Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Pussycat, pussycat where've you been?

If Hubby had thought that making a hole in the trampoline was the ultimate sin, then our son had other plans. Not deliberately perhaps but nevertheless, consequential.
Minding my own business a few days ago, the house empty of all children, I was, for an hour, able to concentrate for a more than a few seconds at a time. I checked my emails, checked my blog and was about to get the 5 year old from school when the telephone rang.
“Mrs Band? This is the Boys Senior School here. Is your son unwell today?”
My throat constricted impulsively. I couldn’t get any sound out.
“It’s just that he hasn’t been in school today”. A weird strangulated sound was emitted from the core of my body but I think I said something like,
“Oh-my-god-where-is-he-where-can-he-be-he-must-be-dead-internet-peadophiles-accident-out-of-character”. A Kerouac, stream of consciousness babble tumbled out of my mouth. The poor secretary on the other end of the line must have heard this kind of thing before or had braced herself for my reaction, either way, she was very calm.
“I’m so sorry Mrs Band”. I looked at my watch it was 2.40pm. Where had they been all day? Why hadn’t they called earlier?
“We don’t normally call parents for three days. We assume the boy is sick. We only rang you now because a rumour has reached us that he and another boy have gone to Exeter”. I was demented. How could I not have read the signs that he was unhappy at school? How did I not know that he had something like this planned? The last time I had seen him was on the doorstep, I had zipped up his raincoat to the usual protests of “Mu-um” but he hadn’t stopped me. I’d checked his bag for his P.E kit and lunch bag. All was as normal, and like normal, he leant down, kissed the top of my head, said “Love you mum” and gone. There was nothing to indicate that he had planned this.
I rang Hubby. “You’ve got to come home. You must come home. Oh my God. What am I going to do? Where is he?” Hubby attempted to remain clam but even he was shaken. Neither of us could get our son on his mobile phone. It was agonizing.
Of course the time was slipping by and I had to go and get a car full of small children from infant school.
Sobbing in the queue as I waited for them to run out, I again racked my brains for signs that my son was unhappy. Suddenly, on trying his mobile phone again it rang and he answered. “Hi mum”, he said, nonchalantly, “Don’t worry I’m alright”.
The expression ‘spitting feathers’ was coined for such an occasion and, what with crying and swearing and scolding and relief, my son couldn’t quite catch what I said but was under no doubt of the general content.
“Where the hell are you?” I said, finally.
“Er, Taunton”.
“Well bloody well come home. Just come home.” I then rang Hubby, who minutes later rang me back.
“Ok”, he said slowly, “He got to school this morning. His buddy had had a catastrophic falling out with one his family. He wanted to run away and our son and heir, in his infinite wisdom, thought it best to keep him company.”
“Oh thank God. So he didn’t go just to get out of Physics then?”
“It is an errand of mercy?”
“Well, he’ll be begging for mercy when I get hold of him”.
“He mentioned Taunton. They should be home within a couple of hours”.
“Alice”. There was a pause as Hubby obviously garnered his thoughts.
“They may have passed Taunton a while ago but they are on a National Express coach heading for London and his phone is out of battery”.
Five children were now rampaging around the back of my car. In a daze I got out, strapped them all in and drove away.
It was unbelievable. My 14 year old son, in a school uniform was headed for London. It was this knowledge that gave me some comfort. It must have been a spontaneous decision as there is no way he would have gone to London without his attire having been closely scrutinised and his Dolce and Gabana belt wrapped around his waist. Within hours though he could be picked up by God knows whom and be working as a rent boy before you could say Pet Shop Boys. I felt sick. There was no way to contact him. I pulled the car over in a lay-by and called National Express. Trust my luck to find the only suicidal member of staff. I explained what had happened and could she inform the driver so that he could keep an eye on them until my husband arrived in Victoria.
“Oh that’s really good of your son. How sweet. No-one would do that for me.” I really didn’t have the time to counsel a depressed tele-sales girl who ultimately advised me to ring the police.
A good friend of ours is a sergeant and seconds after me calling him, he had it all sorted. The Metropolitan Police were going to meet the boys off the coach and wait with them. In the meantime I spoke to the other boy’s mother who was also demented and to her son, who had now also turned on his phone.
Hubby meanwhile was negotiating the A3 and attempting to unearth the entrance to Victoria coach station. His mood was not one of high spirits and, on receiving them from the Met, drove my son and his friend home in frosty silence. It goes without saying that he is penitent and shamefaced yet, regardless, all extra curricular activities have been suspended. His computer has been confiscated and his social life curtailed.His friend is happier. Sometimes, however ill-conceived, a grand gesture is the only way.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


