Tuesday, 25 March 2008


“Alice?” It was my gay friend Ian on the phone. My fabulous old school friend, who works in ‘showbiz’ in London and who is my connection to the bright lights of the Big Smoke. The one who, when I am feeling at my most provincial, provides me with salacious gossip regarding the goings on in the West End.
“It’s the Premiere of Jersey Boys on Tuesday night. Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It’s a big do. Lots of celebs. Big party afterwards at the Natural History Museum”.
“Wow!”, I said, “You’ll have to tell me all about it”.
“Thing is Alice”, he said, “I’ll be working on the show that night but I’ve got two VIP tickets going spare. Just wondered if you fancied one? My friend Lizzie is taking the other”.
“Oh. My. God”, I answered just a little excitedly, “I’d really love to. Can you hang onto the ticket until this evening? I’ve a lot of childcare logistics to sort out?”
“No sweat”, he said, “The ticket’s yours”.
Hubby - cross that I’d let our daughter’s passport lapse, although I had no idea that passport upkeep was ‘my department’, but as we are going across the Channel for Easter and it thus cost £94 for their one day passport service -would need cajoling. Later that night I said rather coyly,
“I know I’m not your favourite person at the moment but I‘ve got a big ask”.
Four days later then, having roped my mother-in-law into the domestic melee that is Chez Band, I was on a train to London. I’d like to say that I was catapulted at great speed to the Capital city, but as is often the case with First Great Western, no sooner had we embarked on the journey than we were all turfed off at Taunton, due to unbelievably, a faulty horn.
Eventually I arrived at the Theatre six hours after leaving Plymouth, mightily cheesed off that my few precious hours of freedom had been eaten into by a bloody defective horn but within minutes of dropping off my overnight bag with Ian at his theatre, I was strolling around the streets of Soho. Sitting outside an impossibly cool bar, watching the world go by, I couldn’t believe the world of difference a few hours travelling makes to one’s vista. My goodness, people don’t look like that in Plymouth and let me tell you, they don’t sell the same things either. Mercy no.
Sinking my sauvignon blanc I watched with growing excitement the hullabaloo going on outside the Prince Edward Theatre. Police had arrived in droves as had the paparazzi and celebrity spotters. Barricades were erected and a red carpet laid. I went to the stage door to get ready. Ian met me and showed me to a toilet within the theatre, “Get dressed in there darling. Theatre is all a facade. There ain’t nothing glamorous backstage”. Luckily no-one interrupted me whilst I undressed, and Ian soon led me in my glad rags to another little room full of sweaty dancers limbering up.
“Budge up darling”, he said to one hoofer, “Let my friend get her face on”. Minutes later he led me out of the stage door, around the front and onto the red carpet. Immediately the papparazzi’s flash bulbs went pop, pop, pop. I put on my most dazzling smile until I heard them all call “Cilla! Cilla! Over here Cilla!”
They were all there, Babs Windsor, Ronnie Corbett, Brian May, Hale and Pace bloke, Mr Blair – Lionel not Tony. I was totally star struck. Ian introduced me to his friend Lizzy and together we spent ages whispering, “To your right Russ Abbott”, “Look left right now, Alan Sugar”. Unfortunately we were just as silly during the performance. Before it started Lizzy owned up that she knew no Fankie Valli numbers. “Neither do I”, I confided. It was a revelation to us then when song after song was instantly recognisable. We couldn’t believe how many other groups had covered the tracks.
When the performers launched into ‘Bye Bye Baby’, Lizzy and I looked at each other in disbelief. “I thought this was the Bay City Rollers”, then another number was met with “Bloody hell thought this was Wet Wet Wet”, I said. “Any minute now and they’ll be doing an Arctic Monkeys one”. For some inexplicable reason we found this funny beyond words and had to be hushed by people around us, I choking on my programme to try and shut me up. During the interval we did a bit more, “Look who’s over there”, aided and abetted by all the free champagne we could drink. After the show- which was truly fantastic especially as Frankie Valli made a personal appearance on the stage - we all clambered onto coaches which took us to the Museum.
I was like a child in Wonderland. It was so spectacular – a lavish bash, what with the television cameras, the ever present paparazzi, another red carpet and all the booze you could drink, I didn’t think it could get better until we walked into the main hall, where the biggest dinosaur was flood lit in red light - given the age of some of the celebs though, the dinosaur wasn’t the only fossil in the room. A swing band played, everyone was dressed to the 9’s, the food was stunning and the flower arrangements were works of art.
Queuing to get some much needed food, Lizzy and I were most put out as the estimable King of the Jungle, Mr Christopher Biggins jumped the queue in front of us. It was all I could do, buoyed as I was by far too much champagne, not to shout out, “Get back to chewing your kangaroo anus” but I didn’t. All to soon it was 2am and like Cinderella and Eliza Dollittle before me, the party was over, our glad rags dispensed with and the cold, harsh light of reality woke us cruelly only hours later.

