Tuesday, 24 February 2009


“Do you know”, I said to Mags over a fat free, piece of fruit cake and a skinny cappuccino, “Half-term seven years ago I was a crazed, wild-eyed mother”.
“Yeah well”, she mumbled, troughing a full fat muffin, “Some things never change”.
“Seriously Mags. Hubby’s ship had sailed for months to the Caribbean, I had a new born baby and two other young children. I was shattered, hormonal and anxious 24/7. I can remember not being able to breathe properly due to the enormity of it all”.
“So how did you get through it?”, she asked, sucking every remainder of chocolate from her fingers.
“An understanding, female G.P who described my situation as a disaster and subsequent, strong, prescription drugs. When Hubby rang me a few weeks later, from a yacht in Antigua wishing me a happy Easter and telling me, oh sorry, he had to go, lobster and champagne were awaiting him in some nearby beach restaurant, I swear I could have swallowed a fistful of those bloody pills”.
“And the moral of this story is?”, she enquired, now turning her attentions to the neglected sultanas on my plate.
“Well, I thought that looking after three small children alone was a tough gig but it was a walk in the park compared with raising teenagers”.
“I wish my mother were here Mags. I’d give anything to be granted one last audience with her. I really need some maternal advice. I want her to tell me what to do, because I tell you, I’m fumbling in the dark”.
We stacked the dishwasher in silence. The cats purred around my ankles, demanding to be fed, briskly followed by two young girls whose DVD had ended and were now ravenous and, evidently, bored.
“What can we do today mummy?” asked the seven year old.
“Well, I was thinking we’d stay in today and play”.
This was not what they wanted to hear and before the moans and groans kicked off I reminded them that we’d been out to lunch this week, had a trip to the pictures and an afternoon at Jump. My purse was empty. A chorus of “It’s not fair” had no effect whatsoever on me and within minutes they were re-enacting some Disney show, involving much lip-gloss, tight clothing and high-heels.
Mags and I went into the sitting room and I fell onto the sofa with a loud exhalation.
“What’s up then?” asked Mags softly, lifting my feet onto her lap, “Sex, drugs and rock and roll?”
“No drugs thank God and I’m in denial with regards the sex thing. Nope, bizarrely, it’s the rock and roll which has caused so much angst in this house recently”.
“How so?”, asked Mags, rhythmically tapping the soles of my feet.
Before I had a chance to answer, the 13 year old stood in the doorway, dressed in a hat and coat, a handbag draped across her chest.
“I’m going into town”, she announced, “There is nothing to do here. I’m going to buy a new book” and blowing a kiss in my general direction she left. I jumped off the sofa and gave her a hug and a simultaneous list of do’s and don’ts.
“Mu-um. I know. Watch the road, don’t be impertinent, walk tall, be confident and don’t talk to strangers”.
“Unless devastatingly good-looking, remarkably appealing and in a well lit room with several others”.
“That’s my girl”. She went to catch the bus.
I resumed my position on the sofa.
“She’s not too much trouble”, remarked Mags, “Can I therefore deduce that it is the son and heir who is providing premature grey hairs?”
Well not exactly him, I tried to explain but the environment in which he is growing up. It is so alien to my own upbringing that it leaves me reeling.
“How do you mean?” asked Mags.
I went on to explain that our son had fallen out with his band. Nothing unusual there, rock bands are notorious for falling out and disbanding. Look at Take That.
“Not quite a rock band Alice”, said Mags, “I don’t think your son sees himself as the next Gary Barlow”.
“Well the Beatles then. The point I’m making Mags is this; when Robbie and Gary and John and Paul were peeved with each other no doubt they had a few fights, bitched behind each other’s backs, trashed the odd hotel room, and then moved on. Nowadays there is Facebook”.
“Exactly. However, if you fall out with your friends these days the whole world and its ‘Friends’ has an opinion and it is there forever as a testimony to your unpopularity and atrocious spelling. It’s insidious”. I sighed.
“You’re depressed because of Facebook?” asked Mags incredulously.
“For what these social networking sites are doing to our children, yes! It seems to me that once behind a screen or a text they assume a different persona. Naturally shy and courteous kids are buoyed by a confidence and effrontery that they would never possess in the real world. That’s it actually. To them they are living in a virtual world and thus they are not really having a ‘conversation’, ergo, they can say what they like; it doesn’t seem to matter to whom. Be it someone’s friend, mother or grandmother”.
“Speaking from experience?”
“Yup. Then, on top of the entire band trauma, our darling son’s attitude to his studying is laissez faire in the extreme. His father and I have patiently explained that until these GCSEs are over, the weekend is the only time he can stay over at his beloved’s. Even during the holidays”.
“Sounds fair”.
“You’d think so. It’s been a week of combat and warfare resulting in texts being sent to me with the ferocity and devastation of Exocet missiles. By all accounts I’m a ridiculous mother. The sworn enemy. Uncompromising and out of touch”.
