Monday, 27 December 2010


“What the hell is it now?” asked Hubby as I came in from work, ran through the dining room and threw myself onto the sofa and buried my face into a silk cushion, my shoulders heaving.
“I’m a hopeless teacher”, I sobbed. Hubby diplomatically removed the silk cushion and replaced it with an old chenille one. The one the dog favours. Amorously.
“There, there love”, he said, passing me a bit of used, stiff tissue, “I’m sure you can’t be that bad”.
“You have no idea”, I hiccupped, “I’ve been observed so closely by so many people this week it’s unbelievable. Fred West wasn’t under as much scrutiny. He couldn’t have been. He was left alone long enough to top himself”.
Hubby heaved me off the sofa and guided me into the dining room. He plonked me onto a chair and poured me a sherry.
“Right. Tell me all about it”. I was about to, when Mags walked in.
“Coo-ee”, she called, “So, how did it go?” My blotchy face and puffy eyes spoke volumes.
“Ah”, she added, helping herself to the Harvey’s Bristol Ceam, “Not so well I take it?”
Tears started anew as I tried to explain the last couple of days. “And I’m so tired”, I sniffed, “It’s been such a drive every day and I’ve been in school by ten past seven for a week and I put so much effort into that bloody lesson. I can’t believe I was being formally observed. I mean, how hard can it be understand a ballad?”
Hubby shrugged his shoulders. Ok, so he was the wrong man to ask.
“What was the problem?” asked Mags, now emptying a bag of Sensations Peking Spare Rib crackers into a bowl, “Did you go with the Johnny Cash idea?” she munched.
It is no longer considered teaching these days if one just stands at the front of the class and spouts knowledge at kids. Reciting a poem, getting the children to open a poetry book, annotate the poem and then write their own is so last century. So, to illustrate the lyrical, story-telling form of a ballad, I downloaded a Johnny Cash number, had a Powerpoint slide show attempting to define what a ballad is, followed by an example of a ballad written by Robert Graves. After that, I read them a Christmas story with such expression and animation that I’d have given anyone on Jackanory a run for their money and then, having prepared the next task by already writing the four first stanzas of a ballad based on the story I’d read them, (these days referred to as differentiaton) all the little darlings had to do in turn was finish it off.
“What was the issue then?” crunched Mags.
I read my lesson observation notes, “Not all students engaged. I didn’t differentiate enough”. Hubby scratched his head. “Huh?”, he asked. Bless him. He went to school even longer ago than I, in the days where one was expected to sit up and shut up, else a bloody great big, hard, blackboard duster would be hurled in the general direction of your conk. He is also the Commander of a training establishment and, whilst he would never condone the blackboard duster method of discipline, neither is he into what he considers to be, namby-pamby ways.
“It’s such conflicting advice”, I said in a little voice, “On the one hand I was told that I’d been creative, well prepared and resourceful and the next that not everyone had got it. I was also advised that I’d done too much for them but yet that it was too difficult for some. Short of holding their pens and guiding their hands, I really don’t know what more I could do.”
Hubby kissed me and Mags hugged me and we polished off the crisps and most of the sherry. Two days later on my final day at my first placement school, I felt like Peter O’Toole in Goodbye Mr Chips. Who would have thought that I’d be so attached to Years 7, 8 and 9?
“Goodbye, my dear children” I started, “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to teach you. Make me proud by having high expectations of yourself and being successful as you move up through the school”.
“Cheers miss”, said one, until another, rather mortifyingly, started a Hip-hip-hooray chant. As they filed out of the door, one or two students held back. A little girl approached me with a hand made card, “Thanks Miss, I’ll really miss you”. In a civilised society, I would have given her a big hug, unfortunately all that was allowed was a thank you. Not even a shake of the hand. I’m not sure who was the most bereft.
A young boy, one of the ‘disengaged’, pressed a sheet of A4 into my hand. “My ballad Miss that you wanted us to write for homework. I hope you like it”. It had the theme of the book I’d read them, it rhymed, it told a story and it had several, four line stanzas. Where’s an official observer when you need one?

Wherefore art thou?

I remember vividly winters of yore. Those biting, early mornings where Hubby would groan at the sound of his alarm and hit it, until the clock’s silence indicated its defeat, before dragging his exhausted body out of the marital bed, to shower, shave, get into his uniform, get in his frozen car and get to work at FOST before being briskly helicoptered out onto a ship in the English Channel whereupon, he would oft put the fear of God into Captains and crew whose careers were on the line, should he and the FOST staff find, whilst examining every area of ship, that they were unsatisfactory.
