Monday, 23 April 2007


We never did manage to make it perfect. There are such high expectations of ‘leave’ that it is almost impossible to achieve and one can not but feel a mite disappointed when that bloody ‘grip’ is packed once more and all those things you were longing to do, such as go to the pictures together one afternoon, pub meal, mid week quiz, watch a movie together, go for a walk, have sex on a Tuesday will now not happen until summer leave comes round with its equally high hopes. Last Sunday, as Hubby checked that he had everything packed, my lip trembled when I realised that I wouldn’t see him on a Wednesday again until August. He tried to be sympathetic and ruffled my hair accordingly but his loyalties are torn between his young officers and his family.
“There are a lot of people looking forward to meeting me next week Alice. They’ll have been wondering over Easter leave where I’m sending them. Don’t be wet now there’s a good girl. Have you seen my shoulder boards anywhere?” I sighed and went into the dining room, opened a drawer where miscellany gets stuffed and returned to the hall.
“Here you go. Will you miss me?” I knew that I was being pathetic and I only seem to be like this on the last evening when he’s been home a while.
“Alice love, get a grip. I’ll be home next weekend.”
“I feel needy”, I said in a quiet voice.
“Nerdy more like. C’mon chin up” and lifting my chin up with his hand, he kissed my forehead. “Don’t forget about that electricity bill now will you? I’ve turned the central heating off. Just put another layer on if you feel chilly in the evenings”.
“That’s all very well for you to say. You’re in a warm office all day and a cosy cabin all evening.”
“It’s hardly cosy Alice. The MOD don’t do cosy” and rooting through his bag he said, “Right I think I’ve got everything. My mobile is charged but don’t ring me because I obviously can’t afford any more points. I’ve got three just racing back to you all at the weekend”.
“That’s not true. I wouldn’t call going down Holden hill at 85 miles per hour at five in the morning racing. Besides you were going back to work”.
“Oh yeah”, he said distractedly. “Anyway bye darling. Keep up the good work” and with another kiss, this time somewhat more lingering, he left.
Of course the following morning, all hell broke loose. The youngest children, realising on rising that their father had gone back to work again, were monsters. Frosties littered the kitchen floor as the Red-Head got crosser and crosser, “Me want Daddy no go work. Me not want Frosbies”.
“Frosties”, corrected her brother. “F.R.O.S.T. I…..”
“Oh shut up”, said the 11 year old.
“Mummy”, said the 5 year old, as smugly as one can with a mouthful of bagel, “She said ‘shut up’. We’re not apposed to say that are we?”
“You’re not supposed to speak with your mouth full”, retorted her sister. In the meantime the Red-Head really didn’t want her Frosbies and upturned the whole box.
“Dear God”, I sighed, clutching the dustpan and brush more for moral support than anything else.
“Could you all please just be nice to each other or, at the very least disregard one another?”
“Simple Ma”, said my son, taking a full to the brim bowl of Coco Pops with him into the sitting room.
“Not a good idea”, I called after him. Too late. A Barbie roller skate that had been lying in wait by the sofa, escaped its subterfuge and emerging from the skirt of a Snow White fancy dress, suddenly sprung to life and tripped him up. Profanities railed from his direction, immediately followed by the Red-Head’s recent talent for parrot style mimicry. Luckily, her language skills are not yet sufficiently developed and so what would have been appalling to hear from the mouth of an infant was diluted, “Thuckit”, she exclaimed loudly. But I was far more incensed with my son.
“Bloody hell. Look at this mess. We have a perfectly decent dining table and now I have half a box of Coco Pops and a gallon of milk awash on my sitting room carpet and don’t you ever let me hear you use such language again. Shame on you”.
“Yes, shame on you”, added his 11 year old sister, “Mum, you should hear him on the ferry on the way home from school”. My heart was heavy. My husband had only been gone hours and already we were spiralling into a black hole of dysfunction with a teenage son adopting the vocabulary of an Asbo. The youngest were performing the Egyptian Sand Dance in the crushed up cereal on the kitchen floor and I was on my hands and knees attempting to mop up the mess on the sitting room floor. My son had left for school without so much as a “Bye love” and my eldest daughter was flicking through the TV channels.
“Is there nothing else you could do?” I asked her, frustrated at my own inability to have produced a more pro-active daughter.
“Like what?” For fear of adding to my son’s profane litany, I uttered not a word, instead pulled her up by the hand and ushered her into the kitchen and handed her a broom and carrier bag. “Get on with it”. The five year old had, in this short space of time, written on every single cheque in my cheque book. “Look Mummy. I’m paying for my school dinners”. Tearing my hair out, I wrested the cheque book from her and announced,
“Look after the little ones I must just go to the toilet”.“Oh mummy, one should never say toilet. Always, loo, lavatory or bog. There’s no hope of me ever finding my prince now is there?”

