Tuesday, 31 March 2009


How a brushed stainless steel bin could cause quite as much discord as it did Hubby will never know, but as I lobbed a sizeable, wooden pepper mill in his direction he quickly realised that criticising the aforementioned bin was reckless. Nothing is ever as it seems though is it? As far as Hubby was concerned, it just wasn’t the one he had hankered after i.e a plastic Addis swing lid, where the liner is easily removed. By dismissing it though he had not considered the care and aggravation that had gone into choosing such a receptacle...
Very early on Monday morning, just before the rubbish went out, I was fed up that another recently bought stainless steel bin had broken. This meant that far from depressing the little button on the lid which in turn made the lid spring up, the lid was up permanently as the catch had sheared off. Not only was this unsightly given the number of children who scrape their leftovers into it after every meal but with a dog in the house it was a nightmare for us and a constant, open ended buffet for the dog.
“That’s it”, I said as I grappled with the bin liner, the dog’s nose impeding my efforts and in the ensuing scuffle, the bin liner broke open resulting in detritus littering the kitchen floor much to the dog’s unconfined joy, “We’ll have to get another bin again”. Hubby, who was about to leave for work would only add this nugget of advice, “Get something that is easy to put rubbish into and out of”. Cheers.
No sooner had I literally put the dog in the aptly named dog house and bleached the floor; I turned to my computer for suggestions as to which was the best bin for the Band family. Argos was the place. It offered me scores of variations on a theme, one of which opened as if by magic when you approached it. Whilst this sounded terribly sexy and ultra modern, I could only imagine that it would end in disaster by a) The children approaching it too slowly, whereby the bin lid would become impatient and shut again just as two or three of them huddled over it scraping spaghetti Bolognese over its now resolutely shut domed lid and thus onto my floor and b) The dog, who is exceptionally intelligent would probably work out that contrary to the children, if he approached the bin fast enough the lid would stay open long enough for him to launch himself into the air and land snout first into God knows what. I rejected the idea immediately.
What we needed was something that wasn’t too much of an eye sore, was easy to clean, had a large capacity for garbage and was cheap. Like I said, Argos was the place. Luckily for me, the children and I had to be in Liskeard by eight thirty that morning for a dental check-up, so I reserved my shiny new bin, wrote the reservation number on my notebook i.e the back of my hand and, after a lot of shouting, shooing, cajoling and bribery, finally got all of us in the car. Thankfully all teeth were deemed to be pearls and after a mad dash around Morrison’s for basic staples, I drove across the roundabout and picked up my bin. Dropping the youngest at their school, I proceeded to the ferry to drop the other two.
“Aw Mum!” moaned my son, “There’s no point going to school now is there? I might as well wait until after break”. My eldest daughter muttered something in agreement but I for once unwavering and desperate to play with my new bin, kicked them out, deaf to the loud protestations that double chemistry, much as it did in my day, sucks.
The dog was very excited by the new arrival and was more than happy to help me dispose of the packaging although I would have liked the polystyrene to have gone in the recycling bin and not as it ended up being, sprinkled like spring snow, all around the garden.
There is a marvellous machine in IKEA that demonstrates how good a specific chair is by robotically repeating how much being sat on the chair can withstand. Millions of times from what I’ve seen, because every time I visit IKEA the same chair and the same robot are still going at it hammer and tong.
I decided to conduct my own experiment and having chosen a foot-pedal operating receptacle, pressed my foot on said pedal over and over again. By the time the kettle had boiled, the pedal had given up the ghost and whilst it was more than happy to be trodden on, the lid staunchly refused to open. Swearing very loudly, I put the bin back in the box, now devoid of any packaging, chucked the dog in the boot and returned to Liskeard. Alas on the A38, just beyond the notorious toilets in fact, there was almighty noise from under the car. Swearing once again, I pulled over and peered under the engine bit and there, as I have since found out, was the ‘belly tray’, half off, no longer protecting my undercarriage but pretending it was a snow plough instead.
