Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Wife Swap

Hubby scratched his head, an expression of surrender etched on his severely beaten brow. I was running rings around him and my justification for leaving him alone, overnight with the children on a Sunday was beyond any reasonable argument. His fairly pathetic attempts of “But Alice? A Sunday? Surely the worst day of the week for any parent?” I nodded; surely he wasn’t trying to tell me something new?
“I mean all that school uniform to wash” and then, slowly, the other chores of the Sabbath were recollected.
“Oh my God, and the shopping to get and their hair to wash”, he groaned.
“And don’t forget to check for nits”, I reminded him, “The seven year old has a backlog of...”
“No, homework and spellings and sentences to write. The Red-Head has to practise her reading; our son is not, I repeat not, allowed any romance time as he has an exam tomorrow, oh and before I forget, as I won’t be back in time, our teenage girl has her cervical cancer jab at 5.30”
“Her what?”, he looked mortified.
“Don’t worry all teenage girls are having them. It’s to protect them against the HPV virus”.
“HPV? Is she in a relationship with a lorry driver then?” I looked at him askance, was he being serious?
“Are you being serious? It’s not a heavy goods vehicle that gives you cervical cancer you idiot, it’s the human papilloma virus”.
“Bloody hell Alice, this world is leaving me behind. It seems she was only born a few years ago and now we’re protecting her from sexually transmitted viruses?”. I stroked his arm; a little girl transforming into a young woman is a lot for a father to endure.
“It’s a lot to ask of me Alice. That’s a lot of jobs for anyone and I have to write my dissertation and no doubt prepare them a nutritious dinner”
“Yes dear and a couple of packed lunches and then dinner again the following evening.”
“Whilst you’re swanning around?” There it was. Out there. Those few words signifying seething resentment. I kept clam and explained.
“You see it’s like this. Imagine if you will, ‘Naval Wife Swap’, only you’re the wife and I’m the sailor and for one night only, albeit on that wild misnomer, the day of rest, I am going to abandon you and let you get on with it. Not only do you have those few chores to do and your own work to think of, you must also cover the school run on the Monday and ensure that there is a responsible adult to pick the girls up from school and deliver them home. One of the other two children must be here to receive them. The dog will also need walking and a delivery from Tesco’s to be signed for and stowed. In the meantime, comfort yourself in the knowledge that within 36 hours I will be home to take over the reins and that I have not been appointed to the far reaches of the globe for the next six months, giving you little chance not only self advancement via a university course which has had to be shelved but also, any chance whatsoever to continue one’s life as one enjoyed it, given the support of one’s spouse. To be resentful of said spouse’s other, easy life after one night is, unquestionably selfish, to be so after six months is surely anticipated”. It was quiet.
“I see your point”, he said, which is when he started to scratch his head knowing not only had he no argument whatsoever but also because of some moment of epiphany where it dawned on him that even for a woman, looking after a houseful of children, a dog and the house itself whilst still attempting to forge a career was, well, a tall order.
“So, I’ll be off then”. I kissed all the children, including Pia, gave them stealth warnings regarding homework and exams and walked to the car. Hubby gave me a perfunctory kiss and tried exceptionally hard at telling me to enjoy myself then spoilt it all by adding “Don’t spend too much”.
The M5, devoid of traffic and children in the back is a great place to be. The radio was turned up loud and in no time I was whizzing past the Willow Man. Not long after that and I’d turned onto the M32 to make my way to IKEA. At the last roundabout before my destination, it was gridlock. Having come so far so quickly, it was very frustrating to sit in a car for twenty minutes without moving. Eventually I drove past the obstacle which was hindering us, to find two young lads standing next to a little red car, looking completely dazed. Perhaps one of them didn’t have the strength to push the car by himself. Quickly I wound down the window and ever the Girl Guide, offered my services. Never in a million years was I prepared for the answer. The lad had bumped into the car in front but, moving so slowly had not caused any damage at all. Now, let’s be honest, none of us would be best pleased by such an incident but the driver’s reaction was to jump out of his car, punch the face of the young lad, then snatch the keys out of his ignition and drive away with them, leaving the lads where I found them, stymied. The police were on their way, so I left them there –young, shocked, and perhaps for the first time, aghast by man’s inhumanity to man.
Three hours later on reaching my friends house, a boot full of Swedish homewares, I rang Hubby to tell him about the incident. Initially very concerned to hear the tale, he finally couldn’t stop himself and asked, “So, how much did you spend?”
My answer elicited the following response, “And you dare tell me of man’s inhumanity to man?”