At this point in time of course, I was oblivious to it all. I was still deeply snuggled under the duvet. I doubt that during the 18 months of Hubby’s appointment at FOST, I barely spoke to him, let alone get up with him, make him a flask of tea, defrost his car and turn the engine on, so that when he eventually got in it to drive to work, it was toasty warm inside. How humbled therefore am I to be in that position. Hubby does not spit “Shush” at me from under the heaviest tog rating for daring to make the slightest noise. My cheeks redden at the memory of my callousness.
Dear Hubby has been my hero these past frigid days, getting up just before me to make my life a little more pleasant before I embark on my polar express journey ‘down Cornwall’. How feeble we are in this part of the world. My electric blanket is ratcheted up to such a temperature at night that come the morning, my bottom is regularly poached and, when I arrive at school I am one of many staff members whose body is swathed in swaddling cloths of thermal intensity.
To hear Sally Traffic therefore, on the radio on my drive home, warn of the dire situation on the M8 and snow gates and desperate souls stuck in their cars in snow drifts for hours on end, makes me shiver as I know that in 45 minutes I’ll be in a warm house in the company of a warm dog who is more than amenable to sitting on me to thaw me out.
Snow drifts or not though it has been a perishing week made worse by the hunt for two acceptable yet elusive, Christmas trees. I have travelled what seems the length and breadth of Cornwall sourcing trees tall enough to grace our house. I almost gave up at one point after the car just about seized up and my chilblains, in the words of Johnny Cash, ‘burned, burned, burned”.
“Can’t we just forget bloody Christmas?”, I whimpered to Hubby down my mobile from the car park of a rapidly darkening, garden centre the other side of Bodmin, “Let’s celebrate Hannukah instead. All we’d need is a few candles”.
“Don’t be so faint-hearted Alice”, answered Hubby from a centrally heated, electric lighted office, “Grab yourself a couple of trees quickly and shove them onto the top of the car. You’ll be home by six thirty”.
“I’m not Geoff Capes you know”, I replied sulkily. Mr Capes perhaps not but Chevy Chase, from some over-the-top, Christmas movie, yes, having followed Hubby’s remote instructions and did as I was bid. Ergo, I pulled up outside the house with two, massive, trees dangling over the windscreen, impeding my vision not just a tad. The children were thrilled.
“Bloody hell Alice”, groaned Hubby, slapping his head.
“Don’t even go there!”, I interrupted, “You are not in a position to criticize these trees if you did not play a part in their humping nor lashing.”
“Know what I’d like to hu…”
“Really darling! Not in front of the children.”
The following morning, stressing and a fretting over a lost memory stick and thus, every resource I possess on Romeo and Juliet, I was in a dark, cold staff room by 7.20am frantically looking for it. It was found, but the resources I needed for a lesson on an Introduction to Shakespeare, was not. I searched every file and folder to no avail. I looked at the clock, it was now 8.15. The lesson was to begin in 35 minutes, there was nothing for it but to ‘fess up and come clean.
It doesn’t matter whether one is four, fourteen or forty odd, when another adult looks upon one with that grave look of disappointment and dismay, you know you have nowhere to hide other than on the naughty step.
I was lucky this time, another teacher, perhaps moved by my dripping tears and snotty nose, lent me his Shakespeare PowerPoint just in the nick of time and, minutes later, Year 10 were utterly ignorant of the fact that my all singing, all bells a’ringing lesson was, if not exactly plagiarised, then most definitely rented. “Shakespeare was born an awfully long time ago”, I embarked “Hands up who knows when?”
“After World War Two Miss?” asked one. Sir, if you don’t mind, I will be holding onto that Powerpoint just a soupçon longer.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


‘Snow is falling all around me, children playing having fun’. Shakin’ soddin’ Stevens didn’t know what he was singing about. Night after night I pray, I cross my fingers, I do little rituals, anything, just anything to have an extra day at home. Just an extra few hours in the week to address issues that are being exclusively ignored. Basket ball sized Golden Retriever hair-balls, dinners that take more than ten minutes to cook, dirty laundry walking to the washing machine by itself, life endangering toys upon the stairs, revolting lavatories, my children and last, but most definitely not least, bloody lesson planning.
No-one is happy. The fifteen year old has sat her mock GCSEs with barely a good luck from her mother and though I hardly deserve it, has made me very proud. My son, that long haired lover, is eating food reheated in the microwave far too often and is going about in this perishing weather in exactly the same garments as he wears, if pressed to go, to the beach. Ludicrously overdressed for August, suicidally underdressed for minus zero temperatures. I am not there to nag and insist upon hats and scarves and vests.
The littlest ones are starting to notice my absence. For the first time ever I was not one of the token mothers at their annual, Christmas craft day at school. Long faces met me on my return from work.
