Tuesday, 27 October 2009


I’ve kept quiet about my cousin Sally. Hardly surprising as she was and continues to be the high achiever in the family. Where I failed miserably at school, she excelled; where I went travelling or, as our uncle preferred to refer to it as bumming around the world; she went to a fantastic university. Suffice it to say, whereas I now make cappuccinos and don an apron of domesticity and, am a loyal and devoted and supportive wife -do not guffaw, she is a single, independent, high flying go-getter living in Geneva.
Googling EasyJet the other day as I am wont to do when in need of a little escapism, I went down the list of where one could fly to from Bristol. I was thrilled to discover a fare to Geneva for just over 63 quid. Bargain. As my finger hovered longingly over the button ‘Continue’, I wondered how I could break the news to Hubby that I’d be abandoning ship for the weekend, leaving him in charge. I looked at the dates of the flights and before continuing down the ‘continue’ line, texted my cousin to make sure she could find a tiny window of opportunity in her jet-setting lifestyle to not only accommodate me but also drag me around the sights.
Whereas I usually have to wait days for a reply from her, for once she texted back almost immediately but not quite quickly enough that I hadn’t navigated away from the EasyJet web page on my computer and by the time her reply came, I was making dinner and Hubby had returned from work and had seen my computer screen asking for ‘credit card details’.
“Ah-lice! What are you up to?” And there was me wondering how to break the news to him.
As I seasoned my riced potatoes and turned the pork fillet, I tried to explain that I fancied a few days away.
“It’s really cheap flight darling” I continued, “And of course I won’t have to pay for any accommodation”. Then I played my trump card, “and it is the weekend before my birthday after all and you won’t be here on the day will you?”
Got ya. Hubby knew he had no chance of retaliation because once again on October 21st, instead of wining and dining his beloved wife, he would instead be wining and dining the memory of Admiral Nelson.
“But Alice love, you know how it is, it’s Traf night and I’m the mess pres. I have to be there”.
So, it goes without any further elucidation or justification that last Friday found me on an aeroplane bound for Switzerland. Everyone told me how expensive the city of Geneva was but I must have been living in cloud cuckoo-clock land if I’d thought for one minute that one hundred pounds would suffice for the weekend.
I was initially lulled into thinking that friends had no idea what they were talking about because on leaving the baggage reclaim area at the Geneva airport you can pick up a train ticket which entitles you to travel for 90 minutes for nothing. I was delighted and rode into the city with a big grin on my face and my Swiss Francs intact in my purse.
Sally met me at the platform and we took a tram, still free, to her apartment. It was only on entering her hallway that I began to understand what my friends meant by ‘expensive’. Her accommodation comprised of a basic kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. Her rent for this luxury – over a thousand pounds a month.
My mouth for one reason or another was a gawping hole of astonishment from that moment on. On Saturday, after a day’s sightseeing and indulging in all things Swiss, namely melted cheese and chocolate, we returned home to her flat, curled our eyelashes, put on our glad-rags and with a borrowed Louis Vuitton dangling from my wrist we went out to dinner.
The restaurant was on the second floor of a swank hotel, with a view over Lake Geneva and the Jet D’eau. The food was of the magazine perfection variety and the pudding arrived swathed in yards of spun sugar. I never saw the bill for which I’ll be eternally grateful as dinner was a birthday treat from my cousin. We did however go into the adjacent bar later, where I bought her a mojito and myself a glass of wine. Thirty pounds thank you very much. Reeling, I went to sit down and Sally and I people watched through a thick fug of smoke.
“The customers are really young here” she said. No kidding.
The group sitting next to my thigh looked on closer inspection, less young people and more like children. The boy had an air of prosperity about him with his floppy Hugh Grant hair, crisp white shirt, designer jeans and Rolex watch. The four girls all had golden skin, very little clothing, dead straight, shiny, tresses and all, without exception had with them on the table, a packet of Marlboro Lights and a swish, top of the range mobile phone. None of them spoke, bored with their environment and a lifestyle of excess where nothing, I doubt, will ever have a wow factor. I was horrified when the waitress came over and from an ice bucket, refilled their champagne flutes from a magnum of Moet. I had to ask.
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen”. How much happier would they have been on a sofa with their parents, arguing who should be kicked off X-Factor or even in some bus stop snogging? Surely to God anything was preferable to this unchaperoned hedonism.
We left soon after, depressed. A trip up an Alp the following morning brought the colour back to my cheeks. Fresh air and the odd refrain of ‘The Hills are Alive’ thank God, cost nothing.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


“Alice, for the last time, hurry up”. Those few words have become a mantra for Hubby lately. In our crazy, mad, rushed life where our children’s needs range from the youngest learning high frequency spellings such as ‘of’ and ‘to’ –, to the writing of more challenging essays such as ‘Brecht: Tosser or what? Discuss’ –the latter’s title made up by our son, surely –I need to be close at hand to guide, rub out, provide snacks, test time tables or just either admonish or encourage in equal measure.
