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 cafĂ©, 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.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


Another leave, another summer. As hubby packs his grip and polishes his shoes, neck bent revealing a white bit under his hairline where the barber shaved away his holiday hair, I am not as despondent as I usually am after a leave period because Hubby’s new job is bringing him back to Plymouth in October. Thus long stretches of not seeing each other during the week will be a thing of the past, well until the next appointment at least.
“There are still a number of outstanding jobs to do around the house you know”, I said, not really trying for a fight but going down that slippery route nonetheless.
“What have I failed to do in my spousal duties now?” he asked, spitting on his toe cap.
“Well you never finished painting the kitchen”.
“Alice, I brandished a paint brush on the first day of leave and did a few walls before you wanted my attention for something else”.
“Well the bath was blocked”, I added indignantly. More indignantly he replied,
“And the basement needed emptying and, let’s not forget, as you gallivanted around Devon and Cornwall’s tourist attractions with your American friend, I looked after the kids”, he was on a roll, “oh and then, just when I thought I might slow down and take a break of two marching paces you invite various family members to stay”.
“But they were your family members”.
“Don’t remind me”. We reached an impasse, before he added,
“Besides the piece de resistance was our camping trip and let’s face it Alice, you are most definitely not much of a camper”.
Ah, our camping trip, not so much an unprecedented success as a three day trial in family relations and boy our relations are as strained as those between Bush and Putin.
“Well I didn’t expect it to be so busy”.
“It’s August for God’s sake Alice. Did you expect to be in a field on your own?”
“Well I didn’t expect to share my frozen breath with fifteen hundred other breaths all clearing their throats, burping and snoring all night long”.
“You’re no Sleeping Beauty yourself love”. Another impasse.
“Anyway, it was too hard keeping an eye on all the children”. Truly, if you want to lose your family, go to Polzeath beach, sit on a mat and wait and, I can guarantee that within five minutes, your youngest child will be lost. Luckily, the authorities must know that this goes with the territory at Polzeath because whilst I was running around like a headless chicken, sobbing and awailing, the Life Guards were doing a better and calmer job of finding her. Which indeed they did, quickly. We tried to stick it out on that beach a while longer but it was futile. Not only were there literally thousands of people on or in various beach shelters and towels but the water’s edge is a good two hour walk away and if, like me, you have an aversion to walking in a bathing suit for more than a few feet before hiding under the sea, then the feeling of self consciousness of traipsing miles across sand as ones thighs and tummy wobbles under straining Lycra, is overwhelming and by the time I actually reached the water I was so mortified that I wanted to bury my head in the sand not sit on it. Unfortunately as the surf contained over two hundred body boarders coming at me at any given moment, I couldn’t even dive under the waves for fear of being mown down by a garish, nylon covered board of polystyrene.
After a picnic of rolls and crisps and grasping the two, soon to be three year old by the wrist lest she do a runner again, we gave up and found that afternoon, to our delight and relief the perfect beach of Daymer Bay. No nutters on boards, no waves, shallow waters, few people. Glorious.
Our son and heir and his equally ‘cool’ buddy, spent three days in their ‘shades’ and tight skinny jeans, t-shirts, socks and boots, without ever even visiting the beach, preferring instead to hang out outside the tent and strum their guitars for hours, in sweltering heat.
How a hot afternoon can turn into a freezing cold night beats me but believe me, I thought rigormortis would claim me before the hundred or so rooks woke the camp ground at five am. For those two nights I crawled under my duvet wearing my fleece and Hubby’s socks and onto my so called blow up bed which proceeded to deflate through the night and which found me at 4am wedged under Hubby’s inflatable bed, the cold earth penetrating my bones. The Red-Head was a peculiar shade of blue when she eventually rose and the eleven year old - twelve years old today, stormed out of her part of the tent both mornings livid with Mother Nature and her liberties at playing games with the temperature and the morning chorus. Only she didn’t blame Mother Nature but her own mother instead and my insistence that I couldn’t regulate the natural world did little to appease her. An overnight trip to London could and will though, so as Hubby spends another day of ‘quality time’ with his youngest daughters while attempting to complete the things on my to-do list, the birthday girl and I are making the most of him being at home to escape for a little razzmatazz. A cheap rail fare, the kind offering of a friend’s pied a terre and the contacts – ie a gay friend from school who works in the theatre and who knows ‘everyone worth knowing darling’, has thus provided us with travel, accommodation and the best seats in the house for Joseph and undoubtedly, his amazing technicoloured dreamcoat.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Camping It Up

It was my utmost intention this weekend to be found meandering alongside the Canal du Midi in Carcassonne, alone. Malheureusement, I am instead to be found packing for a family camping trip to Polzeath. Now, whilst I may love my family dearly, I was looking forward to a bit of solitary confinement. I don’t need any stimulants or glittering conversation, in fact I was happy to lie on my B&B bed and stare at the ceiling.
