Wednesday, 28 March 2007


To all the families, friends and loved ones involved in the Iranian hostage nightmare: I am thinking of you and pray for a safe and speedy resolution.


Hubby and I started courting when he was a fervent and zealous Petty Officer caterer. Always enthusiastic, when it came to Her Majesty nothing was too much for him and when, just before some hellish deployment I would ask him, “What have you been doing today?” he would reply “Storing ship”. I didn’t quite understand what this meant in those far off days but he soon informed me that basically he and his team literally had to hoik up from the wharf, ten tons of tinned and packaged food, meat and veg and pack them away neatly – farinaceous in one corner of the cupboard, dried fruit and God knows what in the other. Then of course there were the awful jobs of standing, shivering half to death in the walk-in fridges and making space for all the perishable goods, not to mention storing the meat in the freezers. I was always amazed when he told me how much stuff would be carried on board and how they found a space for it all. As one who squishes the cartons of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream into the freezer only to find the door ajar and everything melted in the morning, I have always been in awe of those who can find a space for everything and everything in its place. Someone I know, most certainly not a friend, has a ‘freezer check list’ so that she knows at any given moment what is lurking at the back. She will never find four packets of frost burnt chicken breasts, a dodgy looking, lone fish finger, one teaspoon of melted ice-cream still in a promisingly full looking tub, nor a couple of handfuls of emancipated petit pois rattling around under everything. She’s very organised but that woman will neither never find surprises in her life like a packet of forgotten falafels, a fillet steak nor a Walls caramel Magnum that I just happen upon occasionally.
Anyway, this storing of ship and organised packing away came to mind last week when a rota informed me that it was my turn for a shift at my youngest daughter’s pre-school. I’d been dreading it because Wednesday mornings are my precious two hours when I am not attached in some shape or form to a young child but this would have to be surrendered to be a volunteer helper. On arrival I was immediately given my tasks which was firstly to open this massive walk in cupboard and remove all the pre-school equipment for the benefit and general education of our children – thus, out I dragged several trestle tables, thick, padded play mats, a pretend kitchen, soft play shapes, a box of toy cars, a wire book shelf and books, jigsaws and construction toys, Playdoh trolley and arts and crafts. I didn’t of course do this alone but under the strict guidance of the pre-school leader. There was a most definite method to this madness and no sooner had the sand been poured into the sand table than I had to don a tabard, remove my shoes and get down and dirty with the under 5’s. God it was hell. I have never seen so much snot. There were torrents of it. Every couple of seconds it seemed I was wiping the green rivulets from the nostrils of some poor unfortunate child. Nits? Don’t talk to me. I can’t think about it without scratching like a mangy dog. Now I’m no stranger to nits – with four children one could almost say that they have become like family pets but to be surrounded by kids scratching constantly made me paranoid. Not that I actually saw any actual lice leap into the air but I was cautious all the same. Keeping a hopefully, warm distance I embarked on a complex construction of a den made from the supersized soft shapes when suddenly Johnny wanted the triangle shape but Andrew was not letting go, instead he whacked Johnny on the head with it with a certain vehement, single mindedness. Johnny stood there bawling, cue yet more snot. The playground leader ran over with pursed lips. “Mrs Band, would you please go and get snack time ready”, she instructed, “You’ll find the rice crackers in the pantry and the milk and cheese in the fridge” and bending down she scooped beleaguered little Johnny into her arms, flicked out a magic tissue, wiped his tears and nose, admonished Andrew and within seconds calm had been restored and everybody was best friends again.
Standing in the kitchen of the village hall I was a little lost, not having been there before and knew not where things were kept. My bewilderment was obviously seen as malingering and before I had time to say, “Where the hell is the fridge?” the leader’s face popped into the kitchen hatch,“Mrs Band. Is there a problem?” I stood there as though caught out by a headmistress and hung my head and shook it, guiltily. “It’s just that we run a tight ship here and the children will be lining up for their snack in approximately” she looked at her watch, “Two minutes and forty three seconds”. Hurriedly, I cubed the cheese and just as the little darlings entered the dining room I put a jug of milk on the table with a flourish. “Nowhere near Jenny please, she is lactose intolerant”. ‘And I am infant intolerant’ I wanted to reply but of course I didn’t. Worse, as always, was to come by way of the clean up. Suffice it to say, I have more respect for Hubby’s ship-storing days of yore and was aghast at the prospect of neatly putting away all the flotsam and jetsam of nursery school life, it seemed to have doubled in volume in the previous two hours and there was no way I would get away with kicking it in, willy-nilly. Finally, the hall was immaculate and ready to welcome the Ladies Indoor Bowls Team. I returned home to take Nurofen- intravenously.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Pampered Chef?

