Tuesday, 28 April 2009


“Oh no”, I said to Hubby reading the contents of the letter that had popped through the front door, “I’m in big trouble”.
He looked up from his dinner, “How tho?” he asked, a caramelised parsnip impeding his speech a little.
“The Allotment Association is not impressed”, I read the letter again, “It seems that during their last inspection they saw that I had not been attending to my allotment as I should have and according to Rule B, I ought to be keeping it neat and tidy. Oh dear, perhaps the soil and bush has become overgrown”.
“Yeah well Alice, you never have been one for keeping your bush neat and tidy, so you’ve only got yourself to blame. Besides I didn’t really see you as Barbara Good. Percy Thrower maybe...”
I thumped him, hard.
“Thing is”, I continued, “I never expected to be so busy once the youngest went to school; I thought I’d have hours in the day to devote to vegetable growing but what with working, dog walking, house work, groceries, making dinner and all that, well the time seems to fly”. I said all of this pointedly of course, hoping to prick his conscience, expecting him to then say, “Why of course my darling, I shall help you, we shall conquer and cultivate the soil together”. Fat chance. What he did say was,
“Well, you could go of an evening now that the days are longer, especially if you weren’t so hell bent on attending every exercise class in South East Cornwall and insisting on going to that bloody pub quiz”.
I wasn’t going to try and justify my reasons for needing a weekly night out, especially given that it’s only an innocuous quiz with Mags, one where we as often victorious as not. Since when the hell by the way, has Italy only relatively recently become Italy? It’s news to me. My eldest daughter, watching me type ‘Italian History’ into Wikipedia on my return from the pub last week having come ignominiously last, was as ever, truly disillusioned by her mother’s lack of any fundamental education.
“For heaven’s sake mother”, she said wrinkling her nose in disgust, “Don’t you know anything?”
I scanned Wikipedia for an appropriate and quick, answer, “Evidently not”, I replied, speed reading the information in the hope of finding out what on earth had been going on in Europe these last few centuries.
My daughter flicked my laptop shut. “Mum, don’t worry about it. I’ll tell you. Italy was made up of a collection of Papal States and if you ever wondered why people from Rome spoke Latin and not Roman”. I’d never given it a thought. “Then the answer” she continued with much indignation, “Is because in fact Romans spoke the language of the district in which they lived” I continued to look blank, “Such as Latium”. Fancy.
So now, not only was I ignorant in my daughter’s eyes but a harbinger of nettles, weeds and other horticultural undesirables in the eyes of the Allotment Association. I folded my letter and put it back in the envelope.
“It would be very nice if we, as a family were able to clear the ground and get all my seeds into the earth this weekend. If we did it en famille it wouldn’t take too long”.
My suggestion was met with silence. I waited. Presently, the lanky figure of a love-struck 16 year old walked through the door and loped towards me, his guitar followed.
“’Ma”, he said, as though the word itself inferred a silent ‘Hello’ and, after kissing me on the forehead, he leant over his father’s plate and said, “Cool”.
“I find it hard to believe that roasted veg and a breast of a chicken, has or will ever likely be cool?” said his father, slapping the back of his hand so that our son dropped a stolen potato with a yelp.
“I’ve had a letter from the allotment people”, I said, “They are most displeased with my lack of effort, so, I was wondering, if the weather is nice at the weekend that we might...” but before I could finish my sentence he fled with a, “Sorry Ma, love to, but I’ve got a lot of revision to do. GCSEs and all that. You know how it is”.
I know precisely how it is young man, having had to harangue you all through the Easter holidays to pay closer attention to your books and less to your love life and endless digressions.
“Ditto moi Mamma”, said the 13 year old moments later, obviously having been forewarned by her brother, “It has been my misfortune to mislay my memory stick, which means I must buy a new one. At the weekend. Malheuresement I will not be able to join you in any planting pursuits.” Her profoundly alliterative rhetoric did little to persuade me otherwise that my teenage children are unfailingly self-absorbed little so and so’s.
Once again I looked to Hubby for support. “You can count me out love”, he said immediately, getting up from the table and carrying his plate out. I’ve got a dissertation to write”. He never seems to have a dissertation to write when the football is on, or if it’s a lovely day and the dog needs walking but, suggest an activity that may not appeal to him and he sighs and his shoulders are heavy and he oh, so wearily, excuses himself and trudges to his study. Therefore, somehow or other and with ironically, two other, fervently enthusiastic younger children who are only too happy to don wellies and brandish a trowel, I must shift earth, weed, plant an innumerable number of seed potatoes, onion sets, strawberry plants, dried peas, hoe the earth and water it before my name is dragged through ever so neglected mud.

