Tuesday, 30 December 2008

I Hate ABBA.

I used to like ABBA. A lot. As a teenager, when all around me were into punk music and wearing safety pins in their ears and being gruff, I conversely and I have to say, covertly, played my ABBA LPs continuously, so that I could sing Super Trouper into my hairbrush with the same aplomb as Agnetha. As soon as I saw my boyfriend walk up the path however, I’d fling it off the record player and chuck on The Sex Pistols, then nonchalantly lie back against the sofa cushions as though I’d been there all day and adopt a mean and moody look. In reality I wasn’t feeling dark at all because my internal HiFi was singing ‘Chiquitita Tell Me Truth’ and I was working hard on not sweating as only seconds before I’d been gyrating around in front of the mirror, pretending for all I was worth that I was blonde. And Swedish.
Up until Christmas Day I would have sworn a similar allegiance to the Scandinavian Fab Four but that was before Santa brought with him on his sleigh, not only a DVD of the film Mamma Mia – which I have now seen and even more crucially, heard more times than is essentially necessary without a) losing all sense of time and space and b) the urge to kill. Anyone. And to the strains of Thankyou For the Music.
So, imagine then when the six year old tore at more wrapping paper to reveal an ABBA SingStar and two microphones.
“What is it Mummy?” she asked.
“Well I think you put it into a PlayStation and do karaoke?”, I answered absently, reading the instructions.
“Oh wow! Can I do it now?”
“But sweetheart it’s only 6.45 am”.
“But it’s Christmas Day mummy. Please”. Her big eyes and plaintive little voice had no effect on me whatsoever and I was about to suggest that she read one of her books instead or indeed go back to bed but my son got in there before me.
“Let her do it Ma”, suggested my son through very hooded eyes, “Then the rest of us can go back to bed”.
“Well what am I supposed to do?” I asked as Hubby undid the packaging and stuck the CD into the PlayStation.
“Pretend you’re Benny?” suggested Hubby through a stifled yawn.
“Andersson. It’s the facial hair thing”, he added, trying to connect leads, cables and scart leads to each other.
“Excuse me?”
“Nothing a little Jolene Creme Bleach wouldn’t put right”.
It was, as my daughter pointed out, Christmas Day. We’d already been up for an hour and a half and I hadn’t got to bed until 2am. I was exhausted before I’d started and now here was my husband with his arse sticking up in the air as he fiddled around with the back of the telly, insinuating that I resembled Helena Bonham Carter. When she was in Planet of the Apes.
My hand flew up to my chin. There was, it couldn’t be denied, the odd stray hair that my tweezers and 12x mirror hadn’t detected but hirsute? No chance.
“Alice, for God’s sake” Hubby continued as he creakily and bone crackingly levered himself off the carpet, “I was pulling your leg”.
“Very funny I’m sure”, I said sulkily.
“C’mon let’s go into the kitchen and listen to Aled Jones as we peel the sprouts” and he gave me his hand and pulled me to my feet.
“That’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said”, I laughed but the laughter was short lived as my eldest daughter demonstrated to the younger two how to use the SingStar and shortly, the strangulated tones of a four year old and a six year old knocking out ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ echoed throughout the house. Thus it continued, minute after minute, hour after hour until every guest in the house was testy and irritable and this was before we’d started on the booze.
By 3pm, I was on my knees. We’d had a party on Christmas Eve, scores of people had enjoyed our hospitality and my sausage rolls had been a testimony to the crumbliest of pastry given that much of it was trampled into the carpet. My teenagers, far from going to bed and letting the ‘magic’ happen, chose instead to stay up late, so that poor Father Christmas found himself nodding off as he stuffed stockings. If it hadn’t been for Hubby poking him occasionally his sleigh would have been grounded.
From a catatonic stupor I watched the Queen make a speech to the Commonwealth. ABBA were having a breather for a minute but in their stead, Hannah Montana and Sharpei Evans aka my youngest children, dressed accordingly, were now cavorting around the dining room, their plastic high heeled, dress-up shoes, clip-clopping on the wooden floor, setting my teeth on edge.
My brother, who has one, placid, beautiful little girl who quietly reads a book or does some colouring in, was demented with the noise.
“Remind me again Alice, why we came here today? I could be at home now, pint of Stella in one hand, remote control in the other”.
“Anything I can do?” asked Dad, walking in, “Any veg to peel?” Dear old dad, he’d do anything for us but after leaving him in charge of veg preparation a couple of years ago where he reduced my two bags worth of Maris Piper into one inch dice rendering my roasties null and void, we’ve kept him out of the kitchen.We ate at 6pm.
After weeks of cooking, it was all over by 7.30 and that was only because I demanded conversation over the cheese. I fell into my pyjamas and bed soon after, my sleep assaulted by a dream where I found myself in bed with Benny and Bjorn but it was only I who had a beard. Freud would have a field day.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas x

On Sunday morning when I was resting my corns and looking forward to the possibility of doing naff all, Hubby proclaimed that, “We should go Christmas shopping”.
“For whom exactly are you considering shopping for?” I asked.
“Well, then, let’s see. The kids..”
“Right, er, your family..”
“My mum and dad?”
“Hmm, what about me?”
“Nope you’re pretty much sewn up too,” I answered. There was a long silence. Who could possibly be left?
“So, you haven’t done any then?” I continued. He shook his head.
“None at all?” I must have looked incredulous because he felt the need to defend himself.
“Well Alice love I’m very busy. Knackered actually. What with the job, my MSc and you and the kids. It doesn’t leave much time for gallivanting around the shops you know”.
“I see your point, although I would point out that it could be argued that Gordon, George and Barak are marginally busier but, you can bet your crashing dollar that when Sarah, Laura and Michelle wake up on the 25th, something will have arrived from Amazon for them to open.” I got out of bed, slipped my feet into my slippers, pulled my dressing gown around me and left him to mull over what I’d said.
As the kettle came to the boil, he arrived in the kitchen wearing, rather disarmingly, his eldest daughter’s dressing gown which only just skimmed his crown jewels.
“What the...?”
“One of the bloody cats has been sick on mine”, he explained, shoving a ball of blue fleece material into the washing machine. Bending over did him no favours in his current state.
“Good lord come here”, I elbowed him out of the way.
“You can’t just put it into the machine”, I said, hurriedly pulling his dressing gown out again, “It has to be rinsed first”. So as I filled up the sink and hand washed the Go-Cat from his dressing gown he sat on an adjacent kitchen stool.
“What do you want then?” he asked
“You mean apart from world peace? Hmm. Let me think. How about high achieving children, global economic growth, free healthcare for all, oh and to publish a bestselling novel to name but a few.”
“Oh ha bloody ha. Seriously Alice, what do you want that, er, Marks and Spencer’s can provide?” There really isn’t anything that I need although I am always happy to receive a good book and some groovy music but it seemed pointless spending money just for the hell of it. Still, in times of economic crises, surely the best thing to do is to spend; otherwise the situation can only get worse.
“No wonder you live to your overdraft limit”, said Hubby gravely as I explained my fiscal philosophy to him. We pulled in to Sainsbury’s.
“Well it’s true isn’t it?” I went on, grabbing the big, recyclable bags out of the boot, “It’s all about confidence and the more we hear of how awful the economy is then the more people don’t spend; the banks won’t give credit ergo businesses can’t function ergo people lose their jobs and so on.”
“Fiona Bruce needn’t lose any sleep”.
“She hosts The Money Programme on BBC2”
I ignored him and fished for my Christmas food shopping list. I felt horribly defeated to find that most of the items I needed for the Big Day and beyond had use by dates of the 22nd on them so I’d have to return for another round, alone. Mags had stepped into the breach this time and had the kids at the last minute for me.
“He’s offered to go shopping with you?” she asked, astonished, “Carpe diem Alice, carpe diem”.
With only half a trolleyful we left the car park and drove into Plymouth’s city centre. Hubby has yet to come to terms with Drake Circus and looked most uncomfortable negotiating the spiralling turns of floors as we searched for a parking space.
“Shall I drive?”I offered. He was about to pull on the handbrake when the white reversing lights of a Honda 4x4 illuminated our way.
“Over there!” I hollered and we pulled into the space before another couple who, given their hand gesticulations, weren’t too pleased with us.
“Shall I meet you in an hour?” asked Hubby, but I could tell he didn’t mean it and besides I didn’t want a repeat of my birthday presents which had included some heinous pieces of knitwear in the most contemptible colours and the most enormous sizes.
“But I’ve lost four stone”, I wailed, standing in a vilest green, crew necked jumper which hung off me.
“I wanted to err on the side of caution”, he explained.
“Well you’ve just erred”.
We finally left town as the shutters were coming down on the shops. It was only half past four but that’s Sunday trading for you. Hubby was feeling smug. Only an hour Christmas Shopping tops and he’d come away with a pair of black stilettos and, to redress the balance a little, a warm pair of brushed cotton pyjamas – “Not exactly sexy Alice”. Were he to re-programme the central heating to run for a couple of hours more and I might be more inclined to wear the kind of undergarments he favours i.e skin.
So, that’s it. All that can be done now is to stuff the turkey and ourselves, drink and be merry. My children are exceptionally excited, although our Norwegian girl would prefer to wake in the arms of her boyfriend than be made to open a stocking at 7am. In her dreams.

May Christmas 2008 and the year 2009 find you where you want to be and with the people you love the most; let our thoughts and prayers be with those beloved friends of ours whose past year brought with it anxieties and sorrows that mean Christmas will be one of the biggest challenges of the year. You are not forgotten.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


