Sunday, 27 December 2009

Tall tree syndrome.

Once more it was that time of year. That time when we all pretend it’s actually really great fun to go and march around a boggy field and look for the perfect tree. Tradition. Family time. Call it what you will. In reality the little ones find it too boring, Hubby too expensive and the teenagers are barely functional, having had to get up far too early. The teenage girl was this year even grumpier because she was self conscious of her ‘blokey wellies’ and so, terrified she’d see someone she knew, resolutely refused to look up, instead hiding her face in her hat and scarf so that she could barely see the trees, utterly defeating the object. This annoyed me intensely and the crosser I got with her the moodier she became. The youngest of all, who started out full of beans with Christmas joy, ran on ahead only to go flying in the sludge and thus have half a pound of wet, cold sticky mud up her cuff and sleeve. The two of them gave up at that point and withdrew to the brazier to toast marshmallows and chestnuts. It was freezing. Having left my lovely thermal socks at home in the dog’s mouth, I only had a pair of regular ones on and my tootsies were numb. None of us could agree on which tree was the one and tempers were becoming fraught. It was so dense in the middle of the forest that, to muddle a phrase, you couldn’t see the trees for the wood. The seven year old had forgotten her raison d’etre and was having more fun with the horn which was to be honked when the ideal tree was found. Once heard, a chap on a tractor would come and find you and cut down said tree.
“So, sorry, just our daughter fooling around again”, Hubby said apologetically, as the little John Dere approached us eagerly.
The driver was not impressed.
“Have you never heard of the boy who cried wolf?”, Hubby asked our daughter sharply.
“Are there wolves in these woods then?” she answered, eyes as big as saucers, “Would you leave me here to be torn limb from limb by a pack?”
Hubby rolled his eyes, “Maybe but that’s not the point I’m making here.”
“What is it then?”, she asked.
“My point is that when we find our tree, we will need to have it cut down and brought up to the car and the more you annoy these chaps by honking your horn indiscriminately, the less likely they are to come to help us when we really need them”.
“That story has nothing to do with a wolf at all dad”, she said walking away. Hubby looked at me, I just shrugged.
“Don’t get Aesop involved”, I said, “Not unless you know a fable regarding the recklessness of wearing inappropriate clothing and the consequent metamorphosis of digits to frozen chipolatas”. I hopped from foot to foot, blowing on my hands, suddenly our son hollered,
“How about this one?”
Because of the concentration of trees, it was difficult to judge if it was perfect but, as I’ve long given up on perfection and now embrace an ‘it’ll do’ attitude, I wasn’t going to argue. That said, when we all looked up to the sky, the tree in question did look particularly tall.
“It’ll be alright when it’s cut down” said Hubby optimistically.
“The one next to it looks good too”, I added.
“Are we really going to go for two trees this year Alice? They are such a pain to erect”.
“Daddy please” wailed the 7 year old, “Don’t ruin my childhood by breaking with tradition”.
Once more Hubby looked at me quizzically and once more I shrugged my shoulders,
“Blame Hannah Montana”, I said.
“Go on then”, Hubby instructed, “You can now legitimately honk your horn”. She did so and a couple of minutes later, the little John Dere came trundling, tentatively, across the track.
“It’s ok”, said Hubby smiling, “It’s legit. We’ve found our trees”. I left them to the sawing and loading and went in search of my other daughters, who I found cuddled around the brazier, the younger of the two absolutely covered in melted marshmallows. From her chin to her knees strings of it stuck to her like PVA glue.
“What on earth have you been up to?” I asked. My eldest daughter explained.
“She doesn’t like the toasted bit so she bites the end off and then dribbles it out of her mouth. It’s quite gross”. I made a futile dab at her person with a screwed up tissue I had in my pocket, but this only resulted in the tissue sticking to her face making her resemble a rather dubious Santa.
Seconds later our trees, my husband and two other children appeared. We lifted the trees from the trailer and attempted to put them on the roof of the car. This is the moment I knew that the day could only degenerate into profanity, pain and persistence.
As Hubby strapped one of the trees onto the car before coming back for the other later, one of the employees came up to him.
“Need any help? If not that’ll be £110 please”. Hubby audibly gasped before turning ashen, before glaring at me.
We drove home in silence where the rest of the day was spent attempting to find ways to get the trees not only into the house, but standing upright. Twice I’ve got up this week to find one of them on the floor, decorations scattered. After several efforts, a lot of swearing and many millions of pine needles piercing Hubby, it prompted the 7 year old to joke –
“You are like a ‘pine-cushion dad’”, it is now anchored to the radiator.
Which leaves me to breathe out a sigh of relief, raise a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and wish you all a Merry Christmas x

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Suffer little children..

But I don’t want to be a lamb” sobbed the Red-Head, adding, “I want to be like her”.
‘Her’ was her bigger sister, gloating and floating around in a cream Monsoon dress – model’s own as they say in magazines; glittery, gossamer wings adorned her back, a tinsel halo hovered above her head, silver tights sparkled on her legs but the piece de resistance, being as this is a contemporary nativity, were the silver sunglasses on her face.
How could a five year old, in a lamb costume of boring black leggings and a cream long sleeved t-shirt not be consumed by jealousy?
“It’s not fair”, she continued to wail, “I look ugly. I want to be beautiful too. I don’t want to be livestock”. I stifled a giggle and cuddling her, told her she was beautiful, very and that all of God’s creatures were important especially those that had visited baby Jesus in the manger.
“The lambs don’t make speeches though do they mum?”, added the sparkling Angel, rather unhelpfully, “I mean the lamb never uttered those immortal words, ‘Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people’. They just baaa”. The Red-Head renewed her sobs.
“Erudite but very mean”, I said sternly, “If you continue in that vein I will suggest to your teacher that you play the donkey. How do you feel about that?”
From the stricken expression on her face, I took it that she didn’t feel good about that idea at all.
The 14 year old daughter walked in.
“Oh wow! Look at you!” she said to the Angel, “We never had costumes like that when I was at their school. The Angel ones came out of old mouldy boxes and were just musty bits of net which itched like hell. She looks like a Disney Angel”. At this point the Red-Head let out a long wail of grief and flung herself into a cushion.
“Isn’t she in the nativity?” whispered the 14 year old. I nodded.
“Is she narrating then? She doesn’t have a costume”. I glared at her.
“She’s wearing it”, I mouthed silently, adding, “She wants to be an A.N.G.E.L”. The 14 year old caught on and rolled her eyes to the heavens, and then sitting down onto the sofa, she lifted her littlest sister onto her lap and smoothed her hair.
“I was a camel once”, she told her, “I was surrounded by pretty girls who were Stars and Angels but worst of all was the lead role of Mary going to one of the meanest girls in school. Mummy will tell you that I was not happy. I had to stand next to all these pretty girls in fur fabric and hooves and pretend that I didn’t care but inside my heart was breaking”. Where was this going? I really didn’t need a suicidal lamb on my hands a few hours before curtain up.
“But really it prepares you for disappointment in life. Life isn’t always an Angel, sometimes it’s a camel and occasionally it’s a lamb. Fundamentally we are all players in life’s great nativity scene.”
“You are talking out of your bottom” said her big brother who had entered the room looking for some clean pants. Using one hand to hang on to his towel, he used the other to root around the laundry which had decorated the dining table for days, before adding, “Are you suggesting that globally, we are all meandering around in various guises of shepherds and wise men, the odd donkey and an Inn keeper? It’s a cool idea. Immense. But with one essential flaw, surely the whole point is that there was only ever to be one Immaculate Conception and specifically one Saviour? Otherwise the world would be in terrible muddle.”
“My point entirely. He was the one and only, ergo without Him would you not agree that the world is in crisis?”
The Lamb and the Angel had long since gone off to play with the Lego, the Angel taking the Lamb by the hand with entreaties of, “It’s ok, don’t cry. You can have my chocolate in tomorrow’s advent window ok?”
It was only 7.50 in the morning. I had loads to be getting on with; arguing over the existence of God was not on my to-do list but given the length of my list, I just quietly prayed that He did.
As though answering my prayers, by some miracle the children not only got to school just about on time but I went to work and returned with enough time to buy supper and bang it in the oven, walk the dog, mull some wine and decant it into borrowed SAF Jars before driving the wine to the school hall.
No sooner had I lifted the lid on the SAF Jar, than a horde of parents and grandparents flocked to my side, each clutching a polystyrene cup. The wine was gone in an instant. I could have done with Jesus at that moment not just spiritually but as a caterer, no-one knew more about rationing and sharing out. He could feed five thousand for goodness sake, let alone a school hall filled with nanas and grandpas.
Speaking of caterers, just as I informed a mum that the only way she’d get even a sip of mulled wine was if she was prepared to suck on a clove studded, wine soaked orange, Hubby appeared. In an official capacity. With his hat and cane. He took his seat next to Mags and watched his daughters perform. Well the Angel did; the Red-Headed lamb stood, facing the stage and hung her head in abject misery. Hubby made a speech and then left with his car and driver. I humped the SAF jar, two children, various school uniforms, two lunch boxes and book bags home.
“I loved this afternoon”, said Hubby later, “Real Christmas feel”. I’d agree with that. I was feeling knackered.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Enough already.

