Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Basquing in it.

I knew when I bought the underwear that it could go either way. I’d squeeze into it, feel a fool, be embarrassed, Hubby would laugh, and I would cry and there endeth an attempt at a dirty weekend.
So, having checked into our hotel in Fowey, we opened the champagne, sipped it on our balcony, and went for a stroll and coffee, then returned to our room. Hubby scoured the TV channels for anything with any reference to the rugby and I took to the bathroom. After a languorous bath with oils and foam, I peered into my Ann Summers bag and thought, “Right then. Here goes”.
For a white cotton undies type of girl, to squish and pummel myself into an hourglass basque was a bit of a learning curve. I almost snagged my red nails on the fish net stockings and got a sweat on by the time I aligned all the hooks and eyes, straps and poppers. After rearranging my d├ęcolletage several times I was florid, not the look I was aiming for, wanting instead to look cool and in charge. As I said earlier, had I emerged from the bathroom all coy and inhibited I would have looked like a middle aged mother, trying her damndest to dress up as a tart. No, in these situations, I had to and I believe the expression is, ‘own it’. So, whilst my heart may have been pounding as I emerged from the bathroom, I strutted my stuff with all the confidence I could muster. By the look on Hubby’s face I must have been doing a fairly convincing job, because he initially looked a little frightened.
“Bloody hell Alice!”, he said rather slowly, his eyes out like a robber’s horse, “Where have you been shopping?”.
All further details are for the imagination only, but as anyone who knows me well will testify all can not run smoothly for me and my family and this weekend was no exception.
Happy as Larry, Hubby took my hand and led me down to the stairs to dinner. We sat in the bar of our hotel and enjoyed a gin and tonic, “Sip it slowly Alice, it’s the most expensive G&T I’ve ever bought”. I nibbled on some fantastic nuts and Hubby popped olives into my mouth. It was bliss. No rushing, no children to shush, just gazing knowingly at each other. We undoubtedly looked sickeningly in love and just as Hubby was whispering extremely naughty things in my ear, our waitress directed us to our table. Giggling we sat down to the most divine food. An amuse bouche of a quails egg was followed by a starter of salmon on a beetroot risotto. All was going well, until the lamb appeared on my plate. The lamb itself was fabulous but by now a dreaded, cold sweat had broken out on my brow and my tummy was beginning to feel slightly aggrieved. I attempted a morsel. Earlier that day I hadn’t felt right but put it down to excitement, I couldn’t believe that on a weekend away from the children and on my birthday that I would feel unwell. This wasn’t fair at all.
Hubby looked up, “You alright love? Only it’s not like you to savour your food. You usually trough the lot within seconds”.
“Thanks for the porcine like metaphor.”
“Well what’s the matter then? It looks fab”, he said, digging his fork into my plate.
“ I just feel a bit dodgy”, I replied, rubbing my stomach.
“Well get over it love, at twenty three quid a go I could have bought you a meadow of sheep”.
I took another nibble, but I was no use, I felt really sick.
“I’m going to have to go and lie down”, I whispered. Hubby rolled his eyes to the heavens.
“For God’s sake Alice”.
“Please be nice to me. Just try and remember it’s my birthday in the morning”. And so I stood up, laid my napkin on my chair and raced upstairs. Hubby found me twenty minutes later, rocking gently back and forth on the bed, groaning quietly.
“Mind if I put the rugby on?” he asked. I shook my head. Perched on the edge of a bed, a sick wife on one side, a TV turned to mute on the other was evidently not the sporting atmosphere Hubby desired, “This is hardly the Stade de France is it? Would you mind if I went to find a pub?”