The first we knew of it was when two invitations addressed to my youngest girls appeared in the cold ash in the fireplace. They were stuck down with a wax seal and sent from Father Christmas. Apparently he’s very busy and was therefore requesting their help in getting the rocking horses finished as his elves were flat out.
I didn’t know what to make of it until dad came in for his morning coffee and gave me a wink.
“It’s all very well winking”, I said, “But ...” Before he had the chance to reply, two hysterical girls hurled themselves at him with such gusto that he was knocked onto the sofa.
“Steady on”, he protested gently.
“But granddad, look!” squealed the six year old, brandishing her invitation under his nose, “Look, we’ve got to go to Lapland to help Santa. We’re going soon but Mummy hasn’t got a clue how to get there.”
Dad read the information on the invite, “Well, well, sounds like a serious mission. Mummy may not know how to get there, but I’m sure if I put Lapland into my SatNav in my car, then it’ll find the way”.
She looked most relieved, “Will you come with us then?”
“I thought you’d never ask”.
The following day however, a Lapland imposter sent shock waves around Britain. Dad was on the blower a.s.a.p.
“Don’t panic dad. Crapland wouldn’t send wax-sealed personalised invitations would it? Let me Google it and see”. I spent the next forty minutes searching for a website that might divulge the whereabouts of that jolly old soul and lo and behold, I found him, hidden in a deep and mysterious forest in, er, Kent.
The day arrived, crisp and even; Kent is a bloody long way away and so, along with the girls, we piled in duvets and pillows too. As we approached Newton Abbott however, the youngest informed me that she had forgotten to go to the loo that morning. It made me nostalgic for the days before four children, when I too had a bladder of steel; nowadays I can’t sneeze without repercussions so the idea of ‘forgetting’ to wee is anathema to me.
We made it to Exeter services, where the Red-Head piped up, “At last we’re here. Now then, where is Santa?”
After another four hours we approached London and the six year old suddenly realised where we were.
“We’re in London! Where are the Tudor houses”. Poor little thing, her disappointment was palpable as her eyes scanned the grass verges of the M25 desperately hoping to see higgledy-piggledy rows of black and white, wattle and daub establishments. I prayed that our destination would not be a similar disillusionment.
Ten minutes before our ‘slot’, we pulled into the car park. I could see dad’s face fall and his pallor pale so, linking his arm I whispered, “C’mon dad. It’s only a car park and car-parks are renowned for being pretty unprepossessing places”.
A parking attendant came up to us, his smile as broad as his chest.
“Hello there! You here for the 3 o’clock?”
We nodded and he pointed us in the direction of an enormous canvas tipi where we found to our immense delight, several elves waiting for us.
What follows can only be described as quite possibly the most magical day I’ve ever spent with my children. From the tipi we and about fifteen other people were led out of another exit, down a gravelly path until we rounded a corner to find an enormous, old, wooden gate. Several bells had to be rung to wake the notoriously sleepy gate-keeping elf, but to no avail, it took yelling, pantomime style to rouse him and finally his little face peeked out of one of the teeny windows. Once the gate opened we entered a truly enchanting pathway through a snow covered forest with twinkling lights, sprites and all manner of things, Narnian.
After the girls had worked up an appetite attending to the aforementioned rocking horses whilst being pestered by one or two naughty elves (easily identifiable as they’d had their bells on their hats removed) they went into Mrs Christmas’s kitchen where, waiting for them on a long wooden counter was a gingham apron, chef’s hat, a gingerbread man, a paintbrush, runny icing and Smarties. Having decorated their biscuits, the lights were dimmed and they all (about 8 children) gathered around for a story.
Eyes as big as saucers from spending quality time with the main man’s other half, we emerged into a dark sky, made breathtakingly lovely by the ice-rink, snow covered fir trees and national-costumed Sami wandering around with their husky dogs. It was dinner time then which was wolfed down so that the girls could run through the thickly covered snowy forest to meet the reindeer. Soon we had to return along another magic path for our rendezvous with Father Christmas. The girls were called by name and I thought we’d just walk into an ante-room, but another elf came and took their hands and skipped down yet another snowy path with dad and me bringing up the rear until we found a dear little wooden cottage, where finally, FC called them in.
It was so unexpectedly moving and magical that I burst into tears. It must have been like meeting God; they had so many questions to ask him, all of which he answered thoughtfully and oh, so kindly. He knew their hobbies and their best friends but as we left, he handed me a hard backed copy of The Night Before Christmas and with a wink, suggested I ask my eldest daughter to read it to the girls on Christmas Eve. How did he know her name? It will always remain a mystery.On the long car journey home the six year old informed us that “It has been quite wonderful to see him in his natural habitat”. I’ll second that.

Monday, 8 December 2008


Hubby has drawn up a chart for me. Colour coded, in response to a panic attack that I had minutes after waking on Sunday morning. As the day dawned, a sudden realisation then dawned on me of what I had to achieve in the next 24 days.
I sat bolt upright in bed and wailed, “I can’t remember all the things I have to do and in what order to do them”. My heart was beating fast and it felt as though I couldn’t breathe.
“Oh my God”, I continued, now flailing around the bed, “There’s so much of it and so many people to do it for..”.
“Get a grip Alice love”, said Hubby not even having the grace to peek out from under the duvet to see what was wrong, “Why get yourself so worked up? It’s only Christmas”.
It was like someone had lit a fire beneath me and I rocketed out of bed with a roar and threw, not only missiles at him but every festive chore that I always take on board, year after year, single-handedly.
“You absolute pig!” I shouted, hurling one of my boots at him, “You have no idea. Have you made a list of the million people who need several presents? Ordered anything? Cooked anything? Made an angel costume? A star costume perhaps? No, I didn’t think so. Have you worked out the logistics of a nativity clashing with a speech day? Shopped for anything? Posted anything?” Each question was accompanied by a paperback; Samuel Pepys’s Diary being the final article to be lobbed in his direction. Pepys had a lot to say. It is a thick book. It hurt.
“Ouch!” said Hubby rubbing his temple, before ducking under the duvet as Grazia magazine flew towards him. My reading is nothing if not diverse.
“How can you be so thoughtless? You have had nothing once again to do with Christmas. Do you have any idea how much I detest Toys are bloody Us? The soulless, shelves and shelves of plastic tat that every small child has been brainwashed into wanting so desperately. That can’t be what it’s all about surely?”, I looked expectantly at Hubby willing him to say something soothing and profound but he just shrugged his shoulders and so I picked up the first thing that came to hand which happened to be a pile of laundry. Seeing him peel a pair of dirty knickers off his face suddenly struck me as very funny and I started to laugh.
Hubby evidently saw the change in my disposition as me conceding and decided to act immediately before I once again became a screaming banshee.
“Alice. Darling. You are a wonder and I don’t know how you do it. Was that shop as awful as you say?” Appeasement tactics, so far so conciliatory.
“You have to see it to believe it. Hoards of people, some who seem not to have a penny to rub together chucking toy after toy willy-nilly into their trolley. It depressed me. What happened to pressing your nose up against an old-fashioned toy shop window on Christmas Eve, and hoping and praying that the doll or boat you could see under the twinkling lights was making its way via a supersonic sleigh?”
“That book is beginning to warp you mind Alice love”. I looked at him quizzically.
“This Pepys one”, he said, bending down the side of the bed to retrieve it.
“For heaven’s sake, Samuel Pepys lived in the 1600’s. The plague and the Great Fire of London and all that? It was Dickens who wrote about Victorian London and old curiosity shops”.
“Listen Alice love; be thankful those days are well and truly over. Rats are cute creatures called Roland these days not bubonic plague carriers and besides, when was the last time you saw a small kid stuffed up a chimney?”
“I know, I know but there must have been nice things about the olden days and I just happen to have a romantic fantasy of dimpled windows and childish excitement.” Hubby sighed, then took my hand,
“In fifty years time when our children have grandchildren, Argos will seem like a quaint curiosity shop. You can hear them saying, ‘When I was your age at Christmas, we used to go to this shop and look in the heaviest catalogue ever known to man. When we’d chosen what we wanted we’d tap the item number into a machine and, if it was in stock we’d then queue for half an hour to pay for it, then take a seat and watch a monitor for another half an hour before hearing an omnipotent voice call out– Number 323 to collection point B please. Aye, those were the days.’”
Hubby made me a cup of tea and whilst the rest of the house was still silent, we huddled around the dining table in our dressing gowns and I presented him with my diary and then he, ever the logistician, drew up a most marvellous, colour coded chart, so that I can see at a glance where I’m meant to be at any given date in December; when mince-pies are to be cooked and wine mulled; when the Red-Head’s ballet performance is on and her sister’s musical theatre show, not to be confused with the panto; when braces are coming off and chiropodists are calling; when parties are to be attended and visitors beds are to be aired.
“Fair play to you Alice. For once in your life you weren’t exaggerating”, said Hubby as he sat back aghast at what December brings with it.
“Do you have anything you’d like to add to any of these columns?” I asked, wondering if he would write: Collect turkey, buy mum and dad’s presents or at least, ‘Get in booze’. He picked up his pen and, sucking the end, pondered intently, before remembering with an exclamatory, “Oh yes”, and so, on the 18th wrote, ‘Run ashore. Back late’.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


You only realise how shallow you really are when, instead of going, as planned, to watch a moving and thought provoking film about selflessness and love in a war torn country, you go at the drop of a hat and without hesitation to a transvestite revue, leaving in your wake a bewildered husband, five hungry children and a crop in the field.
It doesn’t take much to persuade me to enjoy the camper side of life. What is there not to love about high heels, spangles, diamante and wigs? Throw in some fine food, several glasses of wine and the company of excellent woman and you have yourself all the ingredients of a perfect night out. I wonder if it is a purely British thing, this love we have for cross-dressing? I can’t think of any American equivalents to Danny La Rue and Hinge and Brackett; neither do they have gender bending pantomime dames and principal boys in the States. Australia of course introduced Dame Edna to the world, but given that the Queen is head of state, then I can safely suggest that a British influence has had something to do with Ms Everage’s dubious femininity.
The Barbican Theatre is a terrific venue for such a night out. Tucked away in the back alley of a part of Plymouth steeped in history, it did make me giggle as I stood outside the theatre teetering on my high heels on the uneven cobbles, on America’s Thanksgiving eve, thinking, ‘What would the puritanical pilgrims think if they could see me now?’ These Pilgrims considered 1620 England a place of moral rack and ruin, so it tickled me to imagine them walking these same cobbles before fleeing on the Mayflower to a new life. They were prophetic. Here I was almost 400 years later mingling, on exactly the same spot where they’d prayed for a purer world, in the company of the more, how shall I put it, decadent of society.
I’d had no time to at all to worry about what to wear to such an event and in the event, got my red high heels out of their box for another outing. Mercifully, having had a lift with Mags, walking was limited to getting out of the car to the cash-point and climbing the hill to the theatre, so my toes were fairly intact all night, although being oh, so very tall in the shoes, I was asked by one young wit if I was appearing in the show. There was a time in my life when I would have died of mortification at such a comment and run to the loos to see if indeed I looked like a big hairy bloke but these days, being older and bolder, I stand tall, shoulders back and think of a wittier riposte, which on this particular occasion was to lean down – these types of men are always far, far shorter than I and whisper into his ear, “Listen mate, these puppies are for real” before turning on my stiletto and walking away.
Mags and our friends were already seated and if for one minute I’d thought that Plymouth was full of fashionably challenged folk clad in Primark’s finest then I was gladdened to discover that there are Plymothians out there who buck the trend for overly tight trousers and ‘muffin tops’ (an expression to describe women whose bellies hang over the tops of their waistbands like an muffin over its casing) by wearing what can only be described as ‘theatrical’ garments. My shoes were not in the least bit out of place in this blurred environment and I was even happier that I had my best, most sparkly earrings dangling from each lobe. Mags was resplendent in crushed velvet, glitter twinkling on her cheek bones and Ellen’s embonpoint, literally spilled over her décolleté silk dress. There is no denying that we most definitely looked a right bunch of, and I mean this kindly, fag hags.
We were enormously entertained once the show started but a couple of things were questionable. For instance, whilst there was no refuting the sex of three of the performers, hell one was almost simian so hairy was he, one of the ‘girls’ however, really did look like a girl. Either that or I’d very much like the phone number of her plastic surgeon because I have never seen breast augmentation that realistic before, I mean these babies wobbled like the most gelatinous of jellies. They didn’t have that hard, obdurate way about them that silicone implants produce. I don’t wish to sound like an expert but I’ve had to defend my own creations when Hubby has been found reading my Hello magazine, emitting such appreciative gems as “Cor! Look at the pair on her” and I’ve been most indignant in pointing out, “Really? They’re fake”.
So, was one of them a girl? Her bosoms were fervently discussed during the interval when I went outside to stand amongst the smokers. I have overhead and at times joined very interesting conversations with strangers outside public buildings since the smoking ban. Birds of a feather, as they say, flock together and whilst I don’t smoke anymore I do still love the smokers, they seem to have a more gung-ho, optimistic attitude to life which, in the current climate, is most welcomed.
Not knowing whether it was a he or a she begs the question, could anyone of us, especially those of a taller, more ambiguous disposition try our hand at this form of entertainment, especially seeing as their routine of high camp songs were lip-synched. Now whilst I had great fun, there was no discernible talent required. We never heard their voices, they didn’t dance, and they didn’t write the songs. All that’s required to succeed in this business is a limitless dressing up box, daring and some chutzpah, often and rather ironically referred to as, balls.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mothers Ruin.