I’ve been feeling mightily cheesed off of late. It seems however hard I work, however much I cook, clean and bleach I am fighting against a tide of too many children with too many possessions. I am the mother screaming in the garden as small children rampage through my newly planted shrubs, I am she who cried last Sunday on entering the toy room to find every single board game and every single jigsaw puzzle in one big pot mess on the carpet. It was a daunting task to have to get on the floor and laboriously pick through each and every piece and return to its rightful box. It took hours.
My son and his great gazumping teenage friends, arsing about on the trampoline, have made a hole in it – directly in the centre rendering it null and void. Subsequently that just about finished off the weekend as it was Hubby who found the hole and went ballistic. Said son is apparently grounded. All very well for Hubby to dole out these punishments when he doesn’t have to work as the jailer, “You’re i/c of grounding Alice”. Now, as I have a son who never even leaves his room, being made to stay there with his guitar and MSN buddies is hardly punitive, so instead, he has been made to come downstairs of an evening and make charming conversation with his mother and sister.
The sister in question, who likes nothing better than to see her brother in the cack, has taken a great delight in making him watch That’s So Raven, Friends and various other American girl TV shows. But believe me there is only so much American TV mingled with sibling provocation that I can cope with.
Consequently, I have sat night after night tearing my hair out, knackered and stressed, fed up with the incessant round of domestic toil that saps me of my joy and ability to laugh when yet another cup of juice in spilt onto Hubby’s newly sanded floors or more felt tip is scribbled with Picasso-esque creativity on walls and doors. How in fact did the Red-Head get hold of the after sun gel that has dyed her bedroom carpet blue? How did three DVD’s get posted under the cupboard in the sitting room? A fixed, immovable cupboard at that. They are now there for ever. Happy Feet, The Little Mermaid and Shrek 2: waiting to be excavated and puzzled over by a future Tony Robinson.
Clutching a glass of wine as the terrible two jumped on their beds upstairs and the detritus of dinner glistened on the table cloth, chairs and floor I pondered the meaning of (family) life.
I thought of my new friend who is 76. When I took her Cardiff recently she gave me her life story. It would be impossible to not live to be 76 without a story to tell but hers is quite exceptional. I could only listen in awe as she described how life had been for her as a young navy wife.
For starters, her husband was away for years not months or, as in my case, Monday to Friday and, each time he came home he very generously gave her another baby. For a woman who has only known safe family planning and free contraception, it is hard to imagine that every time one got amorous with one’s husband yet another pregnancy was a real probability. Consequently my friend ended up with eight.
I struggle with four children with, at my disposal: a microwave oven, a gas self-cleaning cooker, a Dyson, anti-bacterial sprays in every hue and scent, a washing machine, a tumble dryer, a powerful steam iron, every electrical kitchen gadget ever invented, a dishwasher, a TV/DVD and Sky, a computer, electric lighting, central heating, free prescriptions and palatable, safe, over the counter drugs for my children, a CD player in almost every room, phone and mobile phone and a seven seater car. Not only did my friend have none of those things, neither did she have modern fabrics and textiles that are easy to wash, dry and iron. Even more significantly, and something that I take for granted, her schedule never left her a moment of freedom. Socialising with a friend was unthinkable, not only was it deemed morally reprehensible but when was there time in the day? When her husband was at home, so did she have to be. Dinner on the table and all that jazz, with a family of ten to cook a roast for on a Sunday, even church was off limits.
It got me thinking, not, how did she cope, but why is it that we modern women find it so difficult to? Many of my friends and acquaintances are regularly taking anti-depressants. But the pressure for perfection is intolerable. Made so by women, to women. From the moment of conception other women tell their ‘sisters’ what is expected of us. No drinking, smoking; breast feed, give up work, don’t give up work. Sleep with your child, put child in pram at bottom of garden. Not out of nappies yet? Not talking yet? It goes on and on and on until we are confused and confidence in our most natural instincts has deserted us. Men don’t give this advice. Angst and guilt is a woman’s domain.
Men have often made me feel boring, glazing over when they know ‘I’m just a mother’, but only other women have judged and condemned me. Only this week I met a woman with one child who asked if I had any children.
“Four”, I said.
“Wow! That’s not even hobby children”. Most definitely not, but when I did have only one I don’t remember it being a walk in the park. Are those who only have one or two meant find it all so easy? With such unreal expectations no wonder Prozac is a wonder drug.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

