Tuesday, 27 November 2007


The only man to ask me to dance only did so after a sharp poke in the ribs by his elderly mother’s walking stick. We shuffled uncomfortably opposite each other for the interminable length of the record, before he dismissed himself with a Darcyesque bow – that’s where the comparison ends and he settled himself once more at his mother’s side.
I slugged another glass of champagne and for the nth time readjusted my décolletage. Looking around me at Wiltshire’s beautiful set I tried to resist the urge to pull off a table cloth and wrap it around myself. Never had I felt so inappropriately and badly dressed.
‘Vintage Glamour’, read the invitation. I have plenty of clothes that fit the bill, or at least a nice bit of velvet that can be dressed up with the appropriate sparkle and bling, why then did I follow my friend’s advice - whose party it was, to wear a corset.
“We’re all wearing them darling”, she purred down the phone, “I really want a burlesque party but as mummy is going to be there, I really didn’t want to see her exposed. Ugh”, she shuddered, “Perish the thought. But you and I and my best friends can wear our corsets. Didn’t you buy one recently?”
Ah yes, I did and when I wore it I genuinely thought I was the dogs you-know-what but to be fair I wasn’t wandering around in it. I was not aware of how badly it fitted me, given the last and only other time I’d worn it I’d been lying down with a very appreciative audience. To now find, with nothing else to change into that the ‘boning’ warped, oh so unattractively above my bottom and that the cups would not, however much I tried to persuade them, adhere themselves to my bosom, thereby displaying a generous and mesmerising embonpoint. Instead the bloody material rode up every two minutes leaving the cups somewhere under my chin and my breasts near my waist. It’s not a look that’ll catch on.
Hubby had been left behind to nurse the ever vomiting Red-Head. To leave her wan on the sofa was not an easy decision but after much nagging from the friend whose party it was and Hubby, who’d had enough of me, I decided to go, albeit anxiously. Filling up with petrol at South Brent service station I rang home to be told that the Red-Head was now eating an apple. An hour later Hubby rang with the news that she was dancing along with the stars of Strictly and by the time I arrived, was playing Barbies with her sister.
Never in my life have I been to such a glamorous party, although it has to be said that I am a sucker for a pair of bay trees robed in fairy lights and, as these were the first things to greet me outside an exquisite marquee that housed chandeliers, silver chairs and floral displays that would have had Elton John green with envy, I felt as though I were Alice in Wonderland walking into the pages of House Beautiful magazine. My hostess, who was not dressed in a cheap corset with an old skirt pinned up to display a bit of leg, greeted me in what can only be described as what Marie Antoinette might have worn under her frocks. Gold brocade, strings of pearls, silk and enough lacing at the back to satisfy the most insatiable fetishist, she looked a million dollars or indeed every penny of her bespoke corset.
Champagne flowed freely accompanied by a variety of high class canapés. They most certainly do not do vol au vents in Wiltshire, in fact I doubt that half the fashionable ingredients have yet to hit the shelves of the South West and I ate far too many before sitting down to a dinner of venison. As my dad said, “Well, well fancy. They gave you a hot dinner as well?” He doesn’t get out much these days.
Of course the darlings at my table who were as thin as I am corpulent, graciously refused the canapés and picked at the venison, whilst I ate rapaciously and gluttonously, only too happy to enjoy such fine food. I was born in the wrong century. Had I been a Georgian I’d have been feted for my appetite and handsome hips. Unfortunately I was a 60’s baby and as such expected to grow up thin and willowy. There were far too many thin and willowy types there for my liking and whilst I didn’t have a beau to dance with, I was actually relieved that Hubby wasn’t with me there is no way I’d have believed his feeble, “But you look great Alice love”, as his eyes belayed his lust for another gal.
Having literally licked my plate clean and all had been cleared away, my table played a game of ‘fantasy shag’ which is akin to fantasy football only with a slightly smaller team. When this game caused a little consternation between a couple due to their choice of lover - it’s never a good idea to say ‘your best friend’ - everyone took to the dance floor. The good, great and gorgeous shimmied, sparkled and shone, whilst I sat like a spinster aunt, smiling benignly on. This is when the gentleman, prodded by his mother came on the scene. After our awkward dance, I was only too thrilled that he returned to his mama: the idea of being chatted up by him was too awful to contemplate. Unfortunately they were sitting right next to me and as I threw a glass of champagne down my throat I overheard his mother whisper rather too audibly, “But Charlie darling press on, she looks as though she’d be so grateful ". It taught me a lesson though. Never, ever go alone nor dress down, unless under the age of 20. You may just get away with it then.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


It’s a double edged sword not going out to work. I don’t earn any money and yet I am at liberty to go out during the day to spend the money that I do not have. With the build up to Christmas and a pathological hatred of shopping on a Saturday, this has meant that I have been shopping three times this week already, parking the bloody car twice, unfolding the pushchair twice and jostling, and boy do I hate to be jostled.
