Monday, 29 June 2009


Here I am then, laptop open, on my balcony, swimming pool shimmering beneath me, my skin kissed by the languorous, soft breeze of the sea. I’d like to feel like a bohemian writer, but with Coca-Cola on tap and two little girls screeching around the pool, dripping over me every so often as they stand there enquiring as to the remote possibility of another ice-cream, reality is ever present.
The day before yesterday, concerned at my level of inactivity, I decided that a walk to another beach along a remote coastal path was what I needed to shift the encroaching pounds. The girls were not impressed. It was more a yomp than a walk; for, no sooner had we scrambled down a rocky outcrop, than our hike took us along a bridle path. Two miles of three inch deep sand in 80 odd degree heat is a sure fine way of losing the love and respect of your youngest daughters and, feeling a little woozy in the head myself, I had to really motivate myself to keep them going along a never ending path with scarcely an olive tree between us and sure death. The odd old song came into play, but we were nary a chord into, ‘Jerusalem’, when we saw our first. Then came another, then another and before you could utter ‘Carry On Camping’, there was a whole beachful of them.
“It isn’t right is it Mummy?” asked the 7 year old, “I mean grannies and granddads just shouldn’t”. I didn’t want her scarred for life, so I tried to be cool about it.
“It’s only normal darling. Some people just like to be as nature intended. There’s nothing wrong with it. It is after all and, very evidently, a nudist beach”. She wasn’t having any of it and hours later, after we’d survived the walk, her father rang my mobile. She snatched it from me.
“Daddy”, she said, innocence personified, and at this point, she could have told him a) I went to the Pony club this morning and groomed a pony or b) Mummy drove around hair-pin bends to the highest peak in Menorca or indeed c) We went to Mahon yesterday and took in a harbour cruise in a glass bottomed boat; the marine life was truly spectacular” or even d) We went to the fiesta Sant Joan and were almost crushed in the stampede as whinnying, Menorcan stallions reared on their hind legs. But no, what she actually said was, “Daddy, I have never seen so many penises in my life”.
Given the expense of mobile telephone calls abroad, I really could have done without it, as it took some elucidating, especially when her little sister took the phone away from me and, in floods of tears told her father, “Elvis loves mummy Daddy, he danced a kissy dance with her and everybody clapped. But mummy is supposed to love you daddy”. This ultimately culminated in the conversation being aborted forthwith and my putting weary and evidently, for personal reasons, emotionally wrought young girls to bed before I was able to call Hubby back and explain myself, or as Hubby said, “This is costing 34p a minute: it better be good”.
Well you see, it’s like this. “Across the road there is a bar, where, every night they hold a mini-disco for the wee ones. And I mean wee. Anyone over the age of four is past it. The seven year old is not at all impressed but by virtue of being younger than the ‘best friend’ she has made who, at eleven, quite rightly thinks that being out with mum and dad after 9.30 and wearing eyeliner is as racy at it gets, has made our own daughter think twice before moaning. Anyway, love, the other night, right after the disco was ‘Elvis’ night and no sooner had he started crooning, ‘I just can’t stop believing’ or whatever it is..”
“Well, I’d better start believing whatever it is you’re going to tell me”. I didn’t like his tone.
“Well actually, all I was going to say is that ‘Elvis’ honed in on me, dragged me onto the stage and made me smooch with him as he sang to me. There were scores of families in the audience. It was a do or die situation. I felt enough of a wally. I was either going to rise to the challenge or stand there blushing and farting, which, as you are well aware, isn’t my style”.
“More’s the pity”, came the curt reply.
“Imagine my shame then when the ‘entertainments courier’ carried the Red-Head on stage, crying because she didn’t like her mummy dancing with Elvis. I had to scarper or the child-protection officer from Essex at the adjacent table would have been on the blower before the tabloids could run a ‘Tot weeps as mum romps with King” story.
Hubby laughed and we reminded each other of our undying love before saying farewell and sending a hundred kisses down the phone.
It made me think though. It’s not so easy being a long parent on holiday. To be flippant: one cannot enjoy a jug of sangria nor a paella because much like a tandem bike they are only made for two. Similarly sod your Builders Breakfast. My shoulders could be the next flavour Walkers are looking for as I have had no-one to apply factor 25 to them and they really are very crispy. More insidious than all those things put together though has been the feeling of being judged. I have been aware of being watched, of slipping up, of marking my card as a ‘single mum’, something I have never thought of when Hubby is with me. As one mother, on holiday not only with her husband but both parents too said to me, “You are very relaxed with your girls. I’m too overprotective”, she smiled just like a crocodile, but we both knew exactly what she meant.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Sometimes it is not much fun being a provincial gal. I see the same faces every day and generally speaking they are of the same colour and creed as me. There is little true adventure to be found in a small Cornish town, no tubes, trains or fast cars; no celebrities, gossip and intrigue. There are days when one hankers for a bit of stimulation beyond the everyday minutiae. But then an event occurs in said small Cornish town that makes me smile broadly and be delighted to be part of the community.