The Alice Band Christmas coach tours are officially and categorically, kaput. In the last few years I have corralled my passengers, clip board clutched to my chest on outings to all nearby major cities. Never have we been without an ‘incident’. What seems such a straightforward fund raiser for my youngest girls’ school, rarely is. The PTA sit in the pub once a month and rack their brains on how to raise some much needed cash and the coach trip has always been a no-brainer. Now I know why, because the person organising it, has no brains.
This year though I thought it would be different. There was a lot in our favour, we weren’t going far, ergo the driver wouldn’t fall asleep as one did once, on the A38, at 60mph; Clark’s Village is a specifically built shopping centre ergo, there is little chance of anyone getting lost as they do, in larger cities, every year and, being only the other side of Taunton, we would be home early, in time to catch of the X-Factor.
So, last Saturday morning once again saw me ticking names off a list and fielding questions as to “Where is the bus then?”. I sighed and smiled and pointed out that we were not behind schedule. Soon we would be though, very, very soon.
The coach it transpired was not going across the Torpoint Ferry as had been promised but instead around the Tamar Bridge. There was a lot of disgruntled tutting, apart from a dear lady who, with her teenage daughter and friend had travelled from Saltash to catch the coach and had to wave at their house as we past it again, an hour later. She found it hilarious.
At Ivybridge the A38 was shut, so we took a detour, across the South Hams. It was very beautiful but very, very bendy and windy. Many of my ladies felt queasy indeed. The swapping of seats commenced and receptacles had to be found ‘just in case’. The coach was stuffy, the air-conditioning didn’t work. We drove through many villages and 45 minutes after we’d left it, rejoined the carriageway. We arrived at Street an hour late.
As far as I am aware everyone had a lovely time. I will assume this because in my experience, I am only approached when there is an ‘issue’. No-one tells you when they are happy and everything is lovely but God forbid, if they are unhappy about something, then they will soon make themselves known. Most had done a lot of shopping given that some seats had been taken up by carrier bags, leaving other passengers with nowhere to sit. Did they honestly think that I would turn a blind eye to a woman standing in the aisle as long as the Monsoon carrier bag had somewhere safe to sit? Many minutes were spent in the beseeching of placing said bags in the underneath hold. Finally my passenger capitulated and my seat-less lady had a place to rest her weary legs. Not for long.
The engine of the bus had been running for quite some time and once I’d checked that all heads had been counted and all had their seatbelts on, the driver put the coach into reverse. It made a few jolts into the car-park and that’s as far as it got. As I was sitting almost directly behind his ear I was able to hear him on his mobile phone to the service engineer, who presumably was somewhere in Cornwall. He was advised to rev the engine to try and get it out of reverse gear. It was very technical, I didn’t understand it. At the front of the coach we were unaware that the back was filling with smoke, until the screams and mass panic travelled to the front. I jumped out of the way to help people down the steps and it was immediately apparent that the engine was not actually on fire but that whatever was being revved, was rubbery and getting hot and smoky. Nevertheless, it was carnage on board. There were women and teenagers crying, people pushing others out of the way, one woman tried to jump out of an emergency window, another in her rush to escape down the middle steps, fell and hit her head, twice. It was by now pouring with rain. We gathered in the car-park. There was a baby being huddled without any waterproofs, frantic screams of “Get the baby a coat” were sounded. Yet there were some, less flappable who were most reluctant to get off the bus. The driver turned the engine off and the smoking stopped.
Lots of women went for a coffee, lots more became very agitated, some went to the pub. Another coach adjacent to ours happened to be returning to Plymouth and had spaces left. All hell was let loose. The baby and its mother were obviously a priority as were those in hysterics, others told me all sorts of lies to get on that bus along with demanding compensation for the accrued taxi fare from Plymouth to Torpoint. My hair, clip-board and passenger list was getting very soggy as I valiantly attempted to keep control of who had absconded where. A simple day trip was all going so horribly wrong. Some of those who didn’t make the alternative coach decided that ours was a death-trap and chose to go to home by train. I ticked their names off.
After an hour an engineer turned up, mended the bus and we continued our journey home. Those of us left enjoyed the quiz and shared not only a tub of Celebrations but very much a Dunkirk spirit. Ironically we arrived home at the same time as the others and, as I wearily stepped down off the coach one of my ladies said, “Count me in next year”. I’d have liked to have said, “Ok, this sort of thing doesn’t usually happen.” But I’d have been lying.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


“I’ve got a bad chest”, I croaked.
“Looks magnificent to me”, leered Hubby. I slapped him away.
“Get off”, I said in a quiet, broken little voice, “Can’t you see I’m ill?”
“Sorry, love did you just say ‘I will?’, because I’m up for it if you are?”
“Honestly, how can you take advantage of the afflicted? I need some tender, loving care and some drugs”. Reluctantly he dragged himself away from my very debatable charms and went to concoct a potion that would set his wife on the right path. To what I didn’t want to contemplate.
“Right then”, he said minutes later, “Here’s a strong cup of tea and a couple of paracetamol-extra. That should get you on your feet in half an hour”.
“But I just want to stay in bed”, I whimpered, wrapping the duvet tightly around me.
“Not on your nelly. Let that magic potion work then get on your feet oh, thou great, domestic goddess and finish the job that you’ve started.”
The day before, making a Christmas cake had seemed a marvellous idea. I had made so many at the cafe in which I work that I thought I’d rather got the hang of things, the most complicated thing being in my opinion, the preparation of the tin. All that lining and brown paper palaver. I’m sure that by the time I’d greased and cut and attached there was more butter and baking parchment stuck to me than to the tin. Still once done, all is a doddle. Well it is if you work in an environment where your boss is organised and has all the ingredients ready to hand. So I creamed and sieved and alternately added the booze soaked fruit to the creamed mixture along with the flour and spices. Ten minutes later and my tins were in the oven and the citrusy aromas combined with the cinnamon and mixed spice, were indeed heavenly which is, once again, why a little voice in my head suggested that I too could produce a Christmas worthy of Ideal Home magazine, where cherubic children look on in wonder at their mother, whilst beautifully dressed older children, who have never been near a ‘hoody’ and a litre of cider and would never consider being anywhere else, lean against the kitchen counter approvingly as a handsome husband is portrayed laughingly having his hand slapped as he dips his finger into the cake mixture. A loyal, well behaved dog always looks up at the proceedings, as though himself smiling.
In reality my husband is having his hand slapped away for altogether far more lecherous reasons, the youngest are mutinous after sharing the weighing scales only momentarily and my son has informed me not to bother making my own mince pies as Mr Kipling’s are ‘lush’ and that this year he’ll be at his girlfriend’s place until ‘sometime’ on Christmas Eve.
Still, I press on in the hope that, once I’ve departed this mortal coil, those who profess to love me will themselves forever try to recreate the Christmases of yore in an attempt to retrieve me, if only fleetingly by way of a smell or methodology. Isn’t that why I and a million other crazy mothers do it? Aren’t we really trying to recover our own mothers as much as we want to make memories for our own children?
So it was as I measured out the dried fruit ingredients the other afternoon. I put Tom Jones on the CD player, one of my mother’s favourite crooners and got on with the job. I was dismayed however to find that I was lacking in enough glace cherries, cinnamon and sultanas and so decided, that upon picking up the girls from school we would drive out to Kernow Mill and get my things from good old Julian Graves. Unfortunately upon our arrival it was apparent that the aforementioned, million other mothers had got there before me and there was nary a sultana left and no cherries whatsoever.
“Bother”, I said, peering at the shelves.
“That’s not a bad word is it mummy” asked the Red-Head.
“No darling, it just indicates frustration”.
“Because bug....”
“Bug? What bugs?”, I added hastily, turning her around and making a quick escape. We came home via Sainsbury’s loaded with vine fruits and the all important cherries and spices. The girls, amid much rancour and bitter recriminations that it was ‘my turn’, ‘no mine’ tipped most of them into a big bowl as, sighing I went in search of the brandy, a little nip for me, the rest over the fruit. To my intense annoyance I realised that we didn’t have any.
“Bug..” I started, before catching the Red-Head’s eye.
“Currants look like bugs, don’t you think?”, I said breezily.
I texted Hubby to bring me some booze on the way home from work. He arrived half an hour later, clutching a bottle.
“Be careful of the texts you send me Alice. I was otherwise engaged, so asked my PA to read it out to me and, ‘Darling, desperately need a bottle of brandy’ was met with very raised eyebrows”.
I shrugged, by now my chest was getting tight. I poured the alcohol over the fruit and down my scratchy throat and went to lie down. The following morning what with Hubby’s advances and the recollection that I had yet to get all four children up, take two to school, walk the dog and then once again cream and sieve, made me most reluctant to get up.
I jumped though when Hubby hollered upstairs,
“Alice come quickly, the dog is drunk!”. He had it seems, whipped away the cling film in the night and troughed pounds and pounds of sherry soaked fruit. Most of it had reappeared. From his expression, if he could have he’d have asked for a couple of Ibuprofen.
As we checked him over our son wandered downstairs.
“Man, now that’s what you call binge drinking”.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


The festive season has caught me unawares this year. I am without a doubt behind the curve. My puddings and onions are steamed and pickled but otherwise the cupboards and hiding places are bare, so a couple of days ago, spurred on by the fact that there are only four weeks or something until the big day and the seven year old’s list is as long as her arm, I thought it best that I make a start, sharpen my elbows, don a pair of comfy shoes and hit the shops.
As I drove into Plymouth, the car, which is German and lives up to its Teutonic reputation of being rather bossy and pedantic – beeps at any given provocation and continues to nag the driver until whatever little issue has been resolved. It warns me via a high pitched beep whether the weather is too cold, that it needs a service, that its parking light is left on or whether the petrol is running low. Sometimes, when the engine has been low on water, a red flashing STOP NOW! has appeared on the dashboard accompanied by another high frequency beep. I know that it is only trying to be helpful but honestly when one is travelling down a motorway at 70 mph, blissfully ignorant to the fact that the car is dying of thirst until it goes into hysterical mode, believe me it takes all one’s concentration not to die of fright by the whistles, lights and bells and crash the infernal thing.
So, not long after I ventured into town the orange light indicating a critical shortage of petrol appeared. I pulled into the nearest service station and filled the car up with £25 worth of unleaded. Then I waited in a queue and when requested, put my card into the machine. I followed the instructions, entered my pin number and then waited for the machine to spring into life and spew out a receipt.
Unfortunately, no receipt was forthcoming and a rather terse young man informed me, without even looking in my direction and with no intonation whatsoever that my card had,
“Been declined”. Now Hubby and I are no strangers to the somewhat hushed and apologetic tones of various shop assistants informing us that our card has been declined. In our defence though, in the past it has been at the end of the month after particularly heinous and unanticipated bills, so I was more than a little surprised to be without sufficient funds mid-month.
“Oh”, I said and fumbled in my purse for another card, which I knew had even less money in its account. Customers tutted behind me. The transaction went through and I slunk back to my car where I thought no more about it. Not until I reached Marks and Spencer.
With an armful of festive nightwear and tights for various children I queued up to pay, proffered my card only to be told, once again that it had been declined. Embarrassed I quickly handed over the other, more beleaguered one before hiding among Leisure Wear and calling Hubby.
“I can’t understand it”, I said, “I checked our account only a couple of days ago. It didn’t seem any worse than usual”.
“Leave it with me darling”, he said, rather heroically I felt, “I’ll call the bank”. Within five mintues my bank manager, who is more than accustomed to our financial habits called me on my mobile.
“Hi Alice. Just checked your account. It looks ok. There has probably been a spot check on the card. I’ve rung the fraud team. All should be well now”. Reassured, I went and bought a bowl of soup. The transaction went through without incident. Not so in Waterstones bookshop.
Yet again I queued to pay, then I handed the book over to a very handsome young man. I put my card in the machine, punched in the pin number and waited and waited. The young man was evidently new as the message on his screen was one he had not seen before. He called his supervisor over.
She took one look at the screen and then explained that he had to ring the bank to make a security check. This was quite a long and laborious procedure which, involved not only being able to successfully answer my mother’s maiden name, but also my place of birth as well as my date of birth. I felt aggrieved that this handsome creature had to know that I was 44 but worse was to come.
“What book are you buying?” asked the man at the end of the line. Now what the hell did that have to do with anything? That was just nosy.
“Imagine if I’d been buying the Karma Sutra?”, I’d said to Mags over a coffee later, “I’d have been mortified.
“To be honest I’d have been more embarrassed to admit to buying Jordan’s”.
“It wasn’t for me”, I answered hurriedly.
The following afternoon my bank manager called me again, “Could you pop down?”, she asked.
I walked down to the bank and waited shamefaced to be called inside, thinking I was to have my knuckles rapped for spending too much.
“Yesterday’s transactions threw up some anomalies”, she said, before turning her computer screen around and showing me details of my account.
Several withdrawals for 70p had been made and then wallop, a withdrawal for £180 and one for £1,300. To a catalogue company.
“One I know you wouldn’t be seen dead shopping from” added my bank manager kindly, “I’m sorry Alice. You’ve been cloned”. I sat there stupefied. My lip trembled.
“You’ll get the money back”, the manager said, trying to comfort me, “The fraud squad will be in touch.
Hubby was more upbeat, “Don’t worry Alice love, no one could clone you. You’re one in a million”.
“Spare a thought for Dolly the Sheep* though”, quipped the Egg-Head, “She could never apply for a mortgage”.