Thing is, whilst all this is going on and the spuds are boiling and the dog needs walking, Hubby expects me to be kitted out in a smart outfit, ready at a moment’s notice to stand, supportive-wife-like by his side, smiling, with lipstick applied. Last week was a prime example. Dinner was laid out on the dining table, the homework having been budged up a bit. Everyone, apart from me, dived in, whilst I took the dog around the block. On my return less than fifteen minutes later Hubby, in clean shirt and tie, was pacing.
“Where the hell have you been? Why the hell did you decide to take the dog out now for, for God’s sake. We can’t be late, we can’t be late. Hurry up, hurry up”. It’s like living with the White Rabbit only it’s far from Wonderland around here.
I ran up the stairs and flung open the wardrobe door. Skirts and tops hung glumly, many of which needed a bloody good wash.
“Oh hell”, I said, pulling a pencil skirt off a coat-hanger, “You’ll have to do. I can sponge the sauce off in the car”. I was acutely aware of Hubby who was literally outside the bedroom door, breathing like some infuriated bull.
“Just go away and leave me to get on with it please”, I asked, rummaging through a drawer in the vain hope of finding some nice, black, fairly low denier tights.
“Balls”, I muttered as the pair I pulled half way up my leg revealed an enormous ladder. I peeled them off and threw them into the bin. By this point I had acquired a significant sweat having in the last half hour prepared dinner, gone on a fast paced walk and run up the stairs. The added exacerbation of nerves, caused by Hubby’s impatience was making my skin particularly clammy and my clothes were sticking rather unpleasantly to my every curve.
“Come on”, Hubby hollered again. I found another pair of tights which seemed, at the initial inspection, ladder free. I pulled them on half way and eased my hot feet into a pair of very high heels. I sat on the edge of my bed to do up the ankle straps, but the holes were so small and the light so dim that I had no chance of success.
“A-lice! The band starts in ten minutes”, Hubby called. If he opened his mouth once more, I was going to kill him. Unfortunately my movements were rather impeded. I threw a jacket over my top, and with my gusset around my knees and my high heels not secured, I shuffled, knock-kneed, down the stairs and into the sitting room to say goodnight.
My children looked back at me as though I were some pitiful creature whose carer had absconded, abandoning her half dressed and not a little, mental.
“I’ll finish off my toilet in the car”, I proffered by way of an explanation. The children, as though used to seeing their mother dishevelled and a bit loopy, just shrugged their shoulders and waved.
Hubby just about threw me into the front seat of his car, turned the ignition on and screeched down the road. I shuffled down in my seat and tugged and squirmed into the tights but on turning a sharp corner, I put a finger through a microscopic hole in the nylon.
“Bloody, bloody, bloody hell”. It was only a small hole. No-one would notice. In vain, with Hubby driving like a mad man, I tried and tried to do up my shoes.
Hubby sat next to me with an expression like granite, swearing rhythmically every few seconds. We pulled up to the main gate at Her Majesty’s shore establishment and thankfully, were waved in with little to do. The boy with the gun looked most amused to see the Commander looking like thunder, whilst the Commander’s wife in much disarray, had her feet up on the dashboard.
Hubby parked up and was even more livid to find me opening my make-up bag.
“Don’t tell me you need to get your slap on?” He got out of the car and slammed the door.
Hurriedly I applied some mascara and lipstick, before Hubby came round to my side and yanked me out.
Smoothing myself down, we walked into the theatre and were met by the Royal Marine Bandmaster.
“You only just made it Sir”, he said, smiling tightly. Hubby poked me in the spine but my smile didn’t falter, I held out my hand and shook the one offered to me, before running up stairs to our seats. Immediately the opening bars of “God Save the Queen” played. We sprung up from our chairs again and that’s when I felt it. The small hole in the knee of my tights which had behaved itself so well up to this point, gave way and the feeling of ,'riiiiiip’ ran all the way down my shin. It was dark, all would be well. Until the interval that is when a raffle was held and the spotlight was turned momentarily on Hubby for some light-hearted banter. I’m sure I couldn’t have elicited more audible gasps of horror and disbelief from the audience had I lifted my arm to wave and thus reveal hairy armpits. It was such a saving grace that I was wearing long sleeves.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


It all started with a Peperami . How one, small, dried sausage could cause such angst is extraordinary. But it’s presence in my daughter’s lunch box almost gave grounds for divorce. The instructions to Hubby were fairly clear, i.e ‘I am going to BodyMax; whilst I am gone would you please do some shopping and get together some things for a packed lunch as we may be gone for hours’.