“Why couldn’t you come mummy?” asked the Red-Head, burrowing under my arm as I attempted to type a Powerpoint slide on Haikus for Year Seven.
“Where, sweetie?” I replied, half listening, the other half of me attempting to think of a five, seven, five syllable, three line poem.
“To our craft day? I made pretty things. Chloe’s mummy was there and Sam’s and...”
“But darling, you know why. You know that mummy is learning to be a teacher isn’t she? So I work in a school all day. Just like you go to school all day”.
“It sucks”, was her succinct reply. Her elder sister was not quite as pithy in her reply.
“It’s emotional neglect actually”. Oh God. Being this close to Christmas, Childline must have visited the school, just in case.
“I think that’s a bit harsh darling”, I remonstrated, “Emotional neglect is when you don’t get any love or cuddles or compassion or comfort”. I made a mental note of the alliterative word triplet I’d used. ‘Must use for Yr 9 lesson on persuasive writing’. The eight year slammed my computer lid shut.
“It could also be emotional neglect when your way of life, the one that you are used to, is whipped away and you never see your mum anymore and when you do, she doesn’t listen”.
“I am listening sweetie, really I am. Tell me what’s going on”. She didn’t want to. Who could blame her? She’s very cross with me. My mantra, “I’ll have a good job at the end of all this and we’ll be able to go on holidays in a plane”, is meaningless to her. As far as she’s concerned she has everything her heart desires. My earning more money is insignificant. What is significant is the here and now and, the here and now is a life bereft of the relationship she once had with me.
Once in bed after a story and a very big cuddle I rang Mags in despair.
“I can’t cope with this guilt”, I cried, “I’m a crap mother who is deserting her family. They feel abandoned and to make matters worse, I’ve made nothing home made for them for Christmas”.
“Like what for God’s sake?”, asked Mags. I could tell she wasn’t really interested. I’m a Celebrity had her undivided attention. I blew my nose.
“Well, by now we’ve usually stirred the Christmas pudding and made a wish. This year it’s a five minute wonder job. There is no cake, no mince pies yet. I haven’t pickled so much as an onion, let alone a shallot in balsamic vinegar. I haven’t bought any cards. I haven’t written my round robin. The sausage meat for the sausage rolls has gone past its sell by date. My shopping is far from covered. My Good Housekeeping lies by my bed. Spruce and unread. I….”
“That’s what it’s like for most women Alice’’.
“You’ve been complaining for years how those bloody magazines, featuring shining, sparkly families have always made you feel so inadequate. And yet every Christmas, whilst the rest of us beavered away at the office until the last minute, we’d turn up at your house on the way home only to walk into a winter wonderland that the style editor of Conde Nast could only dream of”.
She had a point. But I had a confession.
“I don’t even know where to go for a tree this year”.
“Same place as always?”, she asked.
“I’ve been banned”. Silence.
“From the nursery, Alice go elsewhere for your trees, the letter said, please”. Hang on, 5, 7, 5. I may not have a tree but, would you believe it, I’ve got a Haiku.

Day Out.

Compared with taking 40 grown women on a coach trip, which generally results in tears and tantrums and that’s only the driver, my first foray into the organising of a school trip was a breeze. There was a certain amount of paperwork to do, namely booking a coach with the best quote. Done that hundreds of times. A letter of courtesy had to be drafted to the manager of our destination so that he could psyche himself up for the onslaught of 31 teenagers and of course a letter had to be written to parents asking for their consent to take their little darlings out of school. The rest of it was plain sailing as, apart from issuing instructions to the children, I had other people to do things for me. Various offices at school collected the money and did the maths and paid the coach company. Someone else wrote a list of names. All that was left for me to do was photocopy the list and pin it up around school. I doubt very much if anyone missed little Johnny, but had they, then at a glance, they would have been rather relieved to find that he was not in school but indeed sitting at the back of the bus making rude gestures at Ginsters’ lorry drivers.
“Johnny!” I rebuked.
“Sorry miss”
I glanced at my checklist and then glanced out of the window. McDonalds was at the bottom of the hill, we were nearly there. I stood up and held on.
“Right then everyone. We are almost at Kingsley village. Can you all make sure that you look vaguely presentable. Smarten your ties, tie up your shoelaces.”
They all stopped chatting and looked out of the window.
“Alright miss! We’re going to McDonalds”. A chorus of ‘Old McDonald had some burgers’ ensued, along with an appeal for thirty Big Macs. The head of English who had accompanied me, looked solemn and wrote some notes on her clipboard.
Bugger. I had to get control. Fast.
The bus pulled up and the driver switched off the engine.
