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.