Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Provocative Agents.

“I’m sorry your appointments have been cancelled. I don’t know what else to tell you”. This was all the nurse had to say to a room full of outpatients all having got up at the crack of dawn, all having negotiated miles of traffic and all having depended on other people to facilitate their being there. Hubby, hours before driving up to Cranfield Uni to continue his efforts at higher academia had to stay with the children whilst I got myself up and out of the door to be at the hospital by 9.30 a.m. Mine was supposedly the first appointment. I thought it ominous that another, then another, then another patient arrived and I hadn’t even been seen. One woman was there as an ‘emergency’, although her GP had asked for an appointment back in November. Another in a wheel –chair, her husband armed with newspapers to entertain him during his wait.
“Well”, I said, “The neurologist won’t be up to speed on our ailments. He can’t have read our notes. He hasn’t even arrived yet”.
“Maybe that’s what he’s doing now”, suggested another patient, hopefully.
“Wouldn’t have thought so”, said another, “All our notes are on the table in the corridor”. We all fell silent again, like a room full of strangers does until, buoyed by confidence in a shared experience someone else says something that will get a reaction of agreement.
“This has happened to me before”, said a lady. This of course opened a flood gate of NHS mishaps, disasters and ineptness and we were all getting on like a house on fire, sharing stories of cancellations and near death experiences, still at this point hopeful that we would be seen in the next few minutes, when the nurse stuck her head into the room and told us the bad news. There was a collective groan of disappointment mingled, unfortunately with resignation before we all trooped out of the day room into the corridor where a red faced appointments clerk battled with her computer.
Of course it goes without saying that the next appointment she could give was sometime in March. I reversed my car park out of a car park where I’d just spent £2.30 for the privilege of parking – we could have got our money back apparently from some cash office somewhere in the hospital but, apart from it being a palaver to do so, should every patient visiting the hospital claim when operations and appointments were cancelled then I feel the drain on the NHS would only cause further cuts.
My arrival at home was met, not unusually, with chaos. Hubby, having packed the night before was incandescent with rage as the Red-Head had somehow prised open his suitcase and put a couple of chocolate digestive biscuits on top of his white shirts. Farcically, the suitcase had been left near a radiator, so that when Hubby went to lift his case to put in the car, the case fell open only to disclose chocolate brown, smeared shirts.
The Red-Head’s protestations that she only wanted to give Daddy a “phesant” did nothing to allay his fury.
I put my bag down. “Take it easy love”, I said, “She really did just want to give you a present, unfortunately, you got more than you bargained for”. I removed the shirts and shoved them into the washing machine, went upstairs, opened Hubby’s side of the wardrobe and pulled out two, unsullied white shirts. I brought them downstairs and handed them to him and, somewhat mollified, he kissed my head and placed them in his suitcase. Gathering various briefcases, armfuls of textbook tomes and his laptop, he stooped for one last kiss before leaving.
“Oh, I’m fine, don’t you worry about me”, I called after him sarcastically, “I don’t have to have major spinal surgery”.
Swearing rather profusely he turned on his heels, “Sorry Alice love. I just need to get away and get on with my studies. What did the consultant say?”
“He didn’t turn up”, I replied. Hubby looked askance, “Didn’t turn up?”
I shook my head. “Look I’ll call you later”, Hubby said, “and we’ll talk about it then. Look after yourself and my babies”. Then, kissing me again, he left. Within seconds of me having waved him off, he returned.
“Bugger, I forgot to tell you. Mags is having some crisis and is on her way around”, he put his arms around me, “I really am off now”, he murmured into my hair and with yet another kiss he left.
I’d barely put the kettle on before Mags fell through the front door, heaving a suitcase behind her.
“It’s my turn to leave Alice”, she panted, “I’ve had it up to here with him”. I looked at the clock, it was past midday – a sherry was permissible. I poured us both a glass and took her into my sitting room.
“What’s happened?” I asked gently.
“Well, you know that it was Valentine’s day?” How could I forget? My day had been spent looking after sick kids. Romantic it was not.
“Well”, she continued, “Things haven’t been regular in a certain department if you know what I mean?” Was she kidding? My celibacy is reverential in its devotion.
“Well, anyway, Mum had the kids overnight; I cooked a glorious dinner and had my best, slutty clothes on. Honestly Alice, I couldn’t have spelled it out more clearly, my shirt was see-through and my undergarments positively harlotesque”.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“He ate his dinner. Didn’t allude to the fact that my bra was showing and when we went upstairs and undressed, he just said, ‘Oh you’ve still got your undies on. Are you staying up to read The Kite Runner then?” I shook my head.
“I bought those knickers and stockings from Agent Provocateur as well”.“Listen Mags”, I said sagely, “Wine and underwear are much the same. Unless the man is a connoisseur, then a budget of £4.99 usually does the trick”.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Show me the puppies..