Once again I shook my head. Had I not returned to a hurling five year old, I swear that Hubby might have poisoned me to ensure that he saw the rugby, after all he saved quite a bit of money by my lack of pudding, coffee, liqueurs and petit fours but as it was, the three year old soon followed suit, followed almost immediately by her big brother and grandfather. I escaped the bucket, the mop and the disinfectant for one brief interlude to accompany Hubby to a cocktail party on board a German warship. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a WAG as I was an invisible presence at his last appointment, like Captain Mainwaring’s wife: they knew I was there but no-one saw me. Whilst not exactly eye candy these days, there must be some decorative merit to me being on Hubby’s arm - Hans, Fritz and Klaus were certainly very attentive and my mug of Holsten was rarely empty. It was an interesting evening: berthed along the wall of Devonport Dockyard the irony of what I was on did not escape me but I was surrounded by such genuinely warm people whose English was mortifyingly perfect that even listening to the Captain extol the virtues of his central rudder didn’t faze me and surely, that has to be saying something.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

My Friend

My friend Linda died on Wednesday. She was young and beautiful and left a wonderful husband and two glorious children James 9, and Clemmie 5. For those 'virtual' friends of mine out there who have faith, please pray for her family that somehow they may find the strength to cope with her loss. Linda had an unfailing, unfaltering faith in Jesus that I couldn't even begin to understand but it was formidable and steadfast and it humbled me, always.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Filthy Weekend.

For years I’ve been having run ins with Admiral Nelson, that erstwhile naval hero who lost his life on the 21st of October. The 21st is thus celebrated by the Royal Navy as Trafalgar Night, an evening dedicated to remembering their former leader with lashings of alcohol, a fine repast, jolly japes and no spouse. The 21st of October also happens to be my birthday and, since I married Hubby, have over the years become increasingly cheesed off with good old Horatio for stealing my thunder and my husband, because he ‘just has’ to go to Traf Night instead of wining and dining me, “Sorry, three line whip love”.
This year, the 21st being on a Sunday, I thought I’d got away with it. I thought I’d have his undivided attention as Mags, in a moment of decadent generosity has bought Hubby and I a night away at Villa Marina in Fowey as a thank you for having her and her children stay over the summer.
I have been very excited about my little getaway. I’ve looked up the hotel’s web site and browsed its pages and it really does look fabulous. We have a balcony room, filled with gorgeous bath treats, white fluffy bath robes and a table booked at their phenomenal restaurant. I have bought new lingerie and something satin for under the sheets. My hair has either been depilated or dyed, my nails filed, polished and buffed.
Childcare is arranged, my bag is packed. You’d think it was a win win situation. Well think again. Only last night Hubby threw a little off the cuff remark in my direction, a way of jocularly preparing me for the weekend ahead. Usually when we have time away together in a hotel, the jokes are of a sexual nature: a wink, wink, cor blimey love, double entendre, ridiculous nature where his eager hands have to be slapped away at regular intervals.
Last night however, as I dished up his Moroccan chicken tagine, he rather nervously said, whilst attempting a laugh, “Hey the only groaning going on this weekend will be if Johnny Wilkinson injures himself or we lose”.
“What’s that?” I asked, distracted by the turmeric infused chickpeas which had escaped my ladle and which were quite happily staining my work surfaces.
He laughed again, “Johnny Wilkinson? You know, plays rugby for England”.
“What about him?”, I was now attempting to curtail the couscous which was being liberally sprinkled on the floor.
“Alice love, haven’t you been following the World Cup?”
“Not religiously no”, I counted out six knives and six forks, “Would you lay the table for me please?” I asked, before carrying the steaming dish into the dining room.
“KIDS!” I yelled at the bottom of the stairs, “Grub’s up”. A herd of elephants stampeded down the stairs, the littlest one trailing in their wake, her floor length princess gown and high heeled, plastic glass slippers, impeding her descent.
“Oh yum” said one.
“Oh no”, said another.
“Oh yuck”, said another and finally, the youngest clambered onto her chair, surveyed the yellow dish, the chickpeas, the peppers, the herbs and spices then crossed her arms and pronounced,
“It yellow. Me not like yellow. Me not eat it”.