To Hubby’s intense irritation Mags came round the other evening. Just as the football started. We haven’t seen each other for a while and we had a lot to talk about, and as he tutted and grumbled and moved nearer and nearer to the television set, she and I got more and more animated.
When you have known someone for as long as Mags and I have known each other, no subject if off limits and over the years we have discussed, at great length, and over innumerable wine varietals, the various trials and tribulations that life has not only thrown at us, but also those around us, celebrities notwithstanding.
And so it came to pass, that after we’d ruminated over the ‘did he jump/was he pushed’ John Sergeant debacle, we turned our attention to marriage. This made Hubby even more uncomfortable and I saw him shift uneasily in his chair as I regaled Mags with the pitiful story of a woman I’d met recently whose husband is a submariner.
“Thing is Mags”, I said, “Once they sail, that’s it for weeks and weeks on end. No contact. So when your child has appendicitis and you crash your car on the way to the hospital, no amount of emailing is going to get him flown home to hold your hand. It sucks and I’ve found being the Navy wife of a ‘skimmer’ bad enough but, in an emergency, well some emergencies, he has managed to come back to me or at least be aware of my trauma and of course, now that he is shore based and here every night..,” and we both looked at the fine figure of a Naval officer, almost hugging the TV in an old punk t-shirt, seen-better-days tracksuit bottoms (although it begs the question, have tracksuit bottoms ever seen better days, given that they are, in my opinion, the most vile bits of cloth ever sewn in a sweat shop), and a pair of old, old slippers somehow attached to his feet. I pressed on,
“Yes well, things are easier. He’s around to give me a hand at bedtime and to shout louder at the kids. My resentment isn’t what it was and, given the nature of his job, can be quite social”.
“What do you mean ‘can be’ Alice?”, called Hubby without looking around, “I’m forever taking you out, hell only last week..”.
“I was just getting on to that point. Watch the football”. I shrugged. Mags refilled my glass, asking as she poured, “Where did you go?”
“Plymouth’s top hot spot! The gin distillery”.
“Oh wow”, said Mags, sitting up, “Our favourite bar. Was the dishy cocktail bar-man there?”
Hubby, who regularly ignores what I have to say, turned in his chair and looked over the top of his glasses, questioningly.
“He’s just a kid”, I appeased and Hubby turned his attention once more to the screen. “No Mags, as my handsome husband was with me, I didn’t notice any other man”. Mags and I stifled a giggle, “Anyway it wasn’t just about the drinking, we were actually given a private tour of the distillery”. Mags looked blank. “You know, where they actually distil gin?”
It was an epiphany to Mags; as though for the first time she’d actually twigged that gin didn’t just come from the optics behind a bar but in point of fact had to be cooked up and bottled first.
“It was fascinating. We were taken to a room to smell all the herbs and spices that go into Plymouth Gin, the ‘botanicals’..”
“Something went in that night then apart from the alcohol Alice”, interrupted Hubby. Ignoring him I continued, “The botanicals, which are thus: essential Juniper berries; Angelica Root from Saxony; Cardamom Pods from Sri Lanka; Coriander Seeds from eastern Europe; Lemon and Orange peel from Spain; and Orris Root from Italy.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Mags smiled, “How long does it take to make?”
“That’s the best bit”, I said, “Only eight hours. Jeeze my Christmas pudding took longer than that!”
“So you got to sample?” asked Mags crunching on some Kettle crisps. It was the last intolerable straw.
“Would the two of you please just bugger off” barked Hubby, “I can’t stand your incessant muttering and munching”.
“Get him”, said Mags, gathering our glasses, the wine and carrying the packet of crisps under her chin, “let’s go into the kitchen”.
As Mags gently laid our drinks on the kitchen counter, she spied a jar of jewel red cranberry sauce, sparkling under the halogen lights.
“Oh no. You haven’t? Not already? Not with working as well and five kids?” she made to kill me.
I didn’t know whether to look smug or sheepish. “Look cranberry sauce takes a nano-second to make. The fact that up there,” and I waved at the shelf, “there are jars of pickled onions and a Christmas pudding, well, that would indicate that I am in fact, super-woman”.
Mags glugged her wine, “And I am so inadequate. So, how is the job?”
The job I told her, is a young person’s game. I am too old in the tooth to excuse appalling spelling, wholly inventive grammar and texting in a lesson. And that’s just the teachers.
“The staff are so young they don’t appreciate my old-fashioned ways. I am an anachronism. As obsolete as an original Playstation. There are only two teachers in my department who can remember when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister”.
“That’s not such a bad thing,” said Mags through a mouthful of crisps.
“And ‘media’ wasn’t invented when I started out. Somehow I’ve got to teach them all about Jean Baudrillard”.
“Who does he play for?” asked Hubby, walking into the kitchen at half-time, searching for munchies.
“Hyper-Real Madrid”, I replied, flatly.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Back in the day when the Red-Head was only three, I bought theatre tickets for her 6 year old sister and me to see High School Musical. Although a Disney show that catalogues a spectrum of teenage angst, it is a phenomenon amongst the under 10’s. In the months since my ticket purchase however, the Red-Head, especially since starting school, has emerged from toddler into little girl and at just four, is as potty over Troy – the male lead, as her big sister. Consequently I sat in the staffroom on Monday morning and wondered what I would tell her when her sister and I put on our ‘theatre clothes’ and left her at home. There was no way that an excited 6 year old would be able to contain herself and not spill the beans about our outing and the idea of the Red-Head’s little face, all hurt and disappointed and asking “Why aren’t you taking me?”, was just too much, so immediately when I returned home, I rang the Theatre Royal and asked if by some slim chance, there were any seats available as close as possible to the ones I already had.
“We have one seat two rows away”, was the reply. It was shockingly expensive, but I pulled out the plastic and bought it anyway, trying to kid myself that although a Disney musical, it was nevertheless going to the theatre and thus, a cultural experience.
The 6 year old was not immediately best pleased that her baby sister had muscled her way in on ‘our night’ out, but explaining how hurt and left out she’d be if it were her, the guilt trip had its desired effect and as soon as we got home from school, the two of them ran upstairs to put on the their best dresses, leaving me to cook tea for the other three.
Hubby had been in work since 5 am, so I did feel a smidgen of guilt myself that I wasn’t there to fill his belly with hot food on his return – I’m nothing if not traditional, but I soon assuaged this guilt by hand rolling around 36 meatballs, browning them off and then cooking up a delicious tomato and basil sauce. When the thirteen year old came home from school I gave her explicit instructions on how to cook pasta al dente and to make sure that she left plenty for her father. She was most indignant, “Gee mum, you make such a big deal about everything. Cooking pasta is hardly rocket science”. I was about to embark on the usual “Now look here young lady” lecture but today, I honestly couldn’t be bothered, and left her in the kitchen complaining loudly something about child labour.
Running upstairs, I threw on a smart dress, ran a brush through my hair and ran down the stairs again, grabbing two little girls in either hand as I ran out, calling behind me, “Be sensible. Dad will be home soon”. Just as I was getting into the car my neighbour walked over carrying several packages and waving for my attention. Oh no! What had she been buying now? Not my neighbour you understand, that would be none of my business.
“For Pia”, said my neighbour, confirming my fears. E-baying is Pia’s new found hobby causing me much alarm as day after day the post-man arrives laden with more and more parcels. I’m not too sure when these things catch on in Norway but it seems to me that the craze that every kid craves only makes its way up to Scandinavia about five years after the rest of Europe, which might explain why she is Harry Potter, Pokemon and Lord of the Rings mad. It begs the question, who is the idiot though because Father Christmas bought all that merchandising for my son at full price; Pia on the other hand is getting most of it for a fraction of the price, lovingly accepting another teenagers castoffs.
Leaving the girls for a second, I rang back into the house to have a word with Pia; she looked bewildered that I should be so concerned. “But it is a bargain!” she protested, tearing open the package and waving her new i-pod Touch at me.
“Bargain or not, there is no need to wantonly waste your money on all manner of stuff. You are abusing your internet connection. Your time would be better spent studying perhaps?”
“I have plenty of money”, she replied defiantly, opening the front door to allow her boyfriend in.
“I’m happy for you”, I replied through a tight jaw, “but the facts are that Christmas is only weeks away and surely it would be better if you saved a little?”
“My father will send me more money by then”. Keep calm Alice.
“We’ll discuss this later, or, just as I worried regarding Jamie, here”, I waved at her boyfriend, “I’ll email your father for his opinion”.
And as I turned to leave, a teenager, for the second time that day, wondered loudly why I made such a big deal about everything.
We took our seats in the auditorium; I forsook the third seat and pulled the Red-Head onto my lap. The audience were wild and the atmosphere electric. The show was not my thing, imagine Sandy and Danny from Grease as Christian virgins with Paris Hilton thrown in for trash appeal and you have it in a nutshell, but when the curtain fell for the last time and the applause finally died down, my Red-Head turned to me and with big, blue eyes sparkling with wonder and might, said with great Shakespearian gravitas, “Oh mummy, I lovéd all of it”.
Once home, Hubby helped me carry two sleeping beauties from the car into bed. “How was your dinner?” I whispered.
“Under-cooked. I know she’s struggling with Italian Alice, but I had to point out al dente does not mean like porcelain”.