For instance, were a Sainsbury’s supermarket to open in, Balham let’s say, I doubt very much whether anyone would turn a hair; it would just be another day, another shop. In Torpoint however it has been a major event. How could you not be excited though when, on arriving at the store you are met with the local town band, a glass of buck’s fizz is thrust into your hand and the children are handed balloons and chocolate? If that weren’t enough, everyone was there. Literally everyone. My neighbours, fellow parents, the local photographer, seemingly three thousand staff and my brother, who seemed more than content wandering the aisles filling his trolley with gastronomic delights.
“Have you seen this Alice?”, he asked me, brandishing a tub of houmous under my nose.
“It’s houmous”, I replied. Really I didn’t want to rain on his parade but there is only so much animation one can muster for a paste of chickepeas.
“Ah, but it is not just any old houmous”, he continued, “This is chunky houmous and look at this” and he held out his arm elegantly like some magicians assistant, to show me the cool cabinet, stuffed to the gunnels with every imaginable take on the humble Moroccan dip.
“Look, with pesto, with chilli, with lemon and..”
“Ok, ok, I get your drift”, I said rather impatiently, “What else has caught your eye?”.
We meandered down through farinaceous products and ended in the bakery aisle.
“I mean just look at this bread Alice”, he said, inhaling deeply a speciality number, “Isn’t that just calling out for some Brie and a bit of chutney?” and before you could say unpasteurised he dragged me off to peruse the continental cheese selection. My seven year old, ever impressed by marketing and consumerism, was thrilled with the whole affair. Combine that with her natural bent for the theatrical and it was a potent mix, therefore, as she flung her arms into the air, a balloon on the end of a stick in one hand, declaring “This is all a dream come true”, she enthusiastically whacked some dear old soul clean in the gob. This was our signal to leave but not before my daughter had very magnanimously handed her free chocolate bar to the old woman.
“Got to go”, I said to my brother, “I shouldn’t be here at any rate. I have so much to do”
“What time is your flight?”, he asked, munching on his free boiled sweet.
“Some ungodly hour of the morning. I have to be on the 3.30 ferry to get the flight at 6am”. He whistled.
“Wow-wee. Are you driving yourself?”
“Nope, Hubby is taking us.” My brother looked impressed.
“Hey, it’s the least he can do seeing as he won’t actually come on the holiday.”
“He never relented then?” my brother asked.
“Nope. He truly believes holidays are the devil’s work only taken by wimps, whereas most normal, adult males consider them essential in not only spending precious family time with their soon grown up children, but also a time to unwind, de-stress and perhaps even enjoy”.
“You’re not bitter then I see?”, said my brother giving me a huge bear hug.
“I’m past it. I just hope all goes well and that neither of these two darling daughters nor I are ill over there. What will I do then?”
Like everyone else to whom I’ve bandied the same question, he brushed it away and said, “Oh don’t think like that. You won’t be ill. It’ll all be fine. You’ll have a wonderful time”. These people evidently have never been on holiday with my family.
Hoping for some karmic, what goes around, comes around affair, I dropped some money into a charity box and returned to my car, before dropping the youngest girls at school then returning home to my list of ‘to-dos’.
What had seemed like an awfully big adventure back at the beginning of March now seemed nerve-racking. Was I mad to travel to Menorca with two little girls, leaving a husband at home to organise the packing and sending off of a teenage daughter on her own school trip? He not only had her welfare to consider but that of my darling dog and son and heir, whose dinner suit had to be picked up from Moss Bros for his girlfriends prom and whose day to day existence had to be carefully monitored lest some unfortunate circumstance befall him. Idle hands and all that. I looked at my list for the millionth time. Passports, Euros and tickets? Check. Driving licence and credit cards? Check. Teabags, washing-up liquid and enough pharmaceuticals to open my own chemist? Check. I just had a bit of laundry to address and I was all set.
That evening, as I once again rechecked everything, the seven year old came to ensure that I’d packed her party frocks.“I’m very concerned you’ll forget them. I must have something to wear to the disco”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that where we were going was actually very quiet on the nightclub front and that she’d be hard pushed to a bar let alone a disco ball. I can imagine her reaction when she realises it’s not Monte Carlo, “What sort of backwater hell-hole have you brought me to?” before demanding her money back.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


“You’re not going out again?” asked Hubby, aggrieved.
