Monday, 24 September 2007


As Hubby continues to improve his mind on his MSc residential and is thus non-contactable, I came downstairs a few days ago to find a pool of water on my kitchen floor suitable for wading in. My reaction to such disasters is high drama along the lines of a Greek tragedy. This is how my son found me, the back of one hand against my forehead as though swooning, the other beating my chest.
“What is it now?” he asked in a rather bored voice that suggested this was an everyday occurrence.
“What is it now?” I repeated, “Look, look” I wailed pointing to the floor.
“Mum, there is a small amount of water underneath the tumble dryer. As water rarely pours out of tumble dryers may I suggest that perhaps we move it away from the wall to see if the washing machine is leaking?”
“Good idea, good idea”. I kept repeating myself but it was soothing, like a devotional mantra.
We heaved and jiggled and pulled and jostled and eventually the two machines were away from the wall. My son, proudly wielding his brand new, ultra bright, LED torch, shone it behind.
“Bloody hell there’s a lot of crap behind here”.
“Please don’t say bloody and crap darling”, I replied.
“Gosh mummy, I say, there is an awful lot of detritus behind here”.
“And don’t be facetious. Let me look” and taking the torch I squinted into the damp and dirty space. The cold tap feeding the washing machine was dripping.
“Aha, eureka!”
By now my son had lost all interest and was laying bacon on the grill pan.
“Do you want a bagel?”, he asked me.
“No. I do not want a bloody bagel. I need to stem the flow and tighten this tap, pass me a bucket and a towel.” I duly place a large orange bucket under the leak and twisted but my efforts did not have the desired effect and far from stopping the water I seemed to have increased its flow and the slow drip-drip turned into a constant splosh. I swore.
“And you tell me off”, reprimanded my son who was plastering HP sauce onto his bagel.
“I’m going to have to ring a plumber. That’s another 40 quid just for the privilege of calling him out”.
I went into the sitting room to find my address book when I heard an almighty scream and running into the kitchen I found the Red-Head wallowing in the water, her brother almost on top of her, the bagel and the bacon afloat around them both.
“What the hell happened?” I asked, picking my son up before lifting a soggy child onto my hip.
“She ran into the kitchen, slipped and collided into my leg, I lost my balance and dropped my plate.”
I hadn’t noticed the plate in smithereens in amongst the water. Luckily no-one was cut but it was a heck of a job to pick out the larger pieces and mop up the tiny shards, resolutely sticking to the wet floor.
“Right you”, I said, plonking the Red-Head onto a kitchen stool, “Don’t move, I’ve got to ring a plumber”.
My son, now truly fed up with not having enough time to cook more bacon, sat glumly opposite her, chewing miserably on a bowl of muesli. “Keep an eye on her”, I instructed, “I won’t be a minute”.
The plumber was extremely amenable and, as it was so early, could fit me in on his way to work. Within minutes he arrived with all the correct tools.
“Now then what’s the problem?” I showed him.
“No worries” he said lying down on my damp kitchen floor. Within seconds not only had he tightened the washer but the Red-Head had clambered down off the stool and was watching him intently. You’d think in such circumstances she might have uttered,
“It’s dark in there”, or “You mend it?” or even, “It’s very wet” but her off the wall, “Me not wear knickers”, surprised us all.
I gave an embarrassed giggle and explained, “Sorry, she’s rather proud that she’s out of nappies”.
“Me wear nappies in bed. Me do poo in nappies”. This was far too much information. My son, through a series of elaborate hand signals was silently imploring me to strangle her and the plumber was more than happy to leave which he did immediately, a fat cheque in his hand.
“You sure you want to study history and politics?” I asked my son as I saw the plumber out, “This job seems far more lucrative”.
“I’m not putting my hand up anyone’s u-bend”.
“Yeah? Well just you keep it like that”, I added euphemistically, before handing him his lunch which I had thankfully prepared the night before.
He kissed the top of my head before leaving for school but not before telling his youngest sister that she was a freak.
“Me not freak, you farty.”
Eventually all four children were at various learning establishments and I was free to tackle the mess in the kitchen. I cleaned, mopped and swept. I filled the washing machine with all the wet bath sheets that I’d used before finally putting them in the tumble dryer as I went to get the Red-Head from nursery school.
On our return we carried the dry towels upstairs, where, because the door bell rang, I dumped them on the bathroom floor. I received a parcel then ran back up the stairs where all the towels were now at the bottom of a full bath of cold water. The eldest daughter had forgotten to empty it the night before.
“Me help mummy do washing”, beamed the Red-Head proudly.