En France

Leaving Hubby to go into ferocious battle with a floor sander – it has been known to reduce him to tears, I packed my girls into our Espace for our 11pm crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff. The wind blew, the rain lashed down and even the Torpoint Ferry laboured across a swollen river. I started to pray.
“Do you think we should have taken those Sea Legs tablets earlier mum?” asked the 11 year old.
My stomach was already feeling dodgy but I put that down to anxiety. My house was in disarray – dust and books, ornaments and old carpet were littered everywhere in preparation of Hubby’s floor sanding. Also, we were not the only ones going on hols, my son too was packed up and ready to go to Rome with his granddad. I had left him with strict instructions of what to take, how to behave, what to eat and where to keep his money before he lost his patience with me, “Alice dear, you may consider me a deaf old codger but I think I am capable of looking after myself and a teenage boy for a few days”.
Now in front of me was a horrific cross channel crossing, driving in France and the happiness and safety of my daughters and. No wonder my insides were playing up.
Having joined the queue in Millbay Docks a tannoy system informed us that the ship had been delayed, a collective groan emanated and I thought we may as well go and have a coffee inside the terminal.
Unfortunately there was a man in there only too happy to share horror voyage stories with me.
“You going on this ship tonight love?” he asked. I nodded. He sucked his teeth.
“Crikey, hope you’re a good sailor. I’ve just received a phone call from my wife. She’s on the ferry you’re waiting for. In the sick bay actually. Quite an apt name as she said she’d never seen so much sick in her life. Everywhere it is. Swilling down the passageways”. By now the five year old was all ears.
“Aw mummy I don’t want to go” and she started to wail. This started the Red-Head off, who joined in the refrain with, “Me no go France, me see Daddy” over and over. The eleven year old was fishing in my handbag.
“What are you after?” I asked
“This” and she poured half a vial of Bach’s Rescue Remedy down her throat. Wind lashed and damp we returned nervous and edgy to the car. The ship finally docked and in fairness to the crew they must have been a dab hand with the Dettol because there was no evidence of any vomit on board. We bothered not with any on board amenities or entertainment. I just wanted these girls asleep before the ship sailed into a perfect storm. Lying down on my pillow, pleasant thoughts of George Clooney filled my mind and I drifted off to sleep. A few hours later we arrived in Roscoff to a sunny, if breezy day.
I consulted the map and set off for Perros Guirec and in just over an hour we pulled into the campsite. We weren’t to enter our accommodation until 3pm and I wondered what we would do with a car full of stuff but the Keycamp rep had already prepared our mobile home and within half an hour the kids were playing and I was playing little house in my new kitchen, putting everything in its place.
The biggest draw back of this holiday, apart from the weather and absence of spouse, was the position of the mobile home i.e. directly opposite the kids clubs. Rather frustratingly, Key Camp don’t start theirs until July although other holiday companies had and you try telling a two year old that she is not allowed to join the other little children because mummy didn’t book with Canvas Holidays. Every five minutes I had to remove my daughters from irresistible craft activities.
Fortuitously the British Chav fraternity were also on holiday and alive and well on our camp site. No sooner had I gone to bed than a commotion made me sit up and draw my curtain back. A gang of young teenagers swinging vodka bottles and fags were entering the kids’ club tent. Up I jumped, slippers on, fleece zipped and running across I undid the zip of the kids club tent – immediately seven teenagers scarpered, leaving me to find the courier. She was a lovely girl and had been very apologetic that my daughters couldn’t join in her fun and games. Having found her, we rushed back only to find that the yobs had trashed her club; little plastic chairs had been broken, paint spilt, glue splattered. We cleaned it up the best we could but from then on we had an unspoken agreement that my children would go and quietly join in.
A couple of days later, the weather peeing down as much as it was peeing me off, I found a local indoor pool and after a good few hours we emerged happy, wrinkly and hungry. As I removed my rucksack from the locker my mobile beeped. A text message from my son read: ‘Lost granddad for 5 hrs. Contact me ASAP’. On the verge of texting the Pope, I shakily rang my son first, “Don’t worry mum, just found him!”Apparently whilst waiting for an underground train to the Vatican, a sea of people had pushed my dad on the train, the doors had shut leaving my 14 year old boy on the platform. He had kept his wits and navigated himself back to the hotel, leaving my dad demented. Not as much as me, by the time I put the phone down the bottle of Bach’s Rescue Remedy was drained. Other than leaving my wallet in the mobile home and it being delivered to me on the return crossing – no other dramas ensued but oh my it’s good to be home..