There is more a ying and a yang thing going on my life than anyone else’s of that I am convinced. For instance, when giving blood a few weeks ago I was stopped afterwards for using my mobile phone whilst at a red light. I begged and pleaded with the police officer and showed him my plaster where the needle had been to demonstrate that I wasn’t a careless, thoughtless driver but, if the blood donating television advert would have us believe, a hero. “Please don’t give me any more points. Please. I am trying to do a good thing. I have just given blood but they were running behind time and I was ringing my daughter’s school to let them know that although I was late, I was on my way”. The police officer was very grave. He gave me a good scolding and pointed out the erroneous errors of my ways. He told me of terrible pile ups and made me feel like a mass murderer, but thankfully he did take into account the fact that I had provided life saving blood that ironically would be necessary in one of the aforementioned pile ups and so, my good deed almost balanced out the bad and he eventually let me drive away.
This ying and yang has been prevalent for quite some time now and I am beginning to wonder whether it would be just a safer bet to stay at home. Last year Hubby and I went to Paris for what was to be a romantic weekend: our return flight was cancelled twice, we had to pay for an overnight hotel, the Eurostar, a hire car and then arrived home to find my eldest daughter’s bedroom virtually reduced to a cinder as she had left her hair straighteners on under her duvet and the following morning the youngest child came down with a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.
In October a friend, in return for having stayed here for a few weeks, very kindly paid for Hubby and I to stay in a fabulous hotel in Fowey overnight. As many will remember I was sick and couldn’t eat my Michelin starred dinner. We returned home, our tail between our legs only to find the third child also sick.
In November I attended a sumptuous party near Bath, leaving my youngest child vomiting on the sofa, worryingly left in the sole care of her father.
You’d think therefore that when a thick envelope dropped onto my mat six weeks ago inviting Hubby and myself to a ‘vintage Hollywood’ party that I would have immediately replied, ‘Commander and Mrs Band thank Mr and Mrs Macintosh for their kind invitation to their party but due to the fact that every time they try and enjoy themselves they find themselves severely punished by the gods, and therefore have no alternative but to decline this invitation for fear of Divine reprisals.’ Whether we never learn or are eternal optimists, I couldn’t possibly say but we threw caution to the wind and so, last Saturday, dressed to kill, we attended the best party that South East Cornwall has held for many years. Of course I checked and double checked all the children before we left and when I mean ‘all the children’ then think Waltonesque. In addition to my own four, I also had my two teenage God-children staying for a fortnight, on top of that my twelve year old had her friend sleeping over and two other young children stayed whose parents were attending the same party. They were all hale and hearty and having a merry time.
Hubby looked a million dollars in his mess and dress, every inch a Hollywood matinee idol. I on the other hand, having learnt on the steep learning curve of life called humiliation that basques and glamour and I do not go hand in hand, decided to camp it up a little. With a wig, some gloves, a sticky-up collar, a cigarette holder, a long black dress and some striking make up and even more striking attitude, I assumed the role of Cruella de Vil. A word of advice. For those inclined to play the dominatrix yet who perhaps find the sweaty rubber garb somewhat disagreeable – dress up as Cruella de Vil. Men genuinely quivered in my wake. As one gentleman told me later, “You have been the main topic of conversation tonight. We are terrified. You have sliced through us like butter and I am not ashamed to admit I was the butter”. Result.
We danced until late, until I dragged a rather imbibed Hubby into a waiting taxi. Celestial payback time awaited my return. My son and God-son were up and in a flap, each nursing my youngest girls, who were sobbing. Hubby, to my utter dismay could only fall into bed and with shark eyes i.e glazed, black and open , pretending to be awake, he uttered, “Can you manage love?” before falling, fast asleep. Useless. I eventually settled the 6 year old but the youngest kept wailing. Finally, overcome by fatigue and my own desire for sleep and ibuprofen I carried the Red-Head into our bed where she promptly threw up. Hubby didn’t even flinch. She was sick every half hour throughout the night. On Monday the next sister was sick, on Wednesday the next, on Thursday the God-son and on Friday the youngest came down with chicken-pox. I am up to here with stripping beds and domestic incarceration. The sun has shone every day and I have seen nothing of it save rinsing out buckets in the garden and hanging bedding. I implore all friends. If you genuinely like us and hold us dear then please, do not invite us to parties, dinner, on holiday or weekends away. I won’t feel overlooked, I promise, instead I will feel that you are trying to protect us and for that, I thank you.

P.S For those who know me well, photos of said puppy murderer can be found on Facebook!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Ooh la la.