Monday, 20 April 2009


For one brief morning during the last, long seventeen years of pregnancy and mothering, roles were reversed and I was able to turn to Hubby and say, as I pulled on my clothes, put in some jaunty earrings and put up my hair with an even jauntier hair slide, “You’ll have to deal with it. It’s a Bank Holiday so the GP won’t see you. It’s a trip to Liskeard hospital I’m afraid” and without so much as listening to his “But, I don’t...”, I left him to cope.
It makes me sound like a callous mother but honestly, I have dealt with so many fevers, rashes and vomit over the years whilst Hubby was nowhere to be found that I felt fully vindicated in leaving the seven year old with a sore eye in the care of her father and went to work.
There is something extremely therapeutic in making a cappuccino. The noises surrounding the production of the smallest cup for instance drowns out any thought processes; combine that with the physical action of opening the used coffee drawer and slam banging the dregs into the cool, stainless steel compartment and ones stresses and strains are soon diminished. Then the aroma of the fresh coffee as it is dispensed from the grinder into the coffee measure before it is twisted into the barista machine is more restorative than any Tisserand essential oil. Finally, as the deep, glistening brown liquid filters into the cup, one can busy oneself in the production of the vital, thick froth necessary for a perfect cappuccino. The din as air is forced into the ice cold mild is truly cacophonous and one’s attention is completely absorbed in watching the bubbles rise up the stainless steel jug as the milk seems to protest violently as it is heated up, by roaring and gurgling and whirling. The silence when the air is shut off as the milk metamorphoses from innocuous white liquid into a thick, unctuous foam that will withstand chocolate shavings, is palpable. It is as though one has suppressed a living force.
There is as much psychotherapy in making pots of tea, what with the tinkling of the teapots themselves, the lids, the teaspoons, the cup and saucer, the turning on of the boiling water tap - again the indescribable noise, the smell of the leaves infusing and finally the carrying of the tray to the table. There is melody in at all. There is also music in measuring but I won’t describe the satisfaction I feel at the deli counter as my knife cuts slowly cuts through the sticky, blue cheese before it is weighed then enveloped in crinkly, crispy greaseproof paper. It is also probably best to keep to myself the rather ecstatic sense I get by immersing my ladle into the large bowl of glistening olives and stirring them so that the squelching viscosity of the oil wraps itself around each one so that every olive looks like a rare and as yet, undiscovered jewel. Who needs Freud when one has a cafe to work in?
I described my feelings to an amused Mags, who came to meet me as I clocked off at one. We strolled through the village arm in arm, more to keep warm than for any display of the exclusivity that is a best friend.
“It makes perfect sense to me”, she said, “I mean you are conducting your own orchestra working there, as opposed to being at home and listening to a never ending concert, one that you didn’t really want to buy tickets for”. Hmm.
“Anyway”, I added, changing the subject from the rather complicated psychoanalysis that Mags can wax lyrical about, “Not only do I love the machinations of making the drinks and things, but the people watching is vastly entertaining. Who needs The Ivy?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, perking up. Always one with an improving book by her bedside she is as much a sucker as anyone else for a bit of celebrity gossip, and, whilst she won’t bring herself to buy one personally, I am convinced that is why she visits the dentist as regularly as she does, not so much to check on her veneers but to read Heat magazine in the waiting room.
“Our cafe is celeb central” I replied enigmatically.
“Huh? Here?”, she peered down the narrow streets as though she were expecting to find ‘A’ listers ambling towards her in Crocs and a kagoule.
“Yep, complete with cute kids and ...”
“Never mind the kids”, she interrupted, “Who are the celebs?”
“Ah. That would be telling”, I said, maddeningly insouciant.
“Aw come on Alice, you are normally notoriously indiscreet”. Humph. I wouldn’t have told her anyway and especially now that she had cast aspersions on my prudency. Stuff her. Besides my phone went off in my bag. I answered it.
“Oh no. Poor darling. Tell her I’m on my way. Got to shoot Mags”, I said, kissing her continentally, “My domestic crises was only delayed, I now have to go and face aforementioned concert”.
At home I found my seven year old looking very sorry for herself but, before she had a chance to tell me what had happened, the four year old enlightened me.
“Mummy, they had to take her eyeball out and put yellow paint in her eye like my bright feltpens and then the paint came out of her nose like bright snot and then she screamed and screamed and screamed until she was sick”. Eat your heart our Violet-Elizabeth Bott.
The child in question had obviously been comforted by several Easter eggs if the chocolate on her t-shirt was anything to go by and her eye was completely obliterated by the biggest patch since Black-Beard terrorised the seas.
“I’ve a scratched cornea”, she said solemnly.“And I’m going back to work tomorrow” added Hubby, with what I could have sworn was, a distinct air of bonhomie.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