It all started off so well this week too. My uncle Dave, a dear old sort who lives alone and yet shops at the Cash and Carry - when will he ever get through a 10kilo box of Daz, an industrial sized amount of loo roll and gigantic jars of mayonnaise? - offered me a day out to Cribbs Causeway shopping mall. He has no ulterior motive, by that I mean he didn’t need to do any shopping, he just wanted a bit of company and he loves driving, so at eight am on Monday the horn was sounded outside my house; my mother in law, who had stayed over the night before to be in situ for breakfast, was given a list of instructions regarding various child pickups then I kissed them all farewell and jumped in the car.
Apart from the appalling music, unless you are partial to early Queen, a bit of Lynnyrd Skynnyrd and the odd Moody Blues track, we had a pleasant drive. Uncle Dave was at pains to show me all the gadgets and gizmos in his car and we were almost by Ashburton before he’d stopped demonstrating the various buttons on my seat.
“Are you comfortable?”, he asked for the hundredth time as my seat went forward then back, then up then down, then reclined then sat up again. I was beginning to feel a little queasy.
“It’s ok, Uncle Dave”, I finally said, firmly, “I’m just right”.
Suddenly I felt a bulge in my lower back and almost shot out of my chair.
“Bloody hell what was that?” I asked, somewhat alarmed.
“Lumber support Alice love. Good for you, especially with your back problems”. I settled back and he was quite right, after the initial shock of thinking my sacral region was imploding I relaxed and it was very comfortable. After another twenty minutes though, I felt very hot and my back and bottom were steaming. Initially I was a little too embarrassed to mention it until finally, I could stand it no more.
“Uncle Dave, please pull over into the next service station. I’m going to have to take my tights off. It must be my time of life or something but I’m seriously overheating. I can’t regulate it; my bum is just getting hotter and hotter”.
Uncle Dave guffawed and flicked a switch, “Sorry, Alice love”, he chortled, “That’s the seat heater. Thought you might appreciate it on a cold day like this”.
I was so relieved that my internal organs weren’t self combusting that I laughed too. We opened the window for a few miles for me to cool down and before you knew it, we’d arrived. Now whether it is because he has never had children and is thus never truly, hair-pullingly, stressed out or whether maybe he has just found his inner Zen but the man is a saint to shop with and, where I was getting terribly hot and bothered and flustered and agitated in various shops he just stood calmly by, holding my bags without so much as a bored sigh.
All was going fairly well until we entered H&M. After an hour of deliberating as I mustered together an ensemble of an outfit for my eldest daughter for Christmas, we went upstairs to find shoes to match. I left the clothes that I had already chosen on the shop counter with the request to the staff to keep an eye on them whilst I chose shoes. In the minute that it took me to put my hand on a pair the correct size and turn around again, the skirt that I had selected and of which there was only one size 10 had been snatched away, never to be seen again. I was demented and like a crazy stalker waited outside the dressing room in case I could apprehend the thief. Ten minutes passed to no avail and after giving every woman with a carrier bag a very dodgy, evil and accusatory stare I finally had to admit defeat. So, with a histrionic sigh I dramatically plonked my basket of assorted knitwear on the counter, threw my scarf around me and, with Diva-esque aplomb, left the building.
The following day I strapped the Red Head into her push-chair and visited H&M Plymouth. This time I plucked the same skirt from the rails even though they only had a size 8, gathered together various matching items and took them home. When my daughter arrived from school I blindfolded her so that she wouldn’t see the skirt and demanded she keep her arms in the air so that she wouldn’t feel it either then, with optimistic anticipation, hoiked the skirt up over her hips. Of course, it goes without saying that it didn’t fit and the realisation that I would have to make a return visit with a wilful three year old in tow was disheartening indeed. The third trip at least resulted in the manager of H&M realising my exasperation and the elusive skirt was finally found, elsewhere, but will be sent to me. I foolishly mentioned my frustration to Hubby who, instead of soothingly saying, “Darling you are so thoughtful. You make Christmas such a magical time”, immediately barked, “Where do you think all this money comes from Alice? Do you think I’m on flying pay?” When he launched into his ‘it doesn’t grow on trees lecture’, I too attempted my inner Zen. I think it takes practice.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Pickles, schmickles.

Walking around Morrison’s last Sunday I was struck by a sudden fatigue. We had just been swimming, the youngest children were in the car being cared for by the eldest and Hubby had a face on him.