Hubby, an elevated mover and shaker in Her Majesty’s navy, may well scoff at my rather pedestrian attempts to equal his – after all I am never going to give a presentation on the future role of logistics in a 21st Century Royal Navy, nor is the future of Britain’s brightest young naval officers in my hands, but does he have to be so disparaging when hearing that I am to host a Pampered Chef event?
“For God’s sake Alice, I know you keep telling me that you are a desperate housewife but these are the very events you mocked when we were living in America.”
“Well that was different”, I replied haughtily, “They weren’t my type of people and besides, I had no real call to go to such things as you were home every night and so I could go to the pictures or to a bookshop or even 24 hour Wal-Mart, anything in fact other than stay in the house night after night”.
“Well what is this chef thing then?”
“I’ve told you before; a lady comes and gives a cookery demonstration, I cook it, we share it and then guests can buy the cookware”.
“Does the demonstrator bring the ingredients?” I knew he’d ask this question.
“No”, I replied softly.
“You mean you have to?”
“Well yes I suppose”
“There’s no suppose about it is there? And no doubt our cooker is being used”
“Oh don’t be such an old fart. What’s the big deal? She’s not going to cook fillet steak. It’s just a packet of puff pastry and a few veggies”.
“I should bloody well hope so. I can see this costing a fortune”.
“As I’m the hostess I do actually receive quite a few benefits. Things for free, half price and a percentage off.”
“But off what? Our kitchen draw is crammed full of reamers, potato ricers, avocado slicers, lime zesters and God knows how many other culinary gizmos. What more could you possibly need?”
“You’d be surprised”. Of course, as is the norm in our geographically remote relationship this conversation was conducted on the telephone during the day when I felt so inclined to chat to my husband. He typically, mind elsewhere, other phone ringing, officers to interview, boss to impress, a million emails to attend is often brutally brusque and this day was no exception. “Look I’ve got to go. Don’t spend too much money”. Then I heard him answer his other phone and knew, as mine went dead, that I’d been dismissed.
So, desperate housewife or otherwise, I prepared for my evening. I genuinely couldn’t remember who I’d invited and so visited my local supermarket with a list in my mind that read: posh crisps, dips, good runny cheese and a few nibbles. Standing in the aisle, the wire basket’s handle digging into my arm, racking my brains for something I’d forgotten, one of my guests sidled up to me and brandished a bottle of Colombard chardonnay in my face. “Looking forward to tonight” she beamed. She doesn’t get out much either.
Remembering a 3 litre box of wine I then returned home, stuffed things into the fridge and embarked on a cleaning frenzy. Bleach was liberally squirted around u-bends, the Dyson was whizzed around the carpets, Barbies were lobbed into the toy box and last Sundays newspaper that I evidently was not now going to read, was chucked onto the recycling pile.
The next thing to address was where was my demonstrator going to demonstrate her wares? The dining room and thus dining table were the obvious choice but I looked at the dining table and groaned. It had never seen a table cloth and so the pine was encrusted in weeks of dropped cereal, jam, adhered pasta complete with arabiatta sauce and finger painting in fromage frais. I went at it with a Scotch Brite but this was going to take an industrial sander to remove – there was nothing for it but to buy a decent oil cloth and within the hour I had been to and from Laura Ashley, bought three metres of eau de nil pvc cloth, come home and laid it over the offending detritus. “There” I said, with a satisfying smoothing, “No-one will ever know”.
Soon the children were home from school. My son, who, every day after dropping his back pack just inside the front door, walks to the fridge and inspects its interior; saw the selection of Tex-Mex dips.
“Cor, yum mum, cheers”.
“Put them back, they are for tonight”, I said slapping his hands and closing the fridge door.
“Well what’s for dinner then?”
“Pork and a gratin of Jerusalem artichoke and leeks.”
“Gopping. Must you buy that organic box? We don’t like half the vegetables in it. Hell, we haven’t heard of most of them.”
“Don’t say hell and don’t be so unadventurous. Now go and do your homework.”
Some hours later, food was laid out, far too many guests arrived, the demonstrator made her Mediterranean Ring and the wine – all 11 bottles and the 3 litre box flowed and were emptied.
It was all too good to be true, I’d made enough sales to receive some dishes I’d had my eye on and a garlic press that one might imagine a sorceress to possess – put in the whole clove, skin and all, squeeze and voila – garlic emerges, crushed and skinless. Magic.
Suddenly a cat appeared from nowhere, frightened the living daylights out of a guest, she in turn upturned her glass in a pot of guacamole and a mess ensued. I went to mop it up but it was too late, another guests whipped off the table cloth, only to reveal to my horror the filthy table underneath.
There was a terrible silence, no doubt many feared they’d come down with e-coli or salmonella at best.
“Don’t worry”, I said breezily, “That’s very old and encrusted foodstuff. The pathogens evaporated long ago”.

