Sunday, 27 December 2009

Tall tree syndrome.

Once more it was that time of year. That time when we all pretend it’s actually really great fun to go and march around a boggy field and look for the perfect tree. Tradition. Family time. Call it what you will. In reality the little ones find it too boring, Hubby too expensive and the teenagers are barely functional, having had to get up far too early. The teenage girl was this year even grumpier because she was self conscious of her ‘blokey wellies’ and so, terrified she’d see someone she knew, resolutely refused to look up, instead hiding her face in her hat and scarf so that she could barely see the trees, utterly defeating the object. This annoyed me intensely and the crosser I got with her the moodier she became. The youngest of all, who started out full of beans with Christmas joy, ran on ahead only to go flying in the sludge and thus have half a pound of wet, cold sticky mud up her cuff and sleeve. The two of them gave up at that point and withdrew to the brazier to toast marshmallows and chestnuts. It was freezing. Having left my lovely thermal socks at home in the dog’s mouth, I only had a pair of regular ones on and my tootsies were numb. None of us could agree on which tree was the one and tempers were becoming fraught. It was so dense in the middle of the forest that, to muddle a phrase, you couldn’t see the trees for the wood. The seven year old had forgotten her raison d’etre and was having more fun with the horn which was to be honked when the ideal tree was found. Once heard, a chap on a tractor would come and find you and cut down said tree.
“So, sorry, just our daughter fooling around again”, Hubby said apologetically, as the little John Dere approached us eagerly.
The driver was not impressed.
“Have you never heard of the boy who cried wolf?”, Hubby asked our daughter sharply.
“Are there wolves in these woods then?” she answered, eyes as big as saucers, “Would you leave me here to be torn limb from limb by a pack?”
Hubby rolled his eyes, “Maybe but that’s not the point I’m making here.”
“What is it then?”, she asked.
“My point is that when we find our tree, we will need to have it cut down and brought up to the car and the more you annoy these chaps by honking your horn indiscriminately, the less likely they are to come to help us when we really need them”.
“That story has nothing to do with a wolf at all dad”, she said walking away. Hubby looked at me, I just shrugged.
“Don’t get Aesop involved”, I said, “Not unless you know a fable regarding the recklessness of wearing inappropriate clothing and the consequent metamorphosis of digits to frozen chipolatas”. I hopped from foot to foot, blowing on my hands, suddenly our son hollered,
“How about this one?”
Because of the concentration of trees, it was difficult to judge if it was perfect but, as I’ve long given up on perfection and now embrace an ‘it’ll do’ attitude, I wasn’t going to argue. That said, when we all looked up to the sky, the tree in question did look particularly tall.
“It’ll be alright when it’s cut down” said Hubby optimistically.
“The one next to it looks good too”, I added.
“Are we really going to go for two trees this year Alice? They are such a pain to erect”.
“Daddy please” wailed the 7 year old, “Don’t ruin my childhood by breaking with tradition”.
Once more Hubby looked at me quizzically and once more I shrugged my shoulders,
“Blame Hannah Montana”, I said.
“Go on then”, Hubby instructed, “You can now legitimately honk your horn”. She did so and a couple of minutes later, the little John Dere came trundling, tentatively, across the track.
“It’s ok”, said Hubby smiling, “It’s legit. We’ve found our trees”. I left them to the sawing and loading and went in search of my other daughters, who I found cuddled around the brazier, the younger of the two absolutely covered in melted marshmallows. From her chin to her knees strings of it stuck to her like PVA glue.
“What on earth have you been up to?” I asked. My eldest daughter explained.
“She doesn’t like the toasted bit so she bites the end off and then dribbles it out of her mouth. It’s quite gross”. I made a futile dab at her person with a screwed up tissue I had in my pocket, but this only resulted in the tissue sticking to her face making her resemble a rather dubious Santa.
Seconds later our trees, my husband and two other children appeared. We lifted the trees from the trailer and attempted to put them on the roof of the car. This is the moment I knew that the day could only degenerate into profanity, pain and persistence.
As Hubby strapped one of the trees onto the car before coming back for the other later, one of the employees came up to him.
“Need any help? If not that’ll be £110 please”. Hubby audibly gasped before turning ashen, before glaring at me.
We drove home in silence where the rest of the day was spent attempting to find ways to get the trees not only into the house, but standing upright. Twice I’ve got up this week to find one of them on the floor, decorations scattered. After several efforts, a lot of swearing and many millions of pine needles piercing Hubby, it prompted the 7 year old to joke –
“You are like a ‘pine-cushion dad’”, it is now anchored to the radiator.
Which leaves me to breathe out a sigh of relief, raise a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and wish you all a Merry Christmas x

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Suffer little children..