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


I’ve never felt more like Miss Trunchbull. Currently I seem to spend my evenings threatening a large percentage of my family with the ‘Chokey’, a cane and any number of evil punishments, anything in fact to motivate them towards some effectual study.
Pia has a face as long as a Norwegian Fjord because she is in the middle of AS levels and cannot spend as much time as she would like playing, not only with her boyfriend, but also with the subterranean toys that she and Jamie like to indulge in. They spend every waking hour indoors, playing on various state of the art computer games. No amount of encouragement can get them to vacate her bedroom and with the curtain permanently down, no Vitamin D is getting to her skin and I seriously worry that she may be developing rickets. When she arrived last August her skin had a youthful, European hint of almond brown to it, her blonde hair, having been bleached by the sun after a summer spent on her private island was startlingly Nordic and she shone with excitement due, no doubt, to a combination of promised adventure coupled with a seriously healthy lifestyle. Wind forward nine months and the same young woman is almost unrecognisable. Rarely vacating the basement has left her once warm skin pasty white and her fabulous flowing locks, once shiny and head turning, is, after spending most of its time attached to a pillow, a dull matted mess. Her diet is appalling and whilst I provide something nutritious and scrummy most nights, Hubby is to be frequently found downstairs with a bin liner, stuffing it full whilst ranting and raving about the detritus of empty Chinese cartons, crisp packets, pizza boxes and litre bottles of fizzy pop that litter her ‘living space’. She looks more and more like a British teenager every day and no doubt her family will be horrified when she returns home, ‘chav’ personified. Her saving grace, albeit moodily, is that she is determined to go to a good university and therefore, when not playing with her Wiis and what-for, is focused on her physics. How I wish the same could be said for my son, who, although equally ensconced in vital examinations is literally laid back about the whole affair but, by keeping to his room, kids no-one. The times I have quietly, crept upstairs then suddenly pushed open his door to find him in a horizontal position listening to some rock band or other his back to an open exercise book, instant-messaging his beloved. And he wonders why I lose my rag? Not only does the sight of him half dressed, exposing his chest on a web-cam ignite me, but the sight of at least seven or eight empty mugs of tea, which never make it back again to the kitchen spin me into a screaming banshee of rabid recriminations. I despair of what will become of him because, no matter how devastatingly handsome, how charming, how good a bassist he is, one cannot get through life without a modicum of parrot learnt knowledge and one or two A*s. The chap who should know this better than anyone is Hubby. No longer a youth but equally as disconsolate, Hubby is finding the writing of a 20,000 word dissertation, absolute hell. Having left school with nary an ‘O’ level other than English and a CSE in Cookery, here is a man who has a firm grasp on how much more he could have achieved in life had he, in a teacher’s school report writing parlance, ‘applied himself’. Perhaps we never learn though; it is after all only the very few who rush home from school, throw their satchels down, butter a piece of toast, down a cup of tea and then forgo Countdown and The Simpsons for more cerebral pursuits. It is they who will become our surgeons and oncologists, not your cappuccino makers and Royal Navy Logistics Officers.
The consequences of these less than ardent attitudes to exams and dissertations has meant that it is left to me to wield the Trunchbullian whip, verbally if not physically, although Hubby’s saucy suggestion that I ‘give it a go’, which I comfort myself in thinking was more a displacement activity than a genuine fetishist request was met with such a steely stare, that he hung his head in shame and hurriedly retreated to his computer.
As shouting and screaming and threats aplenty have had little effect, Mags offered her services in looking after the youngest children whilst I took my eldest and my husband to the theatre as a motivational treat. On Monday we saw Quadrophenia and my husband was terribly proud as his son donned his old, tight, grey, mod suit that he’s been keeping in moth balls for precisely this kind of moment. It was a great show if a little over my head - as my 13 year whispered to me, “I prefer Shakespeare; once you understand the theatrical tools used, one can just about follow any play of his”. Quite.
To our complete surprise Pete Townshend – aging rock God and scriber of Quadrophenia, stood up to take a curtain call. Both Hubby and son were ecstatic. Immediately our son decided to try and get his programme signed and minutes later we drove as near as we could to the stage door. Looking up we saw a gaggle of autograph hunters vying for Mr Townshend’s attention but it was only our son with whom he was in deep discussion. Finally our boy returned to the car, beaming and fifteen feet tall but as we were about to pull away, Pete Townshend walked towards us and stuck his head through my window and, pointing to our boy said, “You’ve got the real thing there”.
I looked across at Hubby who, from the expression on his face, is just as happy these days to get his kicks vicariously.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