Friday, 1 June 2007

Day Trip

I had no time to bask in the reflective glory of Hubby’s recent promotion excitement. Well a couple of hours on Friday evening and that was it. No sooner had he returned home for the weekend than Dad was over, proud as punch, offering him a very firm handshake; a huge hug followed from his son, complemented by the droolings of various other children.
Later, I took him, Dad, my brother and two friends out for dinner to a lovely restaurant overlooking Whitsand Bay. As ever, neither of us being fiscally accountable, we left it to the last minute to sort out the bill and as ever, Hubby quipped “You going to put this on your card then Alice?”.
This was not the time and place for a scene and so I just added, “Well, I think it works out at forty quid a head”. Cash and cards were thrown into the plate and with blushing cheeks I took it to the till. Luckily Mag’s husband followed.
“God, I’m so sorry,” I said, “I had no idea it was going to cost so much and I’m so ashamed that, having asked you to join us, you now have to pay for yourselves.” He was extremely good about it but it left me seething, so that night as Hubby came to bed, instead of being greeted by an appreciative, amorous wife – he found one of the opposite kind – my pyjamas were buttoned up but my mouth was not, and after a few minutes ranting and accusing him of being “ungallant”, we fell asleep, an icy chasm between us.
An hour later and I felt the familiar presence of a child next to me; opening my eyes I was surprised to find my son. “Wassup?”, I mumbled into my pillow.
“I fear death”. It was much easier years ago when they feared spiders. All it took was a swipe of a newspaper, a kiss and one was asleep again in minutes. This grievance was a little more profound. I sat up and held open my arms. Little was said and after a few moments he extricated himself and went back to bed. But I just lay there, eyes wide open staring at the ceiling. Fretting. What could be wrong? Why was he anxious? Was there trouble at school? Was he heartbroken again? I got up and walked into his room. His bedside light was on.
“Budge up”, I instructed. He moved over and I got under the duvet. A mother’s unconditional love really is something inexplicable for, not only was it the middle of the night where I was awake and making soothing conversation but I was also sharing a duvet with a fungal foot infection which elicits a smell that is as noxious as it is undefined.
“Gee whiz, that foot cream hasn’t started to work its magic just yet then?” He shook his head. Soon he was fast asleep. Breathing a sigh of relief, I crept out of his room and into mine and pulling the pillow over my head was a little aggrieved when a few minutes later one corner of it was lifted. This time it was the 5 year old, “Will you take me to the toilet?”
“But you had to walk past it just to come here”. She shrugged her shoulders and once more I got out of bed. Leaning against the bathroom door until she’d finished I thought of the journey ahead of me, I looked at my watch, in just two hours I had to gather up my old ladies and drive to Cardiff. Mercifully neither spouse nor offspring bothered me again that night and just before six, my alarm trilled.
Within forty minutes I had gathered my ladies, bought enough boiled sweets to keep them happy and we were on our way. We should have been travelling in the comfort of an air conditioned coach, one that I had organised in my vice-chair capacity of the PTA as a shopping trip but no bloody bugger wanted to come. When I rang my old ladies to inform them that the trip had been cancelled they were most distressed.
“Oh that is such a disappointment”, said one. “The idea of a nice day out has kept me going for months. I’ve been ever so poorly this winter”. Ever the sucker for a sob story I suggested that, as I was going to go anyway, why didn’t they come with me, my car was big enough and it would be jolly to have the company?
By the time we reached Sedgemoor services however, my midnight vigil was taking its toll and I was concerned that I would stay this side of the crash barrier. “Do you sell anything to keep one awake?” “Try these”. ‘These were Pro-Plus. Within minutes my state of mind had been transformed from ‘Find me a Travel Lodge’ to ‘Kerching’ and Cardiff was reached safely and in record time.
Depositing them by the castle with strict instructions on when to meet me and how to find me I went in search of my own friend. Said friend is made of the mettle my mother admired, “There is a lot of despatch about her”, as mum put it. Cruelly she also as cancer but if I thought I was going to spend the afternoon swilling out her nighties which I was more than prepared to do, then I was much mistaken. We spent hours over lunch where we ate far too much and where our conversation was indecently irreverent; afterwards she was doing fine but I was suffering from indigestion. Scurrying around in her handbag looking to see if any of her cancer medication would be suitable for my dyspepsia is an image that will stay with me forever. Parting is such sweet sorrow and was it ever thus…My ladies however needed a lift home. Popping Pro-Plus in one hand and Gaviscon in the other, I went to retrieve them.