But I don’t want to be a lamb” sobbed the Red-Head, adding, “I want to be like her”.
‘Her’ was her bigger sister, gloating and floating around in a cream Monsoon dress – model’s own as they say in magazines; glittery, gossamer wings adorned her back, a tinsel halo hovered above her head, silver tights sparkled on her legs but the piece de resistance, being as this is a contemporary nativity, were the silver sunglasses on her face.
How could a five year old, in a lamb costume of boring black leggings and a cream long sleeved t-shirt not be consumed by jealousy?
“It’s not fair”, she continued to wail, “I look ugly. I want to be beautiful too. I don’t want to be livestock”. I stifled a giggle and cuddling her, told her she was beautiful, very and that all of God’s creatures were important especially those that had visited baby Jesus in the manger.
“The lambs don’t make speeches though do they mum?”, added the sparkling Angel, rather unhelpfully, “I mean the lamb never uttered those immortal words, ‘Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people’. They just baaa”. The Red-Head renewed her sobs.
“Erudite but very mean”, I said sternly, “If you continue in that vein I will suggest to your teacher that you play the donkey. How do you feel about that?”
From the stricken expression on her face, I took it that she didn’t feel good about that idea at all.
The 14 year old daughter walked in.
“Oh wow! Look at you!” she said to the Angel, “We never had costumes like that when I was at their school. The Angel ones came out of old mouldy boxes and were just musty bits of net which itched like hell. She looks like a Disney Angel”. At this point the Red-Head let out a long wail of grief and flung herself into a cushion.
“Isn’t she in the nativity?” whispered the 14 year old. I nodded.
“Is she narrating then? She doesn’t have a costume”. I glared at her.
“She’s wearing it”, I mouthed silently, adding, “She wants to be an A.N.G.E.L”. The 14 year old caught on and rolled her eyes to the heavens, and then sitting down onto the sofa, she lifted her littlest sister onto her lap and smoothed her hair.
“I was a camel once”, she told her, “I was surrounded by pretty girls who were Stars and Angels but worst of all was the lead role of Mary going to one of the meanest girls in school. Mummy will tell you that I was not happy. I had to stand next to all these pretty girls in fur fabric and hooves and pretend that I didn’t care but inside my heart was breaking”. Where was this going? I really didn’t need a suicidal lamb on my hands a few hours before curtain up.
“But really it prepares you for disappointment in life. Life isn’t always an Angel, sometimes it’s a camel and occasionally it’s a lamb. Fundamentally we are all players in life’s great nativity scene.”
“You are talking out of your bottom” said her big brother who had entered the room looking for some clean pants. Using one hand to hang on to his towel, he used the other to root around the laundry which had decorated the dining table for days, before adding, “Are you suggesting that globally, we are all meandering around in various guises of shepherds and wise men, the odd donkey and an Inn keeper? It’s a cool idea. Immense. But with one essential flaw, surely the whole point is that there was only ever to be one Immaculate Conception and specifically one Saviour? Otherwise the world would be in terrible muddle.”
“My point entirely. He was the one and only, ergo without Him would you not agree that the world is in crisis?”
The Lamb and the Angel had long since gone off to play with the Lego, the Angel taking the Lamb by the hand with entreaties of, “It’s ok, don’t cry. You can have my chocolate in tomorrow’s advent window ok?”
It was only 7.50 in the morning. I had loads to be getting on with; arguing over the existence of God was not on my to-do list but given the length of my list, I just quietly prayed that He did.
As though answering my prayers, by some miracle the children not only got to school just about on time but I went to work and returned with enough time to buy supper and bang it in the oven, walk the dog, mull some wine and decant it into borrowed SAF Jars before driving the wine to the school hall.
No sooner had I lifted the lid on the SAF Jar, than a horde of parents and grandparents flocked to my side, each clutching a polystyrene cup. The wine was gone in an instant. I could have done with Jesus at that moment not just spiritually but as a caterer, no-one knew more about rationing and sharing out. He could feed five thousand for goodness sake, let alone a school hall filled with nanas and grandpas.
Speaking of caterers, just as I informed a mum that the only way she’d get even a sip of mulled wine was if she was prepared to suck on a clove studded, wine soaked orange, Hubby appeared. In an official capacity. With his hat and cane. He took his seat next to Mags and watched his daughters perform. Well the Angel did; the Red-Headed lamb stood, facing the stage and hung her head in abject misery. Hubby made a speech and then left with his car and driver. I humped the SAF jar, two children, various school uniforms, two lunch boxes and book bags home.
“I loved this afternoon”, said Hubby later, “Real Christmas feel”. I’d agree with that. I was feeling knackered.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Enough already.