* Was a cloned sheep.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I Hate Maths.

“I am never running this coach trip ever again”, I wailed, literally pulling my hair out in tufts as I counted and recounted the cheques and cash I had received from my passengers.
“How hard can it be mum?” asked the beautiful egg-head, “Give it here”. I handed her the monies and the passenger list.
“Right then, you’ve got 51 bums on seats at a cost of twelve pounds each that makes six hundred and twelve pounds. Has everyone paid?”
“Yes” I answered meekly, figures still dancing in my head, “But I still can’t make it add up”.
“Silly mummy”, she replied gently as though I were some dear old soul with special needs, “Maths has never been your forte”.
“I’m well aware of that but this is simple arithmetic. The money in the bag should equal 12 times 51 but it doesn’t. I’ve added it up a million times”.
She counted it again in seconds and concurred that yes, there was an anomaly of £11 and that I had a problem.
“See?” I said defiantly, “I knew it wasn’t my maths that was at fault”.
“No, but it is your banking. What are you going to do now?”
“Pay the extra, I don’t have an option. Somewhere along the line I’ve mislaid eleven quid. Thank God it’s not fifty.”
The Egg-Head just shrugged her shoulders and went upstairs to contemplate the intricacies of the universe or whatever the hell it is she does in her room for hours at a time.
My son walked in, “Right ma? Tea? You look stressed”.
“I am stressed, I’ve lost eleven pounds.”
“Well that should be commended. I thought you were looking slim.”
“Not in weight you plonker. In money. In hard cash”. His face dropped.
“What? Why that expression? You haven’t nicked it have you?”
“No way mum! That would be some serious ju-ju. Nope I was just hoping for a bit of a hand out.”
“You have to be kidding me. You have a job and an allowance and you still expect more? Do you think I’m made of money?”
“Well evidently you are made of flesh and blood and other elements that my sister could probably enlighten us with, but nope, I just wanted a few extra quid to get a special Christmas present”.
“That’s very sweet of you but don’t you think that defeats the object somewhat? I mean I give you more money so that you can buy me a better Christmas present? Just get me something small and we’ll be even stevens.”
“I’m afraid I wasn’t exactly thinking of you”, he added sheepishly. The temptation to clip his ear was enormous but given the arduous nature of the last hour and the subsequent headache brought on by all the adding and subtracting, then the temptation of a cuppa was even greater, so I resisted the call to arms and just very firmly pointed him in the direction of the kitchen.
I settled myself back at the dining table and shook every last piece of correspondence I had regarding the coach trip, just in case a tenner was clutching tenaciously within a folded piece of paper. Suddenly Mags burst through the front door.
“Coo-ee!”, she called.
“In here”, I yelled back. She bounced into the dining room.
“Flipping heck Alice! You look like Ebenezer Scrooge on a bad day. What’s going on, has Hubby asked for you to account for your spending at long last?” She tipped an indignant cat out of a dining chair, sat down and opened her designer, oil cloth, shopping bag and pulled from it two slices of not just any cheesecake but a Marks and Spencer cheesecake.
“Ta-da!” she said, beaming.
I pinched more than an inch of flesh which was sitting steadfastly atop my waistband.
“Oh for God’s sake Alice; live a bit. I’ll go and get two forks and a cup of tea to go with”.
“No need Auntie Mags”, said my son just at that moment walking in. “I heard you arrive and thought, hmm, shall I open the bottle of wine or make her a cup of tea. Then I looked at the clock and the sun hasn’t gone over the yard arm yet, or whatever it is dad says before he decides on a snifter or not, so I thought you’d prefer Twinings instead of Temperenillo”. Where I had previously resisted, Mags did not and gave him a quick clip of his ear.
“That’s for being so bloody facetious”, she laughed, “Now hand over that tea and go and play with your train set”.
“As my God mother...”
“Yes?”, said Mags warily, “ This sounds ominous”.
“Well, you usually give me a tenner in my Christmas card, and I just wondered, just this once, whether you could sub me and give it to me early”.
“This kid has more neck than a giraffe”, roared Mags, rummaging around in her bag for her purse.
“Put it away Mags”, I said, taking her bag away from her, “He is not being subbed by anyone. He probably wants to buy his girlfriend some impossibly expensive scent or something I care not to envisage”.
“Got it in one mum”, he said walking away but not before giving us a big wink first. Mags and I just looked at each other in a ‘they’ll be the death of us’ way before dishing out the gooey, chocolate cheesecake.
“So what’s all this about?” she said waving at the cash. I briefly explained and we were just stuffing our faces with the last morsel when Hubby came home.
“Oh yeah! So this is what goes on when I’m out earning a crust”. He gave me and Mags a kiss and went to hang up his coat and as he did so, he called out,
“Don’t forget tomorrow Alice. Divisions”.
“Poor Alice” added Mags, “All this adding up and taking away and now divisions? It’s a cruel world”.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Penny for it..

“Shall we make a guy, guys?”, I asked the children over dinner the other night.
“A what?” asked my 14 year old egg-head who generally knows more about most subjects than your average teenage hoodie.
“You know a stuffed effigy, named after Guy Fawkes.”
“Remember, remember the 9th of November” added the Red-Head, sagely. I sighed.
“No darling it’s the 5th of November we must remember”.
“Why?” she asked looking up at me from a bowlful of cheesy beans.
This was getting exasperating. What do they teach our kids these days? They know all about autumn and fireworks and write expressive poetry filled with timely, adjective filled, fire-cracking onomatopoeic zeal which goes up all over the school walls but have no idea who Guy Fawkes was.
“He plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament”.
“Way to go”, said the 17 year old profoundly. ‘A’ level politics is obviously having a deeply, reflective effect on my son.
“What has this to do with effigies mum?” asked the 14 year old, trying to get us back on track.
“Well young people would make a ‘Guy’ from old clothes hanging around, then stuff it with newspapers, shove sticks up the sleeves as arms, don a jaunty mask and hey ho, you had a Guy. This same Guy was then plonked in an old pram and trawled the streets, where, you’d ask a passerby if they would ‘give you a penny for it”. My children looked up at me simultaneously as though I were nuts.
“That is so old-fashioned mum”, said the 14 year old.
“Yeah, that’s like really quaint man”, added the son.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, I’m not talking about a custom that disappeared centuries ago like witch dunking you know.”
“Well I’d hardly call the dunking of oppressed, innocent women quaint”, added my eldest daughter, in very uppity tones.
“Nor do I”, I went on hurriedly, “I was just thinking on my feet for an example of an old custom. I could just have easily have mentioned the custom of curtseying or even calling ones’ parents Sir and Ma’am”. This was met with peals of laughter.
“Anyway, as I was saying, the making of a Guy is not something that has gone down in the annals of history just yet. Kids were making them very recently.” No-one looked as though they believed me.
“What? Why the blank looks?”.The Red-Head in fairness was just hell bent on getting a baked bean to make it from her plate onto her fork and into her mouth. She couldn’t give a toss about Guy Fawkes, his effigy or the ensuing debate.
“I find it incredulous”, said the 14 year old finally.
“What darling?”
“All of it. I seems unthinkable in today’s increasingly violent society that a) we celebrate, over four hundred years after the event, the execution of a man who, after all must have had serious grievances against Royalty, ergo parliament by casting him onto a bonfire to be burnt for perpetuity and b) we revel in at and stand nonchalantly by watching the flames, a sparkler in one hand and a toffee apple in the other and c)were any child to apprehend an adult and ask them for money they be issued with an ASBO and d) should the adult in question hand over money to young child they in turn would be on some offenders list, too terrified ever again to undergo a CRB check.”
“Don’t forget e)”, added my son, “E is for ebay. You’d never find an old pram these days. People just get rid of old for new”. This was very depressing.
The 7 year old was the only one who seemed even slightly interested in making a ‘Guy’ and after dinner set about collecting materials. I left her to it. I had after all explained all about old clothes and so went into the kitchen to tidy up.
An hour later, whilst Hubby was playing with his i-pod and the teenagers were doing their so called homework- I went in search of the youngest two who were un-naturally and thus ominously, quiet.
I eventually found them in a locked bathroom.
“Hello, can I come in please darlings?” Silence. Much like the wolf in the Three Little Pigs, I didn’t bother with the pleasantries after that and banged repeatedly on the door.
“Let me in! Let me in!”
Luckily I was not met with ‘Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin’ and very slowly the door opened.
The 7 year old looked immediately guilty, whilst the Red-Head looked triumphant.
There on the bathroom tiles, as though she’d had a night on the tiles lay the remnants of an unrecognisable diva.
The 14 year old popped her head in.
“You should commend them mum on not being gender specific and thinking outside the box”.
Outside the box? They hadn’t been near any box but had rummaged through my drawers. All my tights, which had been used for ‘arms and legs’ had been filled with various scraps of newspaper and where they’d run out they’d used my lovely, white A4 Hewlett-Packard computer paper. A sparkly sequinned encrusted t-shirt that I’d once worn proudly had been cut up and a skirt that had seen better days had been painted on and sellotaped haphazardly to one of my best but now, painted and stuffed, Sanderson, Oxford pillowcases.
Another pillow case was the head, which was plastered in lipstick and eyeliner and smudged mascara, a sorry blonde wig dangled sideways from it onto the floor as if the girls had put ‘her’ in a recovery position. The ‘legs’ lay akimbo, my red stilettos at right-angles. It was a grotesque sight.
I was speechless. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I just stood there looking at the pitiful sight before me.
Hubby bounded up stairs to use the loo and took one look.
“Jeeze Alice love, she looks familiar. You haven’t done that for a long time.”

