Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Just the other afternoon, having nipped into our local supermarket in Torpoint, I returned to the car only to find an offending, yellow, sticky square, parking ticket adhered to my windscreen.
“No way!”, I said rather loudly, peeling it off. I was especially aggrieved as I’d Paid and Displayed over the odds as I’d had no small change on me. This entitled me to park, had I wanted to, until the following morning, which is why the date and time on my Pay and Display ticket didn’t expire until the following day.
I read the instructions of my fine and those in the car park itself which suggested that if I pay £2 extra for being over time all would be well. Standing in the car park, muttering to myself about the injustices of the world I considered my options. I could just write and explain to the ‘Transportation’ department of Cornwall County Council sending them my Pay and Display ticket but, as it had confused the car park attendant, then I had and as it transpired –prophetically, grave doubts about the staff at Cornwall County Council, understanding it. I had no option but to pay a further two pounds just in case CCC didn’t believe my story and assumed I’d gone and bought the Pay and Display ticket the following day. Seething, I threw my groceries into the back seat of the car and went back into Sainsbury’s to ask for change of a five pound note. It was very busy. Finally, after fifteen minutes of shifting impatiently from foot to foot and huffing and puffing and grumbling, I was served, received my change and returned to the car. It was a very warm afternoon. The car was hot. In my haste, the carrier bag that I’d oh, so carelessly flung into the car had tipped upside down and the butter, which, in my absence, protested violently at being left in a heated car, had melted. The evidence of which was an unctuous, dark, pool all over the back seat.
I drove home in abject misery. Hubby would be livid, if there is anything he hates more than wasting money then it is a messy car. Scattered crayons, odd socks, sweet wrappers and apple cores have before now, seen him reduced to a gibbering, profane, blood-vessel-bursting, wreck. I had to address the foot square grease stain before he saw it.
Sneaking out of the house moments later with Mr Muscle under my arm, Hubby poked his head around the front door.
“Where are you going?” he asked suspiciously.
Damn. Think. Think.
“Err, I thought I’d clean the car”, I replied, doing my best to get my face to adopt the look of guileless innocence.
“Come again? You? Clean the car? I doubt you’ve done that since you were in the Brownies. You’re up to something, I can tell by your expression. You look shifty”. So much for my acting skills.
“It’s nothing, just a bit of a spill on the back seat”. I was hoping that my breezy manner would deter him from looking; unfortunately not. Not only did he look, he peered, he got in the back of the car, he knelt, he dabbed and he sniffed, he erupted. Then he saw the crumpled, sticky, yellow parking ticket which had rather ignominiously stuck itself to my bottom.
“And what the hell is this?”, he roared.
Guiding him indoors, lest all the neighbours enjoy our domestic showdown, I reassured him that all was well regarding the ticket and that I would be writing to C.C.C to explain the mistake. I was not in the least prepared for their reply which was as follows: ‘After checking our system, we found the ticket that you purchased on that day’. Closure then surely. Alas not. Apparently and ‘in this instance only, the Council is willing to accept a £10.00 administration fee’. Excuse me? We have to pay for their mistake? Where is the sense in that?
To compound this bureaucratic injustice we had yet another run in with ‘Transportation’ yesterday. After a sojourn to Liskeard where the children were rushed their lunch, lest our current Pay and Display ticket run out, we returned to the car the kids still sucking on a few baked beans, only to find yet another yellow, sticky ticket patch on our windscreen.
I peeled it off in disbelief. Failure to pay and display? Are parking attendants visually impaired these days? The Pay and Display ticket had been slightly obscured by the tax disc, but a slight nod of the head would have made all the difference. Does a Safety at Work clause forbid traffic wardens from inclining their necks nowadays?
Hubby was uncharacteristically calm. “We’ll just drive to Luxstowe House and show them the evidence. It’s only up the road”. I was on the phone talking to the ‘Car Parks Assistant’ as we pulled into Cornwall County Council’s HQ. I was still talking to her as I got out of the car and walked into the reception area. But no can do. She refused point blank to come downstairs and acknowledge my ticket. We were only separated by a ceiling and she wouldn’t come. Even the reception staff had the decency to look suitably embarrassed. Even they phoned Ms Car Parks Assistant. To no avail. Whilst we all knew that it would only have taken a second to peep and thus witness much aforementioned Pay and bloody Display ticket I had to stand in reception and, astonishingly, write a letter of appeal.The petty bureaucracy that rendered us furious yet helpless regarded a trifling matter. I can only imagine the utter frustration and distress if, for instance, it was one’s planning permission or some sort of care that was being handled by similar intransigent, inflexible, uncompromising, incompetent, obdurate officialdom. To those suffering at the hands of such buffoonery, you have my unreserved sympathy.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Racing down the A38, I was almost on home ground. We’d left Pembrokeshire behind seven hours before. The sun was burning hot through the windows but at least there were no traffic jams. The journey up to Wales had been, as it always is, torturous. I’d been in work in the morning and then whilst walking the dog, had suffered a horse fly bite which had culminated in my hand swelling to the size of a small water balloon, then I’d come home and had packed only to find at the last minute that we couldn’t all fit into one car. Not even with the absence of our son was there room for us all and so, feeling terribly feeble, I accepted the fact that I would have to drive Hubby’s little banger with the two youngest children, whilst he took our eldest daughter, the dog and the luggage.