“I have a busy life”, I replied, enigmatically I hoped.
“You were at the Cornwall Show last week, some theatrical thing on Saturday; Theatre Royal this afternoon and now..”
“Hey mate. Before you diss the theatrical thing, let me tell you that Gonamena was one of the most moving pieces of theatre I’ve seen for a long time, besides, our teenage daughter also loved it and surely you wouldn’t deny her a historical and cultural education”. Bringing the kids and their education into anything is always my trump card.
“Education, education, education. For God’s sake Alice you sound like Tony Blair and look what happened to him. As for trying to justify taking three girls out of school on the nebulous premise that wandering around a few stalls selling local wares in a windy field is fundamental in understanding their Cornish heritage. Well, I don’t think so. One of our children is American for God’s sake. I doubt whether Trelawney will ever compete with the Star Spangled Banner”.
“That’s fighting talk for one who never so much as made it out of the beer tent on the one and only time he ever visited the Cornwall show”.
“Alice, I have not, nor ever will be an endorser of folk dancing; farm machinery does not turn me on and there are only so many crafts a man can absorb in any one day. And as for silver necklaces, how many variations on a theme can there possibly be?”
“Well actually...”
“No Alice, no actually. Any man in their right mind would make a bee line for the ‘refreshments’”.
“Well, we loved the man being shot from the cannon”, I said, a little petulantly.
“You can see any number of men being shot from any number of cannons on YouTube. I doubt that it is absolutely essential to the cultural upbringing of a four year old”. God he is such a kill-joy at times.
“Maybe not, but in my defence we saw a vast array of exquisitely reared livestock and tasted much of Cornwall’s finest produce and the girls loved the dancing”.
“Look Alice, I was with you when we saw our seven year old’s teacher the following day. Had she been totally immersed in pixie and pasty culture she would not have told her teacher that she loved the flamenco dancing best and that the bulls had ‘very remarkable privates’”. I stifled a giggle.
“It’s not funny Alice. Now you have, just this afternoon, taken the same child out of school again and taken her to the theatre too”.
“Exactly. It’s the theatre”, I emphatically and rather defensively yelled.
“It was Seven Brides for Seven bloody brothers Alice. Not Hamlet”.
“But think of what she learnt today. The respectful understanding of being quiet during a live performance; the appreciation of the performance itself including the cast, music, dancing and orchestra. Honestly she clapped very enthusiastically and, given she was the youngest there by about 70 years, was far less conspicuous. The old folk around her were cacophonous what with their dentures chomping down on half a pound of pick’n’mix and audibly discussing the show with each other. She could also, unlike some, wait to go to the loo until the interval. It was inspirational let me tell you to a young diva who dreams of international fame. We even had to go backstage and get her programme signed”. I didn’t like to add that when the ‘Brother’s’ trooped out of the stage-door to be met by our daughter, pen poised in hand, she didn’t ask them, ‘How do you manage to remember those routines?’ or ‘How do you dance and sing at the same time?’ Oh no. What she did ask was, “When you do those split-jumps in the air, how do you never get a wedgie?
“So, where are you going tonight?”
“I don’t see why I have to justify my every move, especially since I’ve run in the door, deposited the seven year old, gone to the shops, made dinner, fed everyone including two extra guests and may I remind you that nine people for dinner is not par for the course for most women. I have friends who falter at four. Any more than that and surely it’s classified as a Christmas dinner”.
“So where are you going?”
“I am going with Mags back across the water to see The Beautiful Journey”. As ever, any edifying and intellectual reference escapes him, although I could see the cogs turning.
“I thought that was a movie with that Australian thug”.
“That was A Beautiful Mind and Russell Crowe is hardly a thug. I also think you’ll find he is a Kiwi”.
We’d reached an impasse. I got my wellies on, several layers and a hat.
“I’m off then”, I called. He begrudgingly gave me a kiss goodbye.
“Why are you so cheesed off with me going out? It’s not as though I have left my chores unattended is it?”
“Don’t be silly Alice, it’s not that. It’s just the cavalier attitude you have to buying tickets. They cost money you know”.
“F.Y.I. These were complimentary”, I said, waving them under his nose. “I’m like this”, I added, crossing my fingers, “With the costume designer”.
“Bloody good job”, he responded, “Because I’m like this”, he demonstrated, slicing at his throat, “With the bank manager”.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Mags came bearing a bag of fudge and a suitably concerned expression. Sitting at the dining table, stuffing into his mouth a baguette as long as his wounded leg, Hubby, the patient with whom she’d come to express her concern for, was more than happy to regale his surgery story.