Tuesday, 17 April 2007


Two weeks of Easter leave is almost over. After a visit to the very same osteopath who was so professionally intimate with my body parts, the same one that Hubby scoffed at and refused to pay for, his neck is cured. Not enough to drive to and fro to Wales mind you but at least he stopped “oohing” and “ouching” every time he turned. Consequently, since he hasn’t been in so much pain, we’ve rubbed along quite nicely and thank God I have been able to put him to work. What is leave after all if a husband does not wield a paintbrush and attend to some very necessary DIY?
I am thrilled to report therefore that the basement has been redecorated, the dining room carpet pulled up, along with the hardboard and two tons of pneumoconiosis inducing disintegrated, carpet rubber. I’ve never seen anything like it – the backing had literally been reduced to a fine, black, sand like substance. No wonder I have been sneezing uncontrollably for months. Good job it has been hoovered and removed or I’d have been putting in a claim to the NCB in a couple of years.
Hubby is never happier than when wielding a paintbrush, Stanley knife or tape measure and so I have been able to leave him for long periods knowing that with the radio on, a pair of filthy shorts and much abused Timberland boots, he is in his element. He doesn’t do ‘days out’, or to be more specific I don’t do them with him. His constant roar of horror of “How much?” with regard to anything from an entry fee for a family, to a few coffees and cokes, to a slap up fish and chip supper has taken its toll on me over the years. I’ve learnt to my cost that it is pointless dragging him to the zoo, Pennywell Farm, aquarium or anywhere that isn’t provided by God. The worst perpetrator and sure fire way of raising his blood pressure? A fairground. God forbid I suggest a turn on the dodgems or Waltzers. He has a very low opinion of fairground proprietors and has been known to withdraw his grinning, bell ringing children from a little fire engine on one of those kids’ carousels because the owner in question has demanded a steep fee. Consequently our few days break to Wales was a low key affair but luckily the weather was fabulous and so we were able to go to the beach in Tenby instead. Hubby plonked himself on a towel, let out a satisfied sigh and lay down, face up to the sun. My little girls stripped off and squealed with joy but my eldest two wouldn’t even sit down.
“C’mon then guys”, I said smilingly and, passing them a bucket and spade, suggested they “get stuck in and dig until you get to Australia”. They used to love the idea that antipodean playmates were only a few shovels away.
“No thanks ma”, said my son, “I hate the beach”.
“This gets everywhere”, said my 11 year old daughter, tipping her green, patent ballet pump upside down as she watched, nose wrinkled in distaste as the sand trickled back onto the beach.
“For God’s sake”, I complained, “We are going to have a very long summer holiday if we can’t go to Kingsand together for an afternoon.
“Well that’s more pebbly”, offered my daughter.
“Yeah and my mates will be there”, added my son.
“And there’s a coffee shop”.
“Speaking of which, we might just go for one now. Coming?” My son so rarely invites his younger sister anywhere that I was loathe to stop them, instead I warned them to be very careful, not look like shoplifters and to be back on the beach within an hour.
At this juncture a comfy deckchair and a chicklit novel would have been most desirable, as it was Hubby was snoring gently and my youngest girls wanted me to collect water in their bucket to put around their moat. With a heavy heart and heavier butt I heaved myself off the beach and walked down to the shore with them. It really was a glorious day. The sea was sparkling and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The girls soon forgot to collect sea water and instead screamed and laughed as they jumped the little waves. They made me smile. It was so innocent, so simple that I forgot about their eldest, moody, more corrupted siblings and tucking my skirt into my knickers, joined in the wave jumping. Eventually I was soaked and weak with laughter when suddenly a voice from my dim and distant past called, “Alice, Alice? Is that you?”
I swung around and almost fell into the arms of my first ever boyfriend.
“Martyn?”, I was incredulous.
“Hi Alice. Looks like you’re having fun” and gently he brushed some sand off my cheek. His hand stayed there. “I wondered what had happened to you”.
“I’m on Friends Reunited”. What a stupid thing to say. I blushed.
“Ah Friends Re-Ignited”, he laughed and pushed his sunglasses on top of his head. His eyes were the still the same colour as the sea. I think my heart stopped beating momentarily because I was sure he was about to kiss me. Instead a wave of water landed on both of us. Shuddering and dripping I looked up. It was Hubby, a plastic bucket in his hand.
