Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

If I hate the Easter bonnet competition at school then to say I detest ‘book week’ would be of an unimaginable understatement. When our son was a little boy it was easy, he’d don his Harry Potter cloak, a pair of specs and with a flourish I’d draw a scar on his forehead with some lippy and he was good to go. The next child borrowed the cloak, tied her hair in ringlets, looked intelligent and was Hermione Grainger incarnate.
No such luck with the last two. For a start, not content to go to the annual PTA barn dance in jeans and some gingham next month, the 7 year old is hankering after an outfit she’s seen that eponymous, precocious, child star, Hannah Montana dress up in for a hoe-down in deepest, darkest Tennessee. No sooner having put my foot down to the above, both she and her little sister arrived home with notes in their book bags informing us, the poor parents, of the excitement of book week and that, oh joy, the book characters they need to embody are those from the Wizard of bloody Oz.
“I want to be Dorothy mummy”, hopped the 7 year old from one, eager foot to the other.
“You surprise me”, I said.
“Are you being sarcastic mummy? I really think you are”.
“Well darling, you have a dressing up box in the playroom filled with an assortment of various gowns that look as though any number of Disney princesses have just stepped out of them. You could also, at a push, be transformed into a nurse, but Dorothy Gale? That’s a tough one. You know I’m not renowned for my needlework and I’m sorry darling but I cannot justify buying a costume to be worn just for a few hours in school. Therefore I have no idea how to kit you out”.
This did not go down well and her enthusiastic hopping immediately became a stamping of feet, a banging up the stairs, followed by her bedroom door being slammed to the roars of, “You never give me anything”.
The newly bobbed-haired, Red-Head sighed.
“I want to be Toto mummy. I can wear my brown leggings and my fleece and then put glue on my face and collect the dog’s fluff and press it onto the glue and...”
“I don’t think that is such a good idea”, I advised, making a mental note to hide the PVA well away from her little grasp or she’d resemble some half baked werewolf before you could say ‘The Howling’.
I sat down with a cup of tea and mulled. And mulled.
Eventually an indignant 7 year old came down the stairs.
“I just want to be beautiful”, she said, sticking her chin out defiantly.
“You are beautiful”, I replied. “Very”. And I patted the sofa next to me. She flumped into the space.
“But mummy I don’t want to be a witch, or a Tin Man or a Lion or a Flying Monkey. I just want to be a girl”. Tears started anew. The cup of tea was by no means strong enough to fortify me against this level of histrionic angst.
Leaning my head back against the sofa with eyes closed, I thought of Hubby in work, hosting several VIPs, being earnest and adult and dynamic and essential. He was not I would put my last dime on it, fretting about the heinous costume ramifications of book week.
“Woof, woof, woof”. I opened one eye to find my five year old daughter and not the Golden Retriever, on all fours, circling a dining chair, panting and barking. It goes without saying that she had donned, not only the previously considered brown outfit but had also plastered her face in what looked like my Chanel foundation and to it had liberally applied handfuls of dog fur, some of which I am convinced had not been found on the carpet but which she had helped herself to from his coat.
“Oh Jesus”, said the 7 year old.
I didn’t know who to reprimand first, the elder for using the Lord’s name in vain or the Red-Head for, well being so, determined.
“Don’t talk like that. You should never use Jesus’ name in that tone”, I shouted, whilst simultaneously hoiking the Red-Head up by the sweater and carrying her, still in the all fours position to the kitchen sink.
“But mummy, I wasn’t being rude to God. I was praying to him because I knew you were going to go mental”.
At that moment Hubby walked in. He took one look at the blotchy, red-eyed 7 year old; the lupine features of his barking 5 year old and the thunderous expression of his wife and you could see him think, ‘If I just quietly turn around and walk out again maybe they won’t notice me’.
“Could you help me please?”, I asked. Caught like a rabbit in the headlights he meekly nodded his head. Gesticulating that he had to remove his uniform first I waited until he was down to his pants before he wrestled the Red-Head from me and held her head near the sink as I scrubbed.