Hubby, desperate to keep me from leaving him and rendering him wifeless and thus incapable of much, most of all going to work, took me out for dinner last week. It was a naval do and not ‘a deaux’ which, given our recent histrionics was probably a good thing. It meant we did not have to endure polite conversation with each other as we picked at our prawn cocktails. Instead and for the first time in many years, another man flirted with me. It took me back a bit. Suddenly I was no longer dear old Alice, mother of four who stays at home as her grandmother did in a pinny and slippers but just, Alice. Hubby, apart from squeezing my thigh from time to time, was in his element being surrounded by fellow naval personnel and, even though they spend the best part of the working day together, it did not stop them sharing tales of daring-do. You’d think that compared to a fighter pilot’s daring-do that their tales would be limited, alas not. You’d be surprised in fact how rough, tough and hard to bluff the logistics branch of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy are when armed with a clip board and magic markers.
As I sat there fiddling with the stem of my wine glass and wondering when my chips were going to come, one of these gentlemen sitting opposite me, charged my glass, “Je ne comprends pas que ce qu'elles sont énonciation faites-vous ?” he said.
“Excusez-moi?”, I replied in my best school girl French.
“I am so sorry. I sought, as you look Parisian, that you spoke French. I said, I don’t know what they’re saying do you?”
Years ago I might have fallen for the “You look Parisian”, line. These days I am just grateful but still, in spite of myself and the fact that I look about as Parisian as Jethro, I blushed.
“No”, I giggled, “I haven’t a clue”. He sipped his wine without taking his eyes off me.
“This eeze terrible wine n’est ce pas?” and before you could say Beaujolais Nouveau, he’d caught the attention of the waitress and another, far better bottle materialised and was poured into my fresh glass.
“Zere are not so many good restaurants in Plymouth are zere?”
“Um, not really. We have the Tanner brothers of course”, I stammered.
“Mais oui”, he said, nodding.
“And of course Rick Stein is only an hour away”.
“Reek Stein? I do not know of heem. Is ee a chef?”
“Yes, a famous one. He cooks fish”. I sounded ridiculous and stilted but it had been so long since another man had had a one on one conversation with me that I wasn’t quite sure what to say and also, given that he was French I was concerned that he wouldn’t understand what I was saying. At least I hadn’t compensated for this by just talking louder.
“Feesh? I love feesh. It is very difficult to buy here no?”
“Well not really. There is plenty available in the market in Plymouth”. What was I talking about? “But in Torpoint it is more difficult to purchase”. Dear God I sounded like a Linguaphone cassette tape. Be sexy Alice, be sexy.
“What is your favourite fish?”, I asked. At that moment, the waitress put a large bowl of moules marinieres in front of him.
“I sink zeeze are my favourite. Zey are very erotic, like ze genitalia of a woman”. I choked rather unbecomingly on my wine.
“See how they unfold like a...”
“Alright love?”, asked Hubby, suddenly remembering me, “Got your chips yet?”
In a manner of speaking I did, if ‘getting your chips’ could be considered as a French man talking dirty to you.
“Not yet”, I replied, just as the waitress returned with a huge plateful of steak frites.
“You ‘ave a very ‘ealthy appetite”. Drat, drat and double drat, why hadn’t I gone for the bloody salad instead. Far sexier to pick on a piece of rocket than cut through chunks of meat dripping in au poivre sauce.
“Well, I don’t get out much”, I replied rather feebly.
“An ‘ealthy appetite is very sexy on a woman. I like ze flesh of a larger woman. It is more yielding no?”
“No, I mean yes, uh or no”, I was all sixes and sevens. Brazen it out Alice I said to myself, brazen it out, “Well I don’t get any complaints”, I joked.
“Of course not”, he said, very seriously as though a fait accompli, “I couldn’t imageene you would”.
He went back to sucking each mussel out of its shell, never for a moment taking his eyes off me. I was breaking into a sweat and was terribly self conscious of filling my mouth with fried onion rings, peas, steak and bloody chips.
“Are you posted here for long?”, I asked, desperate to get off the disconcerting subject of pleasures of the flesh.
“Until ze summer, zen I return to France, excusez-moi”, he added, getting up from his chair and, using his napkin, wiped from my very impressive décolleté, a blob of pepper sauce.
“Oh gosh I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise” I mumbled, pulling at my ‘slip’. It had done what its name implied and had slipped far down my chest under my gaping bra revealing far more than was necessary.
“Jeeze Alice”, Hubby intervened for a second time, “You flashing your knockers again!”
I playfully slapped him but was dying with a mixture of shame and arousal.
“Your wife has been entertaining me”, said Jean-Claude. “I can believe it JC”, said Hubby, “She’s a star turn. A real hoot.” Not for the first time that evening did I feel a connection with Jethro*.