Monday, 10 November 2008


I’ve always associated the word Shamrock with the colour green, Leprechauns and eager, American genealogists whose enthusiasm for ancestry and being one eighth anything, preferably Irish, is better than just coming from Queens or wherever.
Not so anymore. From now on ‘Shamrock’ will be synonymous with perfection. As Hubby and I picked our way down the cliffs of Whitsand Bay last weekend, I saw from the chimney of our chalet, smoke spiral its way heavenward.
“There it is”, I pointed to Hubby, my excitement barely contained, “There’s Shamrock”. Running the last 20 yards or so, we undid the little wooden gate which forms part of the picket fence that encircles the chalet and somehow adds to the mystical effect that you are cutting yourself off from the rest of the world. Hubby found the keys and we let ourselves in. If at all possible, given the extraordinary 360 degree view afforded from every, myriad window, the inside was as gorgeous as the outside.
The wood-burner had been lit in anticipation of our arrival and so, although bitterly cold outside, inside it was as warm as toast. Our every need had been catered for and whereas in the past, ‘self-catering’ has literally meant, ‘if feasible, then please bring your kitchen sink’, here they’d thought of everything our little hearts could desire to, well engender, desire.
“Look they’ve even thought of some games”, I said to Hubby, lifting the Trivial Pursuit.
“There’s only one game I want to play”, said Hubby, chasing me around the rooms as I tried to dodge his lustful embraces.
“Look, we’ve only just arrived”, I laughed, “And I know you. If I submit to you immediately, you’ll be out for the count for the rest of the day. Let’s go for a walk first” and chucking his scarf in his direction I made him take in the sea air.
The tide was out and the space was vast and wide and gave me a feeling of extraordinary freedom. I ran and jumped puddles and wrote ‘Hubby and Alice Band forever’ in the sand with a vacated razor clam shell. There was only the two of us on the beach and it did occur to me that I could strip all my clothes off and lie provocatively against a mussel encrusted rock. But to be honest, not only is Hubby too old for shocks like that but it really was freezing and besides, the idea of having a mussel accidentally wedged in my bottom was not something I wanted to explain at A&E (emergency room). We made do with a lot of kissing instead and when I say a lot of kissing, I mean it and the proper stuff too that makes you giddy, your knees buckle and your face raw. It was fantastic and there was no-one to stop us. No wise cracking teenager or loudly protesting small child.
Eventually, our toes and lips equally numb, we had to consider returning up the cliff and, as is well documented, I am far from as nimble as a mountain goat and, whilst getting to the beach was no big deal, getting back up was torturous. At one point I wondered whether if I started to cry, Hubby might give me a fireman’s lift, but to be honest I didn’t even have the puff left in me to emit a single, strangled sob. So, stoically I continued, my previous, aroused warm glow being replaced by rivulets of unsexy sweat. I took my coat off, my jumper, my hat and my gloves and was not unaware of the hilarious irony that only minutes earlier I’d considered taking these off for totally different reasons.
“I’m starving”, called down Hubby, who being fitter than I, was ahead of me by a few grassy knolls, “Shall we go to the Cliff Top Cafe?”
I just about managed a thumbs up sign and eventually arrived, struggling into my jumper lest my arrival should beg the question, “Who the hell is that old stripper?”
Hubby was already ensconced with a newspaper, “Hiya love. I’m having a big breakfast. What do you fancy?”
“A big breakfast?”, I asked appalled, “it’s 3.20 in the afternoon. We’re going out to dinner tonight. You’d better leave room to eat it”. I sipped a weak tea and picked at a ham salad as I watched Hubby devour every farmyard animal’s flesh and foetus. He gave me his grilled tomato.
“Right then”, he said, putting his cutlery together on an empty plate before rubbing his hands together, fortified, “No more fannying around. I don’t get you on my own that often.” And rising, he took my hand.
“ Is this you being masterful?”, I smiled.
“You betcha”. If this were a film, this is the bit where you’d see footage of crashing waves accompanied by the sound of a vigorous symphonic orchestra ...
Later, after a wonderful dinner at The View restaurant, we giggled like teenagers back to the chalet due in part to an excellent bottle of wine, being thoroughly loved up, a sense of freedom; oh and the fact that we’d forgotten a torch (flash-light) and out there, not only is there utterly no sound pollution but no light pollution either and we had no idea when the next boulder would trip us up and send us crashing down the cliff. And as they say, on Whitsand Bay, no-one can hear you scream. Evidently we made it eventually and fell into a warm, comfortable bed, cocooned by a thick, heavy feather duvet. I awoke to the most sublime view in the south west of England and after tea and toast, literally had to be dragged kicking and screaming home to relieve my poor dad of his overnight babysitting duties.
It was a faultless weekend: no passport control, no queues, no delays, no cancellations. It took ten minutes to get there; my kids weren’t sick, nothing caught fire and no ceilings fell down. Perfect.

Monday, 3 November 2008


Hubby and I did too much last weekend and ended it by growling at each other. It didn’t seem as though we had bitten off more than we could chew, until on Sunday afternoon, when he had been studying hard and I had been doing a million jobs that we both became threaders with each other; me for being cross with him for retreating to his cave to devote himself exclusively to his essay leaving me alone to make everybody happy and failing miserably. He in turn was irritated by constant interruptions, noise and general anxiety because the essay is very, very hard. It culminated in Hubby getting in the car and driving away for the week for even more intensive studying, leaving a chasm of unspoken resentment and anger between us.
How would a marriage counsellor counsel us? What advice would they have doled out when our weekend started with a birthday party for our 16 year old son? A party that apparently would start at 6pm.
“What?” I choked, my couscous splattering the oil cloth, “Are you out of your tiny mind? Dad doesn’t get home from work until then. I’ll have been in work all morning; we have to tidy up, get food ready, sort out the girls and...”
“Ok ma I get the picture” and in true teenage fashion he loped upstairs, muttering under his breath something about my being unreasonable whilst simultaneously texting everyone of this fact as well as new start time.
And lo, the day of the party dawned and most invitees had received the message not to arrive until 7.30. One or two eager beavers, whose mobiles had obviously run out of credit, arrived prematurely but they were put to use in sweeping out the basement, hanging fairy lights and general labour. By eight the support band was in fine fettle and two bottles of contraband alcohol had been confiscated, I know not what it was other than it was letter box red. By nine, the support band had put down their drum-sticks; the food we’d provided was evidently not enough given that several young people were eating each other’s faces, the exquisite girlfriend had arrived and my son’s band were on fire. I was enjoying myself. Hubby, being five years older sat in the sitting room watching an earnest documentary.
“Why are you bothering? You can’t hear a word” I bellowed above the strains of a Rolling Stones number. He just shrugged, his shoulders heavy under the pressure of too many commitments. The party ended at around midnight, only one girl had cried in the toilets and only one boy was very sick (obviously not all contraband had been discovered), much like I remember my own 16th.
The following morning we all awoke to the customary spectator sport where we all gather to watch the unwrapping of gifts. Our son adored his leather skinny jeans, his books, the Dylan Moran tickets and various bits and bobs but left soon after he and his friends had cleaned the subterranean mess to spend the day with his girlfriend and her family. Oh the agony.
Hubby, anxious to ‘get on’ looked expectant. “Don’t worry, I’m going, I’m going”, I said and bundling the youngest into the car I drove to the pictures leaving Hubby in peace to his assignment. I can’t honestly say that High School Musical 3 was the best movie I’ve ever seen but such was the enthusiastic bonhomie and up-beat overall feel of the film that, ashamed that I am to admit it, I cried at the end.
If the day had ended there, it would have been a success, but by now it was late and there was nothing at home for dinner and so, before I could go home I had to drag two dancing Disney, divas around Sainsbury’s. They were not well behaved and I got very cross and even crosser when I returned home to find the laundry piled up in the kitchen waiting to be addressed, a pile of plates from lunch which hadn’t even made it to the dishwasher and general debris and domestic wreckage.
As the evening wore on the girls got even more hyped up. Strictly Come Dancing never fails in that department. Hubby snarled at them to sit still. I barked back what right did he have to be so grumpy, he hadn’t been with them all day. He retaliated by way of some insult and so it went on. The following morning he got up early and went to his cave and I, without even telling him where we were, crept out of the house with my daughters and took them to church. I returned only to drop the youngest off, make them a round of sandwiches, plonk them in front of a DVD and then, with only the 13 year old, went to the Respect Festival in Plymouth. Although a wonderful, life affirming spectacle of tolerance and well, respect for difference, my heart wasn’t in it. I still had Aldi to tackle and were the girls being good for Hubby?
As soon as I walked through the front door it was patently obvious that they had not been good at all. Hubby was pacing, his face set in a scowl.
“Oh why don’t you just bloody bugger off”, I suggested, plastic carrier bags dangling from each wrist. And without as much as a by your leave, he took me at my word, leaving me with a fridge to fill and a half term holiday to endure.
So, Marriage Counsellor, what would you advise? Hopefully a night away from all stresses, some sea air, a walk on the beach, good food and an opportunity to liberate my basque from the mothballs? I do hope so, because, it now being Hubby’s birthday, I’ve booked a chalet on Whitsand Bay. The weather forecast is a mixture of sunshine and showers, which, metaphorically speaking, sounds all too familiar...,

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Bordering on Fetish.

“Someone give me an epidural”, I said through gritted teeth as I squeezed my feet into my brand new, red patent, five inch birthday shoes.
“Hell-oh”, said Hubby by way of a not particularly helpful reply, “Ding-dong! Have we got a few minutes?”
“For God’s sake this is neither the time nor the place”, I snapped, my thoughts concentrated into walking properly and not wanton abandon as these shoes might otherwise suggest.
“Spoil sport”, said Hubby, still hugging me rather too amorously, “Well you look a million dollars and it really does seem a shame not to exploit the association with footwear like this, I mean after all aren’t they known as..”
“Dad, leave it out”, interrupted our son, shuddering, “We know exactly what you mean. Please, the pair of you, either get a room or give it a rest.”
I hobbled over to the fireplace and looking in the mirror above it, applied a slick of scarlet lipstick.
“You’re pushing it Alice”, added Hubby, running after me and burying his head in my neck.
“Look”, I said, writhing out of his grip, “You’ve got to take the girls back to school now. Don’t forget they need a teddy, a mug and your cheque book.” Hubby looked blank. “It’s book week. Remember? They’ll want to buy a book once they’ve had their stories read to them”.
Hubby looked most downcast as he piled the girls into the car.
“Don’t look so chagrined”, I said to him as he came back for one last kiss.
“Please Alice, don’t use that word. That’s just teasing me”. Slapping him playfully, I waved him goodbye as they all called Happy Birthday from the car. I looked at my watch, Mags and the girls would be here any second, I belted up my scarlet mac.
“I’m off in a minute”, I called to the rest of my children.
“ ‘Kay mum”, the thirteen year old called back, “Have fun”. Then, just as I reached for my handbag, my mobile phone trilled from its nether reaches.
“Hi Mags”, I said, “Where are you?”
“Just getting on the ferry. Where are you?” she asked.
“What do you mean you’re getting on the ferry? I’m at home on my own, waiting for you guys.”
“Well we were running late, so we thought we’d better get a move on. Didn’t want the birthday girl to be stood up. You’d better run Alice”.
Run? Was she having a laugh? I could barely bloody walk. No-one could give me a lift either; Dad was out and Hubby had gone to do his bit for the PTA. Gingerly I stepped out and made my way down the road. Think Geisha. That is how fast I was walking. Teetering, tiny little steps. Each one an agony of such intensity that my feet were having their own out of body experience. I clutched the veterinary surgery for support and then, like some transvestite Marcel Marceau, grasped my way along the outside of the Barber’s shop. Suddenly I was out of essential architecture and on my own. Somehow or other I had to navigate myself across a road, past a couple of pubs and then it was all downhill to the ferry. By this point I would have quite happily bitten my own toes off, but it would have taken too long and at this juncture, time was of the essence. Unfortunately, as I teetered around the corner, the ferry had sailed and was a third of the way across the Tamar.
I let out an involuntary little yelp of disappointment and wondered why such a thing could happen on my birthday. But He heard me. Whether it was a one off birthday treat or whether it was a miracle to show His omnipotence and unconditional love for me I’m not too sure, but for the first time in 26 years of catching the blasted ferry, it reversed!
Due to the severe pain I was experiencing I initially thought I was hallucinating but as it docked and the ramp came down like the spaceship in E.T, I realised it was actually for real. “I’ve got to just go for it”, I said out loud and biting my lip hard, I hobbled for all I was worth and, as I walked up the ramp there was a ripple of applause as I finally made it.
I found Mags and co by way of a helium balloon hovering above them, a rather discouraging slogan of, ‘Don’t bother love. I’m too old for you.’ printed on it. They were oblivious not only to me but to my agonising exertions.
“Hmm, mm”, I coughed. They all looked up: “Happy Birthday Alice” they cried and Mags jumped up, hugged me and handed over a gift bag and the balloon.
“Just let me sit down”, I begged, “It’s my feet, well my toes to be precise”.
They all marvelled at the footwear, “Bordering on fetish I’d say”, said Mags.
“How do these celebrities do it?” I asked them, wincing as one shoe was off and my toes were being rubbed back to life by another friend.
“Ah but they are only meant for the bedroom, the red carpet and maybe glossy editorials”, said Mags knowingly, “You never see any celebs actually move in them do you? They just stand and pout. Now we know why they are pouting.”
I had tried so hard to look stylish and sophisticated but let me tell you, the sight of a six foot woman in a scarlet mac clutching a conspicuous balloon, being given a Queen’s Carry by four other women off the Torpoint Ferry on a Tuesday night, is far from a pretty sight. The return spectacle, hours after so many Mojitas had been imbibed that the cocktail bar had run out of mint, was, I have been reliably informed by too many eyewitnesses, “Ugly”.