Monday, 12 March 2007


“Oh go on, it’ll be a real laugh. Loads of fun, nothing serious”, begged Mags as she roped me in to play a part in a murder mystery play. I hesitated initially; after all it’s been a long time since I’ve had any thespian leanings but Mags was insistent and had no qualms in using emotional blackmail.
“He’s worked so hard writing it. Night after night, as soon as he’s in from work he’s at that ruddy computer”. Then she mumbled something about ‘good thing she didn’t need any shelves putting up’, and so feeling guilty that her husband was offering his services free for the good of the PTA and thus our children, I capitulated and now find myself every Monday evening in the school hall rehearsing. My part is that of an Essex girl (I use the term girl loosely), married to a car dealer, something of a chav, ghetto nails, blonde hair, high heels, perma tan you get the general idea.
“A class act then Alice”, said Hubby last Sunday when, for the 20th time that day I went over and over my lines. “You need to be careful or you’ll get typecast”.
“Would you please just give me my cue and stop being an arse”. Hubby took umbrage to this request and went to tackle the mountain of ironing instead. My son, who considers himself quite the actor, took great delight in coaching me.
“Mum, stop being so wooden. Open up, who are you? Are you in touch with your character? Can you empathise with the character? Do you want to workshop it?”
“Improv? You know, do some improvisational work, so that you are familiar with the character you are playing. For instance, take the character out of the play setting and into your real world.”
“Your mother”, quipped Hubby, “Has never been in the real world, so there is no hope of a character she plays engaging in it.” I willed the steam of the iron to bubble out as it is wont to do and scald his hand but alas he completed the school uniforms without so much as a visit to the minor burns unit.
This last Monday the heat at the rehearsal had been turned up a notch – several actors (i.e mums and dads and the headmistress) had learned their lines leaving just me and one other, pregnant, mum still reading from the script. The director was not best pleased, “Alice, I know this is meant to be light-hearted and fun, but really you should be off page by now”. This, I was told by another mum who has already hand made her costume, is a theatrical term for knowing your lines off by heart.
“Ok let’s do some warm ups”. This is the worst bit: the improvisation and games that get us all revved up and “energised”. For one who goes to bed in winceyette pyjamas and whose level of communication with ones husband has been reduced to “Pasta or Pizza for dinner?” and “Don’t forget to lock up”, I find the intensity of intimacy alien. I don’t mean that we are snogging each other – worse, we have to make long and exaggerated eye contact with one another, shout, scream, run around and generally make a first class tit of ourselves.
Some are obviously far better than others and their imagination and creativity is intimidating.
“C’mon Alice”, yelled the director, “Loosen up. Close your eyes and imagine yourself to be someone else. Fat, thin, tall, black, gay you name it, be it”. I watched the others enviously. They had no qualms on the luvvy front and were camping it up like a Carry On film but I was glued to the spot with inhibition.
“Alice darling”, said the director throwing her hands up with appropriate theatrical hyperbole, “This is a murder mystery. Imagine yourself so tormented that you might consider such an act.” Suddenly I pictured Hubby the previous evening, can of Strong bow in one hand, his trousers rolled up above his ankles, socks off, wielding a toe nail cutter in the other, laughing uproariously at Top Gear. My expression darkened, my eyes glazed over, my heart started thumping and before I knew it the director was shouting, “Cut, cut. Bravo Alice, now hold on to that thought but do try not over act, I think you might have bruised John”. I looked down to find one of the Dad’s rubbing his chest vigorously. “Those stage daggers are quite something” he whimpered.
The rest of the evening was spent in small groups in various classrooms rehearsing our scenes, until finally, we got together as an ensemble piece (the theatre I have learnt, has its own vocabulary) and acted out the first act. By this time my poor tormented back was killing me. I had been running, jumping, rolling on the floor, murdering people and sitting on a hard plastic chair built for the bum of a four year old. By the time it was my turn to come on stage I was almost crippled.
“Alice is this the winter of your discontent?”
“This isn’t Richard the IIIrd. Why are you stooped over?”
Unaware that indeed I was a cross between a Shakespearian actor and Mrs Overall, I slowly straightened up, creaking and groaning as I did so.
“Alice, is this too much of a commitment for you? Would you prefer to be in charge of special effects?” All eyes were on me.
“No, no not at all” I stammered, blushing, “I’ll just take some Nurofen” and, to show willing, I leapt off the stage. When I hadn’t materialised moments later, John the murdered father, had to fetch me my hand bag then peel me off the floor.
“Yes well, it’ll be alright on the night”, I said perkily.
“For £6 a ticket inclusive of pasty supper” said the Head, “it had better be”.

