Tuesday, 24 November 2009


The festive season has caught me unawares this year. I am without a doubt behind the curve. My puddings and onions are steamed and pickled but otherwise the cupboards and hiding places are bare, so a couple of days ago, spurred on by the fact that there are only four weeks or something until the big day and the seven year old’s list is as long as her arm, I thought it best that I make a start, sharpen my elbows, don a pair of comfy shoes and hit the shops.
As I drove into Plymouth, the car, which is German and lives up to its Teutonic reputation of being rather bossy and pedantic – beeps at any given provocation and continues to nag the driver until whatever little issue has been resolved. It warns me via a high pitched beep whether the weather is too cold, that it needs a service, that its parking light is left on or whether the petrol is running low. Sometimes, when the engine has been low on water, a red flashing STOP NOW! has appeared on the dashboard accompanied by another high frequency beep. I know that it is only trying to be helpful but honestly when one is travelling down a motorway at 70 mph, blissfully ignorant to the fact that the car is dying of thirst until it goes into hysterical mode, believe me it takes all one’s concentration not to die of fright by the whistles, lights and bells and crash the infernal thing.
So, not long after I ventured into town the orange light indicating a critical shortage of petrol appeared. I pulled into the nearest service station and filled the car up with £25 worth of unleaded. Then I waited in a queue and when requested, put my card into the machine. I followed the instructions, entered my pin number and then waited for the machine to spring into life and spew out a receipt.
Unfortunately, no receipt was forthcoming and a rather terse young man informed me, without even looking in my direction and with no intonation whatsoever that my card had,
“Been declined”. Now Hubby and I are no strangers to the somewhat hushed and apologetic tones of various shop assistants informing us that our card has been declined. In our defence though, in the past it has been at the end of the month after particularly heinous and unanticipated bills, so I was more than a little surprised to be without sufficient funds mid-month.
“Oh”, I said and fumbled in my purse for another card, which I knew had even less money in its account. Customers tutted behind me. The transaction went through and I slunk back to my car where I thought no more about it. Not until I reached Marks and Spencer.
With an armful of festive nightwear and tights for various children I queued up to pay, proffered my card only to be told, once again that it had been declined. Embarrassed I quickly handed over the other, more beleaguered one before hiding among Leisure Wear and calling Hubby.
“I can’t understand it”, I said, “I checked our account only a couple of days ago. It didn’t seem any worse than usual”.
“Leave it with me darling”, he said, rather heroically I felt, “I’ll call the bank”. Within five mintues my bank manager, who is more than accustomed to our financial habits called me on my mobile.
“Hi Alice. Just checked your account. It looks ok. There has probably been a spot check on the card. I’ve rung the fraud team. All should be well now”. Reassured, I went and bought a bowl of soup. The transaction went through without incident. Not so in Waterstones bookshop.
Yet again I queued to pay, then I handed the book over to a very handsome young man. I put my card in the machine, punched in the pin number and waited and waited. The young man was evidently new as the message on his screen was one he had not seen before. He called his supervisor over.
She took one look at the screen and then explained that he had to ring the bank to make a security check. This was quite a long and laborious procedure which, involved not only being able to successfully answer my mother’s maiden name, but also my place of birth as well as my date of birth. I felt aggrieved that this handsome creature had to know that I was 44 but worse was to come.
“What book are you buying?” asked the man at the end of the line. Now what the hell did that have to do with anything? That was just nosy.
“Imagine if I’d been buying the Karma Sutra?”, I’d said to Mags over a coffee later, “I’d have been mortified.
“To be honest I’d have been more embarrassed to admit to buying Jordan’s”.
“It wasn’t for me”, I answered hurriedly.
The following afternoon my bank manager called me again, “Could you pop down?”, she asked.
I walked down to the bank and waited shamefaced to be called inside, thinking I was to have my knuckles rapped for spending too much.
“Yesterday’s transactions threw up some anomalies”, she said, before turning her computer screen around and showing me details of my account.
Several withdrawals for 70p had been made and then wallop, a withdrawal for £180 and one for £1,300. To a catalogue company.
“One I know you wouldn’t be seen dead shopping from” added my bank manager kindly, “I’m sorry Alice. You’ve been cloned”. I sat there stupefied. My lip trembled.
“You’ll get the money back”, the manager said, trying to comfort me, “The fraud squad will be in touch.
Hubby was more upbeat, “Don’t worry Alice love, no one could clone you. You’re one in a million”.
“Spare a thought for Dolly the Sheep* though”, quipped the Egg-Head, “She could never apply for a mortgage”.

* Was a cloned sheep.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I Hate Maths.

