Monday, 23 July 2007

Plumbing the depths

Now I understand why those friends of mine who, having had new kitchens installed have, by the end of it, ended up in a secure unit of a local hospital. I for one have been a nut case this week and I’ve only had some new kitchen counter tops – oh, and before any irate Colonels write to complain that I have more money than sense, let me explain that, after the 11 year old set fire to the previous ones, this is an insurance job – even so it has cost me far more than I can afford, due to ‘unforeseen costs’. For instance the solid oak counters apparently need a special sealant – off I go to B&Q, the Red-Head and my little niece in tow to scour the shelves for said stuff. B&Q is not my kind of place. My husband loves it; the nuts and bolts and tools and routers, paints and brushes get his testosterone surging, whilst I flounder in such a place. It has something to do with the warehouseness of it – high shelves filled with ‘flatpacked’ God knows what and brown boxes with instructions written on them. Mathematical references abound too: 2mm this and 2x2 that. I must have looked bewildered as a lovely assistant came to my aid. She was sympathetic and compassionate as I told her of my woes and within seconds she had located the sealant (£25 a tub, I needed three) and the heat protecting foil stuff that goes under the hob (£7 each, I needed two).
Returning home it was a question of down tools. The boy who had been the day before to disconnect the sink had not only turned off the pipes but wrenched the sink out of its hole, breaking all manner of pipes and clips rendering it null and void. I’d been on the phone at the time and wondered what on earth all the smashing and clattering was. I hung up when I saw him walk out of my front door with the sink under his arm.
“Where are you going with my sink”, I calmly enquired.
“Do you need it then?” he asked.
“Well, yes I do, I’m only having new counter tops. You were only supposed to turn the bleeding taps off”. This was like a domestic version of The Italian Job.
All he could add was “Oh”, before dumping the sink and grievously broken taps on the kitchen floor.
The men who I now had in my kitchen were looking grave indeed. “You’ll need a new sink”, said one.
“I thought as much”.
“Won’t be able to do that until tomorrow”, said the other.
“But that’ll be two days without running water and gas”, I groaned, clutching my fringe like a mad woman. “How will I manage?”
Let me explain. These last five weeks we’ve had a full house. Mags and her children have moved in, they sold their house and have yet to find another one even to rent. Consequently six children and two adults, three at weekends make for some intimate living conditions. To be without basic means was seriously testing my resolve.
The workmen however just went quiet and started sawing away to make a hole for a sink when it eventually arrived. Unbeknown to me but surely an everyday event for these guys, sinks apparently need a template. So, guess what happened the next day? The new sink was too small. My workman looked at it, dumbfounded; once again I clutched my fringe.
I rang Hubby, my voice small and feeble, “I wish you were here to be assertive”, I said.
“There is nothing wrong with your assertion Alice. You scare the living daylights out of me”.
“Well there’s a slight difference between venting ones spleen upon ones husband than with a chippy”. Hubby muttered something about debriefing the captain before telling me I’d manage just fine and hanging up.
“ ’Scuse me love”, called the workman, “I’m going to have to go out again and get another sink”.
“Sure”, I said grimly.
Hours later he returned. The sink is undeniably the right size but it doesn’t sit flush with my counters, ergo water will seep under it. Another fringe clutching moment. I leant back against the one counter that had yet to be addressed. Looking across the very narrow kitchen, the corner of my beautiful counter facing me was chipped and raggedy. Oh God.
During all this time no-one has been fortified with a nice cup of tea due to the fact that there is no water. Dishes are stacked in the dishwasher and dirty washing sits forlornly yet dry in the washing machine.
A lot of muttering comes from the garden where the man is measuring and re-measuring. I begin to wonder if it will ever be finished. Thankfully the cavalry has been called and the doorbell rings. Help arrives by way of another workman who helps the original man lift and shift wood into position. He is a cheery sort although a great believer in the new rules of practice. I point out to him that it seems insane to have had an electrician, gas man and plumber, let alone two carpenters do this job. I wonder how much all this must cost insurance companies.
“That’s the way it’s got to be Mrs Band. Let each skilled man have his own job”.
“I hear what you’re saying”, I nod, “But what about customer satisfaction? A relatively straight forward job has already taken four days and that is because of the incompetence of one man. Had he at least been here on the same days as everyone else, there would have been some semblance of communication. Days wouldn’t have passed with little work done. I would have running water, the hob would by now be reconnected and I would actually be able to feed my children.” Nothing is said in reply, for nothing can be said, for I am right.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Two Tribes Go To War.

“There’s been an uprising in school today”, proclaimed my son as he crashed the front door behind him, but not before four other hapless teenage boys followed him and chucked their rucksacks onto my hall floor.
Folding laundry, I looked up to receive a kiss on the top of my head.