The Alice Band Christmas coach tours are officially and categorically, kaput. In the last few years I have corralled my passengers, clip board clutched to my chest on outings to all nearby major cities. Never have we been without an ‘incident’. What seems such a straightforward fund raiser for my youngest girls’ school, rarely is. The PTA sit in the pub once a month and rack their brains on how to raise some much needed cash and the coach trip has always been a no-brainer. Now I know why, because the person organising it, has no brains.
This year though I thought it would be different. There was a lot in our favour, we weren’t going far, ergo the driver wouldn’t fall asleep as one did once, on the A38, at 60mph; Clark’s Village is a specifically built shopping centre ergo, there is little chance of anyone getting lost as they do, in larger cities, every year and, being only the other side of Taunton, we would be home early, in time to catch of the X-Factor.
So, last Saturday morning once again saw me ticking names off a list and fielding questions as to “Where is the bus then?”. I sighed and smiled and pointed out that we were not behind schedule. Soon we would be though, very, very soon.
The coach it transpired was not going across the Torpoint Ferry as had been promised but instead around the Tamar Bridge. There was a lot of disgruntled tutting, apart from a dear lady who, with her teenage daughter and friend had travelled from Saltash to catch the coach and had to wave at their house as we past it again, an hour later. She found it hilarious.
At Ivybridge the A38 was shut, so we took a detour, across the South Hams. It was very beautiful but very, very bendy and windy. Many of my ladies felt queasy indeed. The swapping of seats commenced and receptacles had to be found ‘just in case’. The coach was stuffy, the air-conditioning didn’t work. We drove through many villages and 45 minutes after we’d left it, rejoined the carriageway. We arrived at Street an hour late.
As far as I am aware everyone had a lovely time. I will assume this because in my experience, I am only approached when there is an ‘issue’. No-one tells you when they are happy and everything is lovely but God forbid, if they are unhappy about something, then they will soon make themselves known. Most had done a lot of shopping given that some seats had been taken up by carrier bags, leaving other passengers with nowhere to sit. Did they honestly think that I would turn a blind eye to a woman standing in the aisle as long as the Monsoon carrier bag had somewhere safe to sit? Many minutes were spent in the beseeching of placing said bags in the underneath hold. Finally my passenger capitulated and my seat-less lady had a place to rest her weary legs. Not for long.
The engine of the bus had been running for quite some time and once I’d checked that all heads had been counted and all had their seatbelts on, the driver put the coach into reverse. It made a few jolts into the car-park and that’s as far as it got. As I was sitting almost directly behind his ear I was able to hear him on his mobile phone to the service engineer, who presumably was somewhere in Cornwall. He was advised to rev the engine to try and get it out of reverse gear. It was very technical, I didn’t understand it. At the front of the coach we were unaware that the back was filling with smoke, until the screams and mass panic travelled to the front. I jumped out of the way to help people down the steps and it was immediately apparent that the engine was not actually on fire but that whatever was being revved, was rubbery and getting hot and smoky. Nevertheless, it was carnage on board. There were women and teenagers crying, people pushing others out of the way, one woman tried to jump out of an emergency window, another in her rush to escape down the middle steps, fell and hit her head, twice. It was by now pouring with rain. We gathered in the car-park. There was a baby being huddled without any waterproofs, frantic screams of “Get the baby a coat” were sounded. Yet there were some, less flappable who were most reluctant to get off the bus. The driver turned the engine off and the smoking stopped.
Lots of women went for a coffee, lots more became very agitated, some went to the pub. Another coach adjacent to ours happened to be returning to Plymouth and had spaces left. All hell was let loose. The baby and its mother were obviously a priority as were those in hysterics, others told me all sorts of lies to get on that bus along with demanding compensation for the accrued taxi fare from Plymouth to Torpoint. My hair, clip-board and passenger list was getting very soggy as I valiantly attempted to keep control of who had absconded where. A simple day trip was all going so horribly wrong. Some of those who didn’t make the alternative coach decided that ours was a death-trap and chose to go to home by train. I ticked their names off.
After an hour an engineer turned up, mended the bus and we continued our journey home. Those of us left enjoyed the quiz and shared not only a tub of Celebrations but very much a Dunkirk spirit. Ironically we arrived home at the same time as the others and, as I wearily stepped down off the coach one of my ladies said, “Count me in next year”. I’d have liked to have said, “Ok, this sort of thing doesn’t usually happen.” But I’d have been lying.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


“I’ve got a bad chest”, I croaked.
“Looks magnificent to me”, leered Hubby. I slapped him away.
