Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Phew, I'm tired.

Is there something in the water this Christmas? Something that is making me, the undisputed Christmas whore of South East Cornwall, want to leave them all to it and check into a Travelodge, switch on the telly and return home in March.
It just all seems such hard work this year. Where once I breezed through a mall full of frantic people, whistled through thronged supermarkets of crazed housewives hell bent on the last vacuum packed can of chestnuts then returned home to make four dozen mince pies from scratch whilst sipping a sherry and humming along to Carols, today I feel like cancelling the whole proceedings.
Hubby, already having not been here the past fortnight and true to form of many men at this time of year, went on an office jolly yesterday. Now it’s not the run ashore that I take umbrage with, oh no, it is just the absolute impunity to leave the car at home in the morning and kick back in the afternoon knowing that all is well at home due to the very reliable baby sitter, me.
I cannot imagine there ever being an opportunity when I, because I’m going out drinking in the afternoon, leave the car behind and go for it. Jeeze, social services would be involved. Mothers just don’t have the capacity for afternoon debauchery. More’s the pity.
My own festive get together involved a very well behaved bunch of mums, a few bowls of steaming soup, a mince pie and a coffee. How terribly decadent if we’d said, “Ah let’s go home at six. Why not, the dads are there to look after the kids?” As it was, we all duly turned up at the school gates without so much as a slight flush.
I’m now running out of time. Hubby, absent from all them preparations and list writing, is out of the loop and thus no good whatsoever to me apart from peeling veg and sticking his finger ‘just there’ on a present. All the cards and parcels have been sent and have safely reached their destinations: Hubby wasn’t even aware of the design on them, less to whom they were sent. He doesn’t have a clue where my secret stash of goodies is, where the wrapping paper lays, the sellotape, the bows or indeed what is on the menu. He has no idea what Santa will bring down the chimney with him nor for whom and yet the occasional groan is emitted whenever he finds a receipt.
His first words on returning home, where not, “Phew, I’m glad those pigging exams are over. Here’s to Christmas Alice darling”, nor did he then lay a long and lingering kiss on my lips with a breathy, “I don’t know what I’d do without you angel. The house looks like a magical winter wonderland”. Instead he said, with a very dour expression,“We must discuss our financial situation.”
I was icing the Christmas cake at the time and was just about ready to wrap a length of ready rolled marzipan around his head. I mean I ask you, talk about peeing on my parade. I would love to take his cavalier attitude to the whole event i.e do absolutely zilch, then sit back and moan whilst everyone else runs around ensuring that the children’s faces on Christmas day light up with delight. As it was I was very calm. I pointed out that I would be only too happy to oblige in discussing any pecuniary issues with him, but not until January the second and so until then would he be so kind as to smile through gritted teeth, enjoy the proceedings and not, as he has done every year before now, berate me on Christmas morning when he sees the amount of gifts Santa has left.
We weren’t going to buy anything for each other this year, but to be honest as the day approaches I was feeling more and more resentful towards this idea. After all would Hubby be genuinely happy within himself on Christmas morning to give me absolutely nothing? Me, the love of his life who has made it her life’s ambition to ensure that all within her family are achingly happy and fulfilled on any given day, especially at Christmas when said fulfillness is even gift wrapped and sprayed in silver glitter? The answer is probably yes given that I overheard a conversation on a bus recently where a woman told the person sitting next to her that, “Last year, no-one noticed I hadn’t been bought anything”. How could everyone in a family forget the one person who makes it all happen? It was a heart breaking tale and one therefore that I was not prepared to risk which is why I told Hubby that our idea of no gifts for each other was a rotten one and that he should indeed traipse around M&S with another twenty or so terrified men, looking for something, they haven’t a clue what, for a woman that they’ve only been with hell, for most of their adult lives.
So, with just a couple of days to go, I have only the turkey to collect, the ham to bake, the pressies to wrap, the bread and cranberry and rum sauce to make, the sausage rolls to create, mince pies to assemble, the party to host, the stockings to stuff, the house to clean, the family to feed, the church to attend, the children’s hair to wash and the table to lay. Did I forget anything?Oh yes, wishing you all a warm, safe and very happy Christmas hoping that you are cocooned in the metaphorical bosom of the ones you love. Here’s to the next one xxx

Monday, 17 December 2007

So much to do, so little time..