On my return from my killer exercise class last Sunday morning, I then expected to throw off my sports gear, chuck on some jeans and a sweater, beckon a ready to go 7 year old, pick up her lunch box and my own salad and drive to the audition. Only it didn’t work out that way at all because the sight of the aforementioned sausage sent me into a rage.
“What the hell is this hideous thing?”, I yelled, extracting it from her lunch box.
“She wanted one” replied Hubby, confused by my reaction.
“She just sees you as a soft touch. And what is this, and this and this?” I asked throwing out a packet of Quavers, a sausage roll and a Kit-Kat, “For God’s sake, she’s going to an audition not a birthday party. There is more fat and salt in these few products than the kidneys of a grown man could tolerate in a hedonistic weekend”.
“You are over reacting Alice”. There is nothing more likely to make me over react than someone suggesting I am and within a heartbeat, I was possessed.
“Over-reacting?” I screeched, “Really? So, you are quite happy then for your child to attend an audition, where she will be judged by God knows whom, sucking on a Peperami. Lovely. ‘Hey, Chav girl? Don’t call us we’ll call you’”
If Hubby had looked confused before, he now looked genuinely bewildered.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Alice”. And that’s the bottom line, men, however hands on and domesticated they are, unless they are lone parents and even then they are excused, have no idea what it is to be a mother. From the minute we conceive, to the lifestyle choices our grown up children make, we are judged by other women. We don’t need to smoke whilst we are pregnant to be disapproved of, it is enough that we throw caution to the wind that is our unborn foetus and liberally apply listeria infused Brie to our bread for many mothers to get on their high horses. From then on there will always be someone tut-tutting at you, whether it be for breast feeding in public or not breastfeeding at all, for adopting a let it cry attitude or shaking their heads and sighing ‘You’re making a rod for your own back’ should you choose to cuddle your baby at the slightest whimper. Motherhood is flooded with opinions and censorious attitudes to child rearing and nothing you ever do, other mothers will be quick to inform you, will be the correct decision. Whether you go to work and leave your child in a nursery or you turn your back on a good career to raise a child, someone somewhere thinks you’ve made a bad choice.
The Pepperami therefore, wasn’t just about a one off unhealthy snack that I doubt would have caused that much damage, but more the fact that I couldn’t bear to sit in a hall full of women, each one of us scrutinising the other over every little thing, from the ballet shoes and leotards to the best bun - I’m talking hairstyle here, not sticky, bakery treat. What I perceived to be a ‘common’ lunch spoke volumes for my own ideology and the subsequent horror of another mother thinking we were ‘that sort of family’.
On our arrival at the rehearsal rooms though, it was immediately apparent that I was in good company as there was a glut of those sorts of families. My daughter and I had recovered our equilibrium and she sat on my lap on the floor and we surveyed the scene unfolding before us. It was like Fame for pre-pubescents. Hundreds of little girls and a handful of little boys twirled around in legwarmers and leotards. Every now and again, when yet another group of children had undergone the process of the audition, a door would open, spewing out emotionally spent little divas, whose ‘dream’ of appearing in the pantomime had been dashed.
Seven, eight and nine year olds ran into the ample armed and large bosomed embraces of their mothers with the refrain that is so often heard nowadays, “I’m devastated”, they cried, “Dancing is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my life”, they sobbed, “It’s all over”, they wailed. Hyperbole after hyperbole, reiterating Saturday night television whose vernacular has infiltrated the vocabulary of even the youngest wannabe.
I felt very uncomfortable, especially when a tiny little girl whose face was plastered in orange foundation and whose earlobes were deep red under weight of heavy hoop earrings, ran into the hall, having been unsuccessful. Far from being embraced however, her mother launched into an inquisition, “How did you go wrong? You’ve been practising for weeks. Why didn’t they want you? Did you keep smiling? I’m so disappointed”. Poor little mite, it did little for her self esteem.
Was this environment healthy? No-one is fonder of a weekend long, X Factor fest than I, yet I hadn’t fully understood the impact of the negative influence of such popular television culture until I walked into that hall and saw the hordes, heartbroken or just as worryingly, ecstatically elated. How would my own child react? As it transpired, with a shrug and a matter of fact, thumbs down sign.
We drove home via the Hoe for a consolation prize of an ice-cream and a coffee. Sitting in the car looking out to the Sound, my daughter chasteningly said, “You know that Peperami mum? It made you a bit of an animal”.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


It goes without saying that within hours of Hubby motoring up the M5 to embark on a three day course, the domestic machinations of my home, sweet home went into melt-down.