“Good day then?”, he asked.
“Not particularly. You?”
The barking 5 year old had now, understandably started howling. I handed her a towel.
“Please dry her, Tom is coming for dinner, I haven’t so much as peeled a carrot”.
“Who is Tom?” asked the 7 year old.
“An old friend”, I said.
“Is he married?” I shook my head.
“Single?” I shook my head again.
“Well what then?”
“Can’t you think of any other alternatives?” I asked.
“Is he widowed?”
I laughed, “No, he’s not lonely”.
“Does he like the Wizard of Oz?” Hubby caught my eye.
“Yes, that’s it. He likes Judy Garland. Very much”.
“Oh he’s just gay then”, she said nonchalantly, exiting the kitchen, dragging her dishevelled sister in her wake.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


“Alice” said Hubby; somewhat impatiently I might add, down the receiver of his phone, “I have some dates for your diary. Someone else can’t go, so we’re going as proxy guests to a ball. Saturday. Ok? Later”. And he hung up.
It’s getting a bit like this. Dates, venues and codes of dress are barked down the telephone or emailed to me. I then consult my Filofax, which to be honest does not have notable entries such as: Lunch with Brad; dinner with Johnny but instead reminds me of which child is doing what and with whom, how much it will cost and at what time I have to retrieve them again. So, when Hubby informs me that we have to be at a cocktail party or reception, he knows darned well that Brad won’t be waiting for me somewhere and therefore I have no excuse other than to be dutiful.
Poor Princess Diana, I feel an affinity to her, not that I am rich or beautiful, nor I hope, ultimately doomed, but because after an hour and a half of making small talk with the chairman of a local Rotary club or British Legion my feet are beginning to bleed and I am sure the first thing Diana did when transport came to collect her from whatever official function she had to grace, was tear at her high heels and lob them in the direction of the driver. Some old biddy actually gave up the ghost at a function last week where she’d been standing for hours and was found face down in the Axminster. This caused a general furore and several uniformed men ran to her aid and a chair was conveyed forthwith. It was probably a ploy she has used on numerous and comparable occasions. It was an adroit move and the next time I feel a parade or speech is going on a wee bit too long and I fancy a little sit down, I too shall swoon. Knowing my luck though people will immediately assume that I’ve been chugging too many glasses of Cava and step over the heap on the carpet.
Hubby of course is nowhere to be found on such occasions, preferring to swap military anecdotes that I cannot understand even if I were interested enough to try and decode them, so apart from the initial, “Alice, this is Captain Pugwash (for instance), you met when he was commanding officer of HMS Black Pig”. Captain Pugwash and I then smile broadly at each other, shake hands heartily and nod our heads in assent, when in reality neither of us has a Scooby who the other is and so as quickly as it started, the conversation dies. Pugwash and Hubby then discuss, well heaven knows what, as I stand there, feet murderous, trying to will the steward carrying a tray of canap├ęs or Asti to circulate a little closer that I may apprehend him of his nibbles and booze.
Last Saturday however was an entirely different affair and whilst we were proxy guests and representing the Royal Navy, it was nonetheless going to be a do where everyone else was a strawberry.
“As in Fields forever?”, I asked Hubby as I strapped up my high heels.
He held out a hand and hoiked me upright.
“No dear, as in Mivvi”. I looked blank.
“Strawberry Mivvi: Civvy”.
“Oh I see”. Honestly sometimes it’s just like being married to one of the Krays only without the gangland violence.
What followed is one of those experiences that leaves one agog. Used only to military dos which have an inherent dignity (burlesque dancers notwithstanding), where men are beautifully dressed and women appropriately so and the Royal Marine Band are immaculate, my eyes were out like a robber’s horse.
“Alice”, hissed Hubby, “Close your mouth, you look like a goldfish”.
