Monday, 26 January 2009


We underestimate the youth of today. It is easy to say that at best they are long haired, good for nothing layabouts, zoned out on rock and roll or worse. The worst case scenario, the story we are sold almost as often as the credit crunch is that they are violent, foul-mouthed, knife-toting yobs. Walk around any city centre on a Saturday and you won’t be disappointed. I personally had a run in with a couple of eleven year old lads last week who threw several, water filled plastic cups at a shop window in the middle of Plymouth. I stopped to ask them to pick them up, whereby they used some colourful Anglo-Saxon before running off. Luckily they weren’t particularly bright and instead of scarpering, they ran into the shop instead. There was no other exit. The manager got them. Kismet.
It is easy therefore to believe that’s how all young people conduct their lives and if you didn’t have any of your own, no doubt this point of view would never be challenged. I however, have several youths living under my roof. There is a lot about them that drives me crazy. The sort of thing that parents have ranted about for generations: filth, mess, clutter, scattered wet, used-only-once towels; self-absorption, laziness, reluctance for just about anything, monosyllabic moodiness, loud music, late homework, poor grades and the incessant demand for cash. The list is endless. I would give anything to fall at my own mother’s feet and say “I am so, so sorry”. I am guilty of all of the above. “What goes around comes around” someone, probably my mother, told me once.
I rarely have anything positive to say about my youths. I am so worn out with nagging and cleaning and picking up and cooking that it is hard to wax lyrical when their talents are imperceptible to the human eye. My son in particular regularly makes me seethe with frustration and anxiety. How many times must I repeat that his GCSE’s once done well, will never have to be done again? How many more times must I beg him to apply himself?
“Turn off the computer! Switch off your phone! Don’t text at the table! Turn it down! I don’t care -I don’t believe you can study with it on that loud!”
On Monday, when I was absolutely determined not to be blue just because the papers told me I would be, the post plopped through the front door. One of the letters was very thick and as soon as I saw the logo on the envelope my heart sank. Opening it with a feeling of doom my instincts were right and the sum of £70 was required to pay my son’s mobile phone bill.
We’ve been here before a few months ago. That time it was £90 and the money was taken from his savings to pay us back. Unfortunately, he was unaware of his savings and so a deficit of ninety quid caused him no pain and thus no lesson was learnt.
I tentatively rang Hubby at work and told him. He went into orbit.
“Right, that’s it”, he bellowed through the earpiece, “This time we are stopping his allowance for two months and we take his phone off him”. He slammed the phone down. Hmm. I could see his point but I didn’t see that this was a productive solution. Hubby is either at work or studying. It will be left to me to fend the constant beseeching entreaties and pleadings for a few quid here and there, and no matter how tough I would like to be, there is no way that I can let a 16 year old not have a few quid here and there to catch a bus to see his girlfriend.
That evening as I drove in the pouring rain to Tavistock, I pondered a suitable punishment. Docking his allowance was the answer, then he would still have some disposable income whilst still paying off his debts. I’d also had a long and meaningful conversation with a lovely young man in a call centre in Mumbai, who informed me that my son’s phone contract could be modified: a check could be put on his calls, stopping him from going over his limit.
I arrived at my destination. A public speaking competition. The paradox? My son, the one with the long hair, laid back attitude and obsessive text disorder was taking part. No fuss, no big deal. No histrionics. His participation was mentioned in passing, “By the way Ma can I have an extra packed lunch ‘cos I’ll be late home. I’m in a competition”. Only he and his two other team mates didn’t just participate, they commanded the floor. They were quite honestly, brilliant. I was astounded. These boys who normally just ‘hang out’ were articulate, intelligent, thought provoking, moving, witty and authoritative. Their vocabulary and command of the English language transformed them from gawky school boys to convincing orators. Their subject knowledge had seemingly unplumbable depths. I sat at the back clapping like an excited chimp as they triumphantly held their winning shield aloft.We do our young people a disservice. Had they been in a play or on a playing field hundreds of people would have seen them. There must be thousands of teenagers all over the country who compete in similar scenarios, where the venerable ability to communicate profoundly and commandingly goes unheard and thus the common belief that the youth of today are ignorant and inarticulate is upheld. My continuing manifesto then for a more positive outlook, is to ignore the teenage villains with their knives and hoodies – don’t give them column inches and celebrate the efforts of those whose accomplishments go unheeded. This is the way to inspire change, just ask Barack...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Shut Up Already.