The first indication of a crisis was feeling the drip, drip, drip of water on my neck as I sat at my computer. I looked up to find the ceiling dribbling ominously. I leapt out of my swivel chair and bounded up the stairs. The bathroom door was locked but there was a teenager inside. I hammered on the door.
“Turn the shower off immediately” I yelled, “There’s a leak”.
“Turn the bloody shower off”, I screamed, kicking the bathroom door. The lock is old and evidently fragile as my kick was enough for it to succumb and I fell into the bathroom.
My 14 year old daughter, who is Victorian in her modesty, went ballistic.
“How dare you?”, she shouted, wielding a Venus razor at me, “Is there no privacy to be had in this house? Get out, get out” and in her attempts to be irate whilst at the same time cover herself with a couple of flannels, she slipped and ended up on the bathroom floor, mortified. I cannot honestly describe what she looked like, which will be of some small comfort to her as I was more concerned with the faulty shower. Water sprayed from the hose with more efficacy than a sprinkler system at Kew Gardens. I turned off the tap and grabbing a handful of towels from the towel rail, which is always groaning under the weight of at least seven, damp, scrunched up ones, mopped the floor.
“Oh my God, look at this mess”, I said, “Didn’t you realise that most of the water was showering just about anywhere apart from over you?”
“S’pose”, said my daughter huffily, “Although I would still appreciate not being barged in on whilst I’m attending to my person”.
“Oh don’t be such an old prude”, I barked, still on my hands and knees, “Get a dressing gown on and give me a hand”. She flounced out but never returned, leaving me to mop up the deluge. My rant of, “You’ll all be the death of me” was drowned out by a Revlon hair dryer.
Carrying armfuls of wet towels downstairs I shoved them into the tumble dryer. It was still only 7.10 am. I’d been up for half an hour, fed not only the dog, the dishwasher and the tumble dryer but had also sent a couple of emails, stemmed a flood and was now about to assemble four packed lunches. I moaned and groaned as I gathered juice, fruit, crisps and bitterly grumbled as on opening, the brine from the can of tuna splashed all over my pyjamas.
“Damn and blast”, I yelled, standing in the kitchen utterly demoralised, “Why can’t you all have chuffing cheese sandwiches?” No-one answered of course, three of the children still being in bed, so, still carrying the tuna, I walked into the hallway and stood at the bottom of the stairs and bellowed.
“This repetitive division of labour was not unfamiliar to Karl Marx you know? He said it would leave me and I quote, ‘depressed spiritually and physically to the condition of a machine’. Do you get that? I’m turning into a machine?”
I returned to my chores in the kitchen. The dog, after only a few hours without his master was as despondent as I was and after eating his breakfast with nary an enthusiastic chomp, he lay at my feet, put his head on the floor and sighed.
“I know how you feel”, I said to him and could happily have lain with him, were the kitchen floor, on closer inspection, not filthy.
My son wandered in yawning, his school shirt having seen better days.
“Right ma?”, he said, grabbing his lunch bag off the kitchen counter, “You been reading my politics text books?”
“Well you seem to be well versed in Marx”.
“Listen, you don’t need to be well versed in Marx to know that stuff. Besides I bet he nabbed that quote from Mrs. Marx. It was probably her daily mantra whilst he philosophized away in his study leaving her to toil in the kitchen. Seven kids she had, poor cow”.
A minute later my teenage daughter appeared, fanning herself.
“It’s like a sauna in here”, she said. I had been near the back door and hadn’t realised that at the other end of the kitchen, where the tumble dryer resides, steam emanated from it.
“Oh my God. What’s happened now?”
Leaving the children to stare blankly at the toaster in the hope that it would magically not only toast their bread but liberally apply peanut butter to it as well, I went to investigate. Humping the machine from the wall, I saw, much to my chagrin that the hose had disintegrated allowing the evaporated steam to fill my house and not, as it ought, escape outside.
“Sorry, ferry to catch”, said my children simultaneously, each clutching a piece of toast, leaving me hot, steamy and not a little aggrieved.
Moments later the other two materialised, half dressed.
“Coco-pops?” I offered.
“You promised us grapefruit today” whined one.
“Well I’m sorry sweetheart. I didn’t reckon on saunas and tsunamis this morning. It’s coco-pops or bust”.
Whilst they whimpered and pouted the telephone rang.
“Morning! How’s tricks?” Before I could answer, Hubby told me of his hotel and ‘help- yourself-hot- buffet- breakfast.
“Hit the spot I’ll tell ya! You had your muesli again?” he chortled.
I regaled him, with characteristic vehemence, of my morning’s entertainment adding “and the dog has gone into a decline”.
“Ah, a man’s best friend. Loyal to the end”, said Hubby smugly. “Fred West’s dog, gruesome legend has it, pined to death after his demise”. Appositely, it was a conversation killer and I promptly returned to my condition of machine.