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


The Disney channel has been banned. Finally I have put my foot down. I may have shot myself in the self same foot as it is half term after all and what could be easier than sitting down with a couple of glossies whilst the youngest children veg out in front of all singing, all dancing, wisecrackin’ American adolescents? But really, when one is attempting a stern voice and the telling off of a seven year old, the last thing one wants in return is attitude.
My eldest children who were not brought up on Sky TV and its myriad kid’s programmes thus had the grace to look abashed or even shamefaced when receiving the sharp end of my tongue; the seven year old on the other hand has different ideas. In her world, every clever riposte is met with canned laughter when the adult in question replies, with a look of false fury, “Don’t you get cute with me young lady”. Cue even more canned laughter. Thus it came as a bit of shock to my daughter when, instead of magic laughter from an invisible audience filling the house when she cocked her head to one side, placed her hands on her hips and said, with perfect American accent, “I can’t hear you”, she was told in no uncertain terms that, no-one speaks to their mother like that and that she had better clean her ears out and could on reflection, think twice about reaching for the remote controls all week long and, whilst we come to think about it, hadn’t she in fact better go upstairs and tidy her room?
One down, three to go. The eldest, now a 6’6’, strapping 17 year old, decided, whilst we were being wined and dined by friends last weekend, to have a few ‘lads’ around. Now, Hubby and I know all the lads very well indeed, since they were knee high to Dumbledore in fact and all are perfectly decent young men with high aspirations, lots of GCSEs and more importantly, lovely mummies and daddies. What I forgot of course is that they are still boys on the cusp of manhood and ergo, after a couple of tins of contraband Carlsberg, are as giggly and as drunk as a couple of girls on a cider flavour iced lolly. What I also forgot though is that unless eaten by the freezer full, cider lollies do not make you sick, whereas Carlsberg, even whilst professing to probably be the best beer in the world, probably if not drunk responsibly, will make you very sick. On our return our son and thank God, most of his friends, were stone cold sober, but the odd boy had not been well at all and our 14 year old daughter had been a trooper in administering to the needs and wants of a couple of them by getting out the bleach, putting a wash on and generally being vigilant.
To be severe and have to use well worn rhetoric such as we are ‘very disappointed’ especially when ‘we trusted you’ was not the best way to greet a 17th birthday and the opening of presents was delayed the following day until his father and I felt that he had been punished enough and was penitent.
So, two children in the dog house. The third, our 14 year old daughter, who had done such a sterling job in looking after the afflicted had only just returned from a school trip to Italy, where text after text she effused about the wonders of the beauty of Tuscany. Everything was ‘sublime’, ‘fabulous’, ‘exquisite’, ‘awe-inspiring’. She was ‘in seventh heaven’ and having the time of her life. The family she stayed with were ‘fantastic’, she loved the food, the company, the whole experience. As parents we couldn’t have asked for more and when I picked her up from the coach she was full of beans; thereafter, apart from her stint as nurse and scullery maid, she has remained in her room. Nothing has induced her to get out and about and where half term has seen the youngest two and I being creative, well since the TV is off, the PVA glue, sequins and beads has had to come out and, then when the mess has got too much for me, we’ve jumped in the car and been on a couple of outings. The 14 year old though has resolutely stayed put. She couldn’t even bring herself to join us for a few hours at Antony House making very organic broomsticks and orange witches’ hats.
She just raised her eyebrows to the heavens when we came home laden with all things witchy and spooky. Sharp words have been exchanged; mine being of the ‘lazy little madam’ type, hers in response, whilst true to form and thus erudite, I’ve still considered cheeky so, chores have been issued, to be completed forthwith.
This leaves the fourth child. Hubby and I went to parents evening just before half term where we were told that, after initial major concerns regarding the Red-Head’s ability to learn to read, her confidence was growing and there was renewed hope that all would be well and she would eventually get the hang of things. I have grave doubts.
At a cafe yesterday, her newly trimmed hair shone and bobbed and, as it often does, much to the intense annoyance of elder sibling, drew gasps of admiration from many customers.
“You’ve got lovely red hair. Do you take after anyone in your family?” asked one old bird.
My daughter looked quizzically for a moment, pondering this question, and then answered.
“Well actually it’s orange and yes, I take after my goldfish”.
If she’s finding high frequency words a challenge, Hubby and I fear there’s no hope for her when it comes to science; genetics in particular.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


I’ve kept quiet about my cousin Sally. Hardly surprising as she was and continues to be the high achiever in the family. Where I failed miserably at school, she excelled; where I went travelling or, as our uncle preferred to refer to it as bumming around the world; she went to a fantastic university. Suffice it to say, whereas I now make cappuccinos and don an apron of domesticity and, am a loyal and devoted and supportive wife -do not guffaw, she is a single, independent, high flying go-getter living in Geneva.
Googling EasyJet the other day as I am wont to do when in need of a little escapism, I went down the list of where one could fly to from Bristol. I was thrilled to discover a fare to Geneva for just over 63 quid. Bargain. As my finger hovered longingly over the button ‘Continue’, I wondered how I could break the news to Hubby that I’d be abandoning ship for the weekend, leaving him in charge. I looked at the dates of the flights and before continuing down the ‘continue’ line, texted my cousin to make sure she could find a tiny window of opportunity in her jet-setting lifestyle to not only accommodate me but also drag me around the sights.
Whereas I usually have to wait days for a reply from her, for once she texted back almost immediately but not quite quickly enough that I hadn’t navigated away from the EasyJet web page on my computer and by the time her reply came, I was making dinner and Hubby had returned from work and had seen my computer screen asking for ‘credit card details’.
“Ah-lice! What are you up to?” And there was me wondering how to break the news to him.
As I seasoned my riced potatoes and turned the pork fillet, I tried to explain that I fancied a few days away.
“It’s really cheap flight darling” I continued, “And of course I won’t have to pay for any accommodation”. Then I played my trump card, “and it is the weekend before my birthday after all and you won’t be here on the day will you?”
Got ya. Hubby knew he had no chance of retaliation because once again on October 21st, instead of wining and dining his beloved wife, he would instead be wining and dining the memory of Admiral Nelson.
“But Alice love, you know how it is, it’s Traf night and I’m the mess pres. I have to be there”.
So, it goes without any further elucidation or justification that last Friday found me on an aeroplane bound for Switzerland. Everyone told me how expensive the city of Geneva was but I must have been living in cloud cuckoo-clock land if I’d thought for one minute that one hundred pounds would suffice for the weekend.
I was initially lulled into thinking that friends had no idea what they were talking about because on leaving the baggage reclaim area at the Geneva airport you can pick up a train ticket which entitles you to travel for 90 minutes for nothing. I was delighted and rode into the city with a big grin on my face and my Swiss Francs intact in my purse.
Sally met me at the platform and we took a tram, still free, to her apartment. It was only on entering her hallway that I began to understand what my friends meant by ‘expensive’. Her accommodation comprised of a basic kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. Her rent for this luxury – over a thousand pounds a month.
My mouth for one reason or another was a gawping hole of astonishment from that moment on. On Saturday, after a day’s sightseeing and indulging in all things Swiss, namely melted cheese and chocolate, we returned home to her flat, curled our eyelashes, put on our glad-rags and with a borrowed Louis Vuitton dangling from my wrist we went out to dinner.
The restaurant was on the second floor of a swank hotel, with a view over Lake Geneva and the Jet D’eau. The food was of the magazine perfection variety and the pudding arrived swathed in yards of spun sugar. I never saw the bill for which I’ll be eternally grateful as dinner was a birthday treat from my cousin. We did however go into the adjacent bar later, where I bought her a mojito and myself a glass of wine. Thirty pounds thank you very much. Reeling, I went to sit down and Sally and I people watched through a thick fug of smoke.
“The customers are really young here” she said. No kidding.
The group sitting next to my thigh looked on closer inspection, less young people and more like children. The boy had an air of prosperity about him with his floppy Hugh Grant hair, crisp white shirt, designer jeans and Rolex watch. The four girls all had golden skin, very little clothing, dead straight, shiny, tresses and all, without exception had with them on the table, a packet of Marlboro Lights and a swish, top of the range mobile phone. None of them spoke, bored with their environment and a lifestyle of excess where nothing, I doubt, will ever have a wow factor. I was horrified when the waitress came over and from an ice bucket, refilled their champagne flutes from a magnum of Moet. I had to ask.
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen”. How much happier would they have been on a sofa with their parents, arguing who should be kicked off X-Factor or even in some bus stop snogging? Surely to God anything was preferable to this unchaperoned hedonism.
We left soon after, depressed. A trip up an Alp the following morning brought the colour back to my cheeks. Fresh air and the odd refrain of ‘The Hills are Alive’ thank God, cost nothing.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


“Alice, for the last time, hurry up”. Those few words have become a mantra for Hubby lately. In our crazy, mad, rushed life where our children’s needs range from the youngest learning high frequency spellings such as ‘of’ and ‘to’ –, to the writing of more challenging essays such as ‘Brecht: Tosser or what? Discuss’ –the latter’s title made up by our son, surely –I need to be close at hand to guide, rub out, provide snacks, test time tables or just either admonish or encourage in equal measure.
Thing is, whilst all this is going on and the spuds are boiling and the dog needs walking, Hubby expects me to be kitted out in a smart outfit, ready at a moment’s notice to stand, supportive-wife-like by his side, smiling, with lipstick applied. Last week was a prime example. Dinner was laid out on the dining table, the homework having been budged up a bit. Everyone, apart from me, dived in, whilst I took the dog around the block. On my return less than fifteen minutes later Hubby, in clean shirt and tie, was pacing.
“Where the hell have you been? Why the hell did you decide to take the dog out now for, for God’s sake. We can’t be late, we can’t be late. Hurry up, hurry up”. It’s like living with the White Rabbit only it’s far from Wonderland around here.
I ran up the stairs and flung open the wardrobe door. Skirts and tops hung glumly, many of which needed a bloody good wash.
“Oh hell”, I said, pulling a pencil skirt off a coat-hanger, “You’ll have to do. I can sponge the sauce off in the car”. I was acutely aware of Hubby who was literally outside the bedroom door, breathing like some infuriated bull.
“Just go away and leave me to get on with it please”, I asked, rummaging through a drawer in the vain hope of finding some nice, black, fairly low denier tights.
“Balls”, I muttered as the pair I pulled half way up my leg revealed an enormous ladder. I peeled them off and threw them into the bin. By this point I had acquired a significant sweat having in the last half hour prepared dinner, gone on a fast paced walk and run up the stairs. The added exacerbation of nerves, caused by Hubby’s impatience was making my skin particularly clammy and my clothes were sticking rather unpleasantly to my every curve.
“Come on”, Hubby hollered again. I found another pair of tights which seemed, at the initial inspection, ladder free. I pulled them on half way and eased my hot feet into a pair of very high heels. I sat on the edge of my bed to do up the ankle straps, but the holes were so small and the light so dim that I had no chance of success.
“A-lice! The band starts in ten minutes”, Hubby called. If he opened his mouth once more, I was going to kill him. Unfortunately my movements were rather impeded. I threw a jacket over my top, and with my gusset around my knees and my high heels not secured, I shuffled, knock-kneed, down the stairs and into the sitting room to say goodnight.
My children looked back at me as though I were some pitiful creature whose carer had absconded, abandoning her half dressed and not a little, mental.
“I’ll finish off my toilet in the car”, I proffered by way of an explanation. The children, as though used to seeing their mother dishevelled and a bit loopy, just shrugged their shoulders and waved.
Hubby just about threw me into the front seat of his car, turned the ignition on and screeched down the road. I shuffled down in my seat and tugged and squirmed into the tights but on turning a sharp corner, I put a finger through a microscopic hole in the nylon.
“Bloody, bloody, bloody hell”. It was only a small hole. No-one would notice. In vain, with Hubby driving like a mad man, I tried and tried to do up my shoes.
Hubby sat next to me with an expression like granite, swearing rhythmically every few seconds. We pulled up to the main gate at Her Majesty’s shore establishment and thankfully, were waved in with little to do. The boy with the gun looked most amused to see the Commander looking like thunder, whilst the Commander’s wife in much disarray, had her feet up on the dashboard.
Hubby parked up and was even more livid to find me opening my make-up bag.
“Don’t tell me you need to get your slap on?” He got out of the car and slammed the door.
Hurriedly I applied some mascara and lipstick, before Hubby came round to my side and yanked me out.
Smoothing myself down, we walked into the theatre and were met by the Royal Marine Bandmaster.
“You only just made it Sir”, he said, smiling tightly. Hubby poked me in the spine but my smile didn’t falter, I held out my hand and shook the one offered to me, before running up stairs to our seats. Immediately the opening bars of “God Save the Queen” played. We sprung up from our chairs again and that’s when I felt it. The small hole in the knee of my tights which had behaved itself so well up to this point, gave way and the feeling of ,'riiiiiip’ ran all the way down my shin. It was dark, all would be well. Until the interval that is when a raffle was held and the spotlight was turned momentarily on Hubby for some light-hearted banter. I’m sure I couldn’t have elicited more audible gasps of horror and disbelief from the audience had I lifted my arm to wave and thus reveal hairy armpits. It was such a saving grace that I was wearing long sleeves.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