“No need break the habit of a lifetime”, quipped Hubby. He’s such a wag.
Having had several visitors recently however and pandered to their every whim, my accounts are such that I have had to forfeit my flights from Newquay to London then to Carcassonne and back. Someone else would have sat in my seat on that aeroplane, the anticipation of adventure and the unknown coursing through their veins, landing to the unmistakable, olfactory sense of being abroad. Smells of garlic, herbs and wine hanging heavy in a Mediterranean night air, the foreign sound of frantic cicadas adding to the general sense of being in a distant land. A siesta taken on an afternoon so hot that even the mosquitoes are languid and all the while I wouldn’t have had to take care of anyone – not one tiny or large person could have whined for my attention, no dinner would have had to have been cooked, no washing, no organizing, no-one’s happiness to pander too except mine and all I wanted, was a bit of peace and quiet.
As it transpires, I will now be on an undoubtedly soggy campsite, my French ensuite substituted by peeing into a bucket at 2am. Cassoulet swapped for crisps, a scorched sausage and a warm stubby of beer. I can’t wait.
Hubby of course, thrilled that I am not now going to be spending money in the South of France nor enjoying illicit flirtations with God knows whom and who will also now be on hand to take his youngest daughters to the public conveniences is a very jolly soul. The camping paraphernalia has made its way out of the basement and into the kitchen and I have actually caught him whistling as he chucked melamine into hot soapy water.
“It’s going to be great Alice”, he said as I looked dejectedly on, “C’mon, cheer up there’s a love” he added, flinging a tea towel at me.
The lists for such an expedition are endless and when Hubby isn’t washing up, he has been at the computer adding yet more items to aforementioned inventory.
“This is very comprehensive y’know”, he said, very pleased with himself, “I’ve even remembered the hooks”.
“What hooks?” I asked, as if I cared.
“The ones that clip onto the tent frame”. I must have looked blank.
“Oh you know, the hooks we can hang things from. They are multi-purpose. By day we can hang macs and sweaters from them and by night torches and lanterns, not too mention perishables that need to be stored above ground level.” It is easy to see how he has done so well as a supply officer, although, one wonders if he will ever again be able to replicate that triumphant feeling of successfully storing ship before a long deployment when every box of cereal and every last rasher of bacon was neatly packed away. Maybe this is him trying to recreate those times, I can but indulge him.
“So, have we enough batteries? I don’t want to miss the bucket.”
“Plenty, the Co-op have got an offer on, although I’d prefer it if you could manage a pee in the dark, you don’t want to wake the kids”.
“Shove off; I’m more likely to wake them as I wail when the pail tips over”.
“Oh well, I suppose but you must be quiet”.
“To pee quietly into a plastic bucket in the dead of night inside the thin canvas of a tent would be wholly unfeasible”, I point out, packing the plastic dishes into a box.
“Actually the tent is made of a strong, water and fire resistant polyester Alice”. I roll my eyes.
“It’s all very well for you to be laissez faire about all this stuff but when we are on that campsite in the cool night air, you will be delighted that I have remembered your favourite comfy chair, the fleece blanket, the cafetiere, pillows, duvet and …”
“Oh all right, I get your drift”.
“Now I just have to locate the surf board and we’re all set”.
“Surf board?” was he having a mid-life crisis? To see young men, paunch free with honey coloured skin, effortlessly ride a wave, accessorized by earrings and silver bangles is a joy to behold – a middle aged man however, with a tummy and varicose veins as surfing accessories is quite another.
“I think you may have left it a bit late to adopt the surf bum look”, I said gently.
“Not for me Alice, for our son but thanks for the vote of confidence, I’ll remember that when nubile young girls are running past us and you are extricating your sarong from upper reaches of your buttocks.
“It’s called a wedgie Dad”, said our 11 year old, walking into the kitchen, “And just to let you know I am not going near you on the beach if one of you is in a swim suit and the other has a surf board under their arm. I couldn’t stand the shame.”
“Ditto” drawled our son, ambling in, “You’ll stay in the campsite with the babies right?”
“I am not a baby”, added the 5 year old, “And you are very stinky”.
“Speak for yourself”.
“Poo-breath”. All our attentions turned to the Red-Head, who at almost three, has developed quite an insulting, scatological vocabulary. I sighed deeply and considered for a moment who had sat in my seat on flight 72. They’d better be having a good time.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


My feet hurt like you wouldn’t believe. This has been an intensive few days. My American is, how shall I put it, a very fascinated tourist and is not at all fatigued by sight seeing.