“I look like a goldfish? I? I? Cast your eyes over there then”. Across the room stood a very young woman in quite literally a goldfish orange, iridescent dress, complete with three foot train and jewelled encrusted stomacher. Around her stood other young women in varying shades of orange hue, although this was their skin tone and not their dress colour. Hair was high and platinum blonde, eyes were enhanced by centimetre long false eyelashes; fingernails were painted not just red or pink but had designs as well as diamante on them, toenails matched. Breasts were high and disclosed and tattoos of various conquestadors illustrated necks, shoulders and cleavages. I think they were what are now commonly referred to as, WAGs. I was, it goes without saying, invisible to the naked eye.
“Bloody hell”, said Hubby, eyeballing a girl whose breasts were abundant to the point that it was only her nipples that were concealed and that was only by thin strips of satin gown which plunged down to her, what else - bejewelled navel. The ‘Tit-tape’ – trade mark name, which she’d used to cover her modesty, was under significant duress.
Hubby and I felt as though we were gate crashing this particular party and as soon as it was polite, we left. This week brings its own challenges, namely Hubby is in a parade at the weekend. It’s been a while since he’s done any marching and carrying of sword and he is understandably, nervous. I cannot help but take umbrage at the fact that, to be word perfect, he has taken to practising his lines at home. Now, were he an actor or a singer, it would undoubtedly be a joy to hear his dulcet tones.
“Parade halt! Stand Fast! Division Halt! Eyes Front! Stand. At. Ease!” being bellowed however, with Colonel Hathi-like assertion around the landing is not conducive to familial harmony. Even the dog is whimpering.
He has now been banished to the basement amidst much rancour and the prevailing icy atmosphere has led to me discovering Ernest Shackleton sheltering in the downstairs loo.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Barely days into a new term and already there is dissent in the lower ranks.
“Speak for yourself” says Hubby gaily. The males of the household are the only ones with a kick in their heels; it would seem that having a kettle in one’s office and a microwave in one’s common room is all a man requires to be contented.
My son is delighted with his role as sixth former and the perks that come with it. Who knew such joy could be found in walking off the school grounds, spending one’s dinner money on a Pot Noodle or pasty before returning to school to chill out in the ‘relaxation’ area. I hate to dampen his spirits so soon into the new school year, there will be plenty of time for that, so I’ve bitten my tongue regarding his ‘A’ levels thus far and have resisted the urge to point out that the sixth form centre is not an extension of his bedroom but an area, and I quote from his Sixth Form Guidelines: Where you can quietly focus on your studies.
Conversely, the girls in this family are not as happy. My eldest daughter has found much to her dismay, that several of her new teachers are exceedingly dull. I doubt very much that they are but she has exacting standards. I would hate to teach her. Besides, she knows a darned sight more about an abundance of subjects than I and rolls her eyes heavenward if I so much as question anything that I really ought to be well versed in.
“God mummy, you are so thick”, is a mantra of hers when in a foul mood; the more patronising, if slightly less brutal, “Poor you, you can’t be expected to know everything”, when in a good one. So unless the teachers make every lesson thrilling and dynamic she will continue to return home, slump into a chair and complain bitterly. After only a few days I am finding it increasingly difficult to jolly her along given her sighing heavily into one ear, the 7 year old in the other and the whole time the reverberation of loud rock music, playing on my son’s laptop, vibrates through my inner soul.
“What’s the matter with you then?”, I asked the seven year old, having by now lost my rag with the teenage one and she having lost hers with me, resulting in the dishwasher remaining unemptied and her stomping furiously up the stairs, muttering something about child labour under her breath.
“I have to build a shelter”, she replied. I’d like to flee to one, I almost answered.
“What sort of shelter darling?”, I asked instead, finding it in me somewhere, the oomph to sound encouraging and interested.
“For a caveman”.
“But darling surely, by the very nature of their name, i.e CAVE man, they already had shelters?”
“Well maybe they were the first to enjoy outdoor living so they had shelters as well as a cave, sort of like a gazebo”.