Hubby it transpires does not like examinations. This is a great pity given that he is presently sitting a week’s worth for his MSc. Every telephone call has been along the lines of,
“Oh Alice. This is the worst week of my life. I feel sick. There’s a gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach”, or, “Oh Alice. The exam this morning was horrific, I mean truly horrific” and then he regales me in great detail of why said exam was such a trial to him. Of course, with the subject matter being what it is, I find it oh, so very hard to sound interested as it is oh, so very, very boring. Acronyms and algebraic equations fly over my head as I desperately try to make all the right soothing noises. There is a limit though to how many times one can convincingly sound sincere and this afternoon Hubby caught me out.
As he told me once again about how all the other guys on the course are engineers and thus eat mathematics for breakfast (his metaphor not mine) and who thus flew through the exam whilst he almost cried, I attempted to fix the dishwasher, which was resolutely refusing to be fixed. I swore loudly when, at the third attempt, the dishwasher did less than it had the previous time. I turned its knob again and blasphemed.
With the phone under my chin and my hands in the filter system, sitting on my haunches with the Red-head between my legs, I had been comfier.
“Alice? Why did you swear?” Think, Alice, think quickly.
“Darling, I was just thinking of you sitting there, your biro in your sweaty palm, struggling away at some heinous applied mathematical conundrum, surrounded by other men with their tongues sticking out in earnest contemplation.”
“But I’d just told you that I was wrapping my hand in for a couple of hours and going for lunch. You weren’t even listening to me were you?”
Oh boy, was it best to come clean and admit that I hadn’t the faintest idea about maths and management science and therefore, no interest and to be honest, the fact that my dishwasher had given up the ghost a week before Christmas was vying for my attention. I lied instead.
“Of course I was listening to you sweetie”, I said breezily, “You said that you felt very tired and needed a break which I think is a very good idea. I swore because I felt for you”.
“You are lying through your backside Alice Band”, he muttered, obviously not convinced that my attentions were solely dedicated to his woes. My thighs were killing me squatting on the kitchen floor and the Red-Head was now inside the dishwasher. My patience had worn thin.
“Ok”, I admitted, “I wasn’t listening to you and I don’t wish to be mean, but really darling this is all you’ve gone on about for weeks, your pathos reaching a zenith now that you are actually sitting the exams. Look”, I went on, “ at least you’ve got some time away to concentrate solely on them, hell when I did my degree, I had two small children and you were away. Try swotting under those conditions”.
“But yours was only a B.A”, he added, rather foolishly in my opinion.
“What the hell do you mean only a B.A?”, I barked down the phone, clutching onto the kitchen counter to pull my ceased up body from the floor.
“Well, you’ve never done anything with it have you? Never earned any serious money. I’m doing this so that, when her Majesty kicks me out of the RN, I’ll be a little more marketable on the job front and thus capable of continuing to pay our crippling mortgage and the continuing education of four bloody kids”. The phone line went dead.
I called him several terrible names which seriously questioned his parentage and lobbed the phone across the room. Mags, as if by magic, walked in. Without saying a word she picked up the phone and replaced it in its cradle, took the Red-Head out of the dishwasher and into the other room where she flicked a switch and C-beebies came to life. Walking back into the kitchen, she then flicked the switch on the kettle and said “So what was all that about?”
“Oh the usual. He thinks I should be grateful to him for putting himself through this academic hell for the benefit of his family, is stressed because the exams are very, very hard and the age old nugget of my not earning an income is adding to that good mood”.
“Well, how do you feel?”
“I’m in thrall to his genius, but really Mags there’s a week to go before Christmas, he’s absent, I am up to here with PTA commitments, nativity plays, dance concerts, nursery parties and a hundred and one other things on my to do list. The dishwasher has gone tits up and the internet has followed suit, which means that I cannot check on Santa’s deliveries, especially now that he’s decamped from Lapland to the Amazon”.
“D’you mean Amazon dot co dot uk?”, she asked carefully.
“The very one”, I replied.
“Ha, ha. Look, I came around to see if I could persuade you out of your Marigolds and pinny and into a party frock? I thought I might throw a little festive soiree tonight.”
There were times when Mags sounded so much like Margot Ledbetter, it was uncanny. Unfortunately the only thing I had in common with Barbara Good was exhaustion, dirty fingernails and a penchant for Richard Briers.
I looked around me. There were dirty dishes stacked a mile high. Upstairs, the equivalent of Dingles gift department needed wrapping and my Christmas cards needed licking and mailing.