“Get off”, I said in a quiet, broken little voice, “Can’t you see I’m ill?”
“Sorry, love did you just say ‘I will?’, because I’m up for it if you are?”
“Honestly, how can you take advantage of the afflicted? I need some tender, loving care and some drugs”. Reluctantly he dragged himself away from my very debatable charms and went to concoct a potion that would set his wife on the right path. To what I didn’t want to contemplate.
“Right then”, he said minutes later, “Here’s a strong cup of tea and a couple of paracetamol-extra. That should get you on your feet in half an hour”.
“But I just want to stay in bed”, I whimpered, wrapping the duvet tightly around me.
“Not on your nelly. Let that magic potion work then get on your feet oh, thou great, domestic goddess and finish the job that you’ve started.”
The day before, making a Christmas cake had seemed a marvellous idea. I had made so many at the cafe in which I work that I thought I’d rather got the hang of things, the most complicated thing being in my opinion, the preparation of the tin. All that lining and brown paper palaver. I’m sure that by the time I’d greased and cut and attached there was more butter and baking parchment stuck to me than to the tin. Still once done, all is a doddle. Well it is if you work in an environment where your boss is organised and has all the ingredients ready to hand. So I creamed and sieved and alternately added the booze soaked fruit to the creamed mixture along with the flour and spices. Ten minutes later and my tins were in the oven and the citrusy aromas combined with the cinnamon and mixed spice, were indeed heavenly which is, once again, why a little voice in my head suggested that I too could produce a Christmas worthy of Ideal Home magazine, where cherubic children look on in wonder at their mother, whilst beautifully dressed older children, who have never been near a ‘hoody’ and a litre of cider and would never consider being anywhere else, lean against the kitchen counter approvingly as a handsome husband is portrayed laughingly having his hand slapped as he dips his finger into the cake mixture. A loyal, well behaved dog always looks up at the proceedings, as though himself smiling.
In reality my husband is having his hand slapped away for altogether far more lecherous reasons, the youngest are mutinous after sharing the weighing scales only momentarily and my son has informed me not to bother making my own mince pies as Mr Kipling’s are ‘lush’ and that this year he’ll be at his girlfriend’s place until ‘sometime’ on Christmas Eve.
Still, I press on in the hope that, once I’ve departed this mortal coil, those who profess to love me will themselves forever try to recreate the Christmases of yore in an attempt to retrieve me, if only fleetingly by way of a smell or methodology. Isn’t that why I and a million other crazy mothers do it? Aren’t we really trying to recover our own mothers as much as we want to make memories for our own children?
So it was as I measured out the dried fruit ingredients the other afternoon. I put Tom Jones on the CD player, one of my mother’s favourite crooners and got on with the job. I was dismayed however to find that I was lacking in enough glace cherries, cinnamon and sultanas and so decided, that upon picking up the girls from school we would drive out to Kernow Mill and get my things from good old Julian Graves. Unfortunately upon our arrival it was apparent that the aforementioned, million other mothers had got there before me and there was nary a sultana left and no cherries whatsoever.
“Bother”, I said, peering at the shelves.
“That’s not a bad word is it mummy” asked the Red-Head.
“No darling, it just indicates frustration”.
“Because bug....”
“Bug? What bugs?”, I added hastily, turning her around and making a quick escape. We came home via Sainsbury’s loaded with vine fruits and the all important cherries and spices. The girls, amid much rancour and bitter recriminations that it was ‘my turn’, ‘no mine’ tipped most of them into a big bowl as, sighing I went in search of the brandy, a little nip for me, the rest over the fruit. To my intense annoyance I realised that we didn’t have any.
“Bug..” I started, before catching the Red-Head’s eye.
“Currants look like bugs, don’t you think?”, I said breezily.
I texted Hubby to bring me some booze on the way home from work. He arrived half an hour later, clutching a bottle.
“Be careful of the texts you send me Alice. I was otherwise engaged, so asked my PA to read it out to me and, ‘Darling, desperately need a bottle of brandy’ was met with very raised eyebrows”.
I shrugged, by now my chest was getting tight. I poured the alcohol over the fruit and down my scratchy throat and went to lie down. The following morning what with Hubby’s advances and the recollection that I had yet to get all four children up, take two to school, walk the dog and then once again cream and sieve, made me most reluctant to get up.
I jumped though when Hubby hollered upstairs,
“Alice come quickly, the dog is drunk!”. He had it seems, whipped away the cling film in the night and troughed pounds and pounds of sherry soaked fruit. Most of it had reappeared. From his expression, if he could have he’d have asked for a couple of Ibuprofen.
As we checked him over our son wandered downstairs.
“Man, now that’s what you call binge drinking”.