Glossary - These celebrities are very old school British who American readers you will not have heard of apart maybe from Brian May who was in Queen. They are much loved and most very old. Christopher Biggins was in a reality celeb show called I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here. He and several other celebs, desperate to relaunch their careers, go to Australia and live in a camp in the bush for a few weeks where, every day, British viewers phone in a vote to get the celebs to do a hideous 'bush tucker trial'. It's fantasic TV! Anyway, Christopher Biggins had to eat, amongst other things Crocodile cock - true and Kangaroo anus. He won the show!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Do Gooder.

As Hubby battles it out with his battle ships, I, ever the earth mother, attended a conference last Saturday at Exeter University, not you might think in Sexuality and Gender In Dialogue and Discourse or indeed anything that might really capture my imagination and interest and spur my creative juices and improve my mind.
Instead, I and around one hundred others congregated to partake in a day of PTA related issues. Many were very earnest indeed, armed with a spiral notebook, a selection of pens and fluorescent highlighters and a packet of mints, which they sucked relentlessly. It goes without saying that their efforts at fundraising were far more impressive than our village school but I don’t really see the way forward being a ‘shame wall’ – which is exactly what it implies, a board hung up in the school hall with the names on it of those who did not help out at the summer fair/Christmas fair/buy raffle tickets/attend an event.
Two other mums from my six year old’s school PTA committee had travelled up to Exeter with me and we three listened in shock and awe, when in various ‘workshops’, we had to share ideas. To be honest I had gone along for the ride as I felt a day out, albeit one involving overhead projectors and flip-charts was better than no day out at all and to be honest, I’d had quite enough of entertaining various children on a wet Saturday afternoon as Hubby furiously shushed them during the rugby.
Shell-shocked after ‘Are you Legal?’ Sally met Sue and I in the hall for lunch - the best bit, as any school child would agree. Stuffing our faces on huge rolls and flapjacks and crisps, we discussed the morning’s events.
“It’s hardly worth holding a summer fete”, mumbled Sally wiping egg mayonnaise from her chin. “You wouldn’t believe the number of safety certificates we need. You’d swear a bouncy castle was the number one killer of the under 10’s”.
“And they always tell you it’s measles”, added Sue, “Honestly, had I known it was an inflatable I wouldn’t have gone through the trauma of the MMR vaccine”.
“What about the mulled wine situation?”, I asked, my mulled wine being a real winner at our outdoor nativity and Christmas fair.
“Ooch”, said Sally, sucking her teeth, “What do you think? We need so many licences that the PTA might as well open its own pub”. Mulling over this information, we finished our lunch in silence until a lady with a badge pinned to her breast informed us it was time for the afternoon’s activities.
Sue disappeared to ‘Writing Trust Appeals’ whilst Sally and I climbed down from our stools and shuffled into the ‘Effective Communication’ room. It is extraordinary how much thought has been put into this subject and once again, I felt as though we were the bottom of the class when it came to original ideas.
“We held a ball once”, said one woman proudly, “Ticket sales were slow and so another mum and I dressed up in our ball gowns, bling and high heels at school picking up time and walked around with flyers. It was a highly effective was of communicating the fact that the school was holding a ball and the tickets sold out immediately.”
“Oh we have a dad”, said another, “Who has been unemployed recently and is more than happy, as long as we make him a cup of tea, to wear a sandwich board promoting events and he walks up and down the playground morning and afternoon”.
Sally and I looked at each other stifling hysterical giggles.
“What about you Alice?”, asked one of the NCPTA*, pointing to my badge. On hearing my name, my giggles disappeared immediately and, chagrined, I was transported back to fourth form Physics when the teacher knew for a fact that I hadn’t been listening.
“I, well, I , we..”, I floundered.
“We have a wish list outside the school”. Sally had come to my rescue.
“It’s been hand made by one of our parents. It looks like a bean stalk and on it we have wooden leaves and on each leaf a wish of what we are fund raising for. For example, new stage lighting or a new playground”.
There was a general consensus of murmuring approval.
“Thanks Sal”, I said, “You saved my ass. We haven’t got one of those bean stalk things though have we?”
“No”, she whispered, “But it’s a bloody good idea”.
Half an hour later and we exited the room, buoyed by a list of ‘to-dos’ which were a sure-fire way of getting all the parents enthused and involved with our fundraising. We were convinced that from here on in, every concert, barn dance, beetle drive and fete would be packed to the gunwhales and we would raise thousands of pounds to enhance our little darlings’ education.
Sue, when we eventually found her, was making slime in the hall with the Mad Scientists – a group who visit schools like a theatre company but do science instead of a play. “This is fun”, she said, adding coloured paint to PVA glue and borax, “Do you come to Cornwall?”
Bristol was the closest schools they visited in the ‘South West’. Bristol the South West? Not when you live in Redruth.
“How was Writing Trust Appeals?”, I asked making our way to the car.
“One must be persistent by all accounts and possess a good vocabulary and excellent grasp of grammar and considering I never know what to do with my semi colons, that counts me out I’m afraid”. Even though we stopped at Tesco’s on the way home and I drove slowly, I was most disheartened to arrive home to find Hubby screaming abuse at the TV, my youngest two dishevelled and covered in chocolate. As the final whistle blew on a score of Scotland 15-9 England, I knew it would be a long evening.