“Ok then. Well what sort of thing did they make their shelter from?” This is the worst type of homework. The one where you have to get actively involved and cannot just sit there reading out a list of words and hoping in return, that they’ll spell them correctly. Mags’s son once had to make a model of their house. Of course, he didn’t get on with finding an old cereal packet and some Pritt stick and construct some rudimentary but self-made effort. Not on your Nelly. Mags’s father-in-law, a retired carpenter, spent a week in his shed, which he was relieved to do, sawing, filing and erecting a true replica of their beautiful, Victorian, terraced house. He got a special mention in assembly. Mag’s son that is, not granddad. Surely any teacher worth their salt could see through his offering. Little Johnny in the front row, who hasn’t a bespoke cabinet maker for a granddad and who had made his house out of the aforementioned cereal box, certainly could.
“Sticks and leaves and straw and stones”.
“Wow, a luxurious gazebo”, I replied.
“Can we go and forage then please. We can take the dog”. Great, just what I needed, a walk in the rain, with a damp dog who will be utterly over-enthusiastic in finding sticks and who will no doubt have ingested most of them by the time we get home.
An hour later we returned, having been driven ragged by, just as I thought, a dog who found foraging the best game. Like, ever.
“What? We’re collecting these stick things? We are actually bringing them home? As toys? For my own delectation and entertainment? Why this is just too much, too exciting for words. My, oh my! Why I must bark and bark and run around and around in circles and try and catch my tail! I must try and communicate my sheer, unconfined delight!”
I left our wellies in the hall with a panting dog and just one of his beloved sticks and walked into the kitchen. My seven year old was counting her stones, “We just need straw now”. Luckily the chair of the PTA is the local farmers wife, and although I was only half joking when I said I’d do anything on the committee in return for a handful of straw, my heart sank to my shoes when I read the minutes of the meeting that I’d been late for.
Really, I’m happy to help with most things. Make fudge, mull some wine, man a stall, erect some trestle tables, even organise a coach trip but find raffle prizes for the Christmas draw? It’s a detestable task.
“You’ll get fab prizes. You’ve got friends in high places,” the committee joshed.
That’s as maybe but I can’t imagine that a tour of Her Majesty’s Naval Base is everyone’s idea of a winning ticket. Then again, you never know.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


“Cheer up Alice for God’s sake. It’s just a bit of rain”.
I poked my nose out of the back door and immediately retrieved it. A bit of rain? Was Hubby delusional? A deluge of water ran down the garden path taking with it a parasol and garden table and one, most discomfited cat.
I sighed. Another summer over and my bottom has hit the beach, twice. The water woggles and inflatable LiLo that I bought in Menorca have stayed in the boiler cupboard where we stash all the reusable shopping bags.
As if sensing my despair, the seven year old walked into the kitchen.
“This weather is savage mummy. I’ll be back to spelling and times tables tomorrow, what can we do today to keep our spirits up?”
“Yes mummy”, opined the Red-Head, who is rarely far from her big sister, “What can we do? We never do anything”.
My son, the one with ten GCSEs, ambled in, dressed in what can only be described as clothes one might wear, if one was expecting on opening a door, to be greeted by hundreds of teenage girls, all screaming and fainting at the very sight of you.
“Right Ma?”, he asked, kissing my head, “I’m going to check out some guitar shops in Exeter. See you later”. And picking up a cold piece of toast he walked away.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t go out like that. You’re half naked, it’s pouring down and you need more breakfast than that. Besides, with who are you going to Exeter, when will you be back and how do you intend to finance such an excursion?”.
“Ma, I am fully dressed and I......”
“You are not. Leather jeans and a shirt barely buttoned up is not what I would call fully dressed. You’ll get pneumonia and then where will you be? You can’t go to the 6th Form with pneumonia”.
“Well thanks for stating the obvious, but I doubt that a bit of a drizzle will endanger my life”. Divine intervention however had a hand in making him rethink his choice of outfit as the back door crashed open, blowing a kitchen stool over and scattering all three cats, who had previously been peering despondently through the cat-flap, squawking and meowing for their lives.
“Ok, ok, I’ll go and put a jacket on”, conceded my son.
“Make it water proof”, I called after him, “Dad’s Kagoule is hanging up”. He turned around and threw me a look that suggested, ‘Over my very dead body’.