When I feel at a low ebb, hashing it over with a good mate, consuming a bottle of good wine and generally having a good cry does the job and afterwards I feel better for it. Sometimes though I have been known to go on and on and on to whomever that will listen about whatever it is that is making me so depressed. So much so, that those around me are affected by my moods and misery. It is hard to live with. I speak from experience.
Droning on about something continually can have a very negative effect on those around us and when you are in the pit of despair it is exceptionally difficult to find the constructive energy to claw your way out.
What then is the media up to? A National depression? Shall we all just chuck in the towel, return to our cold, unheated bedrooms and huddle under the sheets to wait for the Prime Minister to give us the sign when to end it all? They are all at it. Weekend columnists raving on about how, by being ‘crunchy’ they’ve turned the AGA off, have garaged the 4x4 and have let Lenka the nanny and Ruby the ‘daily’, go. They fret about how to pay school fees, this winter’s skiing trip and whether or not they’ll have to cancel Tuscany in August. I have read about two or three such articles in the last week. They all live up the line.
High brow journalists are no better. On and on and Ariston about how many more companies have gone under and how many poor sods are unemployed. Some hack with the news headlines at the top of every hour on Radio 2 is dolefully spelling it out for us that life is, quite honestly, sh*t.
Well that isn’t news. Anyone who has suffered tragedy or loss, deprivation and fear will subscribe to that point of view but we would also agree that we are lucky enough not to live in a country where bombs rip our homes and schools apart. They did once and our grandfathers put a stop to it. We are also lucky that we have a social security system that looks after its young and old – not particularly well maybe, pensions are ludicrously meagre but we see few little old men and fewer little old ladies literally scavenging for food and dying on park benches. Our NHS system is far from perfect but they won’t turn us away if we can’t pay for our treatment. Our schools still churn out illiterate children, but at least they had an opportunity to study in a safe and free environment. Our public transport system is often far from efficient and tragic accidents do sadly happen, but they are infrequent and we are rightly horrified when they do. Our needy children are sometimes overlooked and are neglected by the very people who ought to be fighting their corner – but this is such a rare occurrence that a national outcry is heard across the land and those culpable are punished immediately.
If someone is murdered or raped in this country the powers that be will do their utmost to find the villain and if found and moreover, if found guilty, they will be tried and punished accordingly. The crime will not be dismissed, our police cannot be paid for keeping quiet, nor our juries handpicked. Conversely neither will the accused nor the victim be stoned to death, (in some countries rape is seen as infidelity), nor will they be executed by lethal injection.
Mass starvation, war and genocide are intolerable abominations that many of us, thank God, will never know or understand. Being in the ‘grip of recession’ is not. The rhetoric the media continually use to describe this ‘relentless grimness’ is not only odious but insulting. I think that we are all aware of the current financial downturn (whisper it). Do we honestly need to be reminded every hour and in every publication?
I don’t deny that these are very worrying times. Bleak. But I am convinced that through incessant negative rhetoric we can talk our way into a worse place. I wish I had more of a voice. I wish I could shout “Shut up” at the top of my lungs at the radio and that whoever is the prophet of doom and gloom could hear me.
Have we ever been a country to give up in defeat? I cannot imagine for one minute that such miserable, pessimistic language was used as freely during the World Wars. We were urged to Keep Calm and Carry On. Making do and mending wasn’t a phrase intended to make us fall to our knees in desperation because we couldn’t have the latest i-Pod. It was just a fact of life. We Brits are renowned for getting ‘on with it’, with sticking two fingers up at adversity.
Hubby in his own inimitable way has laughed at me, “You sound like Winston Churchill”.
“Yeah well, he isn’t remembered for his defeatist attitude is he?”
“Blimey Alice, since when were you so politically strident?”, he asked.
“I’m not as fluffy as you make me out to be I’ll have you know”.
“Righto. Let’s have a test. What’s happening in Gaza?”
“Appalling things. Too awful to mention”, I said, defiantly.
“Okay. Who’s Alistair Darling?”
“Guy with the freaky two tone hair. Um..” I pondered, “ got it, Chancellor of the Exchequer”.
Hubby, smiling as though he held a trump card added, “Ban Ki-moon?”
“UN Leader”.
Hubby looked positively lost for words. But then he’s not to know that the pub quiz has a lot to answer for.“Well, I never. Alice Band for PM! Sanctions on misery!” He was being facetious but my manifesto would be far from it.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Dirty Pursuits.

“Oh I don’t know Alice, you have your moments” said Hubby, interrupting my phone-call as he came in through the front door.
“D’you mind”, I said airily, putting the receiver under my chin, “I’m on the phone to Mags”.
“She’s never frigid? Never had her down as the sort”.