When Hubby rang during his lunch break, his vocabulary peppered with long corporate words that made little sense, he sensed my lack of comprehension.“Sorry love, boring stuff. So how is it in Mummyland?” Mummyland??! Excuse me while I kill myself.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Teenage icks

There’s an old Italian proverb that goes, ‘Little children, headache; big children, heartache’. Were it ever thus? As my youngest children continue to cavort around the sitting room and launch themselves off my sofa only to dismount with the practiced precision of Olga Korbut, the eldest are going through their own personal demons i.e adolescence.
A friend in America, so concerned that I’m losing the will to live regarding the little darlings, has sent me a book on the very subject, appropriately entitled, ‘Teenproofing’. Already, having only read a couple of chapters, I am hanging my head in shame because Hubby and I are doing it all and I stress, ‘all’, wrong. When our son was caught with a friend hanging out of the friend’s bedroom window having a go with a cigarette recently, Hubby went wild. No shaking of head or the toe curling, “I’m so disappointed” lecture – no this was a complete flip out and by the time I returned home, ever the voice of reason the consequences of my son’s actions meant that sanctions had been fully implemented, ergo, no sleepovers, no computer, no football, no movies, no going out, in fact full on sack cloth and ashes. My son lay on his bed staring at the ceiling wondering what was the point in going on. I was very cross indeed and I certainly didn’t condone him having a drag on a fag but I felt uncomfortable with the level of castigation. My heart was heavy and I sincerely wished that I could down a glass of wine and sneak one of my kid’s ciggies. What wicked, terrible thoughts. Shame on you Alice. Instead, I gnawed at my nails and considered the options that Hubby had left open to us regarding his punishment when the next thing happened and, with four more teenage years to go, the ‘next thing’ will absolutely, very definitely happen. I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Rifling through the pages of the book what Hubby should have said was and I paraphrase from the child expert’s book, ‘I am going to say just one thing: You will hear adults say they wish they’d never smoked/taken drugs as teenagers but you will never, ever hear an adult express regret that he/she didn’t smoke/do drugs as a teenager. Think about it.”
Of course the upshot is, is that Hubby and I had some serious words to say to each other, the result being that our son’s punishment had to be amended without it seeming as though we had gone soft and yet still showing an united front that we were still disappointed but that, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the end of the world. Our son responded well to this, was glad of a reprieve and has been the most charming young man ever since. Perhaps a little too charming, given that he has fallen head over heels for a delectable young woman and my concern, my nerves and my fervent - ‘don’t rush into anything’ lectures are something he and I will have to endure.
So, where once I went to bed with a hot man and a steamy novel, the man is luke-warm and the book whose sub-title, ‘fostering responsible decision making in your teenager’, is unarguably the least sexy title for any book – so the only steam is coming off my cocoa.
The book is a recent arrival and due to my son’s zealous activities I have yet to unearth advice to give to beautiful young creatures, otherwise known as - girls on the cusp of womanhood. Mother Nature must herself have suffered horribly growing up and thus wants to wreak havoc on every pretty girl so that she too suffers the ignominy of puberty. How else could you explain why young girls with alabaster smooth skin, hair that only needs washing once a week and white, shiny teeth, transmogrify within weeks to moody little madams with blackheads, greasy hair and a ton of metal in their mouths and with attitudes to intimidate the hardiest parents?
Our precious little angel is no exception, although Mother Nature has given ours a break by providing her with the legs of a colt and exquisite skin, nevertheless, she took her place on the orthodontists chair this week and emerged like Ugly Betty, thirty five minutes later. “I’m telling you mum”, she mumbled, clutching her consolation prize of starter pack i.e mouthwash, floss, weird tufty things, toothbrush and wax, “this is hardly my idea of a goody bag and if I find out I need glasses as well, well just keep sharp objects out of my reach.”
Hubby has reacted to the change in his firstborn daughter with his usual demeanor when confronted with issues regarding his family i.e bafflement. His face genuinely seems to struggle with the appropriate expression for fear of what it might belay, which immediately winds me up. I’m either shouting “Don’t you care? It’s not funny you know”, or “Loosing up a little, it’s not the end of the world”. He can’t win.
“So what do we do with her then?” he asked over a bowl of pasta last weekend, one eye on the rugby.
“Give her plenty of affection, boost her confidence and don’t focus on her looks”, I suggested.
“Fantastic! Bloody brilliant!”, I looked up, thrilled that for once he agreed with me wholeheartedly, only to find that England had scored a try.
“Gee great. I thought we were discussing our child’s self esteem”, I said haughtily.
“Of course, of course”, he replied distractedly. I gave up but only for the meantime, for soon Hubby will be as much entrenched with the biorhythms of family life as much as I. There are only three more weekends to go before he returns to the homestead. The Royal Navy may have big plans for him but believe me; mine are bigger, much bigger. Huge.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


‘Our last Sunday afternoon of summer vacation was spent floating on our backs in a jade green lake, watching the light grow low and golden on the trees that lined the shore.’ Written exquisitely by fellow blogger Mary Alice, her words encapsulated a summer spent with her family, ending in a perfect moment, a snapshot captured in time.