“Yes, I’m better. Thanks for asking”, I said to Hubby, peeved that he hadn’t even noticed that I’d washed my hair, applied a smattering of make-up and looked vaguely human once again.
Not to be outdone, he has medical issues of his own and for the hundredth time that day, pored over a letter from his consultant which informed him that the MRI showed ‘a complex and degenerative tear in the medial meniscus with multiple intrasseous cyst like lesions’.
“What do you think Alice? What can be made of that?”, he asked rubbing his chin, pondering.
“Well, I don’t think he’s advising you to run the Plymouth half marathon do you?” It was only an attempt at levity, but given Hubby’s reaction, most ill-timed.
“Don’t you take anything seriously Alice? Good God, I’ll have to have surgery and be out of work for a week or two and, well, who knows what?”
“What do you mean who knows what? Who knows what ‘what’?” At that point we were both a little bewildered, so I left him to Google knee ops and went into the kitchen to make some tea.
By the time the kettle had boiled and I’d placed some mollifying malted milks on a side plate for him, he joined me in the kitchen.
“It looks as though surgery can be done by key-hole; perhaps it’s not as invasive as we first thought”. Speak for yourself, I almost said; instead I stirred three teaspoons of sugar into his tea. “For the shock”, I said somewhat facetiously but he didn’t pick up on it, instead he took the mug at face value and with a very grave expression on his face.
“My knee is exceptionally painful you know Alice and no wonder eh?”
No wonder love, no wonder I said silently and I patted his arm.
“So how will you cope?”, he asked. At this point I almost choked on a dried apricot. No tea and biscuits for this girl.
“Cope with what love?”, I said almost speechlessly, distracted by thumping my chest to dislodge the offending article.
“My incapacity”. He looked so genuinely earnest that it would have been churlish to reply, “I doubt I’ll notice. The bathroom tap is still not doing what it should i.e emit water when turned on, our son is not having anywhere near enough father/son talks regarding well, just about everything, so it is left to me not just to nag about tidying his bedroom and study for his GCSEs but also take great lengths to discuss the birds and the bees, wherein, and to continue the animal metaphor , the horse has bolted and as far as I can see, the aforementioned winged beasts have fled the nest and are more than happy making honey.”
I cleared my throat instead and said equally solemnly, “We’ll manage somehow. It’ll be tough but we’ll get through it”.
Soothed by my response, he downed his tea and went next door to discuss his diagnoses with dad. If there is truth in the rumour that women can discuss gynaecological issues at length then the same can be said for men and their knees, especially sailors past and present, who in moments of sporting prowess have done some sort of running for the Navy and who now find their impairment worth much analysis.
Breathing a sigh of relief that I had half an hour’s respite from men and their meniscus’s I picked up the newspaper ready to enjoy at least three paragraphs without interruption. Just as I brought the mug to my lips however and had perched my glasses on the end of my nose to read ‘The Temptations of Russell Brand’, Pia emerged from the basement.
“Hiya love, help yourself to pastries”, I said looking up.
“Thank you”, she said stuffing two croissants into her dressing gown pocket, “But I need to discuss something with you”. Reluctantly I put Russell Brand down. Taking off my glasses I asked, “So what’s up?”
“I must ask you to come to parents evening”. Too simple, there must be a catch.
“Of course sweetie, when is it?”
“On Tuesday. At four thirty. You must be prompt”. I so wanted to add, I’ll give you prompt my girl but for the second time that morning I exhibited great self control and replied,
“Well Pia, it will be a bit tricky to be there at four thirty on the dot because as one girl finishes ballet the other starts tap. But I’ll do my best”.
“Please do. It is imperative”, and taking a tumbler of orange juice, she descended once more into her den.
At 4.35 on Tuesday we sat at the desk of the chemistry teacher who sang her praises.
“Were that all the students had her self-discipline, her zeal and commitment to study. It is such a shame she has to return to Norway. There must be a way she can stay to finish her ‘A’ levels. There must be funding somewhere”.
Pia looked sheepishly at her hands. Her fingers I noticed were crossed. I looked across to the adjacent table. Biology. Her boyfriend sat there with his mother, pretending to listen to his teacher but he, I discerned bleakly, also had his fingers tightly crossed. This was the catch and I’d been truly hoodwinked, duped, tricked, call it what you will. It was all down to me as to whether or not I’d have her for another year and thus facilitate the passing of ‘A’ levels, the continuing ruination of my basement and a Norse love affair whose intensity is only matched by Thor or Odin.
“Of course”, I heard myself saying, “Of course she can stay”. On the bright side, Hubby is so incandescent with rage at my inability to say “no” with any convincing vehemence that there has been no further mention of meniscus of any kind.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I told you I was ill.