“Sorry”, he said, “I meant to get the girls instead” and with arm outstretched he introduced himself, “Alice’s husband, father of four”. Martyn shook his hand, told Hubby he was a very lucky man and took his leave. “It was lovely to see you again”, he said and kissing my cheek whispered his email address into my ear.
Hubby grabbed my hand, tightly. “So that was him then?” I nodded.
“Your first?”
“Seemed a bit of a tosser”. I nodded again.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007


Ever the optimist that a family holiday will for once be an unprecedented success, I am mid-cycle, not menstrually speaking but waiting for the last load of laundry to emerge that I may then chuck it in the tumble dryer from whence it will be thrown into a waiting suitcase. Were my mother still here she would be aghast. Anything not aired for at least three days after drying could only lead to certain death. I have not the time for airing though as I am determined to be on that 8am ferry tomorrow morning. Don’t get excited, I don’t mean the Brittany Ferry – Hubby hasn’t suddenly become munificent and hired a gite in the Dordogne, no, no, no. We need to be on the Torpoint Ferry at 8am to be in time for brunch with friends in Bridgend, South Wales. From there we go further West to Pembrokeshire, where for the next few days we will be camping in the sitting room of yet more friends. My son as you can imagine, is overwhelmed with excitement.
“What are we going to do there then mum?”
“Enjoy the fresh air”.
“It doesn’t come fresher than Cornwall”.
“Well, go for country walks then”
“Ditto Cornwall”.
“Well walk on the bloody beach then”.
“Tut, tut, language mother – but once again may I remind you that we live on the Rame Peninsula. Famed for its glorious walks and white, sandy beaches.”
“You must have some SATS homework to do”. That shut him up, but not for long. Soon, I was able to hear him on his mobile phone complaining that his “ rents (presumably an abbreviation of parents) were gay” and adamant on dragging him away to some well dodgy holiday in Wales, with, worse still his - and this is were he yawned and I stifled the urge to run upstairs and clip his ear – his sisters.
The sisters in question have themselves been a handful. The youngest is a smiling assassin – her red curls and beautiful smile belie an easy capacity for complete and utter destruction. Last week, looking around TK Maxx in Plymouth I lost sight of her for a nano second only to discover her in ‘Body Products’, having liberally applied herself in mango and jojoba bubble bath. It was dripping from the fore mentioned curls and sliming off her hands. Presenting her to one of the staff with a request for a tissue, the young man in question threw his hands up in horror, before very kindly escorting us up several flights of stairs to the staff quarters where he directed us to a loo and sink. Wiping her down was a tricky and slippery job and one that could not be resolved effectively without Swarfega and a hot bath but she did at least smell delicious.
That evening, after the much threatened bath I wrapped her in a big towel then snuggled her up in her floral nightgown; with her hair shining and teeth sparkling she was a sight to behold. She and I cuddled up in her bed, her big sister a foot away and we read a story together. She put her arm around my neck and kissed my cheek, repeatedly. Tucking them in, I bade them goodnight and blew them both a kiss. I left their room on a cloud of euphoric maternal love.
With a light heart I skipped down the stairs to find Mags in the kitchen brandishing a corkscrew and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. “It’s a lovely evening Alice, let’s go and sit in the garden”. For twenty minutes we enjoyed peace and quiet until the figure of a five year old ran out, “Mummy, come quickly, there is a big mess on the carpet.” Mags got there before me, “Alice, it’s an insurance job”, she yelled down the stairs but I was fast behind her and found, to my utter dismay, a two year old who looked as though she been slaughtered, so abundantly was she and my bedroom carpet covered in Chanel’s Rouge Noir nail polish. Mags took her back to the bathroom to scrub her whilst I attempted the same with my carpet. No chance, the more I rubbed, the more it bled and thus is how it remains. Once more I put them to bed (more sternly) and once more I returned to the garden. Mags and I discussed the youngest’s capacity for mischief, winced at the idea of Hubby’s reaction to the nail polish and polished off a glass of wine. For thirty minutes all was quiet until once more, the 5 year old appeared, “Mummy, come quickly, she’s done a poo on the carpet now”. Hurdling the garden wall, Mags ran through the kitchen, grabbed the Marigolds and hurtled upstairs; I was close behind her as we confronted the steaming pile. “Bloody hell”, said Mags, “It looks like a Doberman’s”. Mags picked up and discarded whilst I bathed the youngest once more. Again I tucked them in, consecutively less affectionate than the time before. The following morning, buoyed by a good night’s sleep, the youngest ‘painted’ the cream kitchen wall in black boot polish.