* NCPTA - National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations.
**Since this was written England defeated Ireland and Wales won the Grand Slam (repressed whoop of joy!)

Saturday, 15 March 2008

How Much????

Yesterday I had to go and renew the 6 year old's passport - that's another story. I stopped en route at a motorway service station. To keep me awake and to fortify me during the journey I bought a coffee and a muffin from Costa Coffee (think Starbucks). It cost £4.80. Four pounds and eighty pence? For a coffee and a muffin? That's almost $9!!!!!!!!!!!! For a coffee and a muffin?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Late the other evening, surrounded by cannelloni tubes, wayward bits of mince, a cheese sauce with an identity crisis and armed with a frozen garlic baguette, Hubby walked through the door.
“Yoo-hoo Alice love!” He sounded most uncharacteristically chipper.
“Hello”, I answered, struggling to get the bloody baguette into the oven, “Damn it”, I continued, realising there was no alternative but to remove the thing from its foil, cut it in half and re-wrap it.
“Damn it”, said Hubby, wrapping his arms around me, “Is no welcome home for your poor, hard working husband. Meet Graham. He’s come for dinner”.
I looked up from under my messy, badly-needing-to-be-washed hair and smiled, very weakly.
“Uh, hello Graham. I’d shake your hand only it’s covered in garlic butter.”
“I didn’t want to impose and this husband of yours said we’d get a curry”, said Graham, looking slightly uncomfortable.
“Did he, did he indeed?” was all I was able to say. Well this Hubby of mine hadn’t even told me a colleague of his had been invited for dinner. If he had, take it from me I would not have gone to the immense effort of stuffing ruddy ragout sauce down the gaping mouth of a cannelloni. The sauce was everywhere, as was the cheese sauce which had caught at the bottom of the pan and which would take two days of soaking in soda crystals until the pan was once again useable. A night off by way of dipping my naan in chicken korma would have been a welcome change. As it was, the house and I were a mess and, unlike Jesus I find it a struggle to eke out a dish of pasta to feed the five thousand. “Please make yourself at home”, I smiled, “I’m afraid I’ll be stuck in this kitchen for a little while yet”.
“Yes, c’mon Graham,”, said Hubby, only too happy to have a friend to play with, “let’s leave her to it. Fancy looking at my record collection?”
I smirked. That could quite easily have been suffixed with - Matchbox cars, Pokemon or Star Wars figures. It matters not a jot, men are still boys with their toys.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get much time to play records as the youngest children were most intrigued as to whom Daddy had brought home. My children are far from shy and within minutes of Graham sitting down both were on his lap interrogating him.