I let out a deep sigh, “That’s all there is. Like it or lump it”.
“Why can’t we have pasta?” asked the five year old.
“Because we had it last night”, I replied.
“And the night before that” added the 12 year old.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea you were scrutinising my menus. Please, should you have any recommendations I should be happy to hear them, especially if you would like to shop for the ingredients, pay for them, place them in a carrier bag, put them in the car, drive home, remove them from the car, remove them from the carrier bag and then squish them into any available space in the fridge, freezer or cupboard?”
Funnily enough this sarcastic eruption was met with silence, until my son, ever the peacemaker attempted conversation.
“So dad, are there any sports bars in Fowey?”
I saw my husband look at my son with what can only be described as terror in his eyes and he shook his head and mouthed, “Not now”.
“Why do we need a sports bar?”, I pursued.
My son looked conflicted, on the one hand he obviously wanted a ‘boysey’ chat with his dad, man to man, on the other hand he sensed he’d said something he shouldn’t have and whichever way he turned he was snookered.
He looked at his father pleadingly over his couscous.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” I demanded.
“Darling, I tried to explain to you earlier, England are in the final of the World Cup”.
“Congratulations. So what?”
“The kick off’s at eight”. I dropped my fork.
“Are you trying to tell me that, when we have a night away together for the first time in over a year, in a fab hotel with a sexy room, with a Michelin dinner, that you would rather watch a game of rugby instead of, well instead of the alternative?”
“Please mum, you’re putting me off my tagine”.
“Don’t interrupt. Well, would you prefer to watch rugby than eat a glorious dinner then seduce your wife?”
From the look on his face it was obvious that’s exactly what he'd prefer.
“Can’t we get the seduction bit over with first then?” he asked.
My children looked stricken.
“Oh ever the romantic and what about dinner?”, I was livid.
“Well darling it is rather expensive. I thought we could have an early pub supper somewhere, a pasty and a pint maybe and then I’d run you a nice bath, open a bottle of wine and you could read whilst I watched the game. I take it there is a TV in our room?” I’m ashamed to admit it but the tagine was upended and Hubby is still picking chickpeas out of his ears. So, if anyone fancies a filthy weekend, well you know where to find me.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Control.

Domestic bliss, I can highly recommend it. Seriously, we’ve only had one serious row, a mild squabble and an evening long impenetrable silence. For Hubby and I that is some achievement.
Of course it all kicked off when he unloaded the car last Friday. Good Lord, there was a lot of stuff – duvets, bedding, another cafetiere, microwave, digi-box, DVD player and a humongous television that has seen better days and now which sits on our son’s chest of drawers, temptingly.
“Don’t you hear me when I say that I have enough trouble with him and that MSN stuff?”, I reproached Hubby as he stuck scart leads and heaven knows what into the back of the box.
“He’ll be alright.”.
“He is in year ten. He needs to concentrate on his school work and there are just too many electrical gadgets in this room.”
“Chill out mum”, added my son, who was valiantly addressing the tuning in instructions. “Yeah, chill out love”, repeated Hubby
Chill out? I was feeling positively frosty when ten minutes later Hubby came downstairs and joined me in a cup of tea.
“Alice love, you must turn off the lights when not in that room. Not only is it extremely unfriendly to the environment but no bloody wonder our fuel bill is so high. Where are the digestives?”
“Who gives a flying fig”, I spat.
“What’s wrong with you now?” I took umbrage that he added ‘now’ to his question. Did he honestly think that by installing gazumpingly great pieces of media equipment into my son’s already crammed room, followed with a dismissive put down, then a chastising for my irresponsible attitude to the utilities bill and carbon footprint was going to put me in a jolly mood? He was delusional.
“Look, don’t start asserting yourself all of a sudden. We have managed quite well thank you very much without your advice and general wisdom. The house is just about standing and the children are fairly well adjusted, clean and fed. You are my husband not my commanding officer”.