I marveled at her prose, yet my overriding emotion was one of inadequacy. I too attempted one last afternoon on the beach, one more that would be etched in my children’s memory as a scrapbook of long, hot summers, immediate if unsustainable friendships, diving for pebbles in a sparkling blue sea, sharing out sandwiches, finally relishing the much promised ice-cream, eaten whilst shivering under a towel cuddled on my lap.
The reality of course was far from the infant utopia I so often strive for, in fact within seconds of launching herself fully clothed into the sea, the Red Head was shivering and wanting to go home, whilst the five year old was bored and the twelve year old, “Really, really uncomfortable on this beach mat. Why do you get the chair?”
Rather too audibly I asked myself, and for the hundredth time this summer, ‘why do I bother?’ I simultaneously undressed one sopping child, built a sandcastle for the other and removed a couple of intrusive pebbles under the mat of the other. Finally I sat back in my chair and looked out to sea, reflectively. Why was I so hopeless at creating a perfect family life, the ones that yummy mummy’s bleat on about? Much as I tried this summer, my kids have constantly squabbled and made the sort of messes that only a conceptual artist could appreciate. I seem to have spent the last six weeks demented, screaming, yelling and issuing threats. My children, far from being dewy eyed with emotion at the joyfulness of their infancy have been wet eyed due to my storming and switching off of televisions with threats that Santa will never come if they don’t play with the bloody toys they already have. My eldest children, more perceptive to the tensions, have commented that their parents show no demonstrative affection to each other. “Why don’t you kiss dad?” asked our son.
“Yeah mum. Your’e always stressed. Always cross”. Would this be their prevailing memories of their Cornish summer holidays? A crazed mother, to mad and bad even to respond to their father’s embraces.
I attempted enthusiasm, “C’mon let’s go and have one last dip of the summer!”, and extricating myself rather clumsily from the chair I let my sarong fall.
“My God mum”, exclaimed my eldest, covering her eyes, “Haven’t you heard of a bikini wax?” I looked down and sure enough what escaped the confines of my swim suit certainly warranted a whip around with a Bic razor, but hell, it was too late now, I’d have to brazen it out.
“Vat? Are you not coming svimming viz me?”
“Mum. Don’t. That terrible German accent is not going to kid anyone, besides even German women aren’t as hairy as that”. I shrugged my shoulders, took my five year old’s hand and ran into the sea. Fancying herself something of a mermaid, she is quite fearless and loves being in the water. Soon the Red Head joined us and for a brief moment in time, I too looked like a celebrity mummy - all paparazzi shots of laughing and giggling in the surf with my adorable infants. It was heart stoppingly cold however and try as I might, I could not make intelligible conversation, my fight for survival being imperative.
Later, as we left the beach we met an old acquaintance.
“Hello Alice!” she said cheerily as her husband rubbed lotion onto her shoulders before getting down on the sand and building their children a wonderful, sand racing car. “Isn’t it awful? I can’t believe they start school in a couple of days. It’s just been the most perfect summer hasn’t it?” I looked at her carefully but there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
“Do you want a cold beer darling?” she asked her husband, placing a loving hand on his bare back. He turned around to kiss it, “Thank you angel, you think of everything”. They smiled at each other a little longer than was decent. I thought I’d be sick.
“Well I’ve got to go”, I said with equal cheeriness, “Name tapes to sew, you know how it is”.
“Alice! Life is too short to sew on name tapes” and they both laughed, her handsome chest now pressed up against his rib cage, “Buy a marker pen and live a little”.
That night, after the youngest were put to bed, awake and protesting, I swung my salty, hairy legs onto my sofa and took a long slurp at my G&T and watched Nigella.
As the ending credits rolled up the screen, the phone rang. “Cor! Now that’s what you call a woman Alice”. Hubby.
Really? I can’t stand her. Oh I’m sure that she’s very nice but that fake, always harking on about her busy, ‘I’ve only time to look edible as well as flash fry a steak and mash some white beans’ lifestyle and those coy looks to camera that imply us lesser mortals empathise with how hard it is on her. Taxi to Waitrose? And back again? Caramel croissants after a night out when most of us scrabble for the ibuprofen and our pillows? Crunchy calamari with garlic and girlfriends; lipstick, high heels and black satin? It’s a bogus lifestyle, filmed in a mock kitchen, where in one article I read, she is ‘shifty’ regarding the number of servants she employs, but, you can bet your caramelized bottom dollar she has a housekeeper and nanny.