“What the hell”, I said, throwing caution and Hubby’s angst to the wind, “Count me in”.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Being heavily involved in my youngest children’s school fundraising activities has been a dubious honour this week. Very early on Saturday, I left Hubby with a house to clean and four children to entertain whilst I meanwhile, was to be found in a lay-by clutching a clip-board, waiting in the freezing pitch black with 52 other ladies for a coach to take us to Bath on a PTA shopping trip. It had seemed such a good idea a couple of months ago. Now with rain threatening to soak us and several elderly ladies looking as though they were about to surrender to hypothermia, I was very uneasy. One after the other they asked, “When will the coach be here Alice?” Omnipotent, moi? I’m only the vice-chair, not the chair, whom is often mistaken for God.
“I’m sure he’ll be here soon”, I answered animatedly, whilst secretly worried sick that perhaps he wouldn’t turn up at all and I’d be left with 52 women baying for my blood. Finally, in the dark of the early hours his headlights were seen approaching and if I thought for one minute that a cheery, jolly driver would bound down the steps and welcome us aboard then I was much mistaken. I climbed up to meet him and was met with an exhausted looking man rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Ugh, morning”, he yawned, “I’ve been up since four and I’m really tired”. Oh deep joy.
I ushered my ladies on board and the driver asked where we were going. This was getting worse.
“Bath?”, I replied tentatively.
“Which way do I go?” Did I just hear him properly?
“Well, you have to turn around?”, I started before he groaned,
“You mean I can’t carry on in this direction?
“No, sorry the ferry won’t take a huge coach”. Muttering under his breath, he swung his coach around and we went the Saltash Tunnel way.
By Taunton Dean he was desperate to stop for a coffee because, “I’m nearly falling asleep here”. Considering that a few years ago, on a similar outing, our driver had actually fallen asleep at the wheel and I’d had to keep him going with stimulating conversation all the way to our destination, my nerves were shattered but thankfully, after the largest latte he seemed a little more perky. That is, until we got to the outskirts of Bath.
We and 399 other coaches full of excited shoppers were all attempting to enter one road that takes you into the city centre. It was an impenetrable snarl up which took an hour to negotiate by which time many of my ladies were huffing and puffing with frustration.
“Well, this is just bloody marvellous”, said one, “All that money I paid for a ticket only to have a couple of hours shopping. It’s a disgrace”. I put an asterisk next to her name on my clip board and vowed to blacklist her from further excursions.
Our entry into the coach park was met with further obstacles as the coach company had failed to obtain a parking permit and so the driver had no option other than to abandon us with the parting advice of, “I won’ t be here at 4.45, just look for the coach on the road somewhere near”. I grabbed the microphone to let my ladies know, but most were anxious to get off and go and thus never heard the announcement.
To say that Bath was busy would be of such an understatement that it’s barely worth describing suffice to say that around the Christmas market I actually sat on an old ladies lap in a wheelchair having been pushed there by an enthusiastic shopper and now was hemmed in as we were gridlocked. No-one was moving and there were bodies literally pinning one to the spot. It was most disagreeable.
Fortuitously, I met a couple of friends from the recent ‘burlesque’ party for lunch. They had booked a table at a lovely restaurant and plied me with Prosecco for much of the afternoon. Things took a turn for the worse however, when, perhaps buoyed by Dutch courage, the two skinny girls insisted on a little Trinny and Susannah tough love and, in the middle of the restaurant hoisted my breasts up declaring all I needed, “Was a bloody good bra”. If that be the truth: if all my physical, emotional, familial and fiscal issues could be sorted by the purchase of a good bra, then what a world it would be. Instead I felt cross and finally left them in an expensive dress shop arguing over whether or not it would be permissible to buy a dress in last season’s print.
At 4.45 I walked to a patch of pavement near to where the driver had dropped us off. Forty beleaguered women had thankfully mustered and the coach arrived and I safely deposited them on it. Eleven were still AWOL and into the dark I dived, clutching my ubiquitous clipboard again in the faint hope that it would sustain me as I trawled the coach station. Half an hour later and my shepherding skills paid off and all were safely rounded up and on the bus. Many had booked dinner in restaurants at home and all were disappointed when the driver announced that he would be stopping at Exeter services for 45 minutes, because, extraordinarily, he hadn’t eaten all day. God only knows why he hadn’t packed himself a lunch but it meant that we didn’t get home until 9.30. I was not flavour of the month.
Later in the week I went to the theatre with my youngest and her preschool to see a play for 2-6 year olds. It sounded Christmassy and jolly - in fact it was about bereavement and loss. A real hoot, especially when in front of an audience of toddlers the main protagonist declared, “Someday I wake up with nothing to look forward to”. Someone pass me a rotten tomato..