Monday, 5 March 2007


Further to my little trip to London last week, I forgot to mention that when trudging down the King’s Rd, a new bride emerged from the Town hall in a wedding dress that had fresh peach coloured roses sewn into the silk. As if that was not enough – wait for it – no bridesmaid accompanied her – oh no a dog, also peach coloured!
At this point I was lugging various bits of luggage and desperately trying to hang on to two young girls lest they run into the road and get mown down by a Porsche 4x4 so, what with the tussle and not being able to take my eyes of this apparition in front of me I consequently returned to Cornwall with a cricked neck and a very sore back.
Mags gave me the name of an osteopath she ‘swears by’ and before I knew it, I had dialled his number and made an appointment to be seen. I can categorically say that what followed has to be one of the most mortifying experiences of my life. I had left my house in a fit of pique as Hubby had just arrived home for the weekend and was not best pleased to be informed that his wife was now going to spend a decent sum of money on yet another “quack doctor” and shouldn’t I “just improve my posture and lose a few pounds”. As I could barely turn my head, I was not in a position to get fierce and shake my fist at him, instead I told him that I would be out of action all weekend unless someone saw to my ailments. This rather coded threat was enough to silence him long enough for me to slip out of the house, but it was late when I arrived at the osteopath’s consulting rooms. The country lane was pitch dark and it was literally a pain in the neck to peer through the car window to find his office. Eventually I pulled up in the car park and as I entered the building, the osteopath was waiting for me. If I had expected a dressing down for being late, I was much mistaken – he was lovely, kind and understanding. We went into his room and that’s when he hit me with it – “Undress down to your underwear please”.
I blustered, I blushed, I stammered, I begged for a gown – but he was having none of it. “You haven’t got a sore throat Mrs Band, I need to be able to see your front and back” and that was that, he left me to disrobe.
Dying of shame I pulled my clothes off and threw them on the back of the chair. Then with a heavy heart I climbed onto the examination bed and waited for him to return. He returned to find me with my hands covering my face. “Oh Mrs Band, are you alright?” Suddenly it dawned on me that he may think I was crying and I quickly removed my hands and rather flippantly joked, “I just feel so exposed, no-one has ever seen me like this unless they were drunk, I was drunk or have been married to me for 15 years”
“I’m not looking at your body like that Mrs Band”
“Oh no”, I briskly replied, “I’m not suggesting you are, it’s just that had I known I was stripping off I’d have gone on a diet, worn my best knickers and painted my toenails” I was digging myself a hellish, deep and desperate hole. Why couldn’t I just shut up?
“Mrs Band I’m a professional. I have seen several female bodies today….”
“Not one like mine though eh, I bet? I….”
“Mrs Band, would you please remove your socks”. Damn, damn, damn. Now, not only had he made me aware that dangling at the end of my hairy legs were my most unattractive, ankle-socked feet but I would now have to sit up and thus bend in the middle, completely obliterating any image that my lying flat as a pancake had made me appear slightly slim.
My back and neck were so painful he actually had to help me up and, as I knew it would, my belly rolled forward and down, eclipsing my knickers. Try as I might to elegantly peel off socks that had left a delightful elastic tide mark around my ankles, it was impossible perched as I was on a hard, narrow bed and as I awkwardly pulled at the material around my toe it flew off, throwing me backwards and sideways, leaving the osteopath no alternative but to catch me. It is only poor old Hubby that has had such intimate contact with my corpulent flesh this side of the age of 25 and even he is at a loss with what to do with it. This poor bugger was as proficiently and remotely as is possible when a large, mostly naked woman throws herself at you -attempting to extricate his hands from my soft tissue.
Eventually order was restored and we both recovered our equilibrium. I lay flat and was very quiet whilst he checked my legs, feet and shoulders. This peace was not to last when I turned over however and he manipulated my neck and shoulder. The pain was so intense that I screamed and almost passed out. As he ran his hands further down my back and he pressed my sacrum, tears sprang to my eyes and foolishly I whimpered, “It hurts so much”.
“Mrs Band, you are in a mess but I have the capability and technology to mend you”. Was he going to make me bionic? When I got home I told Hubby all about it over a large glass of wine.
“Well as long as it doesn’t cost 6 million dollars, I really couldn’t care less”.