Ditch the act Nigella and fess up… Give me a chance; my husband thinks you’re for real.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


I can’t believe how cruel life can be. In this blameless, cloistered life that I lead, where pleasures are simple and oft involve many children and thus where a glass of wine or two are much anticipated at the end of a long and noisy day, it is a brutal blow to find myself, after years of bibulous activity, allergic to the only salve capable of easing my mind and muscles after another day of frenetic domestic abuse.
I have tried to ignore its warnings over the past few months but it has become more and more apparent as I sneeze and sneeze over yet another glass of Sauvignon that something in the wine does not like me. By the time I have finished a glass the familiar itching in my eyes starts, followed by ten minutes of vehement sneezing, then ugly and deafening nose blowing rendering me devoid of smell or taste and sounding as though I’m suffering from a somewhat nasty, respiratory tract infection.
It begins well though: the coolness of the wine hitting my throat, the flavour of the grape curling my tongue setting off ripples of excitement to my taste buds then, as I approach the midway line of the glass, the alcohol relaxes my body and I take on a more cheery countenance. This has been, for the last two decades not counting four pregnancies and three breastfeeding babies, a highly anticipated, nightly occurrence and one that has kept me from the brink of disaster. I am never drunk as two glasses is sufficient, three when at a party, four when on a bender – joke.
To have to give it up then is like mourning an old friend, one whose colour and demeanour has paralleled every aspect of my life. Deep, dark and red in my darker moments, light white and bright for happier, sunnier days and sparkling, bubbling, fizzing champagne for those ultra wonderful, celebratory moments.
What am I to do now? How can I achieve that ‘manana’ feeling that a half a dozen gulps of Australia’s finest provides? I’m not much of a spirit drinker, cocktails I can take or leave and Pimm’s? Ugh don’t even go there. Once, when young and on a second date with Hubby we went to an afternoon party where only Pimms was provided. We were in the elevated company of a local admiral and Hubby was then a cheery Petty Officer; at one, truly yet unfortunately memorable point, knowing they were both in the Navy, I wrapped a feather boa around both and asked “So, do you work together?” Hubby poor soul, blanched, the Admiral guffawed and not long after I was very, very sick. No more Pimm’s for me then.
Instead I have turned my attentions to Gin and Tonic but to try and replicate the delicious one I had at the Distillery is a bit of a fag. By the time I’ve filled my glass with ice, chopped my lime, wiped it across the rim of the glass, squeezed it, added the gin, opened an individual bottle of tonic and stirred it I could have prepared a light supper. I am thus at a loss and mostly then very cross, especially since having given up wine I thought, due to the colossal size of my arse as pointed out to me by a three year old little girl, that I may as well go for broke and also give up bread. Hubby is very supportive.
“No more communion for you then”, he roared.
Denying yourself simple pleasures is one sure way though of losing one’s sense of humour and whilst I have stuck to my resolve it is not easy. Let’s be honest, how simple is it to open the bread bin, pull out a couple of slices of bread and chuck them in the toaster. That’s breakfast sorted, ditto lunch if you disregard the toaster and of course every other meal where bread plays such an important part. The ‘staff of life’ is no hyperbole.
I now have to be more imaginative when it comes to lunch. Rice cakes: those awful, dry, taste of nothing, circles of puffed rice are now a staple and breakfast, far from consisting of a bagel dripping in butter and cream cheese has been replaced by exhausting muesli, the remainder of which I am still picking out of my teeth at elevenses.
Is it worth it? Well, rather astonishingly I am still wide awake and firing on most cylinders at midnight. I have read a couple of novels and watched a little telly whereas before, those two glasses of wine would have made me soporific and by 9.30 ready for bed, a book falling out of my hands after only reading a page.
Hubby is alarmed, “I’m not sure I like the new you Alice”.
“Whatever do you mean?”, I asked, most affronted.
“Well, you’ve got enough to say for yourself all day long love. At least after pouring a glass of wine down your throat I knew you’d soon hit the sack..”
“And then I’d have a peaceful evening and control of the TV controls. Now you’re wide awake and wanting to ‘talk’, which is always a worry.”
“Huh, I’ll get out of your way then”, I retorted huffily, “I’ll take up a hobby or better still a lover”.
“Not much chance of that”.
“Why not?”
“Alice you insist on the lights off with me. I can’t imagine you displaying your stretch marks to another man unless you were wankered*.”.
“Well really there’s no need for that”. Perhaps sensing he might have somewhat overstepped the mark, he put his arms around me.“Don’t be daft; I wouldn’t want you any other way. Just makes me wonder where the girl who loved a few Marlboro Lights, a bottle of chardonnay and a chip butty, went”. Well might he wonder. I don’t know where she went either.

* This is obviously not the word used in the newspaper but in my view, far better.