It was his hair that I noticed first, a stormy mix of white and slate grey, not exactly tousled but then not exactly coiffured either, relaxed but stylish. His cologne drifted across the cafe, and his arms, a healthy golden brown as though he had just returned from some exotic location were well toned without being muscle bound. He caught me off guard when he looked up from his paper and found me staring at him. He peered over his designer glasses with true, forget-me-not blue, eyes.
“I’m sorry?”, I replied, blushing ever so slightly.
“Do you think I could have a latte?”.
“Gosh, I’m so sorry, gosh, yes of course. Latte coming up, right away”. I busied myself behind the barista and whilst the coffee dripped out of the machine I surreptitiously continued my gaze. He really was quite the thing. Not overly tall but no pygmy either. Broad chest, handsomely displayed by way of a faded, fitted denim shirt but it was his hair and those eyes, which, dammit were looking up at me again.
“On its way!”, I called, with what I hoped was a tone of nonchalance. I poured the milk into the jug, sunk the air nozzle to the bottom and turned on the valve. The cacophonous noise broke me out of my reverie long enough to be able to concentrate on making the perfect latte, but as I approached his table, he looked up again and smiled, disarming me immediately. Blushing to the roots of my highlighted hair, my hand started to shake and his latte slopped around in its cup, spoiling the perfect wobble of froth that had until then, sat atop the coffee like a cloud on Mont Blanc.
As I gently placed the saucer on his table, he gently placed his hand on mine, “You seem a little nervous. Is this your first day?”...

“Alice! Alice! Where are you love?” I slammed the computer shut as Hubby came into the sitting room looking for me.
“What are you up to?” he asked suspiciously.
“Nothing”, I replied, embarrassed by my fictional fantasy.
“Is that a fact” he said and, whilst I attempted mild protestation, it was better for him to read my story than imagine a secret, cyberspace liaison and so I let him lift the lid of my laptop.
“Quite the romantic writer”, he asked. I sighed.
“I’ve told you a hundred times before; I am not a Romantic writer. That’s your Byrons, Keats and Coleridges”.
“They were great Romantic writers”.
“Well what’s the difference then?” he asked, already I sensed, losing interest.
“Well during the 18th century there was a literary and artistic movement that stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience such as awe in the face of untamed nature for instance”.
“And nothing; what I was writing was romantic fiction, which I suppose, now you come to think of it can be compared with the Romantic poets because in romantic fiction one feels a similar sense of awe when one is in the presence of beauty such as...”
“Someone who is no pygmy either?”
“Exactly”, I replied blushing furiously at my sorrowful adjective. “Romantic fiction is very hard to do well though. Oh to be the next Jilly Cooper”, I sighed.
“What do you mean? You’re half way there already”. I sensed a joke.
“Alice... Cooper. ”
Thinking himself hilarious he sang ‘School’s Out’ all the way to the kitchen and I returned to my story. I was just wondering what might be a better analogy for a short person other than one of the indigenous tribes of the Congo rain forest when the 13 year old stormed in.
“Did you buy the black, cold water dye?”, she demanded. I put my head in my hands.
“I’m sorry darling, I completely forgot. When do you need it by?”
“Tomorrow or my textiles teacher will be mad. God mum, you’re hopeless. You haven’t even got a proper job and you still can’t get your act together. Ginny’s mum is an oncologist and not only has she got her dye but her mum went to a specialist fabric shop to buy her material for her skirt”. Boogaloo for Ginny’s mum.
At that juncture, my son appeared in the doorway.
“Right ma?” He gets more like Nick Cotton every day. “I need some cash. Just a few quid. To get to band practise.”
“Well I need my dye more than he needs money for his stupid band”. I continued to hold my head in my hands as they continued to fight that age old, sibling scrap of who is most worthy of, just about anything.
Just then, amid the fracas and the eff words and my ineffectual parenting, the key board came into life in the hall to Mozart’s Turkish March and two little girls twirled wildly into the sitting room in ballet slippers, scarves flowing , each utterly serious and each utterly dramatic. Isadora Duncan was foremost in my mind as I disentangled the long scarves from their throats. My son took one from me and draped it around his neck, provoking his sister to caustically comment, “affectation can be dangerous” as her parting shot.
I was immensely relieved to go to work and spent a blissful, peaceful afternoon there. Just before I clocked-off though I was a little disconcerted when the object of my fiction walked in and asked for his latte. He was still there, leaning against the barista chatting to me when Hubby came to collect me.
"Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling”, he quipped, taking my hand firmly. Hubby is not renowned for his literary erudition and I was so astonished that I duly followed him out.
“That was a profound statement.” I said, holding his hand tightly.“You can find anything on Wikipedia these days Alice”. My hand suddenly went limp.