I was extremely glad when Hubby returned for a fortnight’s leave, although most of it so far has been an endurance test. Can there be a greater pain in the neck than a husband with one? I have no doubt that it hurts – did I not recently return from London with a cricked neck? But, if I see him once more walk to the ‘drug drawer’, melodramatically open a packet of extra strong Nurofen, wince on swallowing them, and hold onto his neck forlornly, I swear I will wring it for him. Consequently, I’m packing the car with four kids in various emotional states – two eldest ones moody and belligerent, the youngest overexcited and noisy, and a Husband flinching every time he attempts to pick up a sock. Holiday? I don’t think so.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007


I’ve finally found something I’m good at. After inauspicious start i.e rehearsals, my debut on the stage in the role of Lavinia Reader, chav wife and dominatrix extraordinaire, was quite honestly, staggering.
Now this might have had something to do with the fact that the week leading up to the performance had been an anxious one indeed. My 11 year girl, who has been suffering with an inflamed and painful knee for years, recently had an MRI scan to find out the cause. This was quickly followed up by another more intrusive MRI scan, this time involving a dye injected into the blood stream. I thought nothing of it until a brisk letter followed the MRI with an appointment for a biopsy. Like many people and for obvious reasons, I do not like the word biopsy at all; my anxiety levels on reading the appointment letter were out in orbit.
I rang the orthopaedic consultant’s secretary to find out what an earth was going on. “I’ll get him to call you Mrs Band”, she said.
“Please do”, I implored, “I’m sick with worry”. If I’d expected a jolly phone call from the consultant letting me know there was nothing to worry about then I was much mistaken. He rang later that day. “Ah Mrs Band. The radiologist found something she didn’t like the look of on the MRI. She took your daughter’s case to a meeting and they decided a biopsy was the only way forward to rule out a tumour”. By this point I was clutching the kitchen counter.
“But it doesn’t make sense”, I cried, “She’s had a bad knee for years; surely if it was something more sinister she’d be a very sick child indeed”.
“I’m sure you’re right Mrs Band but we can’t take any chances.”
Hubby, for once understanding the gravity of the situation, stayed at home an extra day to accompany his, by now frenzied wife to the biopsy appointment. The usual debacle of trying to find a parking space preceded any hospital treatment and half an hour after arriving in the grounds of Derriford Hospital, we eventually took our seats in X-Ray East.
My poor little girl, it was not a pleasant procedure but over soon enough. The chap performing the biopsy told her to rest her leg that day but she would be in school “tomorrow”. Ha! This was Monday, on Friday her leg was still of balloon proportions, very painful and she was hobbling. This did nothing to allay my fears of something very serious indeed and that afternoon I took myself to see my local nurse practioner. When you are without a mother this, I have found is what you have to do if you are in dire need of a cuddle and a “There, there”. The nurse in question is especially warm and empathic, and did not fail in comforting me.
Two hours later, Hubby arrived home, I gave him instructions on what to feed the kids, what time he had to be at the school for the play and putting my costume, a couple of blonde wigs and enough coleslaw to feed 76 people (the audience were being fed during the interval) into the boot of my car, I went to join my cast.
Walking into the Green Room (or computer suite for wont of another word), I found my fellow thespians applying their makeup and warming up. Lovely as the nurse had been, I still felt anxious and tearful and my anxiety was going to affect my performance if I didn’t pull myself together. Just as the director called “Five minutes” and I applied the last sweep of lipstick however, my mobile phone rang. It was the consultant, my heart raced and I prepared myself, “Mrs Band, good news, the biopsy results show your daughter’s lump was fibrous muscle tissue”.
“Oh thank God”.
“Good show. We’ll see her shortly for a follow up. Break a leg”. The irony of such a phrase coming from an orthopaedic consultant was not lost on me and I had to try very hard to stop myself dissolving into relieved, hysterical laughter.
Dahlings, what followed can only be described as the performance of my life and I enjoyed every minute, even when a false nail sprang off into the audience, I incorporated it into my role with aplomb. As we took our final bows and the applause rang out around the school hall, I thought to myself, ‘Helen Mirren – watch out, Alice Band is on her way’.
Mags met me for a latte in the week to congratulate me. We met with appropriately ‘luvvy’ air kisses and took our seats. We couldn’t quite believe where we were. This was not a chain coffee shop in some identikit shopping mall but a charming, privately owned affair in Torpoint. Of all places. Please let it be successful – the cakes were sublime and the words ‘fairtrade and organic’ were liberally used to describe the food and beverages. Our coffees even came with a bite-sized, heart shaped, shortbread biscuit. No doubt house prices will now go through the roof, as people clamour for a share of our middle-class cafĂ© society.