“As you know we are not going to McDonalds”. Cue a chorus of groans. “We are however going to look around Kingsley village. I expect impeccable manners. We will split into groups and we will take notes whilst we are there. Look at the marketing, colours, brand, logo and design”.
We trooped off the bus and an hour and a half later trooped back on. There were no incidents. I’d even managed some surreptitious shopping whilst the Head of English turned her back. No-one had lifted anything, or broken anything. No-one had been arrested. Everyone in fact had listened and exhibited impeccable manners and some staff there even approached me to tell me so. This was nothing like taking ladies to Cardiff for the day. There I had lost a proportion of them on the coldest day of the year, and as for last year’s trip? Well, I still come out in hives thinking about it. Was it my fault the bus broke down or that the rain was relentless? Was I honestly going to compensate everyone for jumping ship early and making their own, very expensive way home instead of waiting for the mechanic? Given the general level of aggression aimed in my direction, they evidently thought so.
I arrived home that night to find Hubby lamenting. I was tired. I was hungry. I had mouths to feed and young minds to inspire but somewhere in my day, I had also to find time to pat the dog and let my husband feel like a lover. When one is up to one’s elbows in washing up gloves and suds, mentally planning the following day’s lesson, a plan that should have been submitted 12 hours previously, the last thing one honestly wants to do is kiss like a film star. Hubby had other ideas and after a full on five minuets of snogging I really had to protest.
“Unhand me!”
“But I never see you”, he pouted. At this point I could have gone down the avenue of marital discord and said “I’m a navy wife. Welcome to my world”. Instead, which probably wasn’t any more soothing I reminded him that the next day, I wouldn’t be home until 11pm.
“Why?”, he asked stricken. I sighed.
“Because I am accompanying four 6th form students to Exeter”. He still looked blank.
“They are in a public debate competition against three other teams. It’s the south west semi- final”.
“What schools are they up against?” asked Hubby, hell bent on seducing me. I pushed his hands away.
“Posh ones”.
“Good luck to them then”. Oh ye of little faith. What with expert coaching from their teacher and me, their natural talent, ebullience and enunciation, they bloody well won! I was the crazy teacher screeching and clapping like a sea-lion at the back. My colleagues looked at me askance. I looked back. Hey, I’m trying to follow the party line in all things ‘teachery’ but don’t try and knock my inherent enthusiasm. It’s like believing in fairies, say you don’t and one will die. Ask me to be un-animated and so will I.


I drove home from school a few days ago, my head throbbing. Not only did my head throb from teaching all day but my foot was crying out in defeat too. Last week, after another long day at school, I’d arrived home at 6.30, removed from the fridge items that were to be, in twenty minutes, a delicious, nutritious meal for my family and arranged them on the kitchen counter whilst giving instructions to Hubby as to what I anticipated the final dish to be. I then ran upstairs, changed into my keep-fit gear, ran back downstairs, kissed everyone, got in the car and drove the very short distance to the gym. Running late for my BodyMax class, I stumbled down the precipitous stairs to the dance room and landed in a howling heap, at the bottom.
My roars could be heard from upstairs and within seconds the proprietors of the gym were upon me, issuing me not only with ice but advice. My fellow gym mates, alarmed at the noise at the bottom of the stairs, also ran to see who was making such a racket. They were all talking to me at once and, not wanting to be rude, I tried, valiantly to describe what I was feeling.
Was it broken? No, I smiled reassuringly through gritted teeth. Could I stand? Just give me a minute, I wanted to scream. Just leave me alone to concentrate on the pain. Like when in labour, one does not want to be lambasted by 20 questions but to get on with the job of trying not to die from the pain. That takes concentration.
“It just bloody hurts”, I wanted to shout, “Leave me alone”. But no, they got me to my feet. I felt terribly pale but it was bearable. I was able to walk. I might be able to do the class after all I thought. I stepped gingerly into the weights cupboard and chose my usual kilos and then I stepped oh, so gingerly into the dance room, set up my aerobic step and then thought, ‘What the hell are you doing Alice?’ A weird and alarming vein was bulging over the trainer on my right foot. It was time to go home.
I made my apologies graciously to the others more intent on squatting rhythmically with a bell bar over their shoulders, went slowly back up the stairs, bought milk from Sainsbury’s on the way back to the car and drove home.
By the time I reached the sofa and Hubby had tenderly removed my trainer, I was a funny colour. “I’ll get you a glass of wine”, he said.
An hour and the best part of a bottle of Pinot later and I was feeling much better. My foot had been elevated and the edge had been taken off the pain. I went to bed. At some point in the middle of the night, I needed the loo. I went to the bathroom but on my way back that morbid feeling when one is about to faint overwhelmed me and I fell to the floor with a thump. Hubby was by my side in seconds and heaved me back onto my side of the bed. I clutched the duvet like a man drowning. The rest of night passed restlessly. I could hardly bear an inch of duvet cover resting on my foot let alone the full on tog rating.