“You might like to adjust your hair”, he suggested as we walked into the shop. I glanced at my reflection and nearly jumped in fright. He had a point but what could I do now? It was scraped into some sort of pony tail, although more piggy than pony to be fair and dripping down the back of my shirt. My fringe was plastered like Bobby Charlton across the top of my head, and loose tendrils, hanging down either side of my face looked less Julie Christie and more orthodox Jew.
I attempted to rake my fingers through it to tidy it up but Hubby’s helpful comment of “I wouldn’t bother love” stopped me short.
So, sinking in shame over the trolley, I pushed whilst Hubby manfully hunted and gathered comestibles. The thing is Hubby does this once in a blue moon and, considering the fact that I cannot remember the last time I spotted a blue moon then, by implication, it’s been quite some time since Hubby has wandered around a supermarket and has no idea of not only the amount we need but ultimately the cost.
My choice of organic milk was over-ruled in favour of gallons of ordinary semi-skimmed. The butter and yogurt were also ‘value’ as well as crisps and biscuits.
“See how much money we could save if only you didn’t buy brand names and poncy organic stuff?”
“Yes dear”. I decided to be acquiescent only because I always shop without him and he has no idea, generally speaking, of the luxury items that reside in my cupboards and so, with thanks to Rick Stein, I have saffron, harissa, preserved lemons, Noilly Prat and vanilla extract and pods to hand at any given moment.
“What else do we need?” he asked, clearly fed up now and wanting to go home.
“I have a list”, I said, drawing from my handbag with magician like flair, a scroll as long as your arm.
“Oh God”, moaned Hubby.
“This list contains all we need for my Christmas home baking” and with each kilo of sultanas, raisins, currants and mixed peel I chucked into the trolley, I ticked the list triumphantly.
“Right that’s the dry ingredients; we just need the booze now”
“What about pickled onions?”, he asked, as though pickled onions were somehow synonymous with festive home baking.
“What about them?”
“Ooh Boxing Day. Cold cuts, bubble and squeak, salad, cold bread sauce, chips, chutney and pickled onions.” He sounded like one of those pervy, ‘Suits You’ men from the Fast Show. Was the idea of a pickled bloody onion turning him on? It was a worry.
“But there are jars of them on these shelves in every vinegar, from Shiraz to Jerez. Why bother?”
“It won’t be the same unless they’re homemade” and he dashed off to find a bag of pickling onions before I had the chance to call after him ‘wife made’.
Just as I entered the booze aisle rooting for the cheapest French brandy, Mags came dashing around the corner looking as always, a million dollars.
“Jeeze Alice where have you been?”, she exclaimed.
“Swimming” I answered flatly.
“Swimming? You look as though you’ve been dragged by the hair though the filter system” and she laughed, only not very heartily as her Botox has yet to wear off and so any facial expression is a big effort for her.
“Well thanks for that”, I replied. Hubby returned from ‘Vegetables’ carrying a two kilo net bag of little onions, dropped them in the trolley and proceeded to drown himself in Mag’s lustrous hair and expensive perfume.
“Cor Mags, you smell gorgeous, better than municipal chlorine eh love?” he added, yanking my wet pig tail.
“Hm”, I smiled, grimly.
“So what are you doing here on a Sunday?” I asked, as it was unusual to see Mags waste a weekend day in a supermarket.
“I’ve just been to Pilates and dropped in for a bottle of wine on the way home, but there are a lot of bargains and I thought whilst I was here I’d get my Christmas Cake. Then I saw the puddings and all the mince pies and, as I’ve got so many people coming for Christmas I thought I’d buy them in. Saves me looking puce and harassed on Christmas day doesn’t it?”
“Alice favours the puce and harassed look, don’t you love? She even wears her pinny at the table”. For some reason this was hysterical to them both and I wanted to scream, “But I’m the one lugging pots and pans and stirring gravy and turning spuds, before calling everyone to the table.” The ‘everyone’ is either a bit tight having been at the sherry or brandy since dawn, or high as kites having been munching Quality Street from even earlier, consequently I don’t have time to look like Nigella, all radiant in cashmere just as dinner is served.
“You really ought to give yourself a break Alice”, said Mags, “Buy mass produced”.
“Ok. Shall I take the onions back?”, I suggested to Hubby. He looked crestfallen.
“Don’t be hasty. I like homemade”. Which is why, atop my shelves, I have a two pound cake waiting to be decorated, a pudding waiting to be re-steamed, chutney and six jars of pickled onions. My fingers are so brown from the skins that I look as though I have sixty a day habit and I cried for a full twenty minutes my eyes stung so. I did ponder on asking Hubby whether he’d prefer me hot and bothered on Christmas Day yet with everything homemade or, a glamorous, shiny wife who couldn’t give a damn that her Christmas food was produced ‘shoreside’. I chickened out. I know the truth and the truth hurts...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Consultants Confusion.