It all started with a Peperami . How one, small, dried sausage could cause such angst is extraordinary. But it’s presence in my daughter’s lunch box almost gave grounds for divorce. The instructions to Hubby were fairly clear, i.e ‘I am going to BodyMax; whilst I am gone would you please do some shopping and get together some things for a packed lunch as we may be gone for hours’.
On my return from my killer exercise class last Sunday morning, I then expected to throw off my sports gear, chuck on some jeans and a sweater, beckon a ready to go 7 year old, pick up her lunch box and my own salad and drive to the audition. Only it didn’t work out that way at all because the sight of the aforementioned sausage sent me into a rage.
“What the hell is this hideous thing?”, I yelled, extracting it from her lunch box.
“She wanted one” replied Hubby, confused by my reaction.
“She just sees you as a soft touch. And what is this, and this and this?” I asked throwing out a packet of Quavers, a sausage roll and a Kit-Kat, “For God’s sake, she’s going to an audition not a birthday party. There is more fat and salt in these few products than the kidneys of a grown man could tolerate in a hedonistic weekend”.
“You are over reacting Alice”. There is nothing more likely to make me over react than someone suggesting I am and within a heartbeat, I was possessed.
“Over-reacting?” I screeched, “Really? So, you are quite happy then for your child to attend an audition, where she will be judged by God knows whom, sucking on a Peperami. Lovely. ‘Hey, Chav girl? Don’t call us we’ll call you’”
If Hubby had looked confused before, he now looked genuinely bewildered.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Alice”. And that’s the bottom line, men, however hands on and domesticated they are, unless they are lone parents and even then they are excused, have no idea what it is to be a mother. From the minute we conceive, to the lifestyle choices our grown up children make, we are judged by other women. We don’t need to smoke whilst we are pregnant to be disapproved of, it is enough that we throw caution to the wind that is our unborn foetus and liberally apply listeria infused Brie to our bread for many mothers to get on their high horses. From then on there will always be someone tut-tutting at you, whether it be for breast feeding in public or not breastfeeding at all, for adopting a let it cry attitude or shaking their heads and sighing ‘You’re making a rod for your own back’ should you choose to cuddle your baby at the slightest whimper. Motherhood is flooded with opinions and censorious attitudes to child rearing and nothing you ever do, other mothers will be quick to inform you, will be the correct decision. Whether you go to work and leave your child in a nursery or you turn your back on a good career to raise a child, someone somewhere thinks you’ve made a bad choice.
The Pepperami therefore, wasn’t just about a one off unhealthy snack that I doubt would have caused that much damage, but more the fact that I couldn’t bear to sit in a hall full of women, each one of us scrutinising the other over every little thing, from the ballet shoes and leotards to the best bun - I’m talking hairstyle here, not sticky, bakery treat. What I perceived to be a ‘common’ lunch spoke volumes for my own ideology and the subsequent horror of another mother thinking we were ‘that sort of family’.
On our arrival at the rehearsal rooms though, it was immediately apparent that I was in good company as there was a glut of those sorts of families. My daughter and I had recovered our equilibrium and she sat on my lap on the floor and we surveyed the scene unfolding before us. It was like Fame for pre-pubescents. Hundreds of little girls and a handful of little boys twirled around in legwarmers and leotards. Every now and again, when yet another group of children had undergone the process of the audition, a door would open, spewing out emotionally spent little divas, whose ‘dream’ of appearing in the pantomime had been dashed.
Seven, eight and nine year olds ran into the ample armed and large bosomed embraces of their mothers with the refrain that is so often heard nowadays, “I’m devastated”, they cried, “Dancing is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my life”, they sobbed, “It’s all over”, they wailed. Hyperbole after hyperbole, reiterating Saturday night television whose vernacular has infiltrated the vocabulary of even the youngest wannabe.
I felt very uncomfortable, especially when a tiny little girl whose face was plastered in orange foundation and whose earlobes were deep red under weight of heavy hoop earrings, ran into the hall, having been unsuccessful. Far from being embraced however, her mother launched into an inquisition, “How did you go wrong? You’ve been practising for weeks. Why didn’t they want you? Did you keep smiling? I’m so disappointed”. Poor little mite, it did little for her self esteem.
Was this environment healthy? No-one is fonder of a weekend long, X Factor fest than I, yet I hadn’t fully understood the impact of the negative influence of such popular television culture until I walked into that hall and saw the hordes, heartbroken or just as worryingly, ecstatically elated. How would my own child react? As it transpired, with a shrug and a matter of fact, thumbs down sign.
We drove home via the Hoe for a consolation prize of an ice-cream and a coffee. Sitting in the car looking out to the Sound, my daughter chasteningly said, “You know that Peperami mum? It made you a bit of an animal”.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


It goes without saying that within hours of Hubby motoring up the M5 to embark on a three day course, the domestic machinations of my home, sweet home went into melt-down.
The first indication of a crisis was feeling the drip, drip, drip of water on my neck as I sat at my computer. I looked up to find the ceiling dribbling ominously. I leapt out of my swivel chair and bounded up the stairs. The bathroom door was locked but there was a teenager inside. I hammered on the door.
“Turn the shower off immediately” I yelled, “There’s a leak”.
“Turn the bloody shower off”, I screamed, kicking the bathroom door. The lock is old and evidently fragile as my kick was enough for it to succumb and I fell into the bathroom.
My 14 year old daughter, who is Victorian in her modesty, went ballistic.
“How dare you?”, she shouted, wielding a Venus razor at me, “Is there no privacy to be had in this house? Get out, get out” and in her attempts to be irate whilst at the same time cover herself with a couple of flannels, she slipped and ended up on the bathroom floor, mortified. I cannot honestly describe what she looked like, which will be of some small comfort to her as I was more concerned with the faulty shower. Water sprayed from the hose with more efficacy than a sprinkler system at Kew Gardens. I turned off the tap and grabbing a handful of towels from the towel rail, which is always groaning under the weight of at least seven, damp, scrunched up ones, mopped the floor.
“Oh my God, look at this mess”, I said, “Didn’t you realise that most of the water was showering just about anywhere apart from over you?”
“S’pose”, said my daughter huffily, “Although I would still appreciate not being barged in on whilst I’m attending to my person”.
“Oh don’t be such an old prude”, I barked, still on my hands and knees, “Get a dressing gown on and give me a hand”. She flounced out but never returned, leaving me to mop up the deluge. My rant of, “You’ll all be the death of me” was drowned out by a Revlon hair dryer.
Carrying armfuls of wet towels downstairs I shoved them into the tumble dryer. It was still only 7.10 am. I’d been up for half an hour, fed not only the dog, the dishwasher and the tumble dryer but had also sent a couple of emails, stemmed a flood and was now about to assemble four packed lunches. I moaned and groaned as I gathered juice, fruit, crisps and bitterly grumbled as on opening, the brine from the can of tuna splashed all over my pyjamas.
“Damn and blast”, I yelled, standing in the kitchen utterly demoralised, “Why can’t you all have chuffing cheese sandwiches?” No-one answered of course, three of the children still being in bed, so, still carrying the tuna, I walked into the hallway and stood at the bottom of the stairs and bellowed.
“This repetitive division of labour was not unfamiliar to Karl Marx you know? He said it would leave me and I quote, ‘depressed spiritually and physically to the condition of a machine’. Do you get that? I’m turning into a machine?”
I returned to my chores in the kitchen. The dog, after only a few hours without his master was as despondent as I was and after eating his breakfast with nary an enthusiastic chomp, he lay at my feet, put his head on the floor and sighed.
“I know how you feel”, I said to him and could happily have lain with him, were the kitchen floor, on closer inspection, not filthy.
My son wandered in yawning, his school shirt having seen better days.
“Right ma?”, he said, grabbing his lunch bag off the kitchen counter, “You been reading my politics text books?”
“Well you seem to be well versed in Marx”.
“Listen, you don’t need to be well versed in Marx to know that stuff. Besides I bet he nabbed that quote from Mrs. Marx. It was probably her daily mantra whilst he philosophized away in his study leaving her to toil in the kitchen. Seven kids she had, poor cow”.
A minute later my teenage daughter appeared, fanning herself.
“It’s like a sauna in here”, she said. I had been near the back door and hadn’t realised that at the other end of the kitchen, where the tumble dryer resides, steam emanated from it.
“Oh my God. What’s happened now?”
Leaving the children to stare blankly at the toaster in the hope that it would magically not only toast their bread but liberally apply peanut butter to it as well, I went to investigate. Humping the machine from the wall, I saw, much to my chagrin that the hose had disintegrated allowing the evaporated steam to fill my house and not, as it ought, escape outside.
“Sorry, ferry to catch”, said my children simultaneously, each clutching a piece of toast, leaving me hot, steamy and not a little aggrieved.
Moments later the other two materialised, half dressed.
“Coco-pops?” I offered.
“You promised us grapefruit today” whined one.
“Well I’m sorry sweetheart. I didn’t reckon on saunas and tsunamis this morning. It’s coco-pops or bust”.
Whilst they whimpered and pouted the telephone rang.
“Morning! How’s tricks?” Before I could answer, Hubby told me of his hotel and ‘help- yourself-hot- buffet- breakfast.
“Hit the spot I’ll tell ya! You had your muesli again?” he chortled.
I regaled him, with characteristic vehemence, of my morning’s entertainment adding “and the dog has gone into a decline”.
“Ah, a man’s best friend. Loyal to the end”, said Hubby smugly. “Fred West’s dog, gruesome legend has it, pined to death after his demise”. Appositely, it was a conversation killer and I promptly returned to my condition of machine.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