Monday, 20 October 2008


‘Alice to get cheese, crackers and wine for AGM’. This was my directive on the action grid of our PTA’s minutes from our last meeting. I rang the secretary, “So, we are going with a cheese and wine evening then?” I asked, doubtful that anyone would turn up.
“Yes”, she replied, “I know it’s a risk Alice, but we must try and get some of the new parents on board and hopefully, some Brie and Barolo will be the incentive to get them through the door”.
“I don’t think the cash and carry run to a Barolo, but I get your drift”. Duly, once I’d finished work, I rushed to pick the Red-Head from school, almost threw her into the back of the car, hopped onto the ferry and raced to the cash and carry; having bought the requested comestibles whilst dragging a curious 4 year old around a new and strange environment, I chucked her and my purchases into the back of the car, hared back to school, picked up three more children and returned home. Phew.
My feet, having been incarcerated within high heeled, leather shoes all day were screaming at me to be set free but, without a minute to spare I gritted my teeth and working through the pain barrier instead, I lifted the six year old onto a kitchen stool, laid out her spelling book and beside it prepared dinner for seven people not counting me.
Chopping onions and garlic, she and I worked through her spellings and the subsequent sentences. It was like pulling teeth. That’s not actually an accurate analogy as I love doing that and in the last week I have had the satisfaction of extracting three milk teeth from the 6 year old’s mouth. Hubby runs away gagging and horrified but I love it. Surely it is better than watching your poor child wiggle her tooth back and fore, back and fore, her tongue worn down by its exertions; the child in question fed up with eating on one side continually?
She now, not only believes in the Tooth Fairy whole-heartedly and the fact that, having left small change under her pillow every night, even the sprite world is not immune to the credit crunch, but that her mother and I quote, “ is a tooth-taker-outer expert”, as my technique, as long as she keeps still, is painless .
Not so spellings. “Please just get on with it”, I implored, browning the onions and garlic, “You have ten sentences to write and time is moving on”. I looked at the clock, it was 5.30pm and I had to be in the school hall in forty five minutes, where was Hubby, he said he’d be back around now.
She protested her rights to play. “Listen love, I would like to have my feet in a bowl of sea salts, but this is real life, take it on the chin. Now then ‘spear’- suh, puh, er, ah, ruh. Some tribes spear their fish”.
I emptied a carton of lardons into the onions and turned back to slicing a pork fillet. The Red-Head appeared, “Can I have a Ribena?”, she said as I, on automatic pilot, answered, “Please, may I?” The telephone rang, Hubby was just leaving. I turned the oven on and put in two part-baked baguettes, stirred the meat and with the other hand pulled out a large pan, filled it with water and placed it on the hob.
“Dear. Duh, er, ah, ruh. Dear Santa, I have been a good girl”. I emptied a tin of chopped tomatoes onto the meat, added some red wine, tore some basil and covered the pan. I made the requested Ribena, removed seven plates from the cupboard and counted the requisite number of knives and forks and grated some parmesan cheese.
“Near. Nuh, er, ah, ruh. It is very near to my mummy’s birthday”.
“Is it mummy?” asked the 6 year old, glad of a diversion.
“Yup”, I replied, stirring two packet s of linguine into the large pan, “Tuesday the 21st”. From the corner of my eye I spied a teenager. “Can someone please lay the table?” I hollered before adding, “I am going out with Mags and a few friends. Daddy is as ever, commemorating the Battle of Bloody Trafalgar”.
“But Tuesday is our Bed-Time story night at school; we have to go back in the dark in our jammies to have cocoa. I really wanted to go, everyone else is go...” her lip gave way and she dissolved into instantaneous tears. Wondering how I would tell Hubby that his evening devoted to , "The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him" was to be stymied, was interrupted by my son, clutching his girlfriend, “Do you want me?”, he asked.
“Only if you’re interested in any dinner”, I replied as brusquely.
I drained the pasta, lifted it onto the plates, applied a dollop of meat and sauce, sprinkled parmesan and carried plates into the dining room; sliced the hot bread, plonked it into a basket, filled a jug and put it all on the dining table. Returning to the kitchen I artfully arranged a cheese board and grapes, filled a basket with an abundance of biscuits and carried it all, as well as wine, juice and posh crisps to my car. Returning for my handbag I met Hubby on the steps.
“Spellings and sentences need to be completed and Traf night is looking iffy. Bye”.
Arriving in the school hall, some of the committee had already rearranged tables and chairs and the sec had made a wonderful display demonstrating the PTA’s fathomless efforts. Apart from three dads it was a no show. There was a lot of cheese to get through, ergo; I never, ever want another sniff of Brie.

Monday, 13 October 2008


The six year old bounced into the car last Friday when I picked her up from school.
“I’m saying Psalm 65 at the Harvest Festival” , she said, her face beaming with pride.
“Are you darling? Lovely. Do you have anything in your book bag to practise?”, I asked, driving gingerly down a very, narrow country road teeming with tiny school-children who zig-zagged in front of my car, book bags swinging, taking their time, oblivious to the fact that there was a backlog of cars behind me. Beeping my horn hesitantly, a little boy jumped out of his skin and into a hedgerow of stinging nettles, where he lay, wailing. His mother, using one hand to drag him out and the other to flick me a V sign, also mouthed a peel of foul profanities. ‘Charming’, I thought, ‘There really is no hope for our young’.
Determined that my youngest children would not grow up to be revolting and ill-mannered and expect me to stick up for them when arsing around in front of motor vehicles, I walked into the house resolute that there was no time like the present, and so, where Jamie Oliver quite rightly feels we should ‘pass on’ our skills in cooking, equally I believe we should, if we have them, pass on our high expectations, values and morals.
My idea for a renewed set of standards and principles was, as I’d imagined it would be, met with a collective groan from my children.
“...and we will all sit together at dinner and take it in turns to relate the events of our day and we will listen intently to that person, converse and comment appropriately; we will not get up from the table until everyone has finished eating, nor will we in fact commence chewing until we are all seated. I am fed up with arriving to the table minutes after everyone else, having provided a lovely dinner, only to find most of you have finished”.
“But I have much physics homework to do”, protested Pia, “besides in Norway...”
“Ah but when in Rome”, I quipped . Pia was horrified. Throwing her hands up to her face, her mouth wide open in shock, her expression looked familiar. Hubby laughing, recognised it too, “With that look on your face you resemble a painting by that erstwhile Norwegian, Edvard Munch.”
“Pia love”, I said tenderly, “We are only teasing you and I very much admire your dedication to your studies”. I said this last bit rather pointedly and my son shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “But”, I continued, “We are all going to make more of an effort with our manners and general regard for one another and, if that means sitting a little longer over dinner, then so be it”.
“But mummy”, said the Red-Head looking genuinely aggrieved, “When my tummy is full of my food I need to go for a poo. Straight away”. My son snorted, my 13 year old giggled, my husband laughed, Pia hid in her hoodie and my six year old just repeated the word poo endlessly. The Red-Head looked very pleased with herself and I sighed; quite obviously my ‘new rules’ were going to take a while to be adhered to.
“Yes, well”, I said, attempting severity of tone, “Let’s start as we mean to go on. Please clear the table fill the dishwasher and decide, kindly amongst yourselves, whose turn it is to wipe down the table”.
Scraping their chairs away from the table, the teenagers dolefully carried plates and cutlery into the kitchen. By the time they had reached the dishwasher however, the bickering was in full swing.
“Yeah well I emptied it last night”.
“So? Can’t you do it again?”
“I’m just putting my plate in there. You can do the rest”.
“I’m not touching the dishcloth, it stinks”,
“Yeah? Not as much as you”. And so on and so on. I was in two minds to follow them and scream but, it being a Friday night, I honestly didn’t have the fight in me, instead I Googled Psalm 65. It was quite a complicated piece and I was impressed that the 6 year old’s teacher thought her reading was up to it. ‘Still’ I thought, ‘Best to practice it’. I printed it out and went in search of my daughter who was quite happily watching a DVD. Hairspray. Hardly suitable for a little girl, but both she and her even younger sister were prancing around to the songs, quite oblivious to the meaning.
“Sweet-heart, come and practise Psalm 65”, I held out my hand.
“But mummy I can say Psalm 65. It’s easy”.
“Well good for you! But are you sure you wouldn’t like a few goes?” She danced over, looked at the paper and looked up at me quizzically, “There is a lot of it”.
“Well they’ve probably annotated your version at school. I won’t confuse you then” and I left them to it.
On the Monday afternoon, Dad and the Red-Head accompanied me to the church to watch the school’s harvest festival. By way of a big surprise, Hubby was waiting for me in the nave.
“Got the afternoon off”, he whispered, “Couldn’t miss her starring role”. We took our positions in the pews as the different classes filed in.
After a couple of hymns and a welcome it was the turn of class 2. Her family waited with bated breath as our star took a step forward in the chancel. My parting shot that morning had been “Take your time and enunciate clearly”.
She saw my face eager with expectation, cleared her throat and then, very clearly announced, “Psalm 65”. Then she stepped back. We all waited. But that was it. A short drama was then performed. Hubby and Dad, sitting either side of me nudged me simultaneously. I shrugged, offering only, “Well then, she really did just have to say, Psalm 65”.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Please Miss!