I feel as though at war with Devon and Cornwall. Someone, like the director of education in Cornwall perhaps, who decides on school dates and holidays has made the anomalous decision not to follow Devon and their new six week terms. When I rang to find out what was going on, all I was told was that term dates are, “Sent out to consultants”. Consultants who don’t consult - seems a daft idea to me. You’d think these directors of education would enjoy a day out with their other county counterparts and over a coffee and muffin, open their dairies and decide then and there the convenient dates for all parties.
As it stands now, Devon and Cornwall education authorities are out by a week, resulting in completely different school holidays from the other county and thus making life as difficult for families as possible. Now this may not affect those living at the counties extremities but any family living on the edge –and of course, we are one of those families (literally and methaphorically) – can empathise because their children can quite easily be at two different school authorities. Thus families all the way down to Liskeard , up to Callington and across to Tavistock and Ivybridge are struggling. Take for instance my children. I have two younger ones who go to school locally in East Cornwall and two older ones who go to grammar school in Plymouth, Devon. It has become a bloody shambles and this half term is no exception.
Of course this being the first holiday of a new academic year it has a knock on affect and so the Christmas hols vary by a week, the February half term thankfully coincides but don’t get me started on Easter. This is the real bug bear. I don’t go out to work but my friends who do have a real headache in trying to sort out over a month of childcare. For instance my two youngest break up just before Good Friday and then have a fortnight off, whereas my oldest have only the Easter weekend off, then they go back to school and two weeks later they have a ‘Spring holiday’ and eventually return to school sometime in late April. I have one or two friends who are genuinely going to be in crisis next Easter as they cannot afford nor work out the logistics in having to find someone or something to look after and do with their children. The very helpful person to whom I spoke on the phone told me these holidays had created “real issues” for families. You don’t say.
Apparently, lots of families have taken to taking their children out of school for a week so that they overlap. Requests are already in for families wanting to take their little darlings skiing at Easter when they should be in double maths. I was hoping for a more modest few days in Pembrokeshire on my friend’s put-me- up but even that looks questionable given that on a Bank Holiday weekend one should allow oneself two days to travel up the M5.
The person to whom I spoke tried to reassure me that the Easter ‘issue’ would not be too much of a problem for the next few years as an early, March Easter only happens every seven or eight years and so, after 2008, the six week terms introduced by the government but ignored by Cornwall, should not have too much of an impact. We’ll see.
So, as my eldest children have returned to school, sulky that their younger siblings are still in bed, I have been left to entertain them. Hubby, just as I was getting used to him being here, has cleared off to somewhere near Swindon to pursue his Masters Degree course and is thus oblivious to the needs of entertaining small people. Now, I am not much of a mother when it comes to doing things with my children in the home. All those creative things that involve finger painting and glueing and sticking i.e lots of mess, I leave to other mothers. Personally, I feel an overwhelming desire to sob when after having squirted various coloured paints into adequate receptacles the thoughtless little blighters carelessly shove their paintbrush willy- nilly into every pot, therein ensuring that within minutes the only colour available to them is brown. Ditto Playdough and Plasticine. Luckily the weather has been extremely favourable and, with the older children more amenable to the idea of being latch-key kids I have been able to get out of the house all day long.
You’d be surprised how much of a day out you can make of a two centre visit i.e Endsleigh Garden Centre and Tesco’s. The little ones were overjoyed when we pulled into the car park at Endsleigh and my God they weren’t disappointed. It already is a winter wonderland there with snow covered Christmas trees, twinkling lights in every shape and hue, hidden Santas, electronic deer and waving, life sized polar bears. My girls actually squealed with delight and, fortuitously for the parrots and small mammal department, we were an hour in ‘Seasonal’ before my girls hurried off to tap their glass cage habitats. Suitably harassed, the Rabbits ran for cover before I dragged my severely scolded girls to Tesco’s.
Luckily in a place such as Tesco one’s children do not have to be so free-ranging as there are trolleys and straps with which to tie them down and, as long as they are chewing on a baguette and reading a comic, I am at liberty to mooch for a good couple of hours.
The rest of the week saw us at Dartington – we didn’t go near the glass or kitchen shop, concluding by running on the beach whilst I huddled under a blanket, muttering to myself. What I’ll do next spring when I’ve five weeks to kill remains to be seen but somehow I don’t think an outing to Tesco’s will cut it for the teenagers.