“Sorry about this Mags, one moment” and putting my hand over the receiver this time, I even more haughtily said to my husband, “we are talking climatically not climactically. Her plumbing has frozen and no, that is not an euphemism”, I quickly added as his mouth was open to utter yet another, what he considered, droll double entendre.
For the next twenty minutes I tutted and gasped and sighed and said “Oh no” at all the appropriate junctures when a good friend informs you that, so cold is it in her house that the pipes have frozen solid and she has no water whatsoever.
“So I’m left with having to go to the supermarket to buy industrial sized flagons of mineral water just to wash a cup up. Honestly, neither has my hair nor my china ever been so soft”.
“Well, fair play to you Mags, you are hanging on to your sense of humour. I can’t imagine not having running water. Dear God, our son would move out if he couldn’t ponce around for hours in the bathroom attending to his daily ablutions”.
Hubby, given that he was impatiently hopping from foot to foot and sighing every time I said goodbye, then continued the conversation for another 5 minutes, obviously wanted my attention. He might as well have just got on my lap and repeated my name incessantly until I’d lost my temper with him but at least hung up. It works for the children.
“Mags I’ve really got to go. If you need a bath, or washing done, come on down. Bye, bye, yeah, bye”.
I clicked the red button on the phone and looked at Hubby.
“Well, what is it?”
“I’ve got something to show you”, he said, smiling broadly and handing me a padlock.
“Ok. That’s just weird. I’ll never be into stuff like that!”
“No, Alice. Don’t be ridiculous. Do you honestly think that once I’ve got you in the mood, I’d risk locking you up and keeping you still? I’m glad to get a response. It’s not much fun making love to a plank of wood.”
“Well just thank your lucky stars you’ve never had any splinters then” and with a slight huff I walked into the kitchen.
“Alice, please. This is all going wrong. I genuinely have something to show you. Get your coat on and get in the car”.
“The kids?” I asked.
“In front of a DVD. C’mon, we won’t be long”.
“Since when did Meryl Streep become our babysitter? One minute and I’ll get our daughter to come and look after them”.
Minutes later a very grumpy teenager threw herself onto the sofa and pulled one of the cushions onto her head.
“God I hate this film”, she said, as Pierce Brosnan started to, well, sing.
I got into the car very warily. What was Hubby up to? His personality is not renowned for its element of surprise.
We drove for only a minute. And then he got my wellies out of the boot.
“What’s going on? I asked, “We could have walked here”.
“You’ll see”
He pulled a scarf out of his pocket and instead of wrapping it around his neck; he tied it around my eyes for a blindfold. Padlocks? Blindfolds? Wellies? I was getting seriously worried. Al fresco shenanigans have never been my tasse de thé in July, let alone in the frozen wastes of Torpoint in January.
My balance compromised, I gingerly wobbled into my wellies and with a beseeching, “Come on”, Hubby led me across uneven, hard, frozen ground.
Finally we stopped and with a ta-da, he whipped off the blindfold to reveal a patch of earth and putrefying thereon, a few straggly looking sprouts, a square of spectre-pale corn and a rickety shed.
“That’s what the padlock is for”, he said following my eyes, “Your shed! And this is Alice”, he added rather dramatically, through the use of a sweeping arm, as if to indicate I now owned ‘land’, “ your allotment”.
I was silent.
“I’ve had you on the waiting list for two years. The Allotment Association called me just before Christmas to say your name was at the top of the list”. I was speechless. I’ve only ever grown wild strawberries and that was down to God and not me. They just grow haphazardly in my cracks on the terrace.
“Well I don’t know what to say”, I said, not knowing what to say.
“Look in your shed”. Hubby’s excitement was so enthusiastic, that I had to find the wherewithal to make appropriate sounds when he showed me my rake, hoe and fork.
“And the piece de resistance – some seed catalogues”.
“Wow. You’ve thought of everything”. He really had including a woolly hat, thermal socks and fingerless gloves.
“Well I’ve been worried about you since you got fired. Thought you needed to get out of the house, but well away from retail therapy”.
So that is where, on Wednesday morning, when all my peers were in rewarding jobs in, more significantly, warm offices, I was trying to dig over the arctic tundra that is my allotment.
As my nose dripped rather unattractively down my fork handle I received a text from my son.
‘Ma. Not such GR8 results in my mocks and forgot that A level consultation 2nite’ .
More like A level confrontation. There is no escaping them it seems, even whilst digging for victory.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Control Top.