“Alice, you are being slightly hysterical”.

“I am not being slightly hysterical”, I screeched, slightly, well hysterically, “I am ill I tell you, bloody ill” and as if to demonstrate my point, I swooned onto the sofa.

“Alice! Get up! For God’s sake woman, pull yourself together”.

“I can’t”, I moaned, the sweat trickling very unpleasantly down crevices I never knew I had.

“Well go to bed then”, he insisted, “I’ll make the kids dinner”.

“There’s a stew in the fridge”, I said feebly as I dragged my body upstairs and that is where I remain, four days later. I’ve missed work, an opportunity at my son’s school, the Red-Head’s ballet recital and all my exercise classes. I’ve missed the PTA meeting, my weekly quiz night and a night out with Mags. That is how ill I’ve been.

Mags however has made no secret of the fact that I’ve brought this infirmity upon myself.

“I bloody knew this would happen”, she said storming into my bedroom one morning, “Let me tell you for the first and last time, you are doing too much exercise”.

“But...” I interrupted.

“No buts. You have weakened your immune system with all those classes you do and now this running thing. It’s ridiculous. You didn’t even walk before and now you are running eight miles a week”.

It’s a very recent thing, I’ll agree, but running is free and out in the fresh air. I don’t go far, in fact it’s a bit of an embellishment to call it running, more a slow trot.

“Loads of people do exercise Mags”, I said wearily, “I don’t think that jogging around the block would make me feel as deathly as I do.”

“A build up would though”, she replied firmly. I just lay there, no fight in me whatsoever as she went on and on. What could I say though? She had dropped everything to come to my assistance and to dress my two young girls and take them to school.

The little ones came in to kiss me goodbye and I lay back on the pillow alternating between the most shocking sweats that left my bed soaking wet and the most terrible shivering that ached my bones as I was so rigid with cold.

After the third day of isolation and my t-shirts being wet enough to be entered into a Miss Wet T-Shirt competition as Hubby so sensitively put it, I thought I really ought to call the doctor. Did the receptionist working there actually see herself as James Herriot’s wife or someone like that because you’d have sworn I’d rung her in the middle of the night and had inconvenienced her as her reply to my weak little request to see a doctor was thus, “Had you not considered contacting us a little earlier?”

“Excuse me!” I replied and wanted to add, hey lady, you are providing me with a service to which my husband and every other poor sod spends thousands in taxes on. It is not midnight, the doctor isn’t your husband and he doesn’t have to drag himself across moorland to visit me. But I didn’t have it in me. Eventually she found a doctor who would deign themselves to see me at “Three twenty”.

“Any chance of a home visit?”, I dared ask, “Only I can’t drive and no way could I walk to the surgery. I really do not feel well”.

“Certainly not. Our doctors are very busy. You will have to make alternative arrangements.” Generally speaking I would have cried at this point but given that I’d sweated so much, there was no more moisture left in me. I spat feathers instead.

Three twenty was a tricky time. Everyone was collecting their kids from school and Mags, God bless her, was not only picking up her own and my youngest ones but she had also taken the dog for the day. It would have been beyond the power of human kindness to ask something else of her again.

Suddenly Hubby breezed in and I’d never been more delighted to see him, “Oh wow, you came home to me. Oh thank God”.

He looked a little sheepish, “Actually sweetpea. I’m not hanging around, I’m off go-karting”.

I looked at him blankly. Then, as if a further explanation was needed he added, “It’s a team building exercise. Er, for my staff”. I could understand if they were pulling themselves across ropes and doing various other assault course high-jinks, after all things like that are often called for in times of conflict. But go-karting? I’ve read few reports of military personnel who have returned from Vietnam, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan describing how tough the go-karting was. Hubby refilled my glass with water and went. Abandoned, I considered the ‘alternative arrangements’ left to me. Dad had gone away for a couple of days, my brother was sick himself and everyone else was at work. Then I thought of my uncle Dave, and with a hand quivering with from my uncontrollable shivering I picked up my mobile and dialled his number. I told him of my request, “Sure doll”, was his reply.

The female doctor was very kind. I explained that I couldn’t understand what it could possibly be; my body was fighting some sort of infection but what? I didn’t have a sore throat or bad ears although I did feel sick. My back hurt but that was probably because I’d strained it in Bodymax class lifting far heavier weights.

“I did bring you a urine sample though” pointing to a brown bag on her desk, “As my innards are the only part of my anatomy left to consider”.

“Oh, that’s what’s in there! I thought it was whisky”. She popped a dip-stick into the glass tumbler and immediately jumped back, “Oh my goodness it’s off the scale. You have a nasty kidney and urinary tract infection”.

Slightly hysterical indeed? Hubby looked suitably shamefaced.