By the time dawn broke, I was more tired than I’d been when I got into bed. I stepped onto the carpet and a searing pain ran up my leg, “Yeoaw”, I yelped. Calls were made and within half an hour, Mags was in the building.
“C’mon”, she instructed formidably, “I’m taking you to hospital”. We drove to Liskeard where she found me a wheel-chair, and wheeled me into the waiting room. It was still very early. The x-ray lady had yet to put in an appearance. I waited. I was x-rayed.
“It’s not broken but you’ve torn a ligament”. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Which is worse”, she added.
“I have to go to work Mags”, I said, “I must show willing”. She drove, her lips set in a very stern grimace. She dropped me off and I hobbled, now accessorized by very fetching crutches, into school. I barely made it to reception before I was ordered off the premises, “Health and safety”, said a very uncompromising fellow. Mags zoomed us both home in a fury.
I stayed put for three days. It bloody hurts but it is not a torn ligament. My attendance at the cenotaph on Sunday will attest to that.
My efforts at going to work this week have been further stymied by the adverse weather conditions. It took 3 ½ hours not to get there. Thank God for Prince William. Had he not got engaged this week we would not have a Royal Wedding to look forward to and without the promise of bunting and street parties and a day off in the Spring, I might have thrown the teacher training towel, well and truly, in.

Monday, 15 November 2010


Who would have thought that sharing a tin of Welshcakes could be incorporated into an English lesson on poetry from other cultures? Well it can and very successfully. I was rather sceptical to start with, hell, when I was at secondary school, the way they got us to understand poetry and I use the term ‘understand’ loosely was to learn it off by heart. It never occurred to me that people around the globe were penning their own verses. Our teachers doled out antique, dusty tomes of the Romantics. Wordsworth, Blake, Keats and Coleridge were almost daily torturers and most of the books had vulgar graffiti written inside the dust jacket that implied the previous student had not particularly enjoyed Tintern Abbey or The Ancient Mariner either. Imagine our delight, when occasionally, to be edgy and alternative, the odd Roger McGough poem was thrown into the syllabus. That was about as unconventional as English teachers got in the early 80s at my school, either they didn’t ‘get’ African poetry or they felt that there was enough talent in this country so, why bother our impressionable little heads with anything vaguely foreign. I’d imagine there was more truth in the former and so the Irish W.B Yeats was about as international as we went.
The teaching of poetry has changed significantly over recent years, and whilst some children will still groan, “Oh Miss. Not poetry” and put his head on the desk in despair, a lot of the learning is through what is now termed as ‘active engagement’. Henceforth children are not droned on at for hours on end but are expected to be active learners and find things out for themselves, or in other words to work as a group within the confines of the classroom or adjacent corridor.
The week before, I had demonstrated rap music and the rhythm therein. I had the words in front of me and decided to just ‘go for it’. I adopted some sort of ‘gangsta rapper’ stance, put on a bit of an accent and ‘made it real’ or some such expression. I looked up from the paper at one point to see a girl in the second row with tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Oh miss”, she tried to say, breathlessly whilst laughing, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen for ages. You’ve made my day”. Three tiny little boys at the back of the class looked more shifty. I’m not naïve. I confiscated their phones and later gave them a stern telling off about filming teachers and did I really deserve to be plastered all over YouTube? This was not the sort of active engagement that I’d had in mind.
Apart from the three errant boys the lesson was a joy. The other boys immediately got into character and not only wrote some fantastic rap songs but were at pains to rehearse their performance. I was apprehensive about making the decision to allow them to practise their routines in the corridor but, they were so engaged in the activity, they were as good as gold. It was a far cry from sitting in serried ranks learning, ‘Tyger, Tyger burning bright’, but I must say, far better for it.
So, with one lesson on poetry from other cultures under my belt, by Monday, I was brimming with confidence. I’d made a pile of Welshcakes, had brought in my great-great grandmother’s ancient bakestone, had designed a PowerPoint presentation on Welsh culture and which had a group photo of me reciting poetry as a little girl and they had to guess which one was ‘Miss’. We had a lot of fun. Imagine such a thing? I can vividly remember one master roaring at me when I got the giggles once, “You girl! Stop this silliness immediately. See me for detention. You’ve come to school to learn not to have fun”. I might have learnt more had I been terrified a little less.