“Alice you are being hysterical. I was only suggesting, due to the alarming nature of our bills that you be aware of switching off lights when you leave a room.”
“It’s not just about the lights”, I was standing up now and facing him, my finger wagging furiously.
“What then?”, he asked.
“It’s about being tyrannical and making me feel that for the last two years I’ve been struggling and that now, hallelujah, you have come to save me from collapse”.
“But Alice, you tell anyone ready to listen, how hard it has been for you these last two years, coping on your own with four kids, running a house, doing everything, blah, blah, boring bloody blah”.
At this point I was about to launch my new NEXT winter catalogue at him, which, as it is a very heavy tome, would undoubtedly have been fatal. A very judicious entrance by our eldest daughter however made me rethink my actions especially when she looked so condescendingly smug.
“That’s right, have a go at each other. I told you didn’t I that it would be hell for the first few weeks. If it were just you and Dad you wouldn’t have to worry about it but as you have four children, could you find it within yourselves to be mutually respectful if not of each other then at least of us? Oh and by the way the Red-Head is in the kitchen making a milkshake”.
Mortified, I replaced the catalogue on the sofa, smoothed the seat and then, with every bit of self control I walked past Hubby and into the kitchen.
Of course what met me was a scene of such utter devastation, that I could have fallen to the ground, a crumpled heap. Two glasses, which were almost filled to the brim with chocolate powder, had then been topped up with milk from a four litre carton evidently far too big for a three year old to control, which is why she had missed the glass almost entirely and why two litres of white, sticky liquid was running off my work surfaces and down the kitchen floor.
The three year old was paddling amongst it, a roll of kitchen paper in her hand, dabbing ineffectually at the mess, repeating, “Oh-oh, mummy tross. Oh-oh, mummy tross”.
“You can bet your bottom dollar that mummy is cross. Just look at this mess for heaven’s sake. Just look at it”. She of course burst into tears and Hubby came to inspect the scene.
“So, you are managing just fine are you?” he asked. Just as I was about to spit an abominable profanity, the door bell rang and Mags walked in.
Her customary immaculate dress further illustrated my complete lack of any sort of class, wearing as I was, a filthy skirt, stained sweater and holy slippers over my ankle socks. My hair was scraped into a pony tail and my complexion was ruddy due to earlier events. I expected the typical intake of breath from her and a lecture on letting myself go, instead she picked her way over the mess and opened the fridge.
“Any wine?”.
“Only red”.
“Oh that’ll do”, she replied. As Hubby poured her a glass and I got down on my haunches to mop up the floor and looked at her. She looked even more serene than before, quite expressionless.
“Are you ok?” I asked, “Only you normally screw up your face in distaste when you come here”.
“Well, I can’t today”, there was a pause, “I’ve been botoxed.”
I was rooted to the spot, even Hubby was taken by surprise.
“My husband”, she went on, “Asked me why I looked cross even when I wasn’t”.
Hubby snorted, “Mags, give Alice the botox guy’s number. Only get him to inject her mouth. She won’t be able to move it then”. And that is when the impenetrable silence began.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Home.

As I write Hubby is packing his things for the last time, bidding Portsmouth adieu, signing off on his computer, giving his replacement a firm handshake, wishing him well with a ho, ho, ha, ha navy style joke before getting into his car for one more commute.
The children and I are trepidatious. It has been a long time since we have lived together as a family. A long time since anyone has kept tabs on me during the week. Does he know for instance how much time I spend on my computer emailing and MSNing various global friends. Does he realise how much time I waste just watching auctions on ebay or browsing on Amazon? Well no more. From now on I shall be expected to make two dinners of an evening, one for the children who are ravenous by 5.30 and another, a deaux version when he comes home from work. Worse than making dinner I shall be expected to make conversation, something I have longed to do for years when the only people in the house who could have engaged with me have either grunted or talked endlessly about Princesses. But I am out of practice. To suddenly find myself at the end of a long day being expected to comment on world affairs and current issues is going to take some doing. I shall have to listen to the news intently and not just when the showbiz stuff comes on. I shall have to buy a newspaper so that I can talk intelligently about Bosnia and not Britney and worse, I shall have to express an interest in Hubby's job. This is the hardest task of all because for the past two and a half years as soon as Hubby started to wax lyrical about his beloved RN, I on the other end of the phone and thus invisible, could do all manner of things: stir gravy, change nappies, answer emails and glug wine but , as long as I occasionally murmured, “Really? Gosh! Fancy! Never?”, then Hubby never knew that I was totally disinterested in the glittering careers of the Royal Navy's finest.