If I hate the Easter bonnet competition at school then to say I detest ‘book week’ would be of an unimaginable understatement. When our son was a little boy it was easy, he’d don his Harry Potter cloak, a pair of specs and with a flourish I’d draw a scar on his forehead with some lippy and he was good to go. The next child borrowed the cloak, tied her hair in ringlets, looked intelligent and was Hermione Grainger incarnate.
No such luck with the last two. For a start, not content to go to the annual PTA barn dance in jeans and some gingham next month, the 7 year old is hankering after an outfit she’s seen that eponymous, precocious, child star, Hannah Montana dress up in for a hoe-down in deepest, darkest Tennessee. No sooner having put my foot down to the above, both she and her little sister arrived home with notes in their book bags informing us, the poor parents, of the excitement of book week and that, oh joy, the book characters they need to embody are those from the Wizard of bloody Oz.
“I want to be Dorothy mummy”, hopped the 7 year old from one, eager foot to the other.
“You surprise me”, I said.
“Are you being sarcastic mummy? I really think you are”.
“Well darling, you have a dressing up box in the playroom filled with an assortment of various gowns that look as though any number of Disney princesses have just stepped out of them. You could also, at a push, be transformed into a nurse, but Dorothy Gale? That’s a tough one. You know I’m not renowned for my needlework and I’m sorry darling but I cannot justify buying a costume to be worn just for a few hours in school. Therefore I have no idea how to kit you out”.
This did not go down well and her enthusiastic hopping immediately became a stamping of feet, a banging up the stairs, followed by her bedroom door being slammed to the roars of, “You never give me anything”.
The newly bobbed-haired, Red-Head sighed.
“I want to be Toto mummy. I can wear my brown leggings and my fleece and then put glue on my face and collect the dog’s fluff and press it onto the glue and...”
“I don’t think that is such a good idea”, I advised, making a mental note to hide the PVA well away from her little grasp or she’d resemble some half baked werewolf before you could say ‘The Howling’.
I sat down with a cup of tea and mulled. And mulled.
Eventually an indignant 7 year old came down the stairs.
“I just want to be beautiful”, she said, sticking her chin out defiantly.
“You are beautiful”, I replied. “Very”. And I patted the sofa next to me. She flumped into the space.
“But mummy I don’t want to be a witch, or a Tin Man or a Lion or a Flying Monkey. I just want to be a girl”. Tears started anew. The cup of tea was by no means strong enough to fortify me against this level of histrionic angst.
Leaning my head back against the sofa with eyes closed, I thought of Hubby in work, hosting several VIPs, being earnest and adult and dynamic and essential. He was not I would put my last dime on it, fretting about the heinous costume ramifications of book week.
“Woof, woof, woof”. I opened one eye to find my five year old daughter and not the Golden Retriever, on all fours, circling a dining chair, panting and barking. It goes without saying that she had donned, not only the previously considered brown outfit but had also plastered her face in what looked like my Chanel foundation and to it had liberally applied handfuls of dog fur, some of which I am convinced had not been found on the carpet but which she had helped herself to from his coat.
“Oh Jesus”, said the 7 year old.
I didn’t know who to reprimand first, the elder for using the Lord’s name in vain or the Red-Head for, well being so, determined.
“Don’t talk like that. You should never use Jesus’ name in that tone”, I shouted, whilst simultaneously hoiking the Red-Head up by the sweater and carrying her, still in the all fours position to the kitchen sink.
“But mummy, I wasn’t being rude to God. I was praying to him because I knew you were going to go mental”.
At that moment Hubby walked in. He took one look at the blotchy, red-eyed 7 year old; the lupine features of his barking 5 year old and the thunderous expression of his wife and you could see him think, ‘If I just quietly turn around and walk out again maybe they won’t notice me’.
“Could you help me please?”, I asked. Caught like a rabbit in the headlights he meekly nodded his head. Gesticulating that he had to remove his uniform first I waited until he was down to his pants before he wrestled the Red-Head from me and held her head near the sink as I scrubbed.
“Good day then?”, he asked.
“Not particularly. You?”
The barking 5 year old had now, understandably started howling. I handed her a towel.
“Please dry her, Tom is coming for dinner, I haven’t so much as peeled a carrot”.
“Who is Tom?” asked the 7 year old.
“An old friend”, I said.
“Is he married?” I shook my head.
“Single?” I shook my head again.
“Well what then?”
“Can’t you think of any other alternatives?” I asked.
“Is he widowed?”
I laughed, “No, he’s not lonely”.
“Does he like the Wizard of Oz?” Hubby caught my eye.
“Yes, that’s it. He likes Judy Garland. Very much”.
“Oh he’s just gay then”, she said nonchalantly, exiting the kitchen, dragging her dishevelled sister in her wake.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


“Alice” said Hubby; somewhat impatiently I might add, down the receiver of his phone, “I have some dates for your diary. Someone else can’t go, so we’re going as proxy guests to a ball. Saturday. Ok? Later”. And he hung up.
It’s getting a bit like this. Dates, venues and codes of dress are barked down the telephone or emailed to me. I then consult my Filofax, which to be honest does not have notable entries such as: Lunch with Brad; dinner with Johnny but instead reminds me of which child is doing what and with whom, how much it will cost and at what time I have to retrieve them again. So, when Hubby informs me that we have to be at a cocktail party or reception, he knows darned well that Brad won’t be waiting for me somewhere and therefore I have no excuse other than to be dutiful.
Poor Princess Diana, I feel an affinity to her, not that I am rich or beautiful, nor I hope, ultimately doomed, but because after an hour and a half of making small talk with the chairman of a local Rotary club or British Legion my feet are beginning to bleed and I am sure the first thing Diana did when transport came to collect her from whatever official function she had to grace, was tear at her high heels and lob them in the direction of the driver. Some old biddy actually gave up the ghost at a function last week where she’d been standing for hours and was found face down in the Axminster. This caused a general furore and several uniformed men ran to her aid and a chair was conveyed forthwith. It was probably a ploy she has used on numerous and comparable occasions. It was an adroit move and the next time I feel a parade or speech is going on a wee bit too long and I fancy a little sit down, I too shall swoon. Knowing my luck though people will immediately assume that I’ve been chugging too many glasses of Cava and step over the heap on the carpet.
Hubby of course is nowhere to be found on such occasions, preferring to swap military anecdotes that I cannot understand even if I were interested enough to try and decode them, so apart from the initial, “Alice, this is Captain Pugwash (for instance), you met when he was commanding officer of HMS Black Pig”. Captain Pugwash and I then smile broadly at each other, shake hands heartily and nod our heads in assent, when in reality neither of us has a Scooby who the other is and so as quickly as it started, the conversation dies. Pugwash and Hubby then discuss, well heaven knows what, as I stand there, feet murderous, trying to will the steward carrying a tray of canap├ęs or Asti to circulate a little closer that I may apprehend him of his nibbles and booze.
Last Saturday however was an entirely different affair and whilst we were proxy guests and representing the Royal Navy, it was nonetheless going to be a do where everyone else was a strawberry.
“As in Fields forever?”, I asked Hubby as I strapped up my high heels.
He held out a hand and hoiked me upright.
“No dear, as in Mivvi”. I looked blank.
“Strawberry Mivvi: Civvy”.
“Oh I see”. Honestly sometimes it’s just like being married to one of the Krays only without the gangland violence.
What followed is one of those experiences that leaves one agog. Used only to military dos which have an inherent dignity (burlesque dancers notwithstanding), where men are beautifully dressed and women appropriately so and the Royal Marine Band are immaculate, my eyes were out like a robber’s horse.
“Alice”, hissed Hubby, “Close your mouth, you look like a goldfish”.
“I look like a goldfish? I? I? Cast your eyes over there then”. Across the room stood a very young woman in quite literally a goldfish orange, iridescent dress, complete with three foot train and jewelled encrusted stomacher. Around her stood other young women in varying shades of orange hue, although this was their skin tone and not their dress colour. Hair was high and platinum blonde, eyes were enhanced by centimetre long false eyelashes; fingernails were painted not just red or pink but had designs as well as diamante on them, toenails matched. Breasts were high and disclosed and tattoos of various conquestadors illustrated necks, shoulders and cleavages. I think they were what are now commonly referred to as, WAGs. I was, it goes without saying, invisible to the naked eye.
“Bloody hell”, said Hubby, eyeballing a girl whose breasts were abundant to the point that it was only her nipples that were concealed and that was only by thin strips of satin gown which plunged down to her, what else - bejewelled navel. The ‘Tit-tape’ – trade mark name, which she’d used to cover her modesty, was under significant duress.
Hubby and I felt as though we were gate crashing this particular party and as soon as it was polite, we left. This week brings its own challenges, namely Hubby is in a parade at the weekend. It’s been a while since he’s done any marching and carrying of sword and he is understandably, nervous. I cannot help but take umbrage at the fact that, to be word perfect, he has taken to practising his lines at home. Now, were he an actor or a singer, it would undoubtedly be a joy to hear his dulcet tones.
“Parade halt! Stand Fast! Division Halt! Eyes Front! Stand. At. Ease!” being bellowed however, with Colonel Hathi-like assertion around the landing is not conducive to familial harmony. Even the dog is whimpering.
He has now been banished to the basement amidst much rancour and the prevailing icy atmosphere has led to me discovering Ernest Shackleton sheltering in the downstairs loo.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Barely days into a new term and already there is dissent in the lower ranks.
“Speak for yourself” says Hubby gaily. The males of the household are the only ones with a kick in their heels; it would seem that having a kettle in one’s office and a microwave in one’s common room is all a man requires to be contented.
My son is delighted with his role as sixth former and the perks that come with it. Who knew such joy could be found in walking off the school grounds, spending one’s dinner money on a Pot Noodle or pasty before returning to school to chill out in the ‘relaxation’ area. I hate to dampen his spirits so soon into the new school year, there will be plenty of time for that, so I’ve bitten my tongue regarding his ‘A’ levels thus far and have resisted the urge to point out that the sixth form centre is not an extension of his bedroom but an area, and I quote from his Sixth Form Guidelines: Where you can quietly focus on your studies.
Conversely, the girls in this family are not as happy. My eldest daughter has found much to her dismay, that several of her new teachers are exceedingly dull. I doubt very much that they are but she has exacting standards. I would hate to teach her. Besides, she knows a darned sight more about an abundance of subjects than I and rolls her eyes heavenward if I so much as question anything that I really ought to be well versed in.
“God mummy, you are so thick”, is a mantra of hers when in a foul mood; the more patronising, if slightly less brutal, “Poor you, you can’t be expected to know everything”, when in a good one. So unless the teachers make every lesson thrilling and dynamic she will continue to return home, slump into a chair and complain bitterly. After only a few days I am finding it increasingly difficult to jolly her along given her sighing heavily into one ear, the 7 year old in the other and the whole time the reverberation of loud rock music, playing on my son’s laptop, vibrates through my inner soul.
“What’s the matter with you then?”, I asked the seven year old, having by now lost my rag with the teenage one and she having lost hers with me, resulting in the dishwasher remaining unemptied and her stomping furiously up the stairs, muttering something about child labour under her breath.
“I have to build a shelter”, she replied. I’d like to flee to one, I almost answered.
“What sort of shelter darling?”, I asked instead, finding it in me somewhere, the oomph to sound encouraging and interested.
“For a caveman”.
“But darling surely, by the very nature of their name, i.e CAVE man, they already had shelters?”
“Well maybe they were the first to enjoy outdoor living so they had shelters as well as a cave, sort of like a gazebo”.
“Ok then. Well what sort of thing did they make their shelter from?” This is the worst type of homework. The one where you have to get actively involved and cannot just sit there reading out a list of words and hoping in return, that they’ll spell them correctly. Mags’s son once had to make a model of their house. Of course, he didn’t get on with finding an old cereal packet and some Pritt stick and construct some rudimentary but self-made effort. Not on your Nelly. Mags’s father-in-law, a retired carpenter, spent a week in his shed, which he was relieved to do, sawing, filing and erecting a true replica of their beautiful, Victorian, terraced house. He got a special mention in assembly. Mag’s son that is, not granddad. Surely any teacher worth their salt could see through his offering. Little Johnny in the front row, who hasn’t a bespoke cabinet maker for a granddad and who had made his house out of the aforementioned cereal box, certainly could.
“Sticks and leaves and straw and stones”.
“Wow, a luxurious gazebo”, I replied.
“Can we go and forage then please. We can take the dog”. Great, just what I needed, a walk in the rain, with a damp dog who will be utterly over-enthusiastic in finding sticks and who will no doubt have ingested most of them by the time we get home.
An hour later we returned, having been driven ragged by, just as I thought, a dog who found foraging the best game. Like, ever.
“What? We’re collecting these stick things? We are actually bringing them home? As toys? For my own delectation and entertainment? Why this is just too much, too exciting for words. My, oh my! Why I must bark and bark and run around and around in circles and try and catch my tail! I must try and communicate my sheer, unconfined delight!”
I left our wellies in the hall with a panting dog and just one of his beloved sticks and walked into the kitchen. My seven year old was counting her stones, “We just need straw now”. Luckily the chair of the PTA is the local farmers wife, and although I was only half joking when I said I’d do anything on the committee in return for a handful of straw, my heart sank to my shoes when I read the minutes of the meeting that I’d been late for.
Really, I’m happy to help with most things. Make fudge, mull some wine, man a stall, erect some trestle tables, even organise a coach trip but find raffle prizes for the Christmas draw? It’s a detestable task.
“You’ll get fab prizes. You’ve got friends in high places,” the committee joshed.
That’s as maybe but I can’t imagine that a tour of Her Majesty’s Naval Base is everyone’s idea of a winning ticket. Then again, you never know.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