Jethro - a comedian whose persona is very burly, farmeresque Cornish, provincial idiot.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

All men are bastards..

A simple suggestion last Sunday that we go for a family outing to Paignton Zoo sent Hubby into a wild rage which culminated in me packing a bag and attempting to leave. I didn’t get very far for a number of reasons, the main one being the big blue eyes of my four children looking forlornly on and the fact that, being a kept woman, I don’t have any independent means and thus could not by any stretch furnish myself with food, clothes and shelter.
If I’d realised that a day out looking at some wild animals would have elicited such a response I’d have kept my mouth shut and got on with filling the washing machine, but as I’d been up since 7am, done a mountain of ironing and presented the family with a platter full of French toast, bacon and maple syrup and, given that for the first time in a long time the sky was azure blue, I felt justified in making such a suggestion.
Hubby however, perhaps worn out from his new job of getting up every morning at 5a.m and returning late in the evening was not amenable to the idea of a day out. Were he to have just said, “Alice love, it’s a nice idea, but I’m whacked, let’s do something a little more low key”, I could have understood. Instead he fell into a full on tirade of how I was constantly irresponsible regarding our finances, as he oh, so clearly pointed out, “All is do is earn the money and all you do is spend it”. I pointed out that of course I did seeing as it is only I that does the shopping and sees to the children’s more material needs. When I say pointed out we were of course by this point shouting rather loudly at one another, insult after insult, long repressed resentment finding a forum to be exorcised. It was ugly and finally culminated in Hubby roaring, “In all these years Alice you have done nothing to assist me”. I reeled backwards as though shot. Did he just say what I thought he’d just said?
The last twenty years flashed before me and I remembered the months and months of deployments were I brought up various young children on my own. I remembered the phone calls from Antigua were Hubby was just going to a champagne lunch as I swallowed my Prozac, sinking in a pit of post natal depression. I remembered all the Naval dinners and balls I’d attended where I’d behaved impeccably and listened politely to interminable speeches and anecdotes by various naval top bods. I’d bitten my tongue on numerous occasions when political opinion was conflicting with my own and at all times did the best I could to make a good impression for Hubby’s sake. Many is the time, overcome with ennui that I could have sunk another glass of port and slid under the table. I remembered the successful career he has forged because I was always there like some faithful Labrador, all tongues an tails a-wagging. I remembered being whipped off to America, where at the time I had quite a successful career – well, slightly flourishing, only to return with another baby, no mother and most certainly no career. I was mad. M.A.D. Virgil.
‘Nothing to assist him?’ I thought. Well we’ll just see about that. I will remove my assistance and see how he copes unassisted. My first list informing Hubby of which child did what on which day and with whom, was crumpled into a little ball, so I wrote another one and stuck it on the fridge. Then with heaving chest and wracking sobs I ran upstairs to pack a bag. Hubby, perhaps having seen the errors of his ways or more likely worried that he wouldn’t be able to go to work the following day without childcare, wrestled the bag from me. I pulled the handles in one direction, he the other.
Suddenly a “Yoo-hoo” from downstairs brought us to some extent, our senses as Mags called up the stairs, “You two up to some Sunday morning recreation?!” How more removed from the truth could she have been.
I ran down. “I’m leaving him Mags. I can’t stand it any longer”. Mags looked stricken, but as ever in charge, handed me a tissue and delving into her designer handbag pulled out a pair of Gucci sunglasses, “Put these on and let’s go for a coffee”.
There are few places to drink coffee on the Rame Peninsula on a Sunday morning but luckily the lovely Moran’s in Kingsand was open and unbeknownst to them was a refuge that day. Over coffee and a complimentary bit of fudge which was very welcome given that my mother always advised something sweet for shock, I spilt my beans, “There’s nothing I can do though Mags. I can’t really leave. I am a chattel, a kept woman, a captive audience. If he chooses to stop putting money into our joint account, I’ll starve to death”. I’ve never been one for understatement. Mags did a lot of soothing ‘there, there’s’ before we left and she drove me home to face the music.
I arrived to find Hubby making a picnic. “I’ll leave you to it”, said Mags kissing me before she closed the front door.
I was feeling terribly feeble and worn out. My packed bag was nowhere to be seen. “Thought we’d go up onto Dartmoor”, suggested Hubby, “Have a walk around Burrator reservoir”. It was hardly the ape house but it was I could see an attempt at reconciliation. It was a quiet walk, the 12 year old could sense hostility but the younger ones were happy with the simple pleasures of muddy wellies, throwing stones and a strawberry 99. Several days later and we’ve held crisis talks and summit meetings and a matrimonial disaster has once again been avoided although not without a glass of wine being flung in the face of superciliousness.