“Dawg gone”, or some such cuss escaped from my mouth and I considered my options. Hubby was at sea and besides, he isn’t exactly your man’s man when it comes to things like this and the AA would take hours. Nope. There was only one man for the job. Me. Within an hour I’d removed the offending article, returned to Argos to change my ruddy bin and driven home again.Had Hubby been aware of the tribulations endured to buy the thing, he would not have been as quick to damn it, nor would he have several peppercorns tattooed into his sternum.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


There has been a lot of careless talk recently about me returning to study. Hubby, bless him, is desperate to make me more marketable, so it was undoubtedly the conversations that he’d heard regarding universities and student loans that had confused my easily mystified son. I had no idea what on earth he was talking about when he sleepily walked into the kitchen on Monday morning.
“Morning Ma”, he said planting a kiss on top of my head. I handed him a bacon bagel.
“Cheers”, he said folding himself onto one of the kitchen bar stools, before adding, after having taken a bite, “Www dnnn bbb e wwa”.
“How many times must I ask you not to speak with your mouth full? Now, will you repeat that again?”
Clearing his throat he tried again, “I said, well done by the way”.
“For what sweetie, making a sublime bagel?
“Well yeah obviously, nah I meant for going back to Uni”.
“Hmm”, I replied cagily, “It’s not written in stone yet. I was lucky to get on the course but I’m still not sure whether a full time academic course is for me”.
There was a pause as he wolfed the rest of his bagel so, whilst he masticated, I emptied the dishwasher.
“Still”, he added, “It sounds pretty cool”.
“What darling?” I replied, peering at the yucky residue left in my mugs, “Look”, I said, brandishing a mug at him, “How hard can it be to successfully load a dishwasher so that the machine can actually go about the job it is intended to do, such as wash dishes. Anyway, you were saying, what is cool exactly?”
“You being a barrister” and without further ado, he downed his juice, picked up his satchel, or whatever it’s called these days and kissed my head again, “See you later, Alice Band, QC”.
“Er, before you go to school and tell all and sundry that your mother is the next Cherie Blair what on earth are you talking about?”
“Like I said, you being a barrister. I’m dead impressed mum. I didn’t know that you were into law”.
I was thoroughly perplexed. “Sweetheart, I honestly don’t know what you are on about and my only dealings I’ve had with the law is being stopped by the police for speeding”.
He scratched his head, “Hmm, but I could have sworn that I heard dad tell Mags only yesterday that you were becoming a barrister”. The penny dropped. Finally. And I threw myself, first forward, then back, like the Scottish guy in Four Weddings and a Funeral does just before he drops dead.
“My God mum, are you ok”, asked my poor son, who is no stranger to the odd chick flick, throwing his bag to the floor and putting a supportive arm under me.
“A barrister?” I howled, “A barrister?” I weeped, “A barrister?” I cried with laughter, “Oh my poor deluded boy”. Holding onto my sides, tears pouring down my face, I laughed and laughed and laughed.
“What the hell is it mum?”, he asked again, clearly irritated now by his mother’s mirth.
“Oh my sweet boy”, I said holding his face in my hands, “Your mother isn’t that clever. If only! No, no, not a barrister. I’ve got a job in a cafe...”
He looked and me blankly, “And?”
“And I’ll be making coffees then won’t I? I’ll be a barista!” His disappointment was palpable; far from speaking on behalf of the defence or prosecution, his mother would actually just be speaking to customers and whether they wanted one shot or two and not, “Did you fire one shot or two?”
But I think that I’ve found my vocation. Well, once I’ve mastered how to make froth that is. I never knew producing a cappuccino was such a hornet’s nest. The milk has to be the right temperature before you start, then there is much debate on the fat content; a split second too long with your air nozzle in the milk jug and it’s scalded, ergo the milk is ruined and you have a jug of milk that smells like rice pudding and one has to ditch it whilst the owner looks on through patient, gritted teeth as you waste her profits, the customers looking on tutting and sighing at the incompetency of the ‘new girl’. As they flood through the door, I pray that they’ll ask for a pot of tea, or, better still a black coffee.