“So, after they carved my leg up Mags...”, he started and I rolled my eyes. ‘Carve’ suggests that his leg was cleaved open from femur to fibula, only to be sewn back up with stitches that Steve Austin, bionic man, could alone empathise with. I must point out at this juncture that his surgery was as unobtrusive as possible and performed via the key-hole method; two little Band-Aids cover the holes in which they went ‘in’. I said not a word and allowed him his heroic moment and even adjusted his cushion for him and asked if he needed another coffee.
“Cheers, Alice love”, he said, holding his empty mug aloft, “That’d be great. Any chance of a piece of cake while you’re at it?” There’s nothing wrong with his appetite that’s for sure.
I walked to the kitchen and had only got as far as switching on the kettle when the dulcet tones of “Ah-lice”, resonated from the dining room for the twentieth time that day. Sighing in resignation, I once again applied a fixed smile and returned to him.
“I think I’d prefer a cup of tea love and Mags here would like a decaff”. Would she? Would she indeed. Perhaps sensing my somewhat aggrieved air, Mags jumped up immediately.
“I’ll come and help you Alice”, she said, bundling me into the kitchen.
“It’s only been 24 hours Mags but I’m going to bloody kill him. Thank God it’s nothing terminal; I’d never have the patience. We’d be on a flight to Zurich before you could say ‘assisted suicide’”. “Ah-lice!”, he called again. Mags gave me a look.
“See what I mean?” I said.
“You go and see what he needs”, she suggested, “I’ll make the coffee”. Once more I walked into the dining room.
“Hiya. Be an angel and switch the radio to Radio 2 would you. There’s a love”. Without saying a word I tuned the radio to The Jeremy Vine Show, and, just in case he wasn’t interested in the day’s discussions, I handed him the remote control and, as an extra precaution, a newspaper, a pen and a thesaurus.
“There. Anything else?”
“Apart from the cake and cuppa you mean?”, he said, beaming up at me, guilelessly.
“On its way”, I trilled. I can now fully understand how some chefs are inclined to spit into the food of difficult customers, equally I get it when some nurses yank out drips from dripping patients. I don’t know whether nurses do actually do that and I wouldn’t want to besmirch any but ye Gads, I bet it would feel good.
I went back to Mags who was stirring a coffee.
“Don’t forget, he wants tea instead”, I said, pouring the coffee down the sink.
“Dare I ask when he is going back to work?”
“Please God, let it be very soon and let the recovery be swift and painless”. No sooner had I delivered him of his refreshments and withdrawn to the drawing room with Mags, than he called again.
“That’s it!”, I said, springing from the sofa, “I’m ‘aving ‘im”. Mags wrestled me back onto the sofa.
“I’ll go”, she said, “Finish your drink”.
She came back five minutes later, slowly, Hubby hanging onto her arm, his face the very picture of grave concern.
“You’re up on your feet then I see?”, I said.
“I have to be or I’ll be dead within hours. I’ve turned that bloody Vine bloke off; he’s scaring the living bejeezers out of me. I had no idea that deep vein thrombosis could be so deadly”.
I was confused.
“Do you have a DVT then?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. My leg is painful, swollen and red.”
“No dear, your actual leg is not painful, swollen and red but your knee is; which, to be perfectly honest, is perfectly natural. Given the procedure”.
“So, you’re an orthopaedic specialist now then are you? Besides it wasn’t a procedure, it was surgery. They don’t give you a ‘general’ for a procedure. Anyway, that’s not the point Alice. After surgery, a DVT can strike at any point and with little warning. Then you’re talking pulmonary embolism and, well, it's curtains.”
“So, you need to keep moving then, to reduce the risk as it were?”
“You’ve got it in one, hun. No more sitting around for me”.
“You’ll be back to work soon then?”, I asked, trying to avoid Mags’s eye as she valiantly attempted asphyxiation as she smothered her laughter behind a sofa cushion.
“Yup. As soon as I can negotiate myriad ladders and getting in and out of hatches I’ll be back in the saddle”.
“They’ll be missing you by now” added Mags, desperately trying to sound convincingly solemn.
“Ah they’re a good bunch of lads, they’ll be ok for another couple of days, besides it’s nice spending quality time at home here with Matron” and with that he patted me on the head and, picking up his bag of fudge, all thoughts of instant death were as dissipated as a blood clot on Warfarin.

Monday, 1 June 2009


“There”, I said, brushing my hands together and proudly stepping back to display a delicious, lemon sandwich cake in my brand new, retro, glass-domed cake stand.