He returned five minutes later wearing a leather biker’s jacket and one of his teenage sister’s sparkly scarves. The teenage fans would by now be apoplectic. I was for different reasons.
“Darling, you are going to get soaked through. You’ll be miserable walking around the shops if you are dripping wet.” I handed him a bagel.
“So who are you going with?”
“Jack and Jim”, he mumbled.
“Well I’ll bet their mums are making them wear something sensible”.
“Ma, for God’s sake, we’re nearly seventeen. Our mums are not meant to be still tucking our vests, however metaphorically, into our pants”.
“More’s the pity”, I replied, drily. The door bell rang and two long haired, lovers from, well not exactly Liverpool, sauntered in.
“Hi Alice, alright?”
I looked at them and sighed. It seemed only yesterday that they’d been playing with Harry Potter Lego and now they were tall and handsome with more GCSEs than the rest of our family, mine and Hubby’s combined could muster between us; had a penchant for rock music and how shall I put it, a most individual sense of style. Jim, who initially looked a little sheepish having not seen me since he had baptised me in a pint of, ahem, ‘shandy’ the previous week after celebrating his results, had a pair of red velvet bell bottoms on; Jack a purple velvet jacket. They were all accessorised by more jewellery than Liberace, if not quite as shiny.
Handing them both and much to Hubby’s chagrin, a peanut butter bagel that Hubby had just prepared himself, I warned them of the dangers of high speed trains, Exeter high street and getting damp, Jim was most perplexed.
“Alice, you’ve lost me. I get the train thing and the need to stand well clear of the yellow line. I also understand the murderous vagaries of ‘catching my death of cold’ but the high street of Exeter perilous? How so?”
I opened and closed my mouth like a goldfish and looked to Hubby for help. He smiled gleefully.
“You’re on your own Alice; please elucidate the jeopardy of Exeter’s city centre.” I was huffy.
“You’re all picking on me now. I just want you to be safe. Other shoppers, who don’t know you as I do might think you look a little, well, dodgy and report you”.
“For stroking a Les Paul?” asked Jim. I looked blank.
“It’s a guitar ma”. Oh.
“Don’t worry Alice”, said Jack “We weren’t intending on going to British Home Stores” and laughing out loud, they all stepped out into the pouring rain.
“So where does that leave us mummy? Both my eldest sister and brother are doing something nice with their last day, please can we go somewhere?”
I walked into the sitting room and sat at my desk and Googled The Vue cinema. Ice Age 3 was on. I booked four seats.
Later that evening after hanging up my son’s sodden leather jacket in the airing cupboard to dry, I plaited the girls newly washed hair. Inhaling deeply, great sniffs of lovely Johnson’s shampoo on wet hair I considered how brief a time our children tolerate such indulgencies. The eldest barely tolerates me, the next sporadically, the youngest however still think I’m the bees knees. Tucking them into bed, I closed the door quietly.On the landing stood my son. “I need some A level advice. Will you help?” Gladly, my darling boy, gladly.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Old Soak.

Fumbling gingerly in the ‘drug’ drawer in the kitchen, I rifled through sachets of various and equally unpalatable flavours of Dioralyte; Melolin dressings, Cystitis remedies, old antibiotics large enough to heal a horse and a few low grade paracetamol. Calpol wasn’t going to cut it. Where the hell was the Nurofen Express? They had to be here somewhere. Clutching my head in one hand and the kitchen drawer in the other, a wave of nausea washed over me.
“Oh my God”, I groaned, gripping the drawer. Hubby walked in, whistling a piercing tune.
“Feeling a bit shabby Alice?”, he asked breezily, “I should bloody well hope so”.
Now if there is anything worse than a shocking hangover with all its component suffering parts, then it is a pious husband, whose job it was the night before to be the designated driver and who is thus, the following morning, so bright and breezy that sunglasses are required to look at him.
“Don’t be like that”, I said quietly, not because I was attempting refinement but because if I’d spoken any louder I’d have been sick. “I think I’ve got a bug”.