“I am never running this coach trip ever again”, I wailed, literally pulling my hair out in tufts as I counted and recounted the cheques and cash I had received from my passengers.
“How hard can it be mum?” asked the beautiful egg-head, “Give it here”. I handed her the monies and the passenger list.
“Right then, you’ve got 51 bums on seats at a cost of twelve pounds each that makes six hundred and twelve pounds. Has everyone paid?”
“Yes” I answered meekly, figures still dancing in my head, “But I still can’t make it add up”.
“Silly mummy”, she replied gently as though I were some dear old soul with special needs, “Maths has never been your forte”.
“I’m well aware of that but this is simple arithmetic. The money in the bag should equal 12 times 51 but it doesn’t. I’ve added it up a million times”.
She counted it again in seconds and concurred that yes, there was an anomaly of £11 and that I had a problem.
“See?” I said defiantly, “I knew it wasn’t my maths that was at fault”.
“No, but it is your banking. What are you going to do now?”
“Pay the extra, I don’t have an option. Somewhere along the line I’ve mislaid eleven quid. Thank God it’s not fifty.”
The Egg-Head just shrugged her shoulders and went upstairs to contemplate the intricacies of the universe or whatever the hell it is she does in her room for hours at a time.
My son walked in, “Right ma? Tea? You look stressed”.
“I am stressed, I’ve lost eleven pounds.”
“Well that should be commended. I thought you were looking slim.”
“Not in weight you plonker. In money. In hard cash”. His face dropped.
“What? Why that expression? You haven’t nicked it have you?”
“No way mum! That would be some serious ju-ju. Nope I was just hoping for a bit of a hand out.”
“You have to be kidding me. You have a job and an allowance and you still expect more? Do you think I’m made of money?”
“Well evidently you are made of flesh and blood and other elements that my sister could probably enlighten us with, but nope, I just wanted a few extra quid to get a special Christmas present”.
“That’s very sweet of you but don’t you think that defeats the object somewhat? I mean I give you more money so that you can buy me a better Christmas present? Just get me something small and we’ll be even stevens.”
“I’m afraid I wasn’t exactly thinking of you”, he added sheepishly. The temptation to clip his ear was enormous but given the arduous nature of the last hour and the subsequent headache brought on by all the adding and subtracting, then the temptation of a cuppa was even greater, so I resisted the call to arms and just very firmly pointed him in the direction of the kitchen.
I settled myself back at the dining table and shook every last piece of correspondence I had regarding the coach trip, just in case a tenner was clutching tenaciously within a folded piece of paper. Suddenly Mags burst through the front door.
“Coo-ee!”, she called.
“In here”, I yelled back. She bounced into the dining room.
“Flipping heck Alice! You look like Ebenezer Scrooge on a bad day. What’s going on, has Hubby asked for you to account for your spending at long last?” She tipped an indignant cat out of a dining chair, sat down and opened her designer, oil cloth, shopping bag and pulled from it two slices of not just any cheesecake but a Marks and Spencer cheesecake.
“Ta-da!” she said, beaming.
I pinched more than an inch of flesh which was sitting steadfastly atop my waistband.
“Oh for God’s sake Alice; live a bit. I’ll go and get two forks and a cup of tea to go with”.
“No need Auntie Mags”, said my son just at that moment walking in. “I heard you arrive and thought, hmm, shall I open the bottle of wine or make her a cup of tea. Then I looked at the clock and the sun hasn’t gone over the yard arm yet, or whatever it is dad says before he decides on a snifter or not, so I thought you’d prefer Twinings instead of Temperenillo”. Where I had previously resisted, Mags did not and gave him a quick clip of his ear.
“That’s for being so bloody facetious”, she laughed, “Now hand over that tea and go and play with your train set”.
“As my God mother...”
“Yes?”, said Mags warily, “ This sounds ominous”.
“Well, you usually give me a tenner in my Christmas card, and I just wondered, just this once, whether you could sub me and give it to me early”.
“This kid has more neck than a giraffe”, roared Mags, rummaging around in her bag for her purse.
“Put it away Mags”, I said, taking her bag away from her, “He is not being subbed by anyone. He probably wants to buy his girlfriend some impossibly expensive scent or something I care not to envisage”.
“Got it in one mum”, he said walking away but not before giving us a big wink first. Mags and I just looked at each other in a ‘they’ll be the death of us’ way before dishing out the gooey, chocolate cheesecake.
“So what’s all this about?” she said waving at the cash. I briefly explained and we were just stuffing our faces with the last morsel when Hubby came home.
“Oh yeah! So this is what goes on when I’m out earning a crust”. He gave me and Mags a kiss and went to hang up his coat and as he did so, he called out,
“Don’t forget tomorrow Alice. Divisions”.