“So”, said Hubby recently. Such a simple, two letter word and yet loaded with meaning but, having been married to him so long, I knew what was coming.
“The Red-Head is starting school next week?” he continued, hesitant, waiting for my reaction.
I didn’t take my eyes of the TV screen.
“So”. There it was again. “I was just wondering what you’re going to do with yourself all day”.
“It isn’t all day”, I snapped, “Only until midday. What job can I do for three hours a day?”
“You can put some feelers out”, he replied, resolute. There it was. Out there. He and I might have been speaking in code to some but we knew exactly what was going on. Now that all four children were in school, Hubby expected me to join the work force and help him share the burden of every single household bill that has caused him a deeper furrowed brow than Gordon Brown’s.
Of course the evening ended with me storming out of the sitting room, yelling something about being undervalued and with Hubby sighing deeply, as though he knew this would be the final outcome. The thing is, his insistence that I go back to work sends me into a panic. For a start I do genuinely think that stay at home mothers are horribly undervalued. It is as if the role of ensuring that every family member is well looked after, that coming downstairs in the morning to a proper breakfast, a cup of tea, the radio on and lunch boxes packed and a hug and a kiss is insignificant. As though returning from school every day to find mum in the kitchen, always on hand to listen to every woe whether physics was ‘pants’ or maths ‘grim’ was irrelevant or whether every success, “Hey I got an A* for my essay” or “I got the part in the play” trivial.
My busiest time of day is from three in the afternoon until seven. In those hours I have done the school run, listened to four (now that I have Pia living here) variations on a theme of a day at school, made dinner, cleared up after dinner, been a taxi service, nagged relentlessly about homework and helped the last but one with her reading and spelling. I have also had to find sufficient enthusiasm when Hubby walks through the door to listen and comment accordingly as he off loads his day and make sure that at some point in the evening we share a couple of glasses of wine and he feels loved and adored (I fail miserably in this department). It is nothing new. Women like me have been doing it for centuries. I don’t expect a pat on the back but neither can I tolerate the attitude that what I and millions of other women do is inconsequential. The consequences of latch key kids and fragmented family life has been well documented, the results of which make-up media headlines daily.
The prickly subject of my returning to work is not only about my feeling unappreciated though. That is only half the story. The other side is fear and self-doubt. I may be happy enough to travel the world and its cities alone but, going back into the work place is a different thing altogether. My self imposed domesticity, whilst beneficial for the hearts and minds of my nearest and dearest, has left me bereft of any professional confidence. It has been years since I stood in the classroom and was Miss. Terms and terms of students have been educated since I last thought about the lexical choices and semantic fields in essays and Lady Macbeth and her beleaguered husband have long since been dead since I’ve discussed their murderous machinations.
Much like that great Dane Hamlet though, I could not prevaricate any longer. Hubby was insistent. My children were a little less enthusiastic, “Will things will change much?” has been asked on the quiet.
So, for the time being a compromise has been reached. Three mornings a week, I will be gainfully employed at a local school. Is it any wonder women earn so much less than men and professionally rarely reach the elusive ‘glass ceiling’ when part time work often seems to be the only option for them, especially when the spouse is in the military, where his absence or the constant moving makes it nay on impossible for the wife’s career to be equally prosperous?
I have done two mornings already. Hubby is away this week and, where his parents came to look after the daily exercise of getting five kids out of the house dressed, brushed, fed and lunch-boxed with notes signed and cheques written when I was in NYC, my organisational skills have been called into question because, on the second day the youngest had no clean knickers to wear and therefore had to don a pair of her elder sister’s. They hung down her legs and we had to put a pin at the waist. Great start. My youngest child going to school looking like an evacuee, “All she needs is a gas mask in a cardboard box around her neck”, was my son’s parting shot.
A school full of teenagers running down the corridor after morning bell is an intimidating sight. The staff room more so. Finding myself a chair, I drank my Nescafe amid other colleagues, who, thinking I was ‘supply’, ignored me. With knees trembling and throat dry, I entered the classroom and fifty minutes later as the sequential events of Romeo and Juliet had been cut out and stuck into exercise books, I was beginning to get the hang of it or so I thought.“Miss? Do you think Juliet was a slag? She was only thirteen and my mother thinks girls who have sex that young are real slags”. On reflection, thank God it is only part time.

Monday, 29 September 2008


Well, I had the best time. The palpitations of anxiety I felt just before I left, vanished as soon as I got in the car and by the time I was wandering around Terminal 3 at Heathrow airport it was hard to imagine that I was a wife and mother of four. To be honest I would have been happy to have spent a couple of days at the airport. “There is so much to see, so many perfumes to smell, so many handbags to fondle”, I said to the lady at the Jo Malone shop, my little face eager and excited by the variety of sensations bombarding me. The woman looked back at me with a look that most definitely implied, “Poor little provincial soul”. No doubt used to seasoned travellers who know exactly what they want, I took my time in every shop, exasperating the staff who wanted a sale from a rich businesswoman but I, as far removed from rich businesswoman as you could possibly get, meandered leisurely, unimpeded by the wants and needs of my rather large family.
The flight itself was thank God, without incident. In fact the aeroplane was half empty and so, once we had taken off, were free to sit wherever we chose. Minutes later with legs stretched out at the bulk head, a glass of wine in hand, headphones attached, movie on, I was like the proverbial pig in bliss and seemingly minutes later we were touching down at JFK airport. Luckily, due to the time of night, there were few people in the queue at the immigration desk. This was extremely advantageous otherwise I might have been there all night, not only because everyone now arriving in the States is required to go through the whole finger printing procedure and have their photos taken and their retinas scanned, but also because my immigration officer ‘came on to me’ as they say. By this time I was feeling rather weary and was not really up to having to deal with an amorous official. I was also in a rather compromising position. I could hardly tell him to ‘eff orf’ or he wouldn’t have let me in and besides, who would have believed my story? So I had to grin and bear it as he continued with his smarmy rhetoric, “Hey delicious lady, you married?” when I told him 17 years, he rather lasciviously replied, “No way man! Fancy a little variety in your diet? Must be boring eating hamburger every night”. I had to explain to Hubby via text what that meant: ‘He was comparing eating the same thing night after night for 17 years with sleeping with the same man. Wasn’t I bored? Wasn’t it samey?’
‘You should have told him that sometimes you alternate between ketchup and mustard’, quipped Hubby.
‘Then he’d have thought I swung from Arthur to Martha’, I replied punching the phone.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, I thought you sailors were the epitome in prurience. He’d have thought I was, well you know?’ Hubby didn’t know and the call was costing me a fortune, so I left it at that.
Finally and with a wink, I was on American soil and after a wild cab ride arrived at my friend’s fabulous house. What followed was some of the best few days of my life. I felt so liberated to be unencumbered by others that I felt as though my cage had been opened and for once in a very long time I was able to shake my tail feathers and fly free and swoop and soar.
To wander around Manhattan is not everyone’s cup of tea, not unless in the company of several friends but I like being by myself. Little makes me nervous and once I’d got the hang of the subway, well, I was like a native. Uptown and Downtown I travelled. Upper West Side, Upper East Side, I traversed. Broadway, Grammercy Park. Soho, Noho. I went to shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. I dined and partied and over a passion- fruit mimosa champagne cocktail, I, gently, turned down the advances of a Japanese dwarf. I brunched and lunched, and if ever I thought buying a coffee in America was confusing then a tall, single, skinny, misto, extra dry is nothing compared to ordering a salad. As I stood there behind Bergdorf Goodman’s amidst a gaggle of New Yorkers shouting out their orders, I was cowed into speechlessness when my turn came.
“C’mawn lady. I ain’t got all day”. Quickly, I chose my size and four toppings. I thought I’d cracked it until the guy shouted back at me, “Leaves?”
“Yeah lady, what leaves? Iceberg, mixed green, garden?” Oh I see. “Mixed green”, I yelled back. Phew, I was about to relax when the question of ‘dressing’ came up. I decided to go ‘naked’.
I listened to dozens of conversations that week, people-watched thousands and conversed with everyone from the wantonly, Latin lactation consultant to a gay actor who guided me through a ‘dodgier’ area to the old, fabulously glamorous Jewish woman on a bus down 5th Ave. She was, as was everyone I spoke to, alarmed by the sudden turn of events in the Presidential Race. It is surprising how profound a conversation one can have with a stranger on a twenty block bus ride. Her parting shot, “We gotta educate women. Let them choose a pregnancy or not. Stop them living lives of servitude”. Then I got off. Her words stayed with me. New York City is staunchly Democratic. It breathes liberalism; it advocates free choice, free speech, diversity, difference. Obama as they say, rocks. From personal experience, having lived in small town Pennsylvania, the rest of America ain’t so broad minded where creationists, pro-life nutters, homophobes and rampant racists live blissfully unchallenged, shoulder to shoulder. Unfortunately, ‘the rest of America’ is one hell of a lot of people and the New Yorkers have every reason to be alarmed.

NB: This post was not directed at my hosts, AG and CD who were the epitome of grace and generosity. Thankyou x.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Outta Here.