Hubby let out a peel, of what was in my mind, cruel, maniacal laughter.
“A bug? A bug? Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha”. The man was bent double. I had to lie down. Very slowly I walked into the sitting room and lowered myself onto the sofa and pulled a throw around me. The TV was tuned to the Disney Channel and Zac and Cody were taking time out for some adverts. Appalling, high pitched jingles trilled into the room with nauseating American kids singing the virtues of moistened toilet tissue. The dog, which more often than not sits snuggled up alongside my youngest girls, seemed to know the adverts by heart because he too started to sing. I assume he was singing; he was howling at least, it may well have been in protest.
Hubby threw himself down on the sofa next to me and with infuriating bonhomie, slapped my thigh.
“So, me old shipmate. Unless three large Kirs, swiftly followed by another large glass of Pinot Grigio were unfortunate enough to be ‘off’, you, my dear, drank far too much last night”. Why didn’t he just stop talking? I was in no state to count units of alcohol.
“It’s a bug I tell you”, I repeated, hopelessly attempting to push a now silent dog’s insistent snout away from under my dressing gown. He is nothing if not tenacious. I wrapped the ‘throw’ around my knees and lay back on a cushion.
“A bug does not necessitate the telling of such blue jokes that they would make a mess deck of sailors blush, nor does it embolden the victim to offer ahem, matrimonial advice to the vicar and his wife, who also happened to be at the pub enjoying a quiet sherry”. I groaned again. Please God, no.
“What was my advice?”, I barely dared ask.
“’Go Commando on a Sunday’”. Holy hell. But there was more.
“’It’ll add a certain frisson’”. Cassocks. Deep, deep shame overwhelmed me. What was I thinking? There I was one minute, listening intently to the political etiquette of judging a Victoria Sponge at a Garden show and the next I was Marjie Proops? How so? As if reading my mind, Hubby answered.
“You were bat faced”.
Dying a death on a cocktail of wine and disgrace, I dragged myself back upstairs and crawled under the duvet, where I stayed until the Nurofen that Hubby finally found and brought me, worked their magic; then and only then, was I able to pick up the phone and dial.
“My name is Alice Band and I am an alcoholic”.
Mags laughed, but not uproariously.
“Not in the true sense an alcoholic. You don’t exactly add gin to your Shredded Wheat do you? More ‘alcohol dependent’. Like most of us in fact. Why the epiphany?”
I told her.
“Oh.My.God and what does Hubby have to say? Has he fired you as Commander’s wife?”
“Well that’s the weird thing, he’s been relatively calm, if a little holier than thou. Do you really think we are alcohol dependent?”
“Probably”, she replied, “How many women our age do you know who can quite easily knock back a bottle of plonk a night. We don’t think we’re chavs though because” and she lowered her voice, “ we are rarely out in the pub making fools of ourselves, but in our own houses, wine in one hand, Manzanillo olives or Marlborough Lights in the other. It’s the way the middle class woman keeps her weight off”.
“That’s true. Since I’ve been on my diet and keep fit crusade, not eating has been tolerable only because I’ve had a bottle of something white and cold to look forward to in the evening”.
“Yeah and I’ll bet that wasn’t half a pint of semi-skimmed either”, she quipped.
“Thing is after a mad day of work, kids, dog and husband, there is nothing like that numbing third glass to ease the fatigue of family life”.
“Exactly, which is why the ‘How Much is Too Much’ adverts are out there directed at us, the silent soaks who cause no aggravation to anyone apart from liver specialists.”That was it then. There was nothing else for it other than sobriety. An infected wisdom tooth and subsequent antibiotics warning me against the horrors of drinking whilst on these specific pills have certainly helped me on my way. I was much relieved though to find a text from the vicar’s wife which said: GR8T 2 Meet U. Most people only talk chutneys and church. Have put your jokes on my Facebook page, doubt they’ll make the monthly Courier though;) The Rev wants me to pass on that the rough cloth of his surplice combined with Commando caused more than a frisson.’