It all went smoothly for the first hour and a half. The Willow Man was well behind us, the ‘keep two chevrons apart’ bit ahead. Suddenly the radio informed me that the M5 north was shut. Not just slow going. Shut. True to Radio 2’s word, another ten miles or so found me at a standstill, with the engine turned off, on a baking motorway, inside the vehicular equivalent of microwave oven. Hubby it transpired, was a few lorries ahead and, given that we were stationary, and that it was ‘safe to do so’, was the one to text me the good news that finally, the road had been cleared and we were on the move again.
It was slow but steady until we crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales and were approaching Cardiff. We had now been in the car for over four hours and the youngest one needed a wee and she was ‘really desperate’. She must have told me just how desperate she actually was with increasing Tourette-like urgency. Loudly and violently. And with no apparent warning. She just shouted it out. Repeatedly. Frustratingly, we hit yet another traffic jam, only this was going at a snail’s pace, slow enough in fact for me to seize the opportunity to take the key out of the ignition, jump out of car, run to the back, open the boot, delve into a big, blue IKEA shopping bag, fish out a plastic sandcastle bucket, slam the boot shut again, jump back in the car, switch on the engine and pull away, if only a few feet. Hubby was right behind me at this point and I could see his puzzled face in the rear view mirror. Holding the bucket behind me the Red-Head straddled it and relieved herself. It was only when I emptied the almost full bucket out my window that Hubby put two and two together. He found it highly amusing. Our eldest daughter however, witness to her mother tipping wee onto the M4, slid down the passenger seat far enough to disassociate herself with her family.
We arrived in Pembrokeshire at our friend’s beautiful house at 10.30pm and therein had ourselves a lovely few days until Monday, when the heaven’s opened and there was no alternative other than to go swimming to the Blue Lagoon. Had there been lagoon like creatures mired in it I would have been less bothered. As it was, and at thirty seven quid for three children and two adults, it was heaving with the Good, Bad and the Very Ugly of West Wales and its tourists. In fact when the wave machine came on, there were so many people jostling, kicking and splashing me that I felt like a drowning Egyptian left to perish as Moses closed the Red Sea behind him.
So Tuesday evening saw us travelling home once more on the A38. The driving conditions were much improved; my swollen hand was once again restored to normal and Hubby and I had swapped cars and kids. I had the Passat estate with the eldest daughter and the dog, whilst it was Hubby’s turn to endure the youngest ones company. My daughter and I were well ahead of Hubby. The piffling irritation of the radio not working was nary a bother. The sky was blue and I was excited. In a couple of hours I would be ensconced on a yacht, in excellent company, enjoying ‘wine and nibbles’ before sailing out to Plymouth Sound to watch the fireworks. All of a sudden however, just as I was fantasising about Alain Delon in a pair of deck shoes and little else, the car filled with smoke and a pungent, rubbery smell. Pulling over immediately and making a lay-by by the skin of my teeth, we all jumped out as seconds later Hubby whizzed past, waving. I wasn’t stopping for a fag break for God’s sake!
Abandoned, I clutched the dog, the daughter and my purse to my person and called the AA. Within half an hour a delightful young man came to our rescue, pulled away the offending bit of rubber that was dangling from the engine that was neither fan nor cam belt but something to do with the air conditioning and more importantly, did not affect the driving of the car. Suffice it to say, we made the yacht; sweaty and flustered perhaps but we made it. It was fantastic if a little hairy with two young girls hell bent on taking the helm, nevertheless I could take to this lifestyle like the proverbial Mallard. In fact several people, mostly total strangers but who seem to recognise me and have an opinion on my husband’s career have come up to me in our town and said, “Nice job”, referring presumably to Hubby’s new role. Like a beauty queen whose days in office are very much numbered, I shall make the most of it and whilst you won’t see me sporting a sash and crown, rest assured, I fully appreciate the privilege of being “the Commander’s wife”.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Princess Past-It.