I shan't get away with it when he is sitting directly opposite me, regaling me with the day's events. I shall have to practice an expression that does not betray a look that implies the desire to pick up the TV controls and watch any bloody rubbish. Besides what can I contribute in return? “Red-Head made a lovely glueing and sticking montage today. She actually managed to get at least three milk bottle tops to stick to the paper. Do you want to see it?”, or, “Your son had a good walk to school. He's got plenty of homework to keep him busy, do you want to see his quadratic equations?” or even, “The middle daughter is coming on well in her dancing classes, you should see her disco dancing to Mica”. You see, it works two ways; whilst I have been feigning an interest, then so has Hubby, now – far from tell me that he has a meeting to attend or a call on the other line and therefore dismiss me, he will have to read bedtime stories, practice spellings, nag interminably for his eldest children to get off the computer, put out the rubbish, embrace house maintenance and generally muck in.
I think there will be a period of adjustment, a resettlement if you will, where everyone gets used to the other. My eldest children whilst looking forward to seeing their dad more are dreading a new regime. Up until now they've had it easy, with, apart from the occasional demented outburst, little aggravation from me. I am mostly laid back You don't get to be a Commander however by being a soft touch and so, if they think that a collection of mugs, glasses and plates with old bits of food on them left to putrify in their bedrooms will still be acceptable, then heaven help them.
“Am I going to have to change out of my school uniform the minute I get home?” asked the 12 year old.
“Well dad doesn't like to see you lounging in it does he? He sees your uniform as part of your working day and therefore, when you get home, you should hang it up and change into something a little less formal. He doesn't watch TV in his does he?”
This information did not go down well and the 12 year old flounced off, slamming the door behind her but not before bellowing, “Anyway, you two are going to be screaming at each other for the first two weeks until you get used to each other”. She has a point of course, all the little nit-picking that will undoubtedly initially go on, will make me feel undermined. I can't think of any woman who finds handy household tips from her husband grateful. Most just want to stab them, so when Hubby suggests I have a rota for doing the household chores I shall just have to bite my lip lest I am arrested for manslaughter.
Years ago I remember, on the first day home after a seven month deployment, with a young baby attached to my hip, finding Hubby in the kitchen rearranging the condiments on the kitchen counter.
How our marriage survived and we went on to have three more children baffles me to this day.
My son is concerned that he will still get to see his favourite TV shows, one on channel 4 which starts at 10pm.
“Hmm”, I murmured ruefully, “I'm not too sure darling. Dad really likes Newsnight, so I doubt he'll want to watch Skins, but look at the positive side”.
“Which is?”, he asked,
“You'll be bright eyed and bushy tailed in the mornings and will therefore excel at your GCSE's”. His expression implied he was not convinced. Neither am I but we all love each other and that's what counts. Isn't it?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Crash.

Oh poo. My flipping computer has crashed taking everything with it and, should another smug clever clogs says to me, “But Alice, didn’t you back-up your work?”, I swear I’ll thump them. That’s the trouble with computers, no-one cares when they go awry, wiping out years of photographs and documents. When a car breaks down, any number of friends will throw up their hands in despair too, empathising and groaning when you tell them how much it cost to repair. Or, should a washing machine give up the ghost, friends rally around, offering to help either with the telephone number of a ‘marvellous’ plumber or more practically, by offering to do a few loads.