“So what happened then? Did a bunch of revolutionaries storm the Bastille?” I asked, pausing the folding to slap his hand away from the cakes.
“Please just the one”, he mumbled, scoffing a meringue before I could stop him.
“Ha, ha Alice. Good one”, added one of his friends, “Very timely response”.
“Why?” my son grunted, flakes of meringue falling onto my kitchen floor.
“Will you please clean that up”, I reprimanded, “Because it is almost 14th July when it was curtains for the French aristocracy. Never heard of the French Revolution darling?”
“Oh yeah”.
“Gee whiz and you want to do History GCSE. Gawd help us. So what happened in school?”
By now my kitchen had been colonised by a bunch of young men with after school munchies, all ravenous, peering into various tins and making gallons of coffee. Years ago, when a teen myself, a nice cup of tea was in order, or, if you lived in a sophisticated family, a jar of Mellow Birds graced the pantry. These days it is a completely different story, with three different cafetieres on the go, there was ground coffee all over my kitchen counter and boiled water sluicing down behind the kettle.
“For the love of God boys, let me do it”. They capitulated very easily by jumping up and out of the way onto my kitchen counter. I sighed, whilst my son, now sipping my finest Kenyan regaled me of a fight between the Emo’s and the Goth’s.
“Only they weren’t really Emo’s and Goth’s, more nerds and chavs”.
I looked blank. I’ve tried desperately to keep abreast of the latest teenage tribes but an Emo threw me for six.
“Are you sure you don’t mean Emu, as in ‘Rod Hull and..’. It was his turn to look perplexed.
“Oh mum, Emo is short for emotional”. I obviously still looked puzzled. He continued.
“It implies an angsty teen. Someone who walks around in very tight jeans, wraps himself in a mad scarf even in summer, dyes his hair back, develops an eating disorder and rants about how ‘nobody understands’”.
“Hell’s bells, apart from the jeans that’s me”, I cried in a moment of epiphany, “I am an Emo mother! Can I go and hang out outside BHS in Plymouth on Saturday then?”
My son and his friends looked horrified. “Oh come on, why not? It would be nice to mix with people who understand. Of course my eating disorder has more to do with overeating then starving myself but nevertheless, if they are as filled with angst as you say, I’m bound to find an empathic soul mate”.
I had gone too far. There was an embarrassed silence and the slurping of coffee was halted.
I however, was enjoying myself. “Why are you all looking so uncomfortable? You are not the only generation to relate to a ‘tribe’ you know. Dad used to be a punk in his hey day – well, as far as he could without his Master at Arms throwing a wobbly. Pink hair was out for him but he did get away with a safety pin in his ear.” The boys looked down at their feet as though I were saying something wholly subversive.
“I haven’t always been a frumpy mother you know”. They didn’t want to know, but I told them regardless.
“In fact I once hung out with Elvis after a gig”. The boys looked up immediately, rather impressed.
“Wow Alice”, said one, “That’s really cool. Have you been to Graceland then?”
“No, not Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello. Besides I’m not that old. I was only a kid when he died. I have however, snogged Paul Weller”, I said triumphantly.
“Ok Ma, that’s enough”, said my son jumping down and walking out of the kitchen, all the other boys trailing in his wake.
“Spoil sports”, I called after them, “He didn’t slip me the tongue though”. I laughed. It must be a parent’s most satisfying moment when we can make our children cringe in mortification. I for one felt very pleased with myself. It was not to last a moment longer though as my hormonal 11 year old barged in.
“Did you get everything I need for food tech?” she had a face like thunder and I attempted to interpret what she needed for food tech without winding her up any further. I played it safe. Last week she’d made bread, perhaps that’s what she was making again.
“Well duh”.
“Don’t duh me please. What else to you need?” She sprang like a coiled viper.
“I’ve told you already. I gave you a list. You never remember what I need” with that she pushed a chair over and, in floods of tears, ran out of the room. I sighed and was about to follow her when the doorbell rang. It was another one of the mum’s from the PTA coming to pick up the meringues for sports day.
“Just a moment”, I called. Retrieving what was left of the meringues I passed them through the door as the Red-Head came crying.
“Not me watch Saved by Bell, me watch Dora”. I scooped her up and walked into the sitting room. The 11 year old was in control of the controls.
“She was watching Dora love. You shouldn’t just switch over to what you..” I didn’t finish my sentence as she jumped up, cried some more and flounced out, throwing the controls at me.
Ah boy, should any young person see me outside BHS today, wearing a scarf and looking ‘angsty’, let me into your tribe, please.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


“I’m like Angelina Jolie”, I said to Hubby. His face looked pained in concentration as he desperately tried not to insult me, whilst at the same time you could see him try to figure out how his wife, who sat opposite him on the sofa in a pair of baggy, unmatching pyjamas and who sported a bright red, flaky nose, a chesty cough and lank hair scraped into a pony tail could possibly be compared to one of the most beautiful and not to point too fine a point on it, sexy women in the world.