“Cheer up Alice for God’s sake. It’s just a bit of rain”.
I poked my nose out of the back door and immediately retrieved it. A bit of rain? Was Hubby delusional? A deluge of water ran down the garden path taking with it a parasol and garden table and one, most discomfited cat.
I sighed. Another summer over and my bottom has hit the beach, twice. The water woggles and inflatable LiLo that I bought in Menorca have stayed in the boiler cupboard where we stash all the reusable shopping bags.
As if sensing my despair, the seven year old walked into the kitchen.
“This weather is savage mummy. I’ll be back to spelling and times tables tomorrow, what can we do today to keep our spirits up?”
“Yes mummy”, opined the Red-Head, who is rarely far from her big sister, “What can we do? We never do anything”.
My son, the one with ten GCSEs, ambled in, dressed in what can only be described as clothes one might wear, if one was expecting on opening a door, to be greeted by hundreds of teenage girls, all screaming and fainting at the very sight of you.
“Right Ma?”, he asked, kissing my head, “I’m going to check out some guitar shops in Exeter. See you later”. And picking up a cold piece of toast he walked away.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t go out like that. You’re half naked, it’s pouring down and you need more breakfast than that. Besides, with who are you going to Exeter, when will you be back and how do you intend to finance such an excursion?”.
“Ma, I am fully dressed and I......”
“You are not. Leather jeans and a shirt barely buttoned up is not what I would call fully dressed. You’ll get pneumonia and then where will you be? You can’t go to the 6th Form with pneumonia”.
“Well thanks for stating the obvious, but I doubt that a bit of a drizzle will endanger my life”. Divine intervention however had a hand in making him rethink his choice of outfit as the back door crashed open, blowing a kitchen stool over and scattering all three cats, who had previously been peering despondently through the cat-flap, squawking and meowing for their lives.
“Ok, ok, I’ll go and put a jacket on”, conceded my son.
“Make it water proof”, I called after him, “Dad’s Kagoule is hanging up”. He turned around and threw me a look that suggested, ‘Over my very dead body’.
He returned five minutes later wearing a leather biker’s jacket and one of his teenage sister’s sparkly scarves. The teenage fans would by now be apoplectic. I was for different reasons.
“Darling, you are going to get soaked through. You’ll be miserable walking around the shops if you are dripping wet.” I handed him a bagel.
“So who are you going with?”
“Jack and Jim”, he mumbled.
“Well I’ll bet their mums are making them wear something sensible”.
“Ma, for God’s sake, we’re nearly seventeen. Our mums are not meant to be still tucking our vests, however metaphorically, into our pants”.
“More’s the pity”, I replied, drily. The door bell rang and two long haired, lovers from, well not exactly Liverpool, sauntered in.
“Hi Alice, alright?”
I looked at them and sighed. It seemed only yesterday that they’d been playing with Harry Potter Lego and now they were tall and handsome with more GCSEs than the rest of our family, mine and Hubby’s combined could muster between us; had a penchant for rock music and how shall I put it, a most individual sense of style. Jim, who initially looked a little sheepish having not seen me since he had baptised me in a pint of, ahem, ‘shandy’ the previous week after celebrating his results, had a pair of red velvet bell bottoms on; Jack a purple velvet jacket. They were all accessorised by more jewellery than Liberace, if not quite as shiny.
Handing them both and much to Hubby’s chagrin, a peanut butter bagel that Hubby had just prepared himself, I warned them of the dangers of high speed trains, Exeter high street and getting damp, Jim was most perplexed.
“Alice, you’ve lost me. I get the train thing and the need to stand well clear of the yellow line. I also understand the murderous vagaries of ‘catching my death of cold’ but the high street of Exeter perilous? How so?”
I opened and closed my mouth like a goldfish and looked to Hubby for help. He smiled gleefully.
“You’re on your own Alice; please elucidate the jeopardy of Exeter’s city centre.” I was huffy.
“You’re all picking on me now. I just want you to be safe. Other shoppers, who don’t know you as I do might think you look a little, well, dodgy and report you”.
“For stroking a Les Paul?” asked Jim. I looked blank.
“It’s a guitar ma”. Oh.
“Don’t worry Alice”, said Jack “We weren’t intending on going to British Home Stores” and laughing out loud, they all stepped out into the pouring rain.
“So where does that leave us mummy? Both my eldest sister and brother are doing something nice with their last day, please can we go somewhere?”
I walked into the sitting room and sat at my desk and Googled The Vue cinema. Ice Age 3 was on. I booked four seats.
Later that evening after hanging up my son’s sodden leather jacket in the airing cupboard to dry, I plaited the girls newly washed hair. Inhaling deeply, great sniffs of lovely Johnson’s shampoo on wet hair I considered how brief a time our children tolerate such indulgencies. The eldest barely tolerates me, the next sporadically, the youngest however still think I’m the bees knees. Tucking them into bed, I closed the door quietly.On the landing stood my son. “I need some A level advice. Will you help?” Gladly, my darling boy, gladly.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Old Soak.

Fumbling gingerly in the ‘drug’ drawer in the kitchen, I rifled through sachets of various and equally unpalatable flavours of Dioralyte; Melolin dressings, Cystitis remedies, old antibiotics large enough to heal a horse and a few low grade paracetamol. Calpol wasn’t going to cut it. Where the hell was the Nurofen Express? They had to be here somewhere. Clutching my head in one hand and the kitchen drawer in the other, a wave of nausea washed over me.
“Oh my God”, I groaned, gripping the drawer. Hubby walked in, whistling a piercing tune.
“Feeling a bit shabby Alice?”, he asked breezily, “I should bloody well hope so”.
Now if there is anything worse than a shocking hangover with all its component suffering parts, then it is a pious husband, whose job it was the night before to be the designated driver and who is thus, the following morning, so bright and breezy that sunglasses are required to look at him.
“Don’t be like that”, I said quietly, not because I was attempting refinement but because if I’d spoken any louder I’d have been sick. “I think I’ve got a bug”.
Hubby let out a peel, of what was in my mind, cruel, maniacal laughter.
“A bug? A bug? Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha”. The man was bent double. I had to lie down. Very slowly I walked into the sitting room and lowered myself onto the sofa and pulled a throw around me. The TV was tuned to the Disney Channel and Zac and Cody were taking time out for some adverts. Appalling, high pitched jingles trilled into the room with nauseating American kids singing the virtues of moistened toilet tissue. The dog, which more often than not sits snuggled up alongside my youngest girls, seemed to know the adverts by heart because he too started to sing. I assume he was singing; he was howling at least, it may well have been in protest.
Hubby threw himself down on the sofa next to me and with infuriating bonhomie, slapped my thigh.
“So, me old shipmate. Unless three large Kirs, swiftly followed by another large glass of Pinot Grigio were unfortunate enough to be ‘off’, you, my dear, drank far too much last night”. Why didn’t he just stop talking? I was in no state to count units of alcohol.
“It’s a bug I tell you”, I repeated, hopelessly attempting to push a now silent dog’s insistent snout away from under my dressing gown. He is nothing if not tenacious. I wrapped the ‘throw’ around my knees and lay back on a cushion.
“A bug does not necessitate the telling of such blue jokes that they would make a mess deck of sailors blush, nor does it embolden the victim to offer ahem, matrimonial advice to the vicar and his wife, who also happened to be at the pub enjoying a quiet sherry”. I groaned again. Please God, no.
“What was my advice?”, I barely dared ask.
“’Go Commando on a Sunday’”. Holy hell. But there was more.
“’It’ll add a certain frisson’”. Cassocks. Deep, deep shame overwhelmed me. What was I thinking? There I was one minute, listening intently to the political etiquette of judging a Victoria Sponge at a Garden show and the next I was Marjie Proops? How so? As if reading my mind, Hubby answered.
“You were bat faced”.
Dying a death on a cocktail of wine and disgrace, I dragged myself back upstairs and crawled under the duvet, where I stayed until the Nurofen that Hubby finally found and brought me, worked their magic; then and only then, was I able to pick up the phone and dial.
“My name is Alice Band and I am an alcoholic”.
Mags laughed, but not uproariously.
“Not in the true sense an alcoholic. You don’t exactly add gin to your Shredded Wheat do you? More ‘alcohol dependent’. Like most of us in fact. Why the epiphany?”
I told her.
“Oh.My.God and what does Hubby have to say? Has he fired you as Commander’s wife?”
“Well that’s the weird thing, he’s been relatively calm, if a little holier than thou. Do you really think we are alcohol dependent?”
“Probably”, she replied, “How many women our age do you know who can quite easily knock back a bottle of plonk a night. We don’t think we’re chavs though because” and she lowered her voice, “ we are rarely out in the pub making fools of ourselves, but in our own houses, wine in one hand, Manzanillo olives or Marlborough Lights in the other. It’s the way the middle class woman keeps her weight off”.
“That’s true. Since I’ve been on my diet and keep fit crusade, not eating has been tolerable only because I’ve had a bottle of something white and cold to look forward to in the evening”.
“Yeah and I’ll bet that wasn’t half a pint of semi-skimmed either”, she quipped.
“Thing is after a mad day of work, kids, dog and husband, there is nothing like that numbing third glass to ease the fatigue of family life”.
“Exactly, which is why the ‘How Much is Too Much’ adverts are out there directed at us, the silent soaks who cause no aggravation to anyone apart from liver specialists.”That was it then. There was nothing else for it other than sobriety. An infected wisdom tooth and subsequent antibiotics warning me against the horrors of drinking whilst on these specific pills have certainly helped me on my way. I was much relieved though to find a text from the vicar’s wife which said: GR8T 2 Meet U. Most people only talk chutneys and church. Have put your jokes on my Facebook page, doubt they’ll make the monthly Courier though;) The Rev wants me to pass on that the rough cloth of his surplice combined with Commando caused more than a frisson.’

