pleasures is one sure way though of losing one’s sense of humour and whilst I have stuck to my resolve it is not easy. Let’s be honest, how simple is it to open the bread bin, pull out a couple of slices of bread and chuck them in the toaster. That’s breakfast sorted, ditto lunch if you disregard the toaster and of course every other meal where bread plays such an important part. The ‘staff of life’ is no hyperbole.
I now have to be more imaginative when it comes to lunch. Rice cakes: those awful, dry, taste of nothing, circles of puffed rice are now a staple and breakfast, far from consisting of a bagel dripping in butter and cream cheese has been replaced by exhausting muesli, the remainder of which I am still picking out of my teeth at elevenses.
Is it worth it? Well, rather astonishingly I am still wide awake and firing on most cylinders at midnight. I have read a couple of novels and watched a little telly whereas before, those two glasses of wine would have made me soporific and by 9.30 ready for bed, a book falling out of my hands after only reading a page.
Hubby is alarmed, “I’m not sure I like the new you Alice”.
“Whatever do you mean?”, I asked, most affronted.
“Well, you’ve got enough to say for yourself all day long love. At least after pouring a glass of wine down your throat I knew you’d soon hit the sack..”
“And then I’d have a peaceful evening and control of the TV controls. Now you’re wide awake and wanting to ‘talk’, which is always a worry.”
“Huh, I’ll get out of your way then”, I retorted huffily, “I’ll take up a hobby or better still a lover”.
“Not much chance of that”.
“Why not?”
“Alice you insist on the lights off with me. I can’t imagine you displaying your stretch marks to another man unless you were wankered*.”.
“Well really there’s no need for that”. Perhaps sensing he might have somewhat overstepped the mark, he put his arms around me.“Don’t be daft; I wouldn’t want you any other way. Just makes me wonder where the girl who loved a few Marlboro Lights, a bottle of chardonnay and a chip butty, went”. Well might he wonder. I don’t know where she went either.

* This is obviously not the word used in the newspaper but in my view, far better.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Shows, shopping and shock.

And it was all going so well. Leaving Hubby in charge of the little ones with only the most negligible of pouts, my twelve year old and I had a ripping time in London; for a start instead of climbing all over me on the train, she was content to sit and read her book leaving me to read mine. She went and bought the coffees and, even better, went to the loo by herself. The few hours sped by and before you could say, big smoke, we were in it. Down the tube and up the escalators we went until we found our accommodation in Pimlico. Quickly dropping our bags, I dressed for the evening even though it was only mid afternoon, but, knowing how long it takes to go anywhere in central London, I knew that whilst being slightly common to wear dangly, sparkly earrings before 6pm – I had no alternative as there was no way we’d have time to come back again and change.
We took our seats in a Thai restaurant then with me looking a little hookeresque and my daughter shaking her head in shame.
“God mum, you look well, so overdressed”.
“Well what choice did I have? I could hardly go and see Lee Mead in my Tesco skirt now could I?” and I went back to the menu.
“Mum, Lee Mead is not the Pope you know. You haven’t been granted a private audience with him”.
“Well I’m still going to try and get his autograph - ‘spring rolls, green curry and Tom Yam soup please’ – so there”.
My daughter just rolled her eyes and sipped her lemonade.
“Nice restaurant” I said looking around at the gilded dragons and coolie hats decorating the wall.
“ Mum, don’t change the subject, its 2.15 and you are wearing what can only be described as dodgy cocktail lounge attire with perfume to match.” And she waved her menu rather dramatically under her nose.
“It’s Poison”.
“You’re telling me”, she added pulling sick faces.
“Christian Dior, if you don’t mind. Thankyou”. The waitress laid out steaming bowls of curry, rice and spring rolls before us.
“Besides”, I said between mouthfuls, “it’s nice to have a chance to dress up. I’m usually covered in something one of your sisters has left behind.” Rather dramatically there was a pop and a flash and all the lights and music went out.
Some foul language exploded from the large party of city brokers who sat at the next table realising they would not know receive their lunches but no matter how much the owner fiddled with his fuse box the electrics refused to come back on and the city men had to make do with their bottle of wine and bowl of prawn crackers.
We left them to it, cursing and shouting – it must be all that practice on the trading floor that does it, that and the stress of their shares falling – and went on our merry way. Emerging from the Knightsbridge tube we went into Harrods and spent a very happy couple of hours in what has become a shrine to bad taste.
Perhaps it is the Jordan’s and WAG’s of this world who buys them, but who else would need a refrigerator with diamonds running down the length of it, or a floral washing machine or a £375 baby bouncy chair or indeed a fuchsia pink, velvet cat basket also complete with diamonds and tulle curtains? It was absolutely staggering. Our final treat was a visit to the ice-cream parlour, where at £10.50 a pop, we shared an enormous yet glorious concoction of various ice-creams, hot chocolate sauce, meringue, hazelnuts and wafers. Luckily I was surrounded by rich foreigners in huge flashy sunglasses, deep tans, deeper makeup, jangling jewellery, designer handbags and vertiginous heels,
“Hey mum”, whispered my daughter “You look positively understated”
Later we meandered around Covent Garden before finally taking our seats at the Adelphi. How many superlatives are there? The show was fab, fantastic, amazing and wonderful and at the end I was overcome with inhibition and stood up swinging and clapping to the music.
“Sit down”, my daughter hissed, dragging at my top but I cared not a jot, “Go, go, go Joseph”, I sang but buy this time I’d been joined by another few er, middle aged ladies all swaying to the beat and as the ticker tape confetti fell at the crescendo I could understand how people swoon at evangelical events.
The piece de resistance was of course later photographing Lee Mead on my mobile phone.
“Must we hang around the stage door mum?” but even she shut up when Mr Mead commented on her ‘Joseph’ vest and wished her a Happy Birthday.
The following morning after a slap up breakfast at a local taxi driver’s greasy spoon café, we spent another hilarious couple of hours at the Tate. Art? My foot. I’ll give you installation.
On our return to Plymouth I was delighted to find my son and heir safely ensconced in his bedroom having spent the previous week in Bury St Edmunds where he had travelled to alone, traversing London’s tube and finding various railway stations. I was very proud of him, especially when the mother of his friends rang to say he’d been a joy to host. Impeccable manners, sociable, helpful etc etc.
“Great to see you ma, back in a minute” and kissing me he went up the road to tell his best buddy all about his adventure.You’ll understand my chagrin then when minutes later he returned clutching his cheek and with a policeman in tow. Apparently some local yob had taken a dislike to his face and thus proceeded to punch it. “May I strongly suggest you do not attempt any retaliation sir, because the repercussions will be grave indeed”. Hubby looked defeated but my boy, well he looked literally and metaphorically beaten.