“How come love?” he attempted bravely.
I stroked the cat that was contentedly purring in a perfect coil on my lap.
“Well, I suppose I am the Angelina Jolie of the feline world”. Hubby was still at a loss.
“For heaven’s sake”, I said, irritably, “I have an adopted rainbow family too, only they are cats and not kids”.
“Oh I see”, replied Hubby visibly relieved that I wasn’t delusional, “Yes, you are”, he added, reaching down the front of his trousers for a good scratch “and of course you’ve got Brad Pitt for a husband.” I choked on my Lemsip and splattered it everywhere.
“Cheers”, said Hubby, “I’ll take that snort of derision to mean that you don’t think I am then”.
Hubby’s cold was receding a little, as was his hair; he hadn’t shaved for two days because he’d been ‘coming down with something’ and he sprawled on the armchair in his slouchy, decorating clothes. We looked a fine pair, one of those that Trinny and Susannah would concur that had let themselves go in a, contented if unremarkably, lacklustre marriage.
“We don’t make much of an effort to attract each other these days do we?”, I said.
“Well, it’s been a long time since you got your webbing on”.
“Stockings and suspenders?”
“Oh for God’s sake”, I was cross, “Is that all you want is it? Are you that shallow that your idea of me being sexy is to dress up like some second rate porn star?”. He looked injured. It was one of those defining moments when men and women are most defiantly on Venus and Mars. He was totally out of his depth and knew that whatever direction this conversation went, he was snookered.
“Well Alice, you are lovely just the way you are. Well, ok maybe not exactly just the way you are, but when your hair is shiny, you’ve got your slap on and a sexy pair of shoes”.
“Nothing deeper then?” I probed. He looked blank. Nope he’d never thought of my attractiveness either on a deeper level or more than skin deep.
“So my wit and intelligence doesn’t turn you on then?” Hubby was now totally out of his comfort zone and would quite happily have gone into the kitchen to clear away the Sunday dinner dishes and even scrub the roasting pans. I however, was on a roll.
“I am never going to wear ‘webbing’ as you so romantically put it, ever again, for a number of reasons not least because the rolls of flesh that escape from under the straps and hooks are not perceived by most men to be much of a turn on and because I genuinely thought you made love to me with your mind”.
“I’m not with you”.
“Jeeze. Doesn’t just the smell of me, my closeness to you, the fact that you love me and my personality have anything to do with it, or fundamentally, is it all down to itchy lace and a pair of ten denier?”
“Don’t get a cob on now Alice. I think you’re gorgeous, hell, after last week’s little incident most of Plymouth would agree you have a fantastic pair of kn..”
“Nits. Bloody, bloody hell I’ve got nits”. It was the five year old, barging in having just been bathed by her big sister, who followed her, nit comb in hand.
“Sweetheart, don’t swear please. Come here, let Mummy look”. She bent over my lap and sure enough, there the buggers were.
“Me too mummy”, added the Red-Head, wandering naked into the sitting room looking very dejected, trailing a soaking wet towel behind her. “No mummy comb my hair”. I heaved myself off the sofa, “Sorry darling I must. Come on, let’s go and comb them out properly”. Hubby, it was plain to see, had never been more relieved to know his kids had lice and, let off the hook, he jumped up and said, somewhat brightly, “You do the girls; I’ll go and attack the kitchen”.
Half an hour later when the sobs of two young girls had subsided, I walked into a gleaming kitchen just as Hubby was putting the dishwasher tablet into the machine.
“All done?” he asked, putting his arm around me, “You should go and work for Rentokil”, he bent down and nibbled my neck, “Mmm, there’s a thought; I rather like the idea of you in a florescent pink overall”. Just as he was about to kiss me, our teenage son stormed into the kitchen.
“Where the bloody hell did you get that new cat from? It’s jumping in fleas. I’m covered in bites look”, and lifting up his t-shirt revealed his skinny, young torso dotted with red marks.
“The thing is mum, the other two cats will have them as well. Ugh”, he said, shivering, “This house is alive with parasites”.
“Well”, said Hubby sarcastically, “considering that you still owe me approximately fifty quid from your little day trip to London including the congestion charge, the petrol, supper on the way home not too mention a day off work, then I fully concur that this family is indeed one great, collective, bloodsucking, leech”.
“FrontLine. That’s what the cats need”, I said quietly.
“Living in this family is like being on the bloody front line”, said Hubby, as yet another weekend hit the dust.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Down and Out.