“Poor Alice” added Mags, “All this adding up and taking away and now divisions? It’s a cruel world”.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Penny for it..

“Shall we make a guy, guys?”, I asked the children over dinner the other night.
“A what?” asked my 14 year old egg-head who generally knows more about most subjects than your average teenage hoodie.
“You know a stuffed effigy, named after Guy Fawkes.”
“Remember, remember the 9th of November” added the Red-Head, sagely. I sighed.
“No darling it’s the 5th of November we must remember”.
“Why?” she asked looking up at me from a bowlful of cheesy beans.
This was getting exasperating. What do they teach our kids these days? They know all about autumn and fireworks and write expressive poetry filled with timely, adjective filled, fire-cracking onomatopoeic zeal which goes up all over the school walls but have no idea who Guy Fawkes was.
“He plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament”.
“Way to go”, said the 17 year old profoundly. ‘A’ level politics is obviously having a deeply, reflective effect on my son.
“What has this to do with effigies mum?” asked the 14 year old, trying to get us back on track.
“Well young people would make a ‘Guy’ from old clothes hanging around, then stuff it with newspapers, shove sticks up the sleeves as arms, don a jaunty mask and hey ho, you had a Guy. This same Guy was then plonked in an old pram and trawled the streets, where, you’d ask a passerby if they would ‘give you a penny for it”. My children looked up at me simultaneously as though I were nuts.
“That is so old-fashioned mum”, said the 14 year old.
“Yeah, that’s like really quaint man”, added the son.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, I’m not talking about a custom that disappeared centuries ago like witch dunking you know.”
“Well I’d hardly call the dunking of oppressed, innocent women quaint”, added my eldest daughter, in very uppity tones.
“Nor do I”, I went on hurriedly, “I was just thinking on my feet for an example of an old custom. I could just have easily have mentioned the custom of curtseying or even calling ones’ parents Sir and Ma’am”. This was met with peals of laughter.
“Anyway, as I was saying, the making of a Guy is not something that has gone down in the annals of history just yet. Kids were making them very recently.” No-one looked as though they believed me.
“What? Why the blank looks?”.The Red-Head in fairness was just hell bent on getting a baked bean to make it from her plate onto her fork and into her mouth. She couldn’t give a toss about Guy Fawkes, his effigy or the ensuing debate.
“I find it incredulous”, said the 14 year old finally.
“What darling?”
“All of it. I seems unthinkable in today’s increasingly violent society that a) we celebrate, over four hundred years after the event, the execution of a man who, after all must have had serious grievances against Royalty, ergo parliament by casting him onto a bonfire to be burnt for perpetuity and b) we revel in at and stand nonchalantly by watching the flames, a sparkler in one hand and a toffee apple in the other and c)were any child to apprehend an adult and ask them for money they be issued with an ASBO and d) should the adult in question hand over money to young child they in turn would be on some offenders list, too terrified ever again to undergo a CRB check.”
“Don’t forget e)”, added my son, “E is for ebay. You’d never find an old pram these days. People just get rid of old for new”. This was very depressing.
The 7 year old was the only one who seemed even slightly interested in making a ‘Guy’ and after dinner set about collecting materials. I left her to it. I had after all explained all about old clothes and so went into the kitchen to tidy up.
An hour later, whilst Hubby was playing with his i-pod and the teenagers were doing their so called homework- I went in search of the youngest two who were un-naturally and thus ominously, quiet.
I eventually found them in a locked bathroom.
“Hello, can I come in please darlings?” Silence. Much like the wolf in the Three Little Pigs, I didn’t bother with the pleasantries after that and banged repeatedly on the door.
“Let me in! Let me in!”
Luckily I was not met with ‘Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin’ and very slowly the door opened.
The 7 year old looked immediately guilty, whilst the Red-Head looked triumphant.
There on the bathroom tiles, as though she’d had a night on the tiles lay the remnants of an unrecognisable diva.
The 14 year old popped her head in.
“You should commend them mum on not being gender specific and thinking outside the box”.
Outside the box? They hadn’t been near any box but had rummaged through my drawers. All my tights, which had been used for ‘arms and legs’ had been filled with various scraps of newspaper and where they’d run out they’d used my lovely, white A4 Hewlett-Packard computer paper. A sparkly sequinned encrusted t-shirt that I’d once worn proudly had been cut up and a skirt that had seen better days had been painted on and sellotaped haphazardly to one of my best but now, painted and stuffed, Sanderson, Oxford pillowcases.
Another pillow case was the head, which was plastered in lipstick and eyeliner and smudged mascara, a sorry blonde wig dangled sideways from it onto the floor as if the girls had put ‘her’ in a recovery position. The ‘legs’ lay akimbo, my red stilettos at right-angles. It was a grotesque sight.