When I ran into the dining room forty minutes later the pasta dish burning me through the tea towel and the garlic bread under my arm like a sword, he was still pinned to his chair being serenaded by every nursery rhyme the Red-Head could remember – to be honest her repertoire is pretty limited and so ‘Finkle Finkle Lickle Star’ was sung as though on a constant loop, although with more gusto each time. Graham looked exceedingly happy to see his dinner if only to remove a sticky, caterwauling three year old from his lap.
Witty, civilised conversation was as ever out of the question as four, feisty siblings fought for attention and their turn to be heard. Opinions and anecdotes listened to and protested over, the meal degenerated further as the youngest squabbled over the last of the garlic bread and the eldest argued over who was going to use the internet next. Hubby, oblivious to the discord at his table was more concerned in looking through a pile of 45’s for a pink, vinyl copy of Squeeze’s Cool For Cats. It was left to me to entertain our guest, who looked curiously, overwhelmed. Dinner at chez Band is, without a doubt, an intimidating experience.
Luckily for me I have spent many an evening in the company of sailors and am thus adroit at conversation with any branch of the RN be they weapons engineers, helicopter pilots or ‘supply’. Graham was more than happy to wax lyrical about grey ships, especially given the fact that he once had command of one. A few choice questions here and there about Type 23 frigates and the challenges therein and before you could say, specialist anti-submarine platforms, dinner was over and we could all excuse ourselves.
“Thanks Alice love”, said Hubby as he carried a few plates into the kitchen after me.
“What for?” I asked, scraping the remains into an adjacent bin.
“For not talking emotions. You’re really one of the lads at times”, he added, smacking me on the bottom as he left me to the Fairy Liquid.
Later, after the youngest children had been put to bed and the eldest wrestled off my computer, I finally sat down to share what was left of a fine bottle of wine. Just as I took my first sip, the Red-Head called for me. Running up the stairs two at a time, I reassured her that there were no and never would there be any, velocoraptors hiding stealthily under her bed. Running back down the stairs, a piece of Lego that had been previously hiding, took my foot from under me and I fell down the stairs like a hapless burglar in a Home Alone movie, landing in the hallway, my skirt somewhere above my chest, the infernal piece of Lego imbedded insufferably into my, not insignificant, bottom cheek.
“Oww!”, I wailed. Unfortunately being younger and fitter, Graham was the first to jump off the sofa and thus the first on the scene; consequently the first to see me, clothes awry, bottom bleeding. Hubby was fast on his heels though but his proclamation of “Dear God girl you look a right state” did little to console me.
Suffice it to say the remainder of the evening was not spent flirting in the company of two handsome men but on the kitchen table on my hands and knees. Tweezers, ice pack and Savlon* were administered with one hand, dignity, decorum and modesty taken away with the other.
* an antispectic cream.