I looked at my watch. There was only five minutes of the lesson left. Time for my piece de resistence. I handed around the tin of Welshcakes. No sooner had I turned my back and headed to the front of the class when projectile vomit shot past my right shoulder and splattered the interactive whiteboard. Oh my God. What had I done? I hadn’t checked my special needs roster first. Was there some poor child with a severe allergy to wheat and raisins? What if they went into an anaphylactic shock? Could an innocuous scone kill a kid? I swung round. It was easy to determine which child it was. He was green and looked like Moses in the Red Sea, the waves of children on either side of him had parted in revulsion.
“I’m so sorry Miss”, he said, nose dripping and still retching, “I never had one of your Welshcakes and they looked so nice. I just haven’t been feeling well” and to prove a point, he puked, rather profusely, once again.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Mrs Robinson. Not Really.

I am suffering birthday fatigue. The balloons have been burst, literally, not metaphorically and the banners folded away. The metallic confetti have disappeared up the Dyson and the glasses have been washed, dried and stored. The party is well and truly over. It was good fun, but my, oh my, good fun takes a lot of effort and organising. Invitations must be sent and replies counted; decorations must be applied to walls and ceilings; menus must be agreed upon, the band’s equipment has to be roadied for and the disco and PA has to be erected and a sound check, checked although, it goes without saying, that I had little involvement in the latter, other than stepping over the drums and guitars and various other musical detritus that was abandoned in my porch afterwards.
Musical instruments were not the only trip hazard in this house last weekend. At 1am, after a bloody good boogie and several glasses of wine, we wobbled up the road, closely followed by various teenagers who were staying the night along with other party animals, hell bent on continuing to carouse into the small hours. I haven’t the stamina for all-nighters these days, it could be very well argued that I never have and, by the time I’d stepped over a mature guest sitting on my kitchen floor sharing a fag with a few teenage boys, I’d had enough. Without saying a word, I crept upstairs and left them to it. I brushed my teeth and decided that, if I wanted to avoid a row with a drunken sailor in the middle of the night, we ought to spend the night apart. Due to some advanced planning, the two youngest girls were on a sleepover, consequently their beds were free and so, jamming a couple of dressing gowns against the door, I snuggled down under a Hannah Montana duvet and waited for sleep to engulf me. I tossed one way, I turned the other. I plumped my pillow; I pulled it over my head. I huffed and puffed, but I still couldn’t get to sleep. To make matters worse, the teenagers’ bladders, having had to deal with far more alcohol than was responsible, were protesting and the cistern went more frequently than the lavs at any social club during half time at an England game in the World Cup.
I saw 4am come and go and then, with a pitiful groan, saw it come and go again as the clocks went back. Finally, at some time just before breakfast, I did fall into a deep sleep, if only briefly. God knows what time he’d stumbled in, I hadn’t heard him then, but I did now. I painfully opened my eyes on hearing the sound of heavy, boozy breathing in my ear. Actually I didn’t just hear it, I felt it. With a yelp, I bounded out of bed, and there, dead to the world and still in the shape that had been spooning me, was one of my son’s teenage friends. I assumed it was one of his friends. He had scuzzy black pants on and a rock’n’roll t-shirt and his hair was obliterating his face, so to be fair it could have been one of many. They all look like Slash, although I can bet your bottom dollar that he’d have nicer knickers. Then, like any mother worth her salt, I wrapped a duvet around him, placed a bucket adjacent to his head ‘just in case’, and left him sleep it off. I could embarrass him later.
I picked my way gently down the stairs, wondering if and when my brain would start pounding inside my skull but remarkably, it was very sprightly. I didn’t feel I could justify a couple of paracetamol let alone ibuprofen.
A mass of bodies littered every sofa and floor space. One lad was curled up with the dog. They are both blond with curly hair, so I did hope that, emerging from a drunken stupor, he wasn’t going to wake up disappointed after thinking he’d got lucky.
As I walked into my dining room, more bodies in various states of slumbering inebriation were scattered hither and yon. I shrugged my shoulders and continued my perambulation. I was astonished to find Hubby in the kitchen whistling and washing dishes. The last time I’d seen him he’d been enjoying a very expensive, birthday bottle of scotch and singing Flower of Scotland.
“Mornin’”, he quipped.
“Same to you”.
“Sleep well?”
“Not really”. I thought it best to remain discreet and not mention my sleep had been gate-crashed.
Later, after I’d returned from BodyMax and made lunch for all and sundry, a vaguely familiar young man, with unruly hair and a t-shirt that I had read only hours before, walked gingerly downstairs.
“Ma”, said my son, “This is Jacob. You said it was ok for him to come and live here.” That’s right, I did although I thought it probably best not to disclose that he’d slept with his mother.

Coming of Age.

