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.