“Were it ever thus?” said Mags, insightfully.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Emotional Wall.

Hubby sat with his head between his hands.
“Alice. Dear”, his tone was frosty, which added an acute atmosphere to the already wintry conditions. “Couldn’t you have waited? Two grand is not going to fall from the sky”.
I was well aware of that but, a dodgy looking wall, which looks as though it may well fall down from the sky at any given moment, has to be addressed.
“I wasn’t aware that the builder I’d asked to look at the wall would arrange to meet a building inspector was I? Unfortunately, now that he has done his inspecting, he has deemed it unsafe and therefore our wall requires immediate attention”.
“But Alice”, groaned Hubby, literally clinging onto tufts of his hair, “That wall has been there for over 200 years, it’ll probably be there for another 200”.
“Look, my ceilings had also been up there for a comparably historical period but, since we moved in, two of them decided to fall down. I cannot take the chance on an indecisive outside wall that may topple on some poor, unsuspecting hoodie”.
“Can’t we just replace the old with a bit of breeze block then?” he asked, his face lined with the responsibility of keeping Her Majesty’s Navy ship shape and V.Sat. , his kids in order and his wife compliant. It was a lot to ask of any man.
“Darling”, I offered gently, extricating his fingers from his hair, “The Georgians didn’t really go in for breeze block and therefore Caradon District Council are unlikely to as well. I think we have to be in keeping”.
By all accounts it was the wrong thing to say.
“In keeping did you say?” Hubby leapt off the sofa, fury lighting his eyes, “Right then, I’ll give them ‘in keeping’”.
“What are you doing?” I asked, trotting behind him up the stairs.
“Locking the bathroom. We’ll use a pot and either, chuck it into the garden as a makeshift cess pool, or, as was also acceptable, into the street”.
I looked at him questioningly. Had he finally lost his marbles? “We won’t take a bath any more, nor wash our hair more than twice a year. Don’t bother with the head lice, let them roam free. Yes, that’s it. Free-range nits” and he laughed at his own, rather troubled, joke, before bundling my deodorant into a conveniently abandoned, Topshop carrier bag.
“You see”, he said brandishing it into my face, “The children will take no time at all in adopting Georgian ways. They leave their crap everywhere anyway”. He continued to fill up the bag with my perfumes, toothpaste and makeup.
“Right then”, he said, “Hand me your car keys”.
“Your car keys. Alice, you may be aware that the motor car had yet to be invented in the late 1700’s and therefore, to keep Caradon happy, we had best dispense with ours”. He ran down the stairs and rifled through a pile of old newspapers.
“What now?”, I barely dared ask.
“We must find a horse. One for you and one for me. They often sell horses in the Western Morning News”. Should I call a doctor?
“A few tons of horse manure and the reek of their urine running down to the Tamar will be very historically authentic, along with the noise of their hooves and the rattle and creak of the cart”.
“How else are you going to get the kids to school?” How indeed.
“Now then, the rubbish”. Before he had a chance to upturn the kitchen dustbin onto the pavement - a la Olde Worlde Englande, I succeeded in apprehending him.
“Darling. You know its Valentine’s Day tomorrow?”
“Well aware dear. You have gone on about it for the last few weeks”, he said, tugging at the bin liner which, mercifully, steadfastly refused to be eased out of its stainless steel cylinder.
“Yes well, and you know how you are taking me and Mags to the pictures and then out to dinner?”
“Yes. Aren’t I the lucky fellow. A double whammy to pay for”.
“Darling, she’s alone. We must keep her company. Anyway, I thought, as you are clearly under an immense amount of pressure and how the last thing you really want to do tomorrow night is listen to two middle aged women ranting about why all men are bastards, excepting you of course”, I added hurriedly, worried that I too would be the next thing hurled onto the street. I think Georgian wives were afforded the same delicate treatment as excrement, dead animals and garbage.
“Well?” he asked, putting down the bin and finally looking at me.
“Well, I think that my brother, Dad and Uncle Dave are going to the pub...to watch the rugby, followed by a few sherbets and a curry. Interested?”
“Huh? You sure you don’t mind? Your benevolence regarding me going out for a few beers is not, generally, renowned”.
“Yes well, most women haven’t put up with two decades of run-ashores and the subsequent drunken phone calls, where not only do you declare your undying love but where you’re habitually joined by a mess deck of sailors, also blaring down the phone behind you a chorus of their eternal love for me too”.
“I’m a changed man Alice”. God bless him, he’s right. Those were the days when his loins had only produced, one or at the most, two children. When he was subordinate to far graver men, his duties were less onerous and when he could finish work early on a Friday by taking a ‘make & mend’.
Nowadays he is the gravest of all, burdened by MOD prudency whilst still expected to produce ‘results’; his job and family providing little chance of R&R.