Would you have believed for instance that it is possible to visit the Barbican in Plymouth and walk only 400 yards in four and a half hours? Well believe. I have been up alleyways and back roads, up terraces and steps that have led to antiques, artistes, galleries and gardens. In her defence though, being with someone so passionate about ‘old things’ one sees the same things that one as looked at a million times through new eyes. We picked up a Historic Walk leaflet in the information centre and it was fascinating – well to us it was, her son and my eldest two groaned with ennui. Typical, once they were fed pasties, fish and chips and an ice cream or two, their interest in the past 500 years waned and the temptations of Virgin Records and Primark beckoned so, we bade our farewells and immersed ourselves in the Tudors and Elizabethans. To be honest once we’d looked around the antique market for an hour and a half, my back was beginning to ache and so, as she looked around the Elizabethan House I sat by the receptionist and read the reams of leaflets I’d picked up. By the time she emerged, eyes shining with historical facts, I was able to direct her to the Tudor House, Palace Vaults and Elizabethan Garden. This little oasis of calm and serenity impressed even me. It is so hidden and quiet, set back well away from the hustle and bustle of sweaty, half dressed tourists. They look Neanderthal and sadly, very British.
Whilst I died of shame regarding my kinsmen, Mindy, my American friend was for more interested in the masonry of the ancient Plymouth and we had to give, seemingly, every piece of stone and step our full attention.
As we picked our way down the cobbles and back onto the Southside Street, it was late afternoon and Plymouth Gin distillery beckoned.
“Oh my heavens!”, remarked Mindy. Yipee, I thought, a chance for a sit down and a long cold, recuperative drink. Unfortunately gin was the furthest thing from her mind.
“Look at this darling art gallery!” and in she went. I was beginning to feel like the kids and my steps had decidedly switched from a stride to a truculent trudge. Reluctantly I followed her but her enthusiasm was infectious and I succeeded in another 45 minutes of rifling through prints and paintings. The gallery owner couldn’t have been best pleased because at the end of it all, Mindy found a print that had originally been for sale at £40 and was in the reduced pile for two quid. By the time it had been wrapped carefully for its journey to America, the owner must have spent more on cardboard, bubble wrap and Sellotape than the measly sum she made for it.
“Oh how kind of you”, said Mindy, politely.
“Don’t worry, we try to be nice to our colonies”, replied the owner dryly.
Finally, I coerced her into the Gin Distillery but only because it had Franciscan Monks on its side and was thus an ancient building.
“Oh my heavens!” she exclaimed for the hundredth time that day as we entered its cavernous foyer.
“It was lodging for the Pilgrim Fathers before they set sail for America”, said one of the guides.
“For real? Wow!” A long chat followed - as it does with everyone she meets and by the end of which I am sure the guide was on her Christmas card list - before I finally dragged her up the stairs to the cocktail lounge.
“Two G&T’s”, I said perhaps a little too quickly, but I wanted my order in before she changed her mind and we went in search of more culture. It was the best G&T I have ever had. Genuinely: long, cool, tasty and made professionally. Highly recommended.
Twenty minutes later and we were back in the heat and sunshine.
Westward Bound?”, she read, “Oh do they sell postcards?” but before I could warn her that it was a fetishists shop she was immersed in PVC, whips and all manner of sadomasochistic toys and costumes. “Oh my heavens”, she said once again, almost tripping as she ran to get out, “I hadn’t realised you Brits were quite so open about your sexual peccadilloes”.
“Hey, don’t include me in that, I’m strictly a once a month, good Protestant girl” I laughed.
The following day, after a breakfast of dry toast and a double-dipped- tea-bag cup of tea, (she is convinced that the caffeine is released on the first dowsing, thus the bag can be used again in its de-caffeinated and thus, acceptable state. I ask you.), we all eight of us took the train to Calstock. All cynicism aside there is something very touching seeing a stranger literally moved to tears by the beauty of one’s country.
“I would be happy forever to be surrounded by such beauty”, she said quietly, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she watched the river and Tamar Valley unveil itself, “I have never seen anything like it”. The day only got better if a little more strenuous and we walked or should I say mountaineerd to Cotehele House. As there were so many of us, it was prudent, if painful to take out an annual membership, consequently after a day with the Tudors we spent the next with the Georgians of Saltram House where the superlatives continued apace.