Hubby’s voice is weary and worn these days. Ever buoyant with regards to the Royal Navy- his workload and general lifestyle is finally getting to him. A twelve hour stint at the office followed by a tin of soup – never a proper dinner, rounded off by a couple of hours of studying for his Msc. is enough to make any man a little disheartened.
“Are you ok?” I asked him on the telephone, a little alarmed by his dejected tone.
“Oh just tired Alice. I’ve a lot on and a lot of people to make happy”.
“Have a drink tonight. Chill out”. My attempts to chivvy him up a bit are fruitless.
“Makes you wonder how Bill Clinton and various others had time for extra curricular activities if you get my gist”. I sense a weak smile break out on the other end of the phone
“Maybe the in tray at the White House wasn’t quite as toppers as mine. Besides I’m too broke for infidelity.” Ah money, ever the bone of contention between us, although this time he has a point, my chip and pin card having been spat out with disgust in Somerfield this week.
“Declined” said the bored youth at the checkout. I fumbled in my bag, blushing.
“Sorry, I’ll try another card” and, with fingers crossed, stuck another one in the machine.
“Declined”, said the boy. A collective sigh emanated from the queue that was now fidgeting beside me.
“Hang on I’ve one more” and sweating a little by this point, I shoved in my pink John Lewis one, one that I never meant to use and only applied for so that I would get a free Waitrose food magazine.
“Pin number?”, said the boy now yawning. Oh shizer. I racked my brains but no magic number came to mind. I tried different variations on a theme until after the third time the machine once again spat it out.
“Too late. You’ve had your three goes.” I was mortified. Of course, it being a small town many people know me and looked askance at how I, a commander’s wife could be so broke. Puce, I abandoned my shopping, dragging a screaming Red-Head as I’d had to replace her tube of Smarties on the shelf.
I went home and considered what, from the farinaceous side of my pantry, I could rustle up for dinner for the kids. Just as I was embarking on a macaroni cheese, Mags breezed in, Monsoon carrier bags dangling from her wrist.
“Come and see my fashion show”, she urged. This was all I needed, a twig thin, financially solvent, career pursuing chum showing me her booty. I wiped my hands on my apron and duly sat on the sofa as she twirled around my sitting room, displaying outfit after outfit.
“Lovely”, I said.
“Oh don’t be too enthusiastic”, replied Mags, a little crestfallen.
“Sorry”, I replied, “You really do look fantastic in them, just that I’ve had a bit of an afternoon of it”. I told her my woes and Somerfield shame. She hugged me.
“Poor you. It’s the perception people have of you Alice. You live in a nice house that..”
“Cheltenham and Gloucester own and what they don’t take, our overdraught cleans up. I don’t normally stress about it too much but Hubby’s dumps have never been so down”.
“Oh you know men. Make more of a fuss of him when he comes home. Stroke is ego, tell him how wonderful he is, how you’d never manage without him..”
“Well I wouldn’t”.
So Hubby came home last weekend to a chirpy wife, his favourite flapjacks, a clean and tidy house, the washing put away and communicative, cooperative kids. All was going swimmingly until he got into my car.
“Dear God Alice, look at the state of this thing”, he said removing seriously decayed apple cores from under the Red-Head’s car seat.
“Oh don’t look under there”, I said too briskly but I spoke too soon because Hubby let out a mighty roar as he found an empty juice carton and sticky, furry mildew adhering itself to it.
“I was getting round to cleaning that up”, I added bashfully, “But it’s been so wet, we make a dash for it when we get out of the car, then I get wrapped up in other domestic pleasures and forget.” The Lords name was used in vain as he went into the house for a carrier bag, some kitchen paper and the Cif.
“Why the hell is there a collection of tubes and cut up cereal boxes in the boot?”, before I had a chance to reply that it was his daughter’s ‘art’ he bellowed,
“And what is this?”, lifting up a mouldy pitta bread, oozing slimy cucumber and lettuce.
“Infant school food technology. She started to eat it before we got home”.
The rest of the weekend wasn’t any more successful and even my amorous attempts were met with a cold shoulder – my lacy knickers were overlooked. His mood was not helped by the fact that his car needed an MOT, yet more expense coupled with having to catch the train back to Portsmouth. I drove him to the station.“Just drop me off, I’m running late”. I insisted on a platform snog but could not keep up with him. We had to run down the steps, along the long corridor then finally up another flight of steps. I was trailing behind, huffing and puffing. By the time I got to the top step he was on the moving train gesticulating frantically. I waved back enthusiastically and blew kisses. He shook his head and pointed. I looked down – my left breast, that had been barely supported all day in a pink, lacy, wholly ineffective bra had finally, due to my jog, broken free of its fetters and now dangled over the top of my camisole. I looked up; Hubby’s head was in his hands as the train finally disappeared.