“Don’t worry about the Georgians” I said, handing him his phone to text my brother, “As The Jam said, ‘This is the Modern World’ and even district councils can’t dispute that”. One lives in hope.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


My nose, just about recovered after its invasive ordeal, was just about to be taken for an outing to the supermarket last Saturday when Pia emerged from her pit, closely followed by her boyfriend Jamie.
“Hey”, she said, rubbing her eyes sleepily, her hair very much bed-hair, a style that would cost thousands were she in a fashion shoot. As it was she was in mis-matching pyjamas and a short dressing gown and a pair of equally peculiar, mis-matching socks kept her tootsies warm. Even David Bailey would have been hard pushed to make her look “fashion” as the Red-Head would say when wearing little more than a ballet skirt as a top, a hair-band, my pop-socks and some high heels. When asked in a tone of exasperation, “What do you look like?”, she looks back at you as though you have absolutely no style whatsoever and says, “Fashion”. If I try and put her in a sweet little dress, wholly appropriate for a four year old she again looks at me as though I’ve just crawled from under a rock and says, “I don’t want to wear that, I want to be fashion”. It makes no odds how many times you add, “able” as a suffix, she won’t have any of it, she’s fashion and that’s that.
“Oh great”, said Jamie, tucking into a basket of warm pains aux chocolate, “I’m starving”. They drained our once a week, 2 litre carton of Tropicana orange juice and started snogging over the newspapers. Hubby looked up at me and I shrugged my shoulders, in a kind of, ‘Oh don’t ask me’ way.
Before Hubby had a chance to make things awkward and ask Jamie when he was thinking of paying board and lodgings, I quickly started some small talk.
“It’s only 9am. Most unlike you two to be up before lunch time on a Saturday? Are you going out shopping again?”
I hadn’t quite got over her previous retail splurge fairly recently. She’d dragged Jamie to Drake Circus and boy, Plymouth must be delighted that an affluent Norwegian is in their midst, because no other bloody bugger is - affluent that is. She had returned home with several pairs of designer trainers, more books than a rural mobile library, a few tops and a couple of pairs of jeans. The following week they got ready for a repeat run.
“Oh that’s just great”, I said to her, pulling her leg, as I pulled out the wand of my Dyson, “You just carry on. Go and spend all your money then and spare not a thought for little old me who only provides you with every home comfort and attends to your every need”. We have a very laid back relationship, so I didn’t turn a hair when she replied,
“Okay, okay Alice. What do you want that’ll get you to shut up?”
“Something nice”, I called after them, “But no chocolate”.
I was preparing dinner when they arrived home. My teenagers mercifully, were out and the youngest happily engrossed in colouring in. “Here”, said Pia, handing me a nice bag, “Have fun”, and with a naughty glint in her eye she and Jamie dissolved into giggles.
The bag revealed a new bra, Pina Colada flavoured lubricant and how shall I put this delicately. Whisper it. A marital aid that requires AA batteries. Let it be said that I am nothing if not liberal.
I think they expected me to blush and hurriedly squirrel everything away, but the best tactic in my 43 years’ experience is, when unsure, to brazen things out. So I admired the gifts but added, “Thing is Pia, this”, waving aforementioned item at them, “Is somewhat small and I’ve had four children. I’d never find it again”. Horrified they ran away screaming, “That’s just sick”.
I chuckled. The ‘gifts’ will come in handy for a fun raffle prize.
I digress. So, were they about to go out and spend even more of her father’s hard earned Krone?
“Yes”, she replied, “But he will be with me”.
“Who? Jamie?” I asked absently, looking for my shopping list.
“No, my father. He and my step-mother and brother are here in Plymouth. They are coming over on the Torpoint Ferry at eleven o’clock”.
Was she out of her tiny mind I asked? I hadn’t prepared anything, hadn’t made any cakes, hadn’t cleaned. The list of hadn’ts went on and on. Within minutes I was a whirling dervish of domesticity, delegating jobs and tasks even to the smallest family members. With a feather boa around her neck, and my sequined scarf around her waist as a skirt, the Red-Head got busy with a duster as her bigger sister sprayed the Mr Sheen. Our son, most indignant at being made to get up before the sun went down was in the bathroom with the Cif and a scourer and our eldest daughter, thunderous, vacuumed. Hubby was sent in my stead to the supermarket for luncheon provisions, Pia and Jamie were kicked downstairs in an attempt to make habitable a habitat that only she and Shrek would find tolerable and I donned a pinny and opened Nigella’s tome of domestic bliss and knocked out a dozen white chocolate and cherry muffins. With the music from Changing Rooms – the bit where they finished everything in the nick of time – playing in my head, I coated the muffins with a dusting of icing sugar, made a pot of coffee and whipped my pinny off as they rang the bell. Phew.