Beachcombing, rock-pooling and crabbing under sunny blue skies have only served to deepen her love of the Westcountry, along with pasties washed down with cider. Sadly today is the last day and we are going to Ye Olde Worlde Tesco. Well it is Elizabethan of sorts…

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


Here, we are then, two days into the school summer hols and I am already frothing at the mouth. Hubby is yet to go on leave and so I am left, now that Mags has moved out, to clean, change the sheets, make my house sparkle, shop, cook and basically prepare for an onslaught of summer visitors, whilst trying desperately to keep my temper and four children at bay.
I do not find this an easy feat. I am staggered by the amount of penicillin teenagers manage to grow in their bedrooms and the fact that normally, so self conscious regarding a zit or blemish or greasy hair they care not a jot where their knickers land once they have flung them off the night before. I am constantly staggered by what I find on the bedroom floor, shelf or behind the door – the fact that all of them possess a laundry basket accounts for nothing.
My son’s desk, now that he has dispensed with Year 9, is awash with papers, old homework, handouts, leaflets and God knows what, on top of all that sits several chocolate wrappers (the crisps packets are under his pillow), the aforementioned penicillin furred coffee cups, a guitar, a computer, two pairs of rugby socks, a little black book and various shirts, previously beautifully and lovingly pressed and now in crumpled balls. My eldest daughter is no different. When out she is the picture of youthful beauty, her hair and skin plastered in every product the Body Shop produces and can, at any given moment smell simultaneously of mango, strawberry, coconut, tea tree, lemon and cranberry. Her clothes are considered for hours before wearing and even earrings and a necklace are given careful contemplation before they hit her lobes and neck. I am left speechless then, when on entering her bedroom I have to heave the door open before whatever lying behind it surrenders and lets me in. It is all I can do not to sink onto her bed, my head in my hands as I take in the devastation around me. Mountains of books lie on every surface, mingled with glittery lip gloss, the cap left off and thus having bled into the books. Bras and knicks dangle from door handles, bedposts, backs of chairs and light fittings and scrap-booking paraphernalia is literally littered on the desk, carpet and duvet. Not to mention the tangled mess of wires from phone chargers, Walkmans and hair dryer/straightener standing by to trip you up as you endeavour to put away the previous offending list.
No sooner have I sorted out these two rooms than I cautiously peer around the bedroom door of the youngest delinquents. This is indescribable; Barbies of every colour and creed lie naked and matted of hair on the carpet. Books, too numerous to catalogue are in, on or under the beds. Clothes and wet nappies mingle nastily outside the wastepaper basket and wet wipes, pulled indiscriminately from the dispenser, now lie dry and useless on every surface. Felt tip pens, tops lost many months ago have been sucked on and either the child or her clothes are covered in forensic amounts of pink, yellow and blue.
It is enough to make any woman despair and I envy my friends whose jobs remove them from the endless hours during the summer holidays spent nagging their children to turn off the tv, get on their bikes and go and do something less boring instead, like tidy their bedrooms. With their childcare sorted they can enjoy two weeks ‘quality time’ on a family holiday courtesy of a Greek island, whilst we, en masse, can be observed in a weeks time bickering over the assembly of a large tent; two children, faces like the proverbial slapped arse, two others running around maniacally, the highlight of which will be peeing in a bucket in the early hours of the morning.
Hubby of course is looking forward to his leave although has already put dampers on things by coolly announcing that apart from a few days in Polzeath we “will have to take it easy this summer and pull our belts in – financially, so to speak”.
“That’s going to be fun then with our American visitors”.
“Well, we’ll just have to entertain them on the cheap. She likes churches and walled gardens - so that’s a couple of days visiting Rame and Maker church and we can throw in a picnic at Mount Edgcumbe for good measure. Job done”. Hubby looked very pleased with himself and his tour guide skills.
“What if the weather is bad? We can hardly set off with a knapsack on our backs, fal-da-ree if it’s persisting down can we? Can’t we manage a couple of Stately homes and Eden?”
“Fish and Chips at Rick Stein’s?”
“You’ve got to be kidding although we could take our bikes on the Camel Trail”. Now it was my turn,
“You’ve got to be kidding?”And so, I have been left to devise an itinerary suitable to fulfil the needs of a spectrum of people from a 2 year old to a 50 year old American and her teenage son with the caveat of not spending any money – a challenge by anyone’s standards. Kingsand and Cawsand are obviously looking good but as the weather isn’t, I know not what to do. A cultured Anglophile, she would love to visit all the National Trust properties and go to the theatre, however as she took $400 to the bank two days ago and got £185 in return I am sure that she will settle for the delights of going to and fro on top of the Torpoint Ferry, a drive along Whitsand Bay, a bag of chips in Looe and a quick snifter in a country pub. In fact if anyone knows of anything to do with a large family with a limited budget in South East Cornwall in the rain, don’t be shy, get in touch…