“Nice one Alice” said Hubby lifting the lid immediately without even pausing to share the moment before brandishing the cake slice and cutting himself an enormous wedge.
“When did you get the chance to bake? I thought you were in the cafe this morning?” he added, stuffing the cake into his mouth. I’d like to say that I had the grace to look a little coy but I was so happy with my IKEA cake stand that I’d wanted something to put in it asap, and, like he’d said, where was I going to have the time?
“Well I didn’t exactly bake it myself. Jenny did”.
“From the WI”. Hubby choked.
“You’ve got to be kidding me”, he said, “You went all the way to Bristol to buy, amongst other crucial merchandise, a glass cake stand without even planning for one moment of baking your own cake to put in it”. He seemed incredulous.
“Look Mr Hoity-Toity. I frequently buy Jenny’s cakes ok. Her sponges are legendary. Mine are too but not for their lightness of being. More in fact for their usage in drowning kittens”.
“That is a most unsavoury analogy Alice to describe a lead weight, although I see your point. Bloody nice cake mind”. And off he went to contemplate not only another paragraph of his dissertation.
Left in peace I analysed my cake stand and all it, albeit falsely, represented. This meagre glass item and the cake it displayed spoke volumes. It suggested, as these homely retro items do in lifestyle magazines, that I loved my family more than most. By creating a home filled with objects from yesteryear it apparently made my family feel more nurtured and safe, as our own mothers and grandmothers made us feel. This is why in a world where our economy and politics is awash in uncertainty and scandal, donning a flowery pinny and having a rice pudding in the oven is known as foetal fashion i.e. it takes it us to a place where we were free from harm and the stresses of the adult world; the metaphoric foetal ball. Something like that anyway. Personally I find it hard enough to get a meal on the table seven nights a week for seven people, let alone worry if I’m creating an atmosphere of stability and nurturing. My rice pudding has oft been met with a bleurgh from the children, and when I made them bubble and squeak they were convinced I was trying to poison them.
Undoubtedly when they look back on their childhoods, the things that will make them nostalgic will be sending emails, hand held mobile phones and food that you had to bother cooking. Whereas we forty-somethings still get a sense of wistfulness for afternoon tea, a woman in a tabard, vinyl records and digitally un-enhanced movies.
One by one the children filed past me as I stood there, lost in thought. Nick Cotton lifted the lid without any reverence, cut a huge piece of cake, didn’t bother with a napkin let alone a plate, kissed my head with a “Cheers Ma” and retreated back to his bedroom. The youngest ones squealed, begged for a slice, then promptly sucked off the icing, leaving an affronted bit of sponge behind. It was only the thirteen year old, who in fairness, made the right noises.
“Oh wow mum, what a lovely cake stand. Is it an antique? Was it one of your mother’s?” she asked, helping herself to a slice.
“Actually no. I bought it from IKEA”. My daughter rolled her eyes.
“So, is this what will be passed down to me? It doesn’t have quite the same resonance does it? I mean a mass produced product manufactured entirely to feed the neurosis of middle class women with the ideal of creating an ‘idyllic home’ can hardly compare with the passing down through the generations of a lovingly crafted and carefully tended item of beauty such as a genuine Wedgewood can it? Can’t you see mummy, that ‘vintage’ is as carefully marketed a word as this glass stand? The modern meaning of ‘vintage’ is the antithesis of authentic”.
“Oh shut up”. She shrugged her shoulder s and walked away not for the hundredth time, verbally victorious.
I looked at my purchase with new eyes. What had once epitomised ‘close, cared for, family’, now mocked me with its Made in China moniker.
“Sod you”, I said out loud and instead of putting it back in its box, decided that it should do the job intended and what it needed was to be filled with an abundance of cakes and biscuits that friends of my generation would fall on like a pack of hungry slummy mummies. Battenburg, Jaffa Cakes, Swiss Roll and Wagon Wheels, they could all fight for space on my centrepiece. So, picking up my handbag I tottered off to the local shop. Filling my basket, I saw a man behaving most furtively. Initially I afforded him the benefit of doubt, until, plain as day I watched him shove a Sarah Lee frozen pavlova under his football shirt; he was nothing if not an aspirational shoplifter.
Turning on my heel, I ran and grabbed the shirt of the manager who was in deep discussion with a colleague. Tugging repeatedly, l told him what I’d seen and pointed at the thief. Once again nostalgia came flooding back to the days, years ago, when the manager would have been man enough to apprehend the culprit and have him punished and not as the case is today be told, with a shrug, “It’ll be on camera”.I fear it’ll take a lot more than a fake antique in this modern world to provide a sense of security, safety and being nurtured.