Once, when getting ready for a ball there would be a touch of Cinderella’s magic about me. After a day at work, I’d have a shower, shave all the necessary bits and pieces, style my hair, don a frock and then wave that magic wand of mascara and a slick of lipstick and bibbity-bobbity- boo, a handsome man was at my side and I was ready to go. These days, it is more a stealth mission needing weeks of planning. For a start where once I could have got away without a bra if my dress was low cut nowadays I have to visit the specialists at Marks and Spencer, who take you into a dual cubicle where one can modestly swap bras, whilst the assistant draws the curtain at the appropriate juncture before revealing your general state of bulging flesh. She then patiently adjusts and readjusts or indeed, shakes her head sadly and decides that the pretty bra that you picked out with bells and ribbons on, just isn’t you. Instead she returns with an industrial thing that looks as though Isambard Kingdom Brunel had something to do with the design.
Such was my experience last week, alas it was far, far worse as I had the two youngest children with me and the youngest of all has no patience whatso-flipping-ever of sitting in a cubicle, dual or not and at a salient point i.e I was undressed to my drawers and the assistant had just walked in again armed with various shades of beige, commodious well engineered strapless bars, the Red-Head bolted. Appreciating that M&S did not need some Erica Roe figure streaking around their lingerie department, I had no choice but to stay put whilst the assistant and the 7 year old hot footed it after her. She was found mercifully, at the bottom of an escalator about to embark on another floor.
I gave up at that point. “You’ll do”, I said to the beige thing and with the Red-Head in my vice like grip I paid. That wasn’t an end to my preparations sadly. Far from it. The dress and shoes were bought and hanging up at home but now I had my face to consider. In the past, cosmetics had been minimal, the icing on the cake as it were; these days a significant layer of primer needs to be brushed on before the actual paint is carefully applied. To Dingles we went. Years ago it was a joy to play amongst the powders and pastes that the Body Shop or Boots No7 had on offer. With children in tow it is a recipe for nervous collapse. The Urban Decay lady seized me immediately. How apt, I wryly thought.
By the time we had chosen a new eye shadow, eyeliner and lipstick, the girls looked as though they were about to embark in one of those God awful American baby beauty pageants, so caked were they in foundation, lipstick, powder and shadow. It had kept them quiet but at a price and now I had to walk back through Plymouth looking as though I was pimping child prostitutes. Worse, it was raining so hard that by the time we reached the car, black mascara was literally trickling down their already grotesque faces. I’m surprised a passing social worker didn’t apprehend me.
The day of the ball finally arrived. I went to work. I came back, made tea for the children, had a shower, depilated, went to the hair dressers, endured an ‘up-do’ that required over 50 hair pins and so much lacquer that I was genuinely concerned that a carelessly discarded cigarette would have seen me incinerated.
Walking home, I entered the house to hear Hubby raging that he couldn’t find his button rings and where the hell was his waistcoat? And would the dog please just bugger off. Your best black trousers and a golden retriever are not the finest combination. I rose above the general hub-bub and went upstairs to make the final adjustments. Make-up applied, I finally heaved my chest into the new bra and wriggled into my gorgeous dress and stepped into my spectacular shoes. I descended the stairs to the general oohs and aahs of a loyal family, only to find Hubby standing outside, sweating.
“I’ve gone beyond being trussed like a turkey Alice. I’m melting already and we haven’t got there yet” and pulling at his collar and bow tie, he really did look most uncomfortable.
“This waistcoat is playing merry hell with my innards Alice, I can barely breathe”. We were a bright pair what with his serge trousers, stiff collar, patent shoes, waistcoat and jacket and me with my five inch heels and underwear that was more scaffolding than lingerie. Cinderella and Prince Charming had most definitely long seen better days.
Luckily on arrival, friends were waiting for us with champagne and, with all of us being of a certain age, there wasn’t a person among us who didn’t feel the need for a slight realignment to his or her undergarments at some time or other. However discreet one attempts to be in these matters, yanking a wedgie out of your bottom is seldom done unnoticed.
After champagne and chit-chat and stunning Mess Beatings by the RMB, we sat down to dinner. All was going swimmingly, wine and thus conversation flowed, a magician entertained. The Marine Band played. A young woman took to the floor to sing but the singing was a ruse. It was only half of her ‘turn’. She turned out to be a stripper! At a Royal Naval ball?
“Burlesque act Alice, burlesque”, my husband did and still doth protest too much.