As one who loves to sit in cafes and people watch, it is the perfect job and the most comical of characters pass through one’s day. Take the walkers for example. Now there’s an earnest lot. Middle class, fairly elderly yet fit. They hike as a collective noun, rarely singularly and all have the ‘gear’. Gore-Tex jackets are de rigeur as are walking boots and factor 50 lip-screen. Around their necks hangs a whistle, flares, and a see through, waterproof pouch for that all important OS map; in a rucksack lies a compass, a First Aid kit, water purifying tablets (probably)and a Thermos and they carry in their fists poles that suggest the absence of both snow and skis. Slung across one shoulder are ropes and finally around their Rohan clad calves are Gore-Tex gaiters, because as we all know, in every grassy knoll there awaits a marauding adder, killing time before its bite kills any man, woman or child idiotic enough to allow their ankles be vulnerable and exposed.
As I carried tray after tray of cream teas over to their tables I was intrigued as to how far they had travelled, given how well prepared they were, for well, just about any natural disaster. I wasn’t prepared for the answer to be, “Cremyll” though or I might not have replied thus, “Oh really? My family and I do that walk regularly in a t-shirt and flip-flops”. Unsurprisingly, they never left me a tip.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Crikey! Nikes?

There’s been a role reversal in this house of late. By that I don’t mean that Hubby has donned a pinny and started hollering rather camply, “You all treat me like a slave. I’ve had enough”, before dramatically flouncing off wherever the fancy takes him. Rather, since he hurt his knee last year, he has been unable run as was his wont, and therefore, hmm, how shall I put this kindly? He has become a bit of a lard arse.
Now that ignominious title was held by me for several years. I became an expert at piling on the pounds. It was easy, after all as Shirley Conran once said, ‘Why dust under a sofa when one can lie on it’. I took her at her word and oft, when on my couch I lay, in vacant or in pensive mood, chocolate would flash into my gaping mouth, and was the bliss of solitude. It was no effort whatsoever to acquire the extra pounds, they just happily gathered on my leg, bum and tum. Quietly, quickly and at first, fairly unobtrusively. Then last spring, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise the woman looking back at me. Where had I gone? Who was that old bird? So, as Oprah Winfrey once advised, I took control and, as has been documented, have lost over five stone.
It came to a point though a few weeks ago where I felt that I couldn’t possibly eat any less without some serious health implications. Also, as one who not only enjoys a fairly busy social life and likes to eat out but, far more significantly is a role model to three daughters, where starvation clearly will not suffice. I needed to keep in shape other than wholly via portion control, self-denial and low fat foods (how dull I sound. The irony is not lost on me) but by moving a little more.
Having not done any regular exercise since I had a pair of roller skates at the age of ten, I wasn’t sure where to start. Our emergency services are pushed to the limit as it is, so they didn’t need me to add to their work load by foolishly taking up jogging then suffering a cardiac arrest. I’ve never been one for team sports; after all how much humiliation can a girl take when always the last to be picked for the netball team. Worse, when the teacher, feeling sorry for me, picked me first and the collective groans of the other girls were not suppressed so, joining the local team was immediately discounted. Ditto, hockey or basketball.
“How about Five-A-side footie?”, suggested Hubby one evening, snorting into his beer, “Or women’s rugby? Shame for a pair of thighs like that to go to waste”.
Wounded but not mortally I ignored him, determined that somehow, I would show him. A few days later, still at a loss as to how I was ever going to get back into a pair of trainers, I was in Morrison’s supermarket when, rifling through the cut price DVDs, I came across a keep-fit one. The faded picture of a faded TV celebrity smiled grimly back at me and I thought, what the hell? So, hiding it under the Ryvita -covertly like it was something pornographic, which to be honest, would have shocked my friends less had they come up behind me and found ‘Debbie does Dallas’ in my trolley and not, as was lurking, ‘Work Out with Wincey’.