And so it came to pass that the baby in a shawl, the first born, the one with golden ringlets that weren’t cut until he was three, the infant who didn’t sleep a full night until he was two and a half, the boy who thought for all the world that he really was Harry Potter, and spent literally hours trying to get his broomstick to fly; the young lad who, for reasons still inexplicable didn’t go to school one day but absconded with a pal who was running away from home and got on a National Express bus to London, is now the handsome young man hell bent on realising his dream of rock stardom now that those of being Harry Potter have been dashed. This same man, this same boy, this same mother’s son has just turned eighteen.
It hardly seems possible, given that I have chronicled this family’s ups and downs, week in week out, that over nine years seems to have slipped through my fingers since I started my dairy. Were this a television series, this week’s episode would be a retrospective, a highlight of all the ‘good bits’ with a focus on my son’s occasional errant ways. The most errant being having a revolting bedroom, insouciance towards his A levels that make me and his father want to pull out our hair in tufts of frustration and a refusal to consider a back-up plan should the drum roll at the Mercury Music Awards for Best Rock Band, elude them. Along with the misdemeanours, this particular TV episode would also re-run all the funny bits, the bloopers that would make him squirm in embarrassment as the viewers howled in their armchairs. Who wouldn’t find it funny that the rather intimidating, 6’ 5” man, with a Russell Brandesque fashion sense, long black, hair and brooding expression, keeps a pair of underpants by his bed ‘in case of a fire’, now commonly referred to as his ‘firepants’ or that, far from being to cool to care, gets up when everyone one else has gone to bed to recheck the house is secure for the night. This is the same lad who, upon finding a bath full of water yet to be drained, immediately removed the plug lest his littlest sister went for a nocturnal wee and accidentally fall into the bath, “Didn’t you know that drowning is known as the silent death mum?” he warned me, the morning after he’d drained the bath, “There’d be no splashing about. She’s just slip quietly in”. That was me told.
There is no denying that it has been an emotional week. The baby photo albums have been wept over. The curly golden locks have been carefully removed from their plastic bag and fingered lovingly. Hubby and I were a dead loss for most of Monday and at any given moment embraced him tightly.
“Ok Ma, you can let go now. You’re hurting my ribs”, he said on more than one occasion. Hubby kept kissing him and calling him, “my son”. It was like a scene from the Lion King. My brother showed up and hugged him manfully and then Dad turned up too, watery eyed and managed with a wavering voice, “Your grandmother would have been very proud of you”. And then we let him go. With money in his pocket to burn and an ID card informing the world that he was old enough to drink, he and seven friends, left the house. Hubby and I squeezed each other’s hands. He was gone.
Precisely 55 minutes later he called, “Can you pick us up please?” Oh my God, what had happened. Was someone needing their stomach pumped?
“Where are you?”
“We’ve had dinner at the Wilcove Inn. Lovely, but we’ve finished now and ready to come home”. If this is the new rock’n’roll that I very much admire it. When I was 18, well it was a far messier affair. Hubby and I got into our respective cars and retrieved them and they continued to party in our basement, not in some club or some insalubrious dive but just downstairs. Phew.
The worst that happened that night? His fellow band-mates thought it would be a great prank to remove from his drawer, whilst he was asleep, well, his drawers, every single pair of them. They then stuck them in a Tesco’s carrier bag, soaked them and put them in the freezer. They took two days to defrost. Longer than a large turkey.
The fun, games and emotional rollercoaster doesn’t end there though. We’ve a party to get through first and not just for the eighteen year old, for, following fast on his heels in terms of milestones is my beloved, Hubby. He is about to be 50 any second. I have loved him since he was 27 years old, when the next 23 lay before us, unchartered. My final thought then must be for my mother-in-law. If 18 years has left me a reminiscent wreck, 50 years of looking back must wreak havoc. I realise that these last 18 years are only just the beginning.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Having spent twenty years watching my husband as he emerged like a military butterfly through various ranks, from fresh faced Petty Officer to sage old Commander, I always admired his capacity to get up at ungodly hours to get to work whether it be to drive back to Portsmouth on a Monday morning, join a ship or be behind the various desk jobs the Royal Navy appointed him to. I can only now, genuinely appreciate how truly hellish it must have been as by some perverse karma, it is Hubby who is now seeing me off. It is he who is making me a cup of tea in the morning whilst it is still pitch black outside and he who is waving and blowing me kisses farewell as I drive off down the road, far, deep into the bowels of Cornwall as I wend my merry way to my first ‘placement’ school.