Hubby will be the next incumbent at the establishment where the ball was held. I hope to influence his decisions. Thus to redress the balance for sexual equality I look forward immensely to the Christmas ball.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


Money is the root of much evil in this house, discordantly and spectacularly vocalised. Hubby and I will never see eye to eye on the subject and whilst I can see his point, I find myself unable to live by the strictures demanded by him and so, like so many people put under any duress, my instinct is to rebel and revolt.
Hubby, having been in work all week, finds it easy to slip on a pair of slippers which inexplicably age him by twenty years, then sit back with the weekend papers and would, quite happily remain in that position until Monday morning when the whole working week starts over. I, on the other hand, having been an animated apron all week am tearing at the strings come Friday evening for a bit of action.
This last weekend was no exception and having waved farewell to Pia for the last time and having assessed the damage to her room and wept, I wanted a little diversion.
“The lit fest is on in St German’s”, I said in a voice that suggested, “How lovely, let’s go”. Hubby’s reply however suggested the opposite.
“No chance. Far too pretentious and as you know, pretension is a party to which one has not been invited. Each to their own though, after all there are those who would think us, and especially you, rather pretentious Alice.”
“Why?”, I asked, startled.
“Don’t put me on the spot Alice please; this can only lead to disaster.”
“You started it! Tell me what you find pretentious about me?”, I was gunning for a fight now.
“Well, since you insist. Take the kitchen, full of twee little tin things that have long seen better days. Fairy lights of every description, then there’s the poetry and prayers”. I was incensed.
“ I’ll have you know that each little tin thing was given to me by friends who, for whatever reason, thought of me when they bought them. They are not meaningless shabby-chic object d’art bought because they are ‘in fashion’. My fairy lights I’ll concede are perhaps a trifle on the silly side but I love them and as for my poetry and prayers? I have one poem in a clip frame that my mother loved and brings me great comfort and the prayer, accompanied by the statue of St Anthony, given to me as a gift, is equally comforting. Can I remind you that it is you and not me who has chosen to erect a two foot canvas of Paul Weller where perhaps a Vapona fly killer would be more expedient?”
“So, I take it that you’re not coming then?”, I asked.
“And I’ll take it that you are still going to go?”, he replied. We both sighed. I then tried the “But Such and Such are going”.
“Such and Such are a couple with whom I would not want to share my picnic rug even if Port Eliot Lit Fest were the last festival on earth either literary nor and preferably, illiterary”. He laughed at his joke.
Resigned to his obduracy I called for the teenage daughter and together we drove to St German’s. I almost keeled over when on asking for an adult and a child’s ticket the young people at the entrance gate asked for £45.
It had gone midday, we had to back for 5.30 for a barbecue. Nine quid an hour to be able to say we rubbed shoulders with the glitterati. Hubby would blow a gasket.
“Oh please mummy. We never get to do things together. Please let’s go in”. We were being rushed; a couple behind us, just off the train, asked the gate staff where they could get some cash from.
“Waitrose is just down the road” was the ill-informed answer.
From that moment on something just didn’t feel right. From the staff at the gate who clearly weren’t local kids who could have done with bit of extra cash, to the people within the grounds meandering, I felt just as Hubby had, rather maddeningly suggested as though I’d gate crashed a party to which I most certainly hadn’t been invited.
Those who literally live in St German’s, get some sort of concession as if to keep them sweet when their village is over run by thousands of visitors. Everyone else has to pay the full whack. Not that this causes anyone involved with the festival any angst as the festival is more a party for extended family and closely networked friends and is not aimed at us mere, local mortals. I saw about two dozen faces that were familiar and they weren’t what you’d call ordinary. At least four of them had a PhD in a variant of English literature.
Waiting in line at the Thai noodle stand whilst my daughter went off to try on hats in the vintage clothes stand, I listened intently to the conversations going on around me.
I’d already stood for fifty minutes and made friends with Tybalt and Edith whose parents had handed out ten pound notes as payment for queuing for them when eventually mummy and daddy joined them. They were Django and Sybil. Sybil was exquisite. Short, elfin hair, exceptional cheekbones, a dress so sheer and billowing that it wafted around her like million dollar gossamer. One can understand how rich people with their confident, wealthy and glossy veneer have been loved, envied, adored and murdered in equal measure. I asked if she’d travelled far.
“From London”.
“How do you know about this festival then?”
“Oh well”, she said and without an ounce of hauteur added, “We all seem to be connected with the family in some way. Everyone seems to be a member of an elite, beautiful people”.You said it love. You said it, although we less beautiful and most certainly less elite would like the occasional foray and glimpse into your wonderland. With hefty concessions of course.