Equally surreptitiously, once home I unwrapped the cellophane and put the disc into the Playstation which according to my family, plays DVDs. I pressed play, I ejected, I pushed the disc back in again and repeated this process over and over but the exercise eluded me. Finally I had to admit defeat and ring Hubby at work.
Having been there since the early hours dealing with God knows what the RN throws at him, he was livid when I said I wanted to watch a film.
“In the afternoon?” he asked, scandalised and not a little snappy.
“Well it’s not against the law”, I replied defiantly. I didn’t want to tell him the truth just in case I didn’t quite take to it, allowing him the satisfaction of being oh, so bloody sanctimoniously, ‘I told you so’ about it. Instead I took the rap.
Following his spat instructions I finally worked out how to work out. After a week or so I became confident to upgrade. Guided again by another has-been, this time the newly trimmed shape of someone from Steps. This was a bit more like it. I actually got sweaty and breathless. After a fortnight of religiously jumping around to the 5 Step Fat Attack I felt that, have done my apprenticeship, I was ready for the outside world and a new section of department stores known as, ‘leisure clothes’ was opened to me.
Hubby could barely contain himself when I came downstairs one Sunday morning in a performance pair of Nikes, a pair of boot cut leisure ‘pants’ and a mesh vest, my breasts safely harnessed inside a sports bra.
“Here she comes, Zola Budd”, he said crying with laughter. Dad happened to be there too and even he chuckled, “Zola never wore Nikes. More like Kelly Holmes!”
“More Kelly Bronze!”, retorted Hubby. He and dad wiped away tears.
Resolute, I ignored them and kept on walking to my guru Sarah; consequently I can now be found on any given night of the week at the gym Body-Maxing, Fitballing or Yoga-Fusioning. My once comedic bottom, if not quite enviable, would no longer elicit unsolicited, mocking jibes. My once prop-forward thighs are toned and my tummy well on the way to staying put when under duress.
Karma? Schadenfreude? Or that oft used parental idiom ‘You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face’? Call it what you will. I rather favour, ‘I’m having the last laugh’.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Doss House.

“I might as well go into the back-packing business”, I said to Mags through a haze of duvet dust, “I mean I’m starting to lose count of the number of kids staying here. There were seven last time I looked”.
“Is there any call for back-packing in the UK then?” asked Mags fighting with aforementioned duvet, now recalcitrant in any attempt to be put it into its casing.
“Bloody thing”, she said, now taking one wayward corner firmly in her grasp before plunging head first into the duvet cover.
“Well, I think so”, I pondered, helping her valiant efforts by seizing the outside corners as she let go, lest the duvet once more emancipate itself.
“Look at this gorgeous bedding though Alice and the lovely shower room these teenagers have got? Cor, remember some of those places we stayed in? Our bedding was whatever we were wearing and our en-suite facilities was a hole in the floor!”.
“All that squatting gave us toned thigh muscles though”, I laughed, “There was no way we were going to fall butt first into a pile of poo”.
“Oh yes”, Mags said, herself laughing at the memory, “And what about that place way off the beaten track in Thailand?”
“You mean the one where someone had just been murdered and they gave us his room. The place was crawling with police..”
“And cockroaches”, Mags added. We smoothed out the bed and lay on it and for the next half an hour were transported back to when we were two 21 year olds, hell bent on adventure in South East Asia.
“What about that amorous elephant driver?” I reminded her, “The one who kept swigging the local whisky in one hand and stroking your knee with the other?”
“How could I forget? We were stuck in a bloody wicker basket on the elephant’s neck in some remote Thai jungle with a ravine on one side of us”. Mags shuddered.
“No emails then Mags, nor texting. If our mothers never heard from us they just assumed we were alive. Nowadays they’d be picking hymns”.
“Back-packing in Britain can’t have the same exotic feel to it though as, Bali say, or Singapore?” asked Mags.