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Just the other afternoon, having nipped into our local supermarket in Torpoint, I returned to the car only to find an offending, yellow, sticky square, parking ticket adhered to my windscreen.
“No way!”, I said rather loudly, peeling it off. I was especially aggrieved as I’d Paid and Displayed over the odds as I’d had no small change on me. This entitled me to park, had I wanted to, until the following morning, which is why the date and time on my Pay and Display ticket didn’t expire until the following day.
I read the instructions of my fine and those in the car park itself which suggested that if I pay £2 extra for being over time all would be well. Standing in the car park, muttering to myself about the injustices of the world I considered my options. I could just write and explain to the ‘Transportation’ department of Cornwall County Council sending them my Pay and Display ticket but, as it had confused the car park attendant, then I had and as it transpired –prophetically, grave doubts about the staff at Cornwall County Council, understanding it. I had no option but to pay a further two pounds just in case CCC didn’t believe my story and assumed I’d gone and bought the Pay and Display ticket the following day. Seething, I threw my groceries into the back seat of the car and went back into Sainsbury’s to ask for change of a five pound note. It was very busy. Finally, after fifteen minutes of shifting impatiently from foot to foot and huffing and puffing and grumbling, I was served, received my change and returned to the car. It was a very warm afternoon. The car was hot. In my haste, the carrier bag that I’d oh, so carelessly flung into the car had tipped upside down and the butter, which, in my absence, protested violently at being left in a heated car, had melted. The evidence of which was an unctuous, dark, pool all over the back seat.
I drove home in abject misery. Hubby would be livid, if there is anything he hates more than wasting money then it is a messy car. Scattered crayons, odd socks, sweet wrappers and apple cores have before now, seen him reduced to a gibbering, profane, blood-vessel-bursting, wreck. I had to address the foot square grease stain before he saw it.
Sneaking out of the house moments later with Mr Muscle under my arm, Hubby poked his head around the front door.
“Where are you going?” he asked suspiciously.
Damn. Think. Think.
“Err, I thought I’d clean the car”, I replied, doing my best to get my face to adopt the look of guileless innocence.
“Come again? You? Clean the car? I doubt you’ve done that since you were in the Brownies. You’re up to something, I can tell by your expression. You look shifty”. So much for my acting skills.
“It’s nothing, just a bit of a spill on the back seat”. I was hoping that my breezy manner would deter him from looking; unfortunately not. Not only did he look, he peered, he got in the back of the car, he knelt, he dabbed and he sniffed, he erupted. Then he saw the crumpled, sticky, yellow parking ticket which had rather ignominiously stuck itself to my bottom.
“And what the hell is this?”, he roared.
Guiding him indoors, lest all the neighbours enjoy our domestic showdown, I reassured him that all was well regarding the ticket and that I would be writing to C.C.C to explain the mistake. I was not in the least prepared for their reply which was as follows: ‘After checking our system, we found the ticket that you purchased on that day’. Closure then surely. Alas not. Apparently and ‘in this instance only, the Council is willing to accept a £10.00 administration fee’. Excuse me? We have to pay for their mistake? Where is the sense in that?
To compound this bureaucratic injustice we had yet another run in with ‘Transportation’ yesterday. After a sojourn to Liskeard where the children were rushed their lunch, lest our current Pay and Display ticket run out, we returned to the car the kids still sucking on a few baked beans, only to find yet another yellow, sticky ticket patch on our windscreen.
I peeled it off in disbelief. Failure to pay and display? Are parking attendants visually impaired these days? The Pay and Display ticket had been slightly obscured by the tax disc, but a slight nod of the head would have made all the difference. Does a Safety at Work clause forbid traffic wardens from inclining their necks nowadays?
Hubby was uncharacteristically calm. “We’ll just drive to Luxstowe House and show them the evidence. It’s only up the road”. I was on the phone talking to the ‘Car Parks Assistant’ as we pulled into Cornwall County Council’s HQ. I was still talking to her as I got out of the car and walked into the reception area. But no can do. She refused point blank to come downstairs and acknowledge my ticket. We were only separated by a ceiling and she wouldn’t come. Even the reception staff had the decency to look suitably embarrassed. Even they phoned Ms Car Parks Assistant. To no avail. Whilst we all knew that it would only have taken a second to peep and thus witness much aforementioned Pay and bloody Display ticket I had to stand in reception and, astonishingly, write a letter of appeal.The petty bureaucracy that rendered us furious yet helpless regarded a trifling matter. I can only imagine the utter frustration and distress if, for instance, it was one’s planning permission or some sort of care that was being handled by similar intransigent, inflexible, uncompromising, incompetent, obdurate officialdom. To those suffering at the hands of such buffoonery, you have my unreserved sympathy.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Racing down the A38, I was almost on home ground. We’d left Pembrokeshire behind seven hours before. The sun was burning hot through the windows but at least there were no traffic jams. The journey up to Wales had been, as it always is, torturous. I’d been in work in the morning and then whilst walking the dog, had suffered a horse fly bite which had culminated in my hand swelling to the size of a small water balloon, then I’d come home and had packed only to find at the last minute that we couldn’t all fit into one car. Not even with the absence of our son was there room for us all and so, feeling terribly feeble, I accepted the fact that I would have to drive Hubby’s little banger with the two youngest children, whilst he took our eldest daughter, the dog and the luggage.
It all went smoothly for the first hour and a half. The Willow Man was well behind us, the ‘keep two chevrons apart’ bit ahead. Suddenly the radio informed me that the M5 north was shut. Not just slow going. Shut. True to Radio 2’s word, another ten miles or so found me at a standstill, with the engine turned off, on a baking motorway, inside the vehicular equivalent of microwave oven. Hubby it transpired, was a few lorries ahead and, given that we were stationary, and that it was ‘safe to do so’, was the one to text me the good news that finally, the road had been cleared and we were on the move again.
It was slow but steady until we crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales and were approaching Cardiff. We had now been in the car for over four hours and the youngest one needed a wee and she was ‘really desperate’. She must have told me just how desperate she actually was with increasing Tourette-like urgency. Loudly and violently. And with no apparent warning. She just shouted it out. Repeatedly. Frustratingly, we hit yet another traffic jam, only this was going at a snail’s pace, slow enough in fact for me to seize the opportunity to take the key out of the ignition, jump out of car, run to the back, open the boot, delve into a big, blue IKEA shopping bag, fish out a plastic sandcastle bucket, slam the boot shut again, jump back in the car, switch on the engine and pull away, if only a few feet. Hubby was right behind me at this point and I could see his puzzled face in the rear view mirror. Holding the bucket behind me the Red-Head straddled it and relieved herself. It was only when I emptied the almost full bucket out my window that Hubby put two and two together. He found it highly amusing. Our eldest daughter however, witness to her mother tipping wee onto the M4, slid down the passenger seat far enough to disassociate herself with her family.
We arrived in Pembrokeshire at our friend’s beautiful house at 10.30pm and therein had ourselves a lovely few days until Monday, when the heaven’s opened and there was no alternative other than to go swimming to the Blue Lagoon. Had there been lagoon like creatures mired in it I would have been less bothered. As it was, and at thirty seven quid for three children and two adults, it was heaving with the Good, Bad and the Very Ugly of West Wales and its tourists. In fact when the wave machine came on, there were so many people jostling, kicking and splashing me that I felt like a drowning Egyptian left to perish as Moses closed the Red Sea behind him.
So Tuesday evening saw us travelling home once more on the A38. The driving conditions were much improved; my swollen hand was once again restored to normal and Hubby and I had swapped cars and kids. I had the Passat estate with the eldest daughter and the dog, whilst it was Hubby’s turn to endure the youngest ones company. My daughter and I were well ahead of Hubby. The piffling irritation of the radio not working was nary a bother. The sky was blue and I was excited. In a couple of hours I would be ensconced on a yacht, in excellent company, enjoying ‘wine and nibbles’ before sailing out to Plymouth Sound to watch the fireworks. All of a sudden however, just as I was fantasising about Alain Delon in a pair of deck shoes and little else, the car filled with smoke and a pungent, rubbery smell. Pulling over immediately and making a lay-by by the skin of my teeth, we all jumped out as seconds later Hubby whizzed past, waving. I wasn’t stopping for a fag break for God’s sake!
Abandoned, I clutched the dog, the daughter and my purse to my person and called the AA. Within half an hour a delightful young man came to our rescue, pulled away the offending bit of rubber that was dangling from the engine that was neither fan nor cam belt but something to do with the air conditioning and more importantly, did not affect the driving of the car. Suffice it to say, we made the yacht; sweaty and flustered perhaps but we made it. It was fantastic if a little hairy with two young girls hell bent on taking the helm, nevertheless I could take to this lifestyle like the proverbial Mallard. In fact several people, mostly total strangers but who seem to recognise me and have an opinion on my husband’s career have come up to me in our town and said, “Nice job”, referring presumably to Hubby’s new role. Like a beauty queen whose days in office are very much numbered, I shall make the most of it and whilst you won’t see me sporting a sash and crown, rest assured, I fully appreciate the privilege of being “the Commander’s wife”.