The visit was a great success. As they left the following day, Pia’s father shook my hand and thanked me. “She is very happy here. I was so very worried about her. To be so far away from me. She is an intense girl and so very innocent”. You what? Maybe it means something else in Norwegian.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


Last Thursday the day of reckoning arrived. After over five years of sneezing, acute rhinitis, sinus infections galore, several consultations with several consultants, an MRI scan and a CT scan, it was finally concluded that surgery was the only answer.
“You see”, said my lovely consultant, showing me on his computer the CT scan of the inside my head, “It is completely blocked. And this area here”, pointing under my eye sockets, cheeks and forehead, “Should be totally black which would indicate air; instead it is dark grey, which indicates no air whatsoever, thus you are completely blocked”.
I nodded. No bloody wonder whenever I fly I am the one clutching my head and screaming that my head is about to explode with the pressure and my brains really are about to splatter across your aircraft like a blended smoothie, unless we land. Immediately.
My consultant asked me if I understood everything about the surgery and if I was at all worried. I explained that I was mother to many children and therefore could he make sure that I was allotted an experienced anaesthetist. I think he thought I was joking until I added, “Oh and I don’t like the last sentence in the letter you sent me.” I rummaged in my bag before pulling out a letter and reading, “with any surgery there are risks and there is a slight risk, given how close the sinuses are to the brain, of leakage”.
I looked at him, “If I’m honest, I really don’t fancy my brain leaking down my nose. I hadn’t realised there was such a thin crust between brain and sinus”. He looked at me askance.
“Well Mrs Band. It wouldn’t exactly be your brains leaking down your nose. Just fluid from the brain”. Call me old-fashioned but that was just being picky. Brain or brain fluid, whatever, they both sounded fairly crucial and I didn’t want either trickling anywhere.
“See you in a couple of days then?”, he said.
“Just another thing. I won’t get a minute’s rest on my return, is there any chance of staying in overnight?”
“That won’t be necessary Mrs Band. You will feel as right as rain”, and smiling he shook my hand to dismiss me.
The night before surgery I wondered whether I ought to imbibe. “Best not Alice”, said Hubby, sanctimoniously.
“But I’m very nervous. What if he does penetrate my brain?”
“Well there’s nothing in it, so I wouldn’t fret too much”.
I went to bed early, my tummy rumbling due to the restrictive ‘nil by mouth’. Of course it was purely psychological, it is only when you are denied something that you really crave it and so I fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of sausage and mash. My alarm went off at some ungodly hour of the morning and I couldn’t even have a reviving cup of tea.
At ten past six there was a gentle knock at the front door and dad stood there, “You ready Alice love? You look a bit peaky”.
He’s getting on in years and I didn’t really think he’d appreciate my worry of my brains being tapped into and the subsequent seepage.
“I’m fine dad”, I said handing him my bag, “It’s just very early and I could kill a cuppa”. He dropped me off at Derriford Hospital and, arriving on the ward I was given the obligatory name bracelet and then waited. Eventually I was called to see my consultant again and this time he was surrounded by medical students, all of them gawping at my congested CT scan.
“And this”, I told them pointing to the screen, “Is my brain. See how close it is to my sinuses?” They all nodded, rather alarmingly; as though I’d just told them something they had previously been quite unaware of.
“You are quick learner Mrs Band”, said the consultant through, I swear, gritted teeth.
I went back to the appositely named waiting room and sat there for an hour, parched, when a nurse handed me a thick manila folder, “Please take your notes to the 10th floor to pre-operative assessment.”
The lack of communication in hospital does little to instil confidence in the patient because as I handed over my notes, the nurses were most aggrieved.
“You should have had your assessment done days ago. You surgery is in hours? What if you have MRSA?”
What indeed. There is no way you are sending me home, I told them in no uncertain terms. Hubby had taken two days off. The Royal Navy had been most inconvenienced. After swabbing my nostrils for said infection they let me return to my previous ward where staff were waiting for me.
“Come on then Mrs Band! Let’s get you undressed and take you down to theatre”.
“Oh! What play are we going to see?” I joked. It went down like a lead fart. I felt like Bernard Manning at a socialist convention.
I lay on the bed and again pleaded with the anaesthetist not to kill me. I suppose I was only joking but, when I awoke on the ward two hours later, inside a body bag, a hair dryer in it warming me up and an oxygen mask strapped to my face then perhaps I’d had a close shave. Several nurses were peering anxiously at me.Within half an hour though they wanted me dressed but I still couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. When I arrived home four hours later, a hammock under my nose to catch the seeping, blood filled gel, Hubby had to carry me upstairs. As he returned to the kitchen to feed the masses leaving the youngest in my room, where almost instantly they clouted me in the face, inadvertently by one of my boot shapers, it did beg the question: Was there really no way the NHS could have provided a sleep-over?