“Oh, I don’t know”, I replied, “The women turn quite a few tricks in the back streets of Millbay”.
“Yeah but the sailors won’t have quite the same surprise as many a Jack Tar has had on Bougis Street. I’d imagine the working girls in Plymouth are, well, at the very least, girls”.
At that instant Hubby came looking for us in the basement.
“Back breaking work eh girls?”, he said facetiously.
“We were just maligning your sort”, said Mags swinging her legs off the sofa bed, and taking a duster with her.
“Now how on earth could I be maligned? I am, as Mary Poppins would have it, practically perfect in every way”.
“Never known Vietnamese Rose then?”, asked Mags teasingly.
“You cheeky cow”, said Hubby, swiping her with a freshly plumped pillow, “I’ll have you know that when I was a lad I was back up that gangway before you could say, ‘Dose of penicillin leading caterer’”
Fooling around and generally casting insults at one another we were unaware that Pia was standing in the doorway, drumming her foot.
“Ja. Hi”, she said, stonily, “Just to let you know. My friends have arrived in London and are getting on their bus soon. They will be here at 5am”. I was about to give her the number of a taxi firm, when Hubby, no doubt buoyed by the boyish exhortations of a pillow fight, said, somewhat breathlessly and not at all wisely, “I’ll give you a lift to Bretonside. I don’t want you hanging around there at that time of day”.
“Jamie too?”, asked Pia. By now Hubby was committed, he could hardly back out, even though she wouldn’t be on her own after all.
“What could I say?” he said to me afterwards, “It would have looked as though I was disappointed that I wasn’t alone with her”.
“And are you?” I asked coyly. He snorted.
“Are you kidding? If I were to have an affair with a younger woman, let me tell you that it wouldn’t be with someone who is even more domestically challenged that my own wife.”
“Yes but you don’t look for domestic when having an affair”, I replied sulkily, “It’s more about unbridled, abandoned passion”.
“You seem to know rather a lot about this Alice, but let me reassure you that unless she was to fold her clothes neatly at the end of the bed, I, for one, wouldn’t go any further”.
At four am the following morning his alarm went off. At 6.50 he was back in our bedroom.
“Alice”, he whispered, shaking my shoulder, “I’m off out again. Gitte has left her handbag with purse and passport on the bus. I might intercept it at Newquay”. Did he think he was James bloody Bond?
He rang me an hour later. “Hello 007”, I yawned, “Mission accomplished?”
“No bus, no human being in fact. Not a sausage. I’ll try Truro”.
I, unable to sleep by now, got online and wondered if I could help him, but he was right, no human beings seem to work for National Express out of office hours. It was hopeless. Finally at a minute to midday, Hubby walked through the front door triumphant, a very fetching pink suede bag adorning his shoulder.
“Well I went to Truro where”, he explained, “I was redirected to Penzance, there a woman informed me that the London bus, was a ‘Different bus me ‘ansome’. She contacted Truro again, located the bag, I drove back there, found the depot and hey presto!”
When Gitte squeezed his chest and looked up at him with admiring eyes and told him he was “the greatest”, it had no doubt, all been worth it.

Monday, 2 March 2009


“What are you doing today?” asked my brother on the other end of the phone. One of the many ‘victims’ of redundancy, his ebb is definitely at a squat at the moment and he was needing a little hoist up – both mentally and spiritually and was wondering whether we could go out to play.
“Sorry little bro but I’m a bit busy”, I said, “And you would never guess in a million years why”.
He tried facetiousness i.e. was I spring cleaning, or ironing, or wiping down the windows?
“Nope”, I said, “None of those, even though those activities are, I agree, rarely indulged in”.
“What are you up to then?” he asked. When I told him he guffawed.
“Bloody hell Alice, you were quite right, never in a million years yet bizarrely, having known you all my life, I am not in the least bit surprised. I’ll leave you to it then. Keep your vest on, you don’t want to catch a chill”.