New Year’s Eve 2008 was not going to be another one of those nights where Jools Holland* is my best friend and where, a minute to midnight Hubby wakes me from the bottom of a bottle of Cava with a kiss and a perfunctory “Happy New Year love” and where, a minute later I stand, in my slippers and dressing gown on our doorstep watching the dockyard lasers and listening to the ships horns sound in the New Year.
Nah. This year Alice has her mojo back. She is a shadow of her former self, she has more high heels in her closet than Imelda (well not quite maybe); a short, sparkly sequined dress and let me tell you, someone, anyone was going to see her in it.
The youngest children looked on quizzically as I gently pulled up my opaque bodyshaper tights over my hips – hey I might be slimmer, but the flesh is now older and thus needs a little encouragement to stay in place. The word panty girdle may well be consigned to the past but its machinations live on. Open any catalogue and flick to the underwear section (not to be actively encouraged in any weird sense) and there you will find item after item of ‘holding in’ garments, from the subtle, tummy-panel control knickers to the downright gothic looking, ‘all over control dress’.
Well I have decided that, apart from the odd roll of flesh, I no longer want to be controlled and so I suggested to Hubby that we hook up with a bunch of friends at a local restaurant. This proposal was met with his typically negative response, “That’ll be sixty quid Alice. Before wine”.
“All our friends will be there and, as long as we are home before midnight, we have free babysitters in Pia and her boyfriend.”
He didn’t look convinced.
“Look, our son would far prefer to be out with his girlfriend and her family, so he is out of the picture; several of our eldest daughter’s friends will be at the restaurant with their parents i.e our friends so, she and I are going. You may do exactly as you wish”.
He didn’t put up much of a fight after that, which is why I was now struggling into these tights.
“You do look a bit funny mummy” offered the six year old, handing me my new La Senza bra.
“Oh yeah? Well you just wait”. She and her sister giggled as I jostled my bosoms into my bra which somehow succeeded in pushing in and up simultaneously. They were however quietened as I eased my feet into my fabulous new heels and were spell-bound as I slipped by glittery, dazzly dress over my head.
“Oh mummy, you look like a princess” said my four year old in genuine awe.
“Princesses, I think you will find” added Hubby walking into the bedroom and elbowing me out of the way of the mirror to adjust his tie, “Are young, dewy and single. Mummy is more of a duchess”.
“I’d happily be a dowager”, I said under my breath.
“What was that Alice?”, asked Hubby, the end of his tie between his teeth.
“I said I’ve always fancied being an astrologer” and I walked over to my jewellery box and put some starry, sparkling earrings in, sprayed some scent liberally, then went into the bathroom, my ladies of the bedchamber at my heels the whole time.
One sat on the loo seat, the other on the rim of the bath and watched as I applied my make-up.
“Why are you colouring in your eyes mummy?” asked the Red-Head.
“It’s not an ordinary pencil. It’s eyeliner”.
“Eye liar?”
“Liner dummy” added her elder sister, “It’s to accentuate your eyes”. She is only six. I was suddenly struck by the fact that I would have to address why one so young knew so much about the application of cosmetics. But it would have to wait. Now I had to get my lippy on and get myself out of the house.
I planted a bright red kiss on both of their foreheads, handed them over to Pia and waited for the thirteen year old to make an appearance. Her father was jangling his keys in his trouser pocket.
“We could have taken a taxi”, I said.
“It’s New Year’s Eve, the night when taxi drivers are legalised robbers. I am not prepared to be fleeced by a man with a people carrier and a penchant for picking up drunks on the way”.
Finally our eldest daughter came downstairs. At six foot tall her legs go on forever, add four inch heels and she looks as though she should be on a catwalk. She had borrowed a dress from Pia who is particularly diminutive and so the dress left little to the imagination being very short and very low cut on her.
Given the expression of dumbfounded apoplexy on his face, her father, it was obvious, was about to blow a gasket. We didn’t have time to address this issue either and so I threw a pashmina over her, whispered she looked a million dollars and bent her into the car.
We drove in silence, a brooding expression on Hubby’s face. He was out of his comfort zone.
“Honestly dad, taking you out is just like taking Jim Royle from his armchair”.
“Listen here Peaches Geldof, I’ve been outmanoeuvred this time. You’re going to be back in a gym slip before you can say quadratic equations.”
Everyone was in high spirits as we entered the restaurant. After several of my attractive friends flirting with him and plying him with bubbly, Hubby relaxed. We took a taxi home.“That mojo thing of yours. I’m glad it’s back Alice”, said Hubby in the back seat and he leant in to snog me. It was our daughter’s turn to look most put out. “Get a room”, she snarled.