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 lov├ęd 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...,