Only a few days ago, I was minding my own business over a coffee and a copy of Heat magazine when the phone rang.
“Hullo?”, I said absent-mindedly, more intrigued by ‘Stars without their make-up’ than chatting.
“Hi Alice!”, said a blast from the past, “Long time, no see”.
Louise? Can that really be you?” I replied with hyperbolic astonishment.
“Ok, very funny. I know I haven’t been in touch lately but we did see each other just before Christmas and I do keep meaning to pop down”.
My friend, the lovely Louise Dear celebrated artist, who paints extraordinary portraits, some of women of such exceptional beauty and artistic eroticism that I’ve often looked at them and sighed ‘If only’ wistfully. Louise has a lifestyle I have often envied too and a figure that Hubby has often desired. She always looks a million dollars whether in fabulous, flowing clothes when out or equally gorgeous, when in her studio in paint spattered shirts and threadbare dungarees. Where she succeeds in looking bohemian in such attire, I look homeless.
“So, what’s occurring?” I asked her, tearing myself away from my magazine, “Are you coming to see me?” Her gallery is only in Totnes, so to be fair, I could just as easily go and visit her, but with so many lovely shops to tempt me I try to avoid the town unless I have a few quid to spare.
“Actually, yes I am. You looked fantastic when I saw you last, how do you fancy being Gok Wanned?”
“C-come again?”, I stammered.
“Look, my paintings of nudes sell very well but I need to show to my collectors that I can also make real women look fabulous”. I dismissed her stress of the ‘real’.
“Louise, I want to be flattered that you have thought of me as your muse, but it does beg the question, am I the only person you know who is a generous size 14? And even then it isn’t a taut 14. My flesh shifts depending on my position. Were I to roll over, my belly would go first, eventually followed by my bum. We don’t travel simultaneously, more consecutively”.
“Alice you are just what I am looking for. I promise you”.
With that pledge still hanging in the air, she arrived in a fluidity of white linen and chocolate brown cashmere, armed with a Nikon.
“What’s that for?”, I asked suspiciously, “This isn’t going to end up in Reader’s Wives is it?”
“No, I just need some pictures first so that I can work out what style to paint you in. It will all be done in the best possible taste”. I suddenly had visions of Kenny Everett in plastic boobs and spread-eagled legs and started to get nervous.
“Don’t worry”, Louise tried to reassure me, “Just take your clothes off, put some subtle jewellery on, a little bit of make-up and a dressing gown”. When I came back downstairs, she had arranged white sheets on my sofa and extra cushions.
I was horrified however to see my dad’s gardener waving an empty mug at us through one sitting room window, the builders doing the same from my garden at the French window.
“Oh my God. I’ve an audience. And they’re thirsty”. I went into the kitchen to refill their mugs and they must have wondered why the hell I had suddenly changed out of my school run garb of jeans and pink wellies into a pink kimono and pearls. Trying my best not to blush, nor look like a character from a Channel 4 drama, I went back into the sitting room to find that Louise had half closed the shutters.
“I don’t know what’s worse, whether to let them know what’s going on or, in my boudoir clothes and half-shut shutters let them think subversive thoughts”.
My mother always threatened, when I didn’t study hard enough at school, that nothing would become of me and I’d end up as a stripper in Cairo. Prophetic words mum. I took to it like the proverbial duck to water, transcending myself from saggy housewife to the muse of the Greats. In my mind, I was in a fur wrap with Rubens rapturously calling out “Bellissimo” (or its Flemish translation), with every stroke of his paint brush.
The white sheets were artfully arranged to cover my half-acre as my brother so succinctly put it and I posed hither and yon until Louise filled her memory card.
“Awright me lovers? We’ll be back drekkly”, said one of the builders, bursting through the French doors, before his eyes popped out like a robber’s horse and he just as quickly turned on his heel and fled.
“Oh my God”, I wailed, wrapping the sheets, now all too late, around me like a Mummy, “Would that it were as easy to delete his memory card.”