When your computer dies though, you get a minute of someone’s attention and that’s it. Men ask technical questions regarding reformat and restoration dates and the women, or at least the women I know, just say “Gosh how awful, do you want a coffee?” Well, yes actually, I do want a coffee but I also want to know how to mend my laptop. Doesn’t anyone care to enquire how much stuff I’ve lost? Can’t they look reflective for a moment and say, “You, poor, poor thing Alice. Did you lose all your lovely photographs? What about all your letters? And what about the stories you were writing? All gone too? All that work.” It should be enough to make them shed a few tears, but it never, ever does. Wait until the PTA find out though that all the templates and letters that were stored on my PC have been wiped out. They won’t be impressed that we have to redesign the posters for the barn dance and Christmas Fair but ultimately that sort of thing, although a chore, is replaceable. But my photographs, oh my photographs.
Subsequently here I am, hunched over my eldest daughter’s computer, which is completely alien to me and which is making me very cross and frustrated as I lumber my way through it.
Hubby of course is as much use as ever. When I rang him to say what had happened, he too asked all those totally alien questions, then asked if male friends of ours had had a look.
“Yes they have”, I said, desperately trying to be patient.
“And what do they say?”
“That they tried to restore it to another, healthier day in the life of the computer but that when they rebooted it, it didn’t work and that I still lost all my files”.
“Yeah, they are on the plot and hopefully by moving him to London it will free up a sea going position”. Hubby was distracted, talking to the ‘new boy’. It is his handover week.
“Are you listening to me?”, I said loudly
“Not really love. I’m totally snowers as you can hear. Sorry about your PC but really you should have backed up your work” and then he hung up.
My son was equally sympathetic, “Don’t go near mine mum ok? I’ve got it set up just as I want it, besides all the MSN messages will be sent to you and I don’t want you reading them”.
My daughter thankfully has been a little more generous, although I have sworn not to touch her programmes, games and ‘cheats’.
“Don’t veer from the Word documents mum ok?”
Awful though it is to admit, I am quite lost without my computer. I must spend an inordinate amount of time on it checking emails and blogging my virtual buddies, although it goes without saying that it is not the same as flesh and blood friendships. For instance I have recently been privy to the modern marvel that is Facebook. Now, having teenagers in the house, I feel that I am pretty well versed in computer speak and am proud to know what MSNing is, along with Bebo, My Space and You Tube. My children conversely are quite uncomfortable that I email and send instant messages as prolifically as I do, but this Facebook thing is quite another thing altogether and it is so impertinent and presumptuous.
Somehow or other my contacts in my email address book have been released into the ether and so all and sundry have been contacting me to be ‘friends’. Only unlike in the human world where relationships are built up over time over a succession of croissants, coffee, and shared experiences, in Facebook you are ‘poked’ when someone wants to be your friend and several, irritating little emails are then generated saying, ‘such and such’ wants to be your ‘friend’. Yeah sure they do. I have been somewhat startled to find several old lovers coming to the fore, once again wanting to be friends. Wasn’t that the last thing they said to me all those years ago? Curiosity of course gets the better of me and on clicking on their personal profiles I find all the other old girlfriends are listed as their friends too, like a latter day, ‘I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales’ – just makes me wonder who they danced with last.
I just can’t see the point in Facebook unless I’m missing the point. It seems to be a very visual thing, the young and gorgeous post all their most beautiful photographs on it of when they were in Ibiza with a big tan and little clothing and there seems to be a big deal made of how many friends you have, but actually I can see it as yet another tool to make me feel unpopular or at least inadequate. It’s bad enough when flesh and blood buddies have been having lunch together without me, but to discover that I am a ‘virtual Billy-no-mates’ and that anyone with access to the world wide web can snigger at my meagre cluster of associates, well, it’s truly mortifying.
Well for the time being I needn’t worry as pen, parchment and a book of stamps are the communication du jour.