I was speechless. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I just stood there looking at the pitiful sight before me.
Hubby bounded up stairs to use the loo and took one look.
“Jeeze Alice love, she looks familiar. You haven’t done that for a long time.”

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


The Disney channel has been banned. Finally I have put my foot down. I may have shot myself in the self same foot as it is half term after all and what could be easier than sitting down with a couple of glossies whilst the youngest children veg out in front of all singing, all dancing, wisecrackin’ American adolescents? But really, when one is attempting a stern voice and the telling off of a seven year old, the last thing one wants in return is attitude.
My eldest children who were not brought up on Sky TV and its myriad kid’s programmes thus had the grace to look abashed or even shamefaced when receiving the sharp end of my tongue; the seven year old on the other hand has different ideas. In her world, every clever riposte is met with canned laughter when the adult in question replies, with a look of false fury, “Don’t you get cute with me young lady”. Cue even more canned laughter. Thus it came as a bit of shock to my daughter when, instead of magic laughter from an invisible audience filling the house when she cocked her head to one side, placed her hands on her hips and said, with perfect American accent, “I can’t hear you”, she was told in no uncertain terms that, no-one speaks to their mother like that and that she had better clean her ears out and could on reflection, think twice about reaching for the remote controls all week long and, whilst we come to think about it, hadn’t she in fact better go upstairs and tidy her room?
One down, three to go. The eldest, now a 6’6’, strapping 17 year old, decided, whilst we were being wined and dined by friends last weekend, to have a few ‘lads’ around. Now, Hubby and I know all the lads very well indeed, since they were knee high to Dumbledore in fact and all are perfectly decent young men with high aspirations, lots of GCSEs and more importantly, lovely mummies and daddies. What I forgot of course is that they are still boys on the cusp of manhood and ergo, after a couple of tins of contraband Carlsberg, are as giggly and as drunk as a couple of girls on a cider flavour iced lolly. What I also forgot though is that unless eaten by the freezer full, cider lollies do not make you sick, whereas Carlsberg, even whilst professing to probably be the best beer in the world, probably if not drunk responsibly, will make you very sick. On our return our son and thank God, most of his friends, were stone cold sober, but the odd boy had not been well at all and our 14 year old daughter had been a trooper in administering to the needs and wants of a couple of them by getting out the bleach, putting a wash on and generally being vigilant.
To be severe and have to use well worn rhetoric such as we are ‘very disappointed’ especially when ‘we trusted you’ was not the best way to greet a 17th birthday and the opening of presents was delayed the following day until his father and I felt that he had been punished enough and was penitent.
So, two children in the dog house. The third, our 14 year old daughter, who had done such a sterling job in looking after the afflicted had only just returned from a school trip to Italy, where text after text she effused about the wonders of the beauty of Tuscany. Everything was ‘sublime’, ‘fabulous’, ‘exquisite’, ‘awe-inspiring’. She was ‘in seventh heaven’ and having the time of her life. The family she stayed with were ‘fantastic’, she loved the food, the company, the whole experience. As parents we couldn’t have asked for more and when I picked her up from the coach she was full of beans; thereafter, apart from her stint as nurse and scullery maid, she has remained in her room. Nothing has induced her to get out and about and where half term has seen the youngest two and I being creative, well since the TV is off, the PVA glue, sequins and beads has had to come out and, then when the mess has got too much for me, we’ve jumped in the car and been on a couple of outings. The 14 year old though has resolutely stayed put. She couldn’t even bring herself to join us for a few hours at Antony House making very organic broomsticks and orange witches’ hats.
She just raised her eyebrows to the heavens when we came home laden with all things witchy and spooky. Sharp words have been exchanged; mine being of the ‘lazy little madam’ type, hers in response, whilst true to form and thus erudite, I’ve still considered cheeky so, chores have been issued, to be completed forthwith.
This leaves the fourth child. Hubby and I went to parents evening just before half term where we were told that, after initial major concerns regarding the Red-Head’s ability to learn to read, her confidence was growing and there was renewed hope that all would be well and she would eventually get the hang of things. I have grave doubts.
At a cafe yesterday, her newly trimmed hair shone and bobbed and, as it often does, much to the intense annoyance of elder sibling, drew gasps of admiration from many customers.
“You’ve got lovely red hair. Do you take after anyone in your family?” asked one old bird.
My daughter looked quizzically for a moment, pondering this question, and then answered.
“Well actually it’s orange and yes, I take after my goldfish”.
If she’s finding high frequency words a challenge, Hubby and I fear there’s no hope for her when it comes to science; genetics in particular.