Monday, 3 March 2008


“Alice?”, whispered Hubby, almost imperceptibly the other night, just as I was drifting off to sleep.
“Mmm”, I replied. What was going on? Hubby rarely comes to bed when I am conscious, let alone start a dialogue with me.
“I’ve been thinking”. Huh?
“You know tomorrow is February 29th? Leap day?”
“Yes”, I yawned. This was most curious. Hubby is not known for his conversation unless it is somehow identified with grey ships - then he can wax lyrical but, to question me on a Leap Year was odd indeed. I couldn’t fathom it at all.
“Well, what I was wondering, it being the woman’s prerogative an all that. Were we not married, well, would you have proposed to me?”, there was a pause before he added, “Given what you know”.
It was late. Logistically it had been a day of killer proportions. I was literally run ragged and now he wanted a deep conversation which quite honestly, was soon going to degenerate into high drama if I didn’t pick my words very carefully indeed. ‘Given what I know’. That was a loaded statement. So I lied.
“Of course I would have darling. It’s been a wonderful seventeen years. We’ve got the most amazing children, a wonderful friendship, passion and respect for one another. Who could ask for anything more?”
He didn’t buy it.
“Don’t be facetious Alice. Aren’t you happy then? Wouldn’t you marry me again?”
It was at a loss for words. I was so tired; this was such a hypothetical conversation.
“Well, we are married, so what are you talking about?” I asked, tapping his thigh, in what I hoped was a comforting, reassuring manner.
“I read an article in a paper yesterday that suggested over 85% of women, if given their time over again, wouldn’t marry their husbands. Are you one of them?”
I lay on my mattress and gazed in the dark up at the ceiling. He was serious. Hubby had genuinely been thinking about all those dissatisfied wives the length and breadth of Britain, desperate for a bit of peace and quiet, wishing they had never signed up for 40 years of heavy domestic and emotional toil with only a week in Lanzarote thrown in now and again for good measure.
I had been facetious earlier. In the parlance of teenagers, it is so easy to ‘diss’ one’s old man, like a post-modern Bernard Manning but was I being fair?
As Hubby lay beside me holding my hand to avoid the irritating thigh tapping as much as anything else, waiting for my reply, I rolled over and fished about in my bedside drawer for a pen and scrap of paper.
“What are you doing now?” Hubby asked, rather impatiently.
“Writing a list of pro’s and con’s if you must know. Hubby exhaled noisily whilst I drew my table. The con’s came thick and fast: Long periods of time living apart, sole parenting, coping on my own, few holidays, frustration, frequent rows.
“Gee great Alice. This marriage really has been laugh a minute for you hasn’t it?” I sensed a slight modicum of sarcasm in his voice.
“Give me a chance”, I replied, “I have yet to write the pro’s”.
“I won’t hold my breath”, Hubby responded huffily. He needn’t have huffed as I couldn’t help but think, as I drew up my list of ‘Pro’s’, that they were a little more profound than the con’s. We are each other’s best friends; we have genuinely got fabulous children. He works so hard and does such a good job that I hold him in very high regard and respect him as a very hands on father, who when here, has an enviable relationship with his children. Ok so, passion had gone out of the window a bit, but then again I bet Angelina and Brad aren’t at it like rabbits all the time either.
The pro’s continued: Hubby has provided me and his children with a lovely roof over our heads, given me the opportunity to return to higher education, provided food and generally speaking, when on special offer, excellent wine. He may have protested regularly about our finances and complained more than is palatable about how money is haemorrhaging from his very arteries but has been generous to a fault at times too. Ultimately I have never questioned his devotion to marital duty or his unwavering love for me. I squeezed his hand, “Yes darling, on reflection, I would ask you to marry me. Over all, you’ve been a good bet”. Just as he was to prove there is no such thing as a free marriage evaluation by letting his hand let go of mine to explore further other areas of my anatomy, our son walked into our room.
“Will you sign my planner please?”, he asked. I turned on my bedside light and Hubby sighed a sigh of defeat.
“Have you made a time plan now for the revision you’ve got to do?”, I asked.
“All done.” he replied. I didn’t really believe him but as he bent down to give me a final kiss goodnight I remembered the glowing words with which his teachers had praised him that afternoon at Parents Evening: ‘Impeccable manners’, ’So polite’, ‘A pleasure to have in class’, ‘Amusing’, ‘A really good lad’.
Given that a friend, who is currently working as a supply teacher, literally walked out on a classroom of teenage hoodlums this week having experienced the foulest language, aggression, disruption and intimidation, I felt that Hubby and I must have done something right. To know that my son is not the reason for his teachers nervous breakdowns is comfort indeed. Buoyed by this thought I turned to Hubby, ready to respond accordingly. He however, worn out by the unchartered territories of late night conversation coupled with his amorous advances was already fast asleep. I turned off the light. Continuing the educational motif: ‘Could try harder' could be added to the ‘con’s side of my list.