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


“Oh Alice!” Hubby’s tone was so condescending.
“How could you?” he added, reading the letter and tutting whilst shaking his head. “That’s another sixty quid down the drain. You really ought to be more careful” and you really ought to be less of an arse I wanted to add but didn’t, preferring instead to go for the shamed look and so I hung my head in disgrace.
The letter, to which he was referring and responding to like a disappointed parent reading their child’s awful school report, was from Somerset and Avon Constabulary. A speeding fine. Bugger. Caught at 37 miles per hour in a 30 mile an hour zone. It had been back in the summer, very early one Sunday morning as I returned my American friend to Bristol airport. I didn’t even see the flash.
“You’ve already got three points haven’t you?” he demanded rhetorically. I nodded my head meekly.
“What were you thinking? It’s so irresponsible. Honestly Alice, I’m so disappointed and bloody cheesed off that we have to pay the fine”. He was beginning to make me feel like Richard Hammond. It was only 37 miles per hour after all, not the world speed record. He chucked the envelope on the dining table and flounced out. I took out the letter again and was surprised to see that not only was there a speeding ticket but also another letter that advised I could chose the option of attending a speed workshop instead of receiving 3 points on my licence. It seemed a fair deal to me – after all six points looked so reckless. Evidently these things take time to organise because although I got my ticket last August and although I replied to the letter quite quickly, my ‘Speed Workshop’ date wasn’t until last Friday.
Because I had been ‘pinged’ or ‘flashed’ or whatever the verb is for being caught on a speed camera in the district of Avon and Somerset, the only workshop available to me in that jurisdiction was in Taunton. Now, I have never been to Taunton before and would have loved to have stayed longer, but by the time I’d driven off the M5 and negotiated at least 20 roundabouts and tried to find a car park in an unfamiliar city, I was feeling stressy and running out of time. So, after a very nice man generously gave me cash to park my car – my purse, on finding myself at the Pay Machine, was empty – I had a brief stroll and an even briefer lunch and before you can say chicken piri-piri it was time to find the venue. Let me tell you that reading the directions whilst once again negotiating the flipping roundabouts was probably more of an issue than driving too fast and more than once I almost mounted the pavement. I felt ever so slightly vindicated when, on arrival, several people were late because they had misinterpreted the directions and had headed off towards Chard.
I registered my details by way of saying to the lady at reception, “I’m here for the driving borstal”. This went down like the proverbial lead fart and she replied, icily, “Down the corridor. Second door on the right”. Blushing, I did as I was told, took my seat and quietly stared at my hands. Within ten minutes, all the other driving reprobates had gathered: all middle aged or elderly, rather aggressive men. Great.
Our instructor issued us with stickers with our names on, which we all duly stuck on our chests. I was on the end and thus the first to be addressed.
“Alice”, said the instructor, with teacher like expectations, “Would you please stand and tell everyone who you are and how fast you were going”.
Reluctantly I got to my feet. I don’t think I’d ever been this mortified since my mother had found condoms in my bedroom as a teenager, but they really had been a friend’s and we really had only been curious. Try telling your mother that when she thinks you’re a trollop.
So, clearing my throat I confessed my sins and sat down desperately willing the floor to swallow me up. But, if I thought that was the end of it then I was much mistaken.
“And when you got your fine, how did that make you feel Alice?” I’d like to say that I was the maverick rebel who cockily replied, “Bloody cheesed off to be honest. I wish I’d been going at 90”. Of course I didn’t and instead replied, “Very foolish and ashamed. I truly understand that it is very stupid to go over the speed limit especially in a 30 mile an hour zone”. This was obviously the right answer and he smiled as I sat down. Like alcoholics in an AA meeting every person there was asked to introduce themselves similarly, “I am Steve and I am a speeder” or something like that.
It was all very touchy feely. A lot was made of our ‘feelings’ and we were asked to work in groups . It was hell. At one point we were asked if we knew what a green light meant. I kid you not. There were a lot of moments like that. I could quite easily have been very rude. Jeremy Clarkson would have had a field day.After three hours, two cups of tea and several custard creams it was over. Was it worth it? Well, due to the current climate for political correctness we weren’t shown anything really horrific and gory that may well have made an impact on us lest we got ‘upset’. I did learn though that anywhere with street lamps has a 30 mph limit, I also learnt the definition of a dual carriage, which incidentally, has a speed limit of 70mph and there is no denying that it has made me more aware of the horrific ‘ripple effect’ of an accident. The Highway Code, my instructor can rest assured, is on my Christmas wish list.

N.B For all non UK readers: There is a tv show on in this country called Top Gear - it's a lads show all about shiny cars and speed and races and all manner of things that entertian seeminlgy grown men. Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond are the presenters. Jeremy loathes do-gooders and the politically correct and Richard Hammond was in an appalling accident a few months ago where he crashed at almost 300mph. Somehow he survived. They are both 'national treasures'.