It’s been a bummer of a summer to put it mildly. The weather has been atrocious; the news has been all doom and gloom. I just want to get on with my life, head down, not causing anyone too much aggravation, looking after my family and eking out my grocery budget.
Thing is, no matter how hard I try to just ‘get on with it’, disaster after disaster befalls me. I can’t even be asleep these days without incurring huge costs. Take last Saturday night for instance. Hubby and I went to bed and, where I can usually hear a pin drop, especially noisy pins, like drunken louts outside my house, on this particular occasion I was left undisturbed until the following morning when I woke, refreshed and ready to face a busy few days with yet more and more guests to stay and church to attend with my youngest children.
Now, those who know me well will concur that I am not your regular church going type, but as my youngest attend a Church of England school and it was a family service and, because I want my children to develop some sort of moral obligation then I felt it only right that we support their school and attend. So, by ten past nine, whilst the rest of the family slept, we, in our Sunday best crept out of the house and went to the car.
The mess that confronted me stopped me in my tracks. A wind screen wiper had been snapped off at the root and the wing mirror, far from just having been bent back ‘for fun’ and been pulled at and pulled at and tugged and wriggled so much so that, not only was there no sign of where it might even have been, but, given the amount of scratching down the side of the door, one wonders if a tiger had taken the mirror off and not some A-hole of mankind. I just stood there, rooted to the spot. Why would anyone do something so malicious?
“Oh my God”, said the six year old, “Did a chav do that mummy?” I was speechless. This had been my mum’s car. The Renault I bought from Dad after her death and which has served me so well on my daily school run.
“Go and get daddy sweetheart” was all I was able to muster and within seconds Hubby, in his dressing gown, was at my side.
“Why?” I asked him and, apart from swearing and cursing and hugging me tight, he had no answer either. I left him to deal with the Police and insurance company and strapped the girls into Hubby’s trusty jalopy instead. As we approached the church an ominous smell of fumes filled the car.
“Bloody hell. What now?” I opened all the windows and parked the car. We entered the church and sang hymns and the girls listened attentively to a parable...but I couldn’t tell you which one. My mind was elsewhere; maybe I should have been down on my knees begging Jesus for mercy and a respite from minor, if costly disasters. But I didn’t, the only time I have called on Jesus’s name recently has been in vain, when faced with whatever crisis presented itself.
We drove home with the windows wide open and walked in to find Hubby’s expression grim indeed.
“Bad news Alice love. The insurance will cost us £200 excess.”
“Further bad news”, I replied, “Your car is giving off fumes”. Later that day our guests arrived and I cooked enormous quantities of food but my heart wasn’t in it, especially when ‘Forensics’ turned up the following morning.
“Well, well, well”, he said, looking at my car and shaking his head, “There was a spate of incidents around here on Saturday night, mostly damage to cars, but, well, this would have taken a good fifteen minutes to remove. These wing mirrors are attached by high tensile wire”. There were no incriminating finger prints.
That evening, Hubby and I drove in convoy to our local garage to drop off his old car and the following day my guests and I went to a scrap dealer for a new wing mirror and wiper blade. We returned to my local garage for said parts to be fixed and were met with the very solemn face of the mechanic.
“Mrs Band? Will you come into the office please?” I followed him meekly. Now what?
“It’s not good news I’m afraid”. There’s a surprise. “I don’t want to get too technical with you but basically it’s to do with blah, blah” he broke off. From the expression on my face it was all too clear that I just wanted to know how much money were we talking here.
“Over two and a half grand”, he said. There you have it. One car vandalised. One car too expensive to mend.
Then, just when you think the world has got it in for you, the post the following day brought a surprise. An invitation from an old school friend. Her book is being published. I was cordially invited to the launch party. In NYC. The Big Apple. Hubby laughed when I showed it to him. “In your dreams Alice love, in your dreams”.Well, as in all the best fairy tales, my God-mother (no wings) has made my dreams come true. “I’m buying your ticket for you”, she said, “And if you refuse to accept it I will never, ever, ever speak to you again”. My dad, in cahoots with my God-mother has bought me a new dress and handbag and inside a wad of green dollars. So I’m actually going. I fetched a pumpkin from the garden and it turned it a Virgin Jumbo jet. This is a modern fairy tale after all. Very modern actually, my Prince Charming is staying at home to look after the kids.

Monday, 15 September 2008


“Happy Anniversary darling!”, murmured Hubby into my shell-like last Saturday, before depositing simultaneously, a kiss on my cheek, a cup of tea on my bedside table and an enormous bouquet of lilies on my chest. Who could ask for anything more, as Ethel Merman once sang.
“Thanks”, I said groggily, before leaning out of bed and delving into my bedside table to remove an envelope and handing it to Hubby, “I thought you’d forgotten”.
“Evidently”, he replied grimly reading its contents. But our wedding anniversary hadn’t been mentioned. We hadn’t discussed if we were going out for dinner or to the pictures or indeed whether we were going to mark the occasion at all and so the card I’d bought was rather a facetious one, which had the following quote on the front, ‘A wife can surprise her husband on their wedding anniversary by merely mentioning it’.
“So were you testing me Alice?”, he asked.
“Well”, I explained, “I normally give you plenty of advance notice regarding matters of significant dates and this time I thought I’d see how you got on alone, without my prompting you”.
“So, basically you were angling for a row?”, he demanded. I shrugged.
“Jeepers Alice. Ever the romantic”, said Hubby.
“Look”, I replied, sitting up in bed defensively, “There’s no need for the hang-dog expression. You don’t usually know when your own children’s birthdays are and you hadn’t mentioned about going out, so I thought the card was, in the circumstances, apposite.”
“Well we are going out actually. So there”, he replied petulantly
“Oh? Where?”, I asked. Please, not Pizza Express again, I prayed. After 17 years of marriage however, many couples communicate by way of extra sensory perception and we are no exception.
“Well it isn’t Pizza Express ok? It’s a surprise. Just be in your glad rags by 7pm”.
Our various children gathered at the breakfast table in dribs and drabs. The youngest ones, with typical bonhomie threw themselves at Hubby and me, lavishing us with kisses and enormous hugs.
“Happy Anniversary mummy” said the 6 year old before adding by way of an afterthought, “and you daddy”, as she handed us an, albeit grotesque, drawing of a bride and groom.
“Ditto”, said our son sleepily, kissing his father’s crown before turning his attention to me, “Yeah man, happy, you know, wedding-thing...”
“Is the word anniversary really too much of an effort to articulate before 10am?” I asked.
“Sorry ma, but um, like yeah”. It’s like sharing a house with a cross between Dylan the rabbit and John Lennon. I sighed.
My teenage daughter though bounded into the dining room, gave me a huge kiss and handed me a card. Always precocious regarding her literary choices, her inscription within the card brought tears to my eyes as I read it aloud: ‘Romeo and Juliet might have gloried in the songs of the lark and nightingale but they heard it only once together. Your love has continued for uncountable lark songs and we too will love you forever’.
“Isn’t that just wonderful?”, I asked those at the table, wiping away tears, “Thank you sweetheart”.
“Yeah cool” responded her brother, glumly chewing a sticky maple and pecan Danish.
The postman delivered a card from my in-laws and my sister in law also remembered. As I arranged them on the mantelpiece after breakfast, I was horrified to find an inch of dust greet me but, just as I was about to address the situation with a can of Pledge, the doorbell rang. It was the plasterer, come to fix the hole in my ceiling.
“Bloody hell”, he said looking up, “So this is where the Hadron Collider is then eh?” My anniversary thence continued in an asthmatic cloud of pink plaster dust, falling debris, boot foot prints on my carpet and infinite mugs of builders brew. As I hoovered for the nth time later that evening, Hubby began to get agitated.
“C’mon Alice, leave that, we’ve got to get ready”.
“What’s the rush? We’re not going far are we?”, I asked, more preoccupied by my Dyson which was having difficulty sucking. I peered into its wand.
“We have to be on the seven o’clock ferry. We have to be”, he reiterated looking at his watch, “Please, go upstairs and get your slap on”. Twenty minutes later I was showered, dressed, bejewelled and smelling heavenly. I stepped into my vertiginous heels, kissed my kids, gave orders and waited for Hubby in the hallway. He emerged from the basement in his naval uniform.
“What’s going on?”, I asked suspiciously.
“We’ve been invited for dinner on a German frigate”, he said, taking my arm and ushering me outside before I could protest. “It’s a private affair, in the Captain’s cabin”.
Before you could say ‘achtung’, Hubby, me, a handful of other officers, their wives and a contingency from the local Anglo-German fraternity, were on board a ‘PAS’ boat, sailing out to the frigate. The sea was slate grey and lumpy. I felt queasy.
Eventually our little boat moored alongside a pontoon out in the Sound. I gingerly stepped onto it and picked my way up the ladder to the ship. It was literally a white knuckle ride as I gripped the railings. The wind buffeted me and I wavered, collecting myself before continuing my climb. My shoes were preposterously inappropriate as was my frock. Beneath me waited the unfathomable jaws of the sea.
Most unexpectedly I had a wonderful time. The Captain, his crew and the company were delightful, the food fantastic and the wine plentiful. Emboldened by Dutch or in this instance German courage i.e a few shots of Jägermeister, which I was advised contained over 53 vitamins, I tripped back down the ladder to our waiting boat like a happy-go-lucky gazelle. As we approached Millbay Dock I fingered Hubby’s gold stripes, “After 17 years you never fail to surprise me. Danke darling”.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


I’ve been promoted. The travel company, through which we had hosted the international students at the beginning of the summer, were so impressed with my sterling efforts at race relations that they have sent me another girl. Only this time it is not for a three weeks, hell no, I have been entrusted with the moral and physical welfare of an exquisite Norwegian teenager for a whole year.
Hubby was kept in the dark for a while, well, there’s no point in worrying his pretty little head for nothing and I thought the best policy would be to frighten him into thinking the very worst, so that when it became clear what was actually happening, he would be relieved and immediately relenting. And so, over breakfast one rare sunny morning, when Hubby was at his happiest with a cafetiere of coffee, the fantasy property pages of his newspaper spread out before him and his favourite music playing, I hesitatingly started the following conversation:
“Isn’t it lovely how this house is always full of young people?”
“Hmm”, he grunted in reply, not looking up. I tried again.
“I love it. Last week what with sleepover buddies, a girlfriend and various band-mates I counted thirteen youngsters in this house, that’s not including the surprise arrival of the Red-Head’s God-father and daughter and his friend and her two children. It must keep us young.”
“Speak for yourself”, he mumbled. This was not going according to plan. I tried harder.
“But darling, some people have such dull lives don’t they? You can’t call ours dull, can you? I mean the kitchen is like a canteen. I literally seem to ladle out food from a bottomless cauldron”, I paused, Hubby was at least looking at me now, if only sceptically, “but I do love looking around my dining table and finding that even the spare chairs have been utilised and all these kids are chatting away and passing bread and sharing food”.
“You feeling alright Alice? You are not your usual, moody cow self”. I chose to ignore that remark.
“I just love having children and young people around that’s all and I mean, well, what’s another mouth to feed?” That clinched it, Hubby, mid-pour of coffee, missed his mug completely and dark, hot liquid dripped off his paper and onto his lap.
“Jeeze, ow, ouch”, he yelped, hopping around and holding his soaking, dressing gown safely away from the family jewels, “What are you getting at Alice? What the hell are you trying to tell me?”
“Well, recently I’ve felt...”, but he didn’t even give me the chance to carry on.
“I knew it”, he blew, “I bloody knew it. You’ve felt sick! You’ve lost three stone in only a few weeks and the only time I’ve known you do that before is when you were pregnant. Have you been sick in secret? Oh dear God, oh no”. His slumped into a dining chair and plonked his head on the table.
“For heaven’s sake”, I said and was about to add an important fact that he seemed to have overlooked when suddenly he remembered and he sprang up from the chair, fury blazing from his eyes.
“But I’ve had a vasectomy! My God! I don’t believe it! How could you? How could you?”, he demanded. I put my hand on his shoulder and very soothingly said,
“My darling, I am not in the slightest bit pregnant and I have most certainly not been carrying on with anyone else. Now, had Johnny Depp wanted me for his film and we’d met up over a cup of coffee at his trailer then I might have found it nay on impossible to refuse but as I’m only on his shortlist, then my chances are slim and for the time being you needn’t worry...”.
“Get to the point”, Hubby growled.
“I just felt, that, as the international student experience was, by and large such a positive experience and, as we have the time and space, we could host another one”. My plan had worked and his relief was palpable.
“Phew, is that all?”, he fell back onto his chair, “Sure, why what’s the arrangement?” And so I told him that the company had been in touch and that they wanted us to host for a full year.
As anything was better than the horror he’d previously imagined, he smiled and agreed, “Sounds like a good idea. So they go to school here do they?”
“Yes, the programme is called the High School year and I’ve arranged for her to study her AS levels locally”. There was a pause.
“She? Do you know who’s coming then or, should I say, when is she coming?” It was my turn to look uncomfortable.
“Er, Sunday”. The coffee almost went flying again, but Hubby succeeded in keeping it together.
“You mean tomorrow?” he asked. I nodded.
Pia has been with us almost a week and is without doubt everything one would expect a Scandinavian to be, beautiful, blonde and encouragingly, like every other teenager I’ve encountered i.e messy, emotional and with a mobile phone permanently glued to her ear. I must admit though that I have grave reservations regarding the travel company who facilitated this experience, who have amongst other gems of wisdom, advised me and the other host families that we must not provide lunch, that our students must not make contact with their parents for three months and that at Christmas, we are only expected to provide a cheap, token gift. My gut feeling, sadly, having met the other host families, is that there is more than one who would have no qualms in allowing a nervous, homesick sixteen year old watch as they enjoyed a round a sarnies, let alone a Sunday roast and who quite candidly were only in it for the money, as one nudged me conspiratorially, before rubbing his fingers together and saying, “It’s a holiday innit?”