Train journey.

This is a story in two parts – the journey to and from London and the time we spent there, so let me start at the beginning.
Last Sunday the two eldest children were farmed out to trustworthy friends with an appropriate three day supply of clean knickers and socks, probably pointless in my son’s case as he has previously returned from a week’s mountaineering in Snowdonia with one pair of pants for me to wash – the others still neatly packed.
The following morning a friend came to give me and the little ones a lift to Plymouth railway station. My ticket was for the 8.55 train but our first hurdle was the hellish queue on the Torpoint Ferry. At twenty to nine we were just driving off it and at ten to nine I was the mad woman running down steps, along a concrete corridor and up another flight of steps to where the train was ready to depart. Heaving an enormous ruck-sack on my back, a smaller one on my arm, a handbag and a small child, I was puce and sweaty by the time we clambered on board, the five year old trailing behind with her own little pink ruck-sack on wheels. Of course, no-one bothered to help, I don’t know why but it depresses me so much that politeness and compassion are things of the past, after all I’m sadly used to everyone looking out for themselves, being horribly rude and swearing profanities at the slightest provocation, which is probably why the very smartly dressed ‘railway’ employees standing on the platform just scowled at me instead of giving me and my kids a hand.
Once on the train I found my seat only to find that those around it were reserved and so my children had nowhere to sit after Newton Abbott. I had booked the tickets last month when my girl had been four and thus when she could travel for free – so the situation is thus, children under five can travel free of charge but they are not entitled to a seat! I went in search of the train manager and once found, realised to my chagrin that he was not the most polite of men and was most put out at having to help me. Eventually he returned to inform me gruffly that empty seats had been located behind each other in another carriage.
“I can’t sit separately from my children”, I said in disbelief, “They are only two and five. They can’t be expected to sit alone for four hours”.
“Suit yourself” he growled, “I tried to help you”.
At Newton Abbott, a couple came on and duly turfed the children out of their seats, thankfully a middle aged lady who had seen my struggle, graciously and kindly gave up her seat so that my children could share. At Exeter more and more travellers boarded the train so that soon there wasn’t a space to sit anywhere, in fact, other than there weren’t any passengers on the roof, we could have been in India with people everywhere – between the seats in the gangways, between the carriage sitting on their luggage and in the toilets. Had the train even braked sharply it would have been carnage. Curious, I left the children with their crayons, took my camera and excused myself every couple of seconds as I picked my way through the disconsolate passengers. Sure enough, the First Class compartments were virtually empty. I took some snaps as proof that 98% were travelling in almost inhuman conditions whilst the remaining 2% sat with their lap tops oblivious to the rest. This disparity between the first and cattle class was made more acute when I queued to buy a coffee. A woman in front of me asked for a small bottle of mineral water,
“Sorry” said the purser, “They are for fist class passengers only”.
The train finally made it into Paddington and I was delighted to find my friend waiting for me. We negotiated the traffic and she was more than happy to pay the congestion charge just so that my girls could see the sights of London. They were impressed by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, but by the time we’d whipped through Victoria to Buckingham Palace were both fast asleep.
That evening, once my friend’s three children were home from school and all five were happy eating tea, I took a stroll to Parson’s Green and looked at the estate agents window. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – a common or garden garage, the like of which you shove a car and lawn mower into was for sale at £60,000, whilst a studio house i.e one room with a bed on the mezzanine had an asking price of £1,350,000. The following day after a trip to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, I dropped in on another couple of friends who have recently had a baby. The very young wife proudly showed me around her new home, a three bedroomed terrace house, no garage or garden. “We got it for a real bargain” she giggled conspiratorially, “Only £675,000”.
The friends I was staying with have their own real estate quandary. They are soon giving up the rat race – a job in which the husband’s junior left in a fit of pique after only receiving a paltry bonus of £750,000, well someone else had received - drum roll please - £50,000,000. They are not sure whether to sell it at £1,800,000 or let it for £2,000 per week. What a dilemma.After a fabulous trip to the Sound of Music on Tuesday night, it was time to return to the as yet, uncorrupted glory that is Cornwall. Is there any point telling you that the return train journey was just as hellish, where one charming man asked me and my children to move to another carriage? No, you probably guessed as much eh?