Monday, 4 May 2009


“Do you remember that tv show from the 70’s?”, I asked Hubby as I easily lifted my half full shopping bag onto our kitchen counter.
“Which one exactly, Starsky and Hutch? Benny Hill? Van der Valk? he asked.
“Survivors”, I replied. He looked vacant.
“Look, whilst you were watching dubious Dutch detectives, some of us couldn’t sleep after watching a handful of people wandering around an apocalyptic Britain, everyone else having been wiped out by a killer virus. The tag line of the show was ‘One virus, millions dead, few survivors’”. Hubby was quiet.
“Sound familiar? It was bloody prophetic; honestly, they could rewrite that show at least ten times over given the veritable choice of viruses out there that are hell bent on getting us. It’s as though each individual virus is in cahoots with the other, like a well planned terrorist plot. Imagine it: ‘Bird flu? This is Black Death here. Over. It didn’t work. Handing the controls over to you. Roger. Over and out’. And so on and so forth they’ve passed the baton for years from MRSA, SARS , HIV, Blue tongue, Foot and Mouth, Mad cow disease and, drum roll please... swine flu! Hmm, The Personification of Pandemic disease, discuss. It sounds like an essay title”.
“And you sound a bit unhinged if you don’t mind my saying so”, said Hubby. I shrugged my shoulders and put the few provisions away. Hubby was appalled to see how much chocolate I’d bought.
“Dear God Alice. Don’t let the media get to you like this. I don’t think we need to stock up on rations just yet and especially not on chocolate”.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Torpoint’s supermarket is closing down today and walking around it was like drifting through some apocalyptic scene. Bare shelves which looked as though they’d been looted, miserable staff, one or two shoppers droning on about viruses and all the chocolate”, I said grabbing them from him before he scoffed the lot, “Was reduced to 10p a bag, so even the prices had harked back to the seventies”.
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much love”, said Hubby, suddenly gathering me into his arms, “If there wasn’t a recession on I doubt that we’d ever had heard that a few sorry Mexicans had copped it nor that a few people in this country had raised temperatures and fatigue. It’s a hybrid of pig crunch and credit flu, which on reflection sounds like a tasty snack!”
“Well I hope you’re right”, I said apprehensively, snuggling into the folds of his sweater. No sooner had Hubby started to caress the back of my neck and kiss me, when number one son walked in.
“Jeeze get a room. I’m going to town”.
“You are most certainly not; you’ve got revision to do”.
“But it’s a Saturday!” he protested.
“I very much doubt your physics paper will be aware of that; there won’t be questions such as ‘Compare and contrast electricity and magnetism. No need to worry if you don’t know, just write NB: This subject wasn’t revised for as it clashed with a Saturday, which culturally is a day when students do sod all”.
“Your mother is right son”, said Hubby, “In a few weeks time these exams will be a distant memory and then, apart from getting a Saturday job and getting up at the crack of dawn and working in some menial task for eight hours, the time will be your own.”
“But what about...”
“The love of your life? Well, if she hopes to get good grades too then she’ll understand”. Furious, he snatched his mobile out of his pocket and turned on his heels. Within seconds our ears began to burn as he undoubtedly told his girlfriend, in no uncertain terms, how we were ruining his life. Hubby and I sighed simultaneously.
“Oh well, look on the bright side, there are only three more to follow in his footsteps.” I picked up the car keys.
“Where are you going?” asked Hubby.
“Plymouth. I don’t have GCSE’s to do but I do have a couple of birthday presents to buy. See you later”.
I returned home a few hours later, annoyed. Immensely and intensely. The world of retail is made up it of cretins. In one store am inexplicable beeping noise of such high frequency was sounding every 8 seconds, making my ears bleed. It had a similar effect to these Mosquito teenage deterrents. It made me feel quite queasy. I mentioned it to a teenage shop assistant.
“S’not my fault”, she retorted. I hadn’t for one minute suggested it was. They lost my custom. After that little fracas, I went and had a baked potato at a department store. With cheese and coleslaw. The spud had been sitting atop a heated counter; it was tepid and not, as is my preference, piping hot. I made this point.
“Bring it back if there’s something wrong with it”, the server barked at me, shoving my tray into my chest. Hmm. After a mouthful it was evident that there was and I did. Finally I went to Boots to acquire a gel for my daughter’s verruca. Boots own brand £2.99, Bazuka £5.29. A no brainer, only the Boots one advised ‘For use on over 12’s’. I asked to speak to the pharmacist, who, instead of apologising for extreme cautiousness on the part of Boots, dug herself a hole by suggesting that salicylic acid can’t be used on young skin. But salicylic acid is salicylic acid surely? Used on the infected feet of children for generations. When challenged that the exact same ingredients were in the child friendly Bazuka variety she said, “Well there is camphor in the Boots one and it is very toxic”. Oh, how so? Hubby was most amused by my grumpiness. “Hey it’s another of those baton carrying, terrorist diseases of yours. If swine flu won’t get us then surely verruca will!”