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New Shoe Hell.

“Alice, I will do anything, anything, but please I beg you not that!” so pleaded Hubby the other morning as we lay in bed.
“What’s the big deal?” I answered grumpily, “Other men do it and I don’t want to do it by myself”.
“You’ll enjoy it more on your own, really love, I just can’t stomach it. In fact I feel a panic attack coming on just thinking about it”.
I sat up, “Don’t you think you are being a tad over-dramatic? Honestly, I’ve only suggested that you come with me to buy new school shoes and you’d swear you were being coerced into some deviant and transgressive act”. Hubby at least had the grace to look sheepish.
“Yeah well, you’re a better man than I am Gunga Din. I’ll get dinner ready for when you get home, I’ll re-grout the bathroom tiles, I’ll weed the garden, I’ll...”, his voice trailed as I got out of bed and pulled some drawers on.
“Ok”, I said, hopping around our bedroom as I attempted to get the other leg in, “I get the picture, but I’m not taking them all then. I may indeed be a better man than you but even I know my limitations and taking all four children to buy school shoes, is most definitely one of them”.
Leaving the youngest and most unpredictable child behind with her father, I drove away in silence. Not only was 11.30 far too early for teenagers but the thought of a day spent traipsing after their mother, buying items for school had rendered my eldest children mute and irritable. The six year old was more up-beat, her only request being, “Can I have a doll in my shoes mum?”
It really shouldn’t have come as any surprise but when I was on the verge of vertigo given how many floors we’d driven up and then corkscrewed down again in the new shopping mall car park before we found a parking space, I began to fear that perhaps every parent with school age children had had the same idea.
Jones’s was the first stop. They were duly measured and the young assistant brought a selection of boxes, removed the shoes and attempted to persuade my children’s feet into said shoe. I felt Prince Charming’s despair; none of the shoes fitted.
“Well why don’t they fit?”, I asked the 13 year old.
“They rub” she answered, stonily before hissing in my ear, “and they are seriously hideous”.
My son wouldn’t even try his selection on and the six year old choked on a sob, “But they haven’t got a doll in”.
“That’s Clarke’s”, said the assistant automatically and without emotion, as though this was the thousandth time she been stymied in her sales by a disappointed school girl, hell bent on a plastic doll in her heel.
“I’m sorry”, I said, gathering my kids, “This is going to be a long day”. I walked out briskly, holding onto my six year old daughter’s hand firmly. My other daughter was near me but my son was doing his level best to lose us in the crowd, shuffling his feet slowly and meandering. It was all I could do not to clip his ear.
We could hear Clarke’s shoe shop before we could see it and by the time we eventually climbed the stairs to the children’s department, the noise was cacophonous. An assistant met us with a number and wasn’t even able to say, ‘take a seat’ as there weren’t any. Not one. Only harassed parents, screaming toddlers strapped into pushchairs and other children of varying ages. Boxes, shoes, socks and tissue paper lay everywhere and everyone: parents, staff and children looked close to tears.
One little girl was having a pair of black, lace up shoes fitted. Finally she succumbed to a sob.
“But they are so ugly”, she blubbed, “They look like special needs shoes. I want girly ones like Hannah. Hers have got lights.” Her mother looked on, defeated.
We waited in this retail hell for forty minutes before we were served. My son, who has size 12 feet was allowed to go downstairs to the adults section as there was nothing available for him in size Sasquatch. My girls, thank God, were measured and fitted without further delay and with a pair they, and more importantly I, liked. The younger had the all important doll and the elder a pair that weren’t too ‘academic looking’. Her words not mine.
I went downstairs to find my son leaning in the doorway.
“Well?”, I asked, impatiently, “What’s happening?”
“I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of them”. God give me strength. We still had uniform to get.
As we walked, stony faced back towards the mall, my son’s girlfriend and her best friend walked towards us. Suddenly as though a magic spell had been cast, my son’s recalcitrant manner was transformed into joy, effusion and animation. Smiling from ear to ear, he hugged her tight. Time for a break. We left them outside, to court, whilst the rest of the family sipped frappucinos in Starbucks. The best friend was left to stare at her hands.
Revitalised after a sit down, it was time for Round 3. The lovers said goodbye by way of a lingering snog under the escalators but my son did rejoin us with a spring in his step. Barratt’s provided the shoes, shiny black winkle pickers and Derry’s with brown skirts, a nasty jumper and a green blazer.By the time I arrived home I was fit for nothing, except a lie down, alcohol and guilt induced TLC from Hubby. It was not forthcoming. There was a note on the fridge, ‘Gone to Mags and Co for BBQ. Sorry about dinner. Promise I’ll cook tomorrow. Hope you had fun. Love you xxx’. Fun? Fun, my arse. Plotting my revenge? Now that was fun..

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Black Hole.

The music had to be faced. The key had to turn in the lock, I had to venture forth, walk into the sitting room and look up. For the first time ever, I welcomed a traffic jam on the M5, anything to delay coming home and dealing with reality, so, as another hold up lengthened the journey by another hour, I put the car into neutral, opened a bag of fat free Jelly Babies, relaxed and turned the wireless up.
Finally, having dropped my eldest daughter’s friend off, I couldn’t avoid going home any longer and with feet of lead I dragged myself up my front steps and into my house. Hubby had arrived earlier and cut me off in the dining room with forced bonhomie.
“Alice love! You’re home!” he said, crushing me against his chest in a very enthusiastic bear hug, “Now it’s not as bad as you imagine it to be, honestly. We’ll soon have it spick and span!” Was the thought of his wife losing her marbles over a fallen ceiling oddly transforming Hubby into some sort of mental health nurse? Was this why he was adopting this bizarre and very practical no-nonsense hospital jargon? Was he going to ask me to ‘pop onto the sofa’ next?
“Let me be the judge of that”, I said dully and extricating myself from his embrace I walked past him. The whole family seemed to hold its breath in unison as I quietly entered the sitting room and finally, allowed myself to look up. Horse hair, ancient strips of timber, rusty nails and jagged bits of plaster resolutely stared back. A weird little sound was expelled from my lips and my six year old guided me to the sofa where I sat down, speechless.
“I’ll make her a cup of tea”, said my son, scarpering.
“I’ll help you”, said his oldest sister.
“It’s ok mummy”, added my six year old, stroking my arm, “We can fix it”. Unfortunately, the words ‘can we fix it’, no matter in what order, is a phrase associated, as any parent or grandparent will attest, to that loveable, animated odd-job man the under fives adore. So, before you could say “Yes we can”, the Red-Head had embarked upon a frenzied medley of Bob the Builder Tunes, until my nerves, unable to tolerate any more, finally shattered and I started to sob. The Red-Head was immediately removed from the scene, protesting vehemently, then Hubby, having appeased her with a DVD, returned and sat next to me. He took my hand.
“Don’t worry about it love”, he said soothingly, “We’ll get it sorted. The insurance company are coming tomorrow and then it’ll be just a question of formalities”. I sobbed even louder.
“That’s what I thought before”, I hiccoughed, “When our bedroom ceiling fell down. But they wouldn’t give us a penny”.
“Well you shouldn’t make a habit of losing your ceilings!” I looked up to find Mags, as brown as a nut, holding a box of wine and three wine glasses, “Thought you might be in need of something medicinal” she said, inserting her finger into the cardboard with aplomb, before expertly extracting the little tap. Cool white wine flowed into my glass and down my throat like an elixir.
“Thanks”, I sniffed, “That’s lovely”. My son and daughter entered at that moment carrying a tray of mugs.
“Guess you won’t be wanting these then?” asked my son, miffed his efforts had gone unrewarded.
Mags shrugged her shoulders, “Doctors order I’m afraid love”, then she rummaged into her large, crumpled, leather bag and removed a packet of custard creams, “Help yourself. Dunk them into the tea”. Custard Creams, my son’s biscuit du choix. He beamed, instantly mollified, “Cheers Mags, that’s a magic bag!”
After two and a half glasses and little, other than a few chubby Jelly Babies all day, the wine soon had its effect, “You see”, I slurred, using my glass to indicate, “That, that thing up there in my ceiling is like a metaphorical Black Hole where the gravitational field is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can escape its pull after having fallen past its event horizon.” There was a silence until Hubby chipped in.
“She gets like this when she’s had a few, it’s a phenomenon, it’s as though she’s being channeled by Stephen Hawking”.
“I can think of dishier men I’d liked to be channeled by”, quipped Mags.
The following morning as I rummaged around for some horse sized ibuprofen the door bell rang. A dour man, holding a clipboard to his chest, introduced himself as the insurance surveyor. I let him in and called for Hubby to “deal with it”. As I gulped my pill down, my son, half asleep, appeared in the kitchen.
“How long does it take to wash and dry a pair of jeans?” he asked.
“About two hours. Why? Off to see Divine Love?”
“I haven’t seen her for a week mum” he blushed, “So? Can I shove my jeans in then?”
“You’ve talked and texted her incessantly though. Go on then, if you gather all the rest of the laundry I’ll wash them, I’m not putting a cycle on for one item”. Leaving him to hunt and gather dirty washing I picked up the post. Most of it was birthday cards for my eldest daughter, now officially a teenager but I absent mindedly opened a mobile phone bill. My son’s, whose monthly contract of £15 is paid by us. Only it wasn’t £15 it was £93. I gripped the kitchen counter. At that moment the surveyor, a camera around his neck like a tourist, declared, “Of course I see you don’t have AD added to your policy”.
“AD?” Hubby asked.
“Accidental damage”, he replied smiling, with not a little hint of schadenfreude.
“We don’t?” stammered Hubby.“You do not”. I was way past the event horizon. The Black Hole was pulling me ever deeper in.