I wish I could say that it is only what I deserve, but in the last twenty years, I have been conscious only a handful of times when Hubby has crept out of the house at the crack of dawn and I’m sure that was when I was breastfeeding. So, I am truly grateful that he has not decided to throw a nasty two fingered gesture at me from under the duvet as I put on the ‘big’ light and fling open my wardrobe and deliberate what to wear, or indeed curse me for having my hairdryer on maximum speed. Indeed he has been gracious and good natured and in fact only too glad to get a morning cuddle that he would otherwise forgo were I back to my, never to be seen again, pre-teaching days.
The fact that I am up to my eyeballs in paperwork and a learning curve so steep that it is quite literally vertiginous, has perhaps made me overlook the fact that the poor man himself if not without his degree of stresses and strains. The defence review has been made public and for once, I am not glad that he isn’t a rufty-tufty WAFU. Those poor sods have had a real rum deal and our senior service alas, will not be what it was. Hard to believe that Britannia once ruled the waves. Ironic that I have been studying the Timeline of the English language and that the Jutes, Angles, Danes and Normans after invading us, all had a part to play in our language and the results are in our every day vocabulary. God only knows, without a significant armed force to protect us, who will invade us next and what country’s language will influence ours next. Where is Alfred the Great when we need him?
And so it was with my windscreen wipers going like the clappers, that I drove away on a dark Monday morning, past Liskeard, along the Dobwalls bypass, past Trago and on past the crematorium roundabout at Bodmin. When I finally arrived at the school, I was ready for bed and never fully recovered all day. Bad ju-ju when one has to look slightly more engaged with Steinbeck than your average 15 year old and by the time I embarked on the last lesson of the day and had to seem sufficiently au fait with Orwell and Animal Farm, I was hard pushed to keep my eyes open let alone talk profoundly on why a pig was a metaphor for Josef Stalin.
The next day, having ensured I was in bed before ten, saw me perform slightly better with Frankenstein, although when I say perform, I actually mean, support, as I have yet to go solo and teach a class alone. So, no sooner had the bell gone and the children dismissed, that I ran, gasping for a reviving hit of caffeine. Easier said than done. In previous schools, where I worked as a teaching assistant, I often complained to Hubby of the pedancy revolving the ‘coffee boat’. Woe betide anyone who did not contribute to the coffee coffers whilst helping themselves. In my current school though, I am horrified. Even I, whose kitchen and refrigerator often elicits raised eyebrows from those more familiar with the Cilit Bang, cannot comprehend how a staff of over one hundred can let mugs and lunch plates and spoons and forks gather and pile up in a festering mass of campylobacter. The offending crockery and utensils that I saw stacked sky high on Monday were still there at the end of the week. Enough. With very little hot water, an amount of washing up liquid so minute that it made a rude noise as I squirted the bottle and paper towels instead of a scourer, I set to work.
Thanks? Nope, just a cafetiere emptied of its coffee grains poured onto my sink-ful of meagre warm water with the following advice, “I wouldn’t make a habit of it”. To be pedantic and demand a quid a coffee, or to threaten, with a visit from Environmental Health? That is the question.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Birds and Bees.

It’s been another heavy week. The weekend disappeared in a haze of research and essay writing, re-writing and referencing. On Tuesday evening, looking like something the cats regularly drag in, Hubby had had enough.
“Alice, you look like…”.
“I know, I know”, I said quickly, did he really have to kick me whilst I was down, “I haven’t had much time for poncing myself up recently.
“I don’t care whether you had ponced yourself up”, he said, shaking his head in wearied disappointment, “I was just hoping that you might change out of your pyjamas occasionally and rake a brush through your hair.”
“I looked very smart at college earlier if you must know”, I said, hoitily, “I had no choice. I had to meet with my mentor”.
“Mentor or dementor?” Visions of me wandering around a school corridor, a shadowy, Harry Potteresque thing, sucking my very soul out, made me shudder.
“Oh don’t darling, that’s not really the pep talk I need right now. No she seemed very nice. Organised and supportive.”
“Anyway, go and get your glad rags on. I’m taking you out on a date”. Really? We hadn’t been out together for weeks. I jumped up.
“Fab!”, I said, kissing him, “Where are we going?”
“You’ve forgotten haven’t you?” I racked my brains. What had I forgotten? Damn it. Think. Think. We’d just had our anniversary, it’s not my birthday until next week. Nope I didn’t have a clue. I shrugged my shoulders.
“It’s the PTAs AGM. You are the vice-chair Alice for God’s sake. Haven’t you prepared anything?” I put my head in my hands. Of course, the AGM, it had completely escaped me. I looked at my watch, it was 6.50. We had ten minutes.
Hubby waited for me in the car whilst I ran upstairs, tore off my pyjamas, pulled on some socks, a pair of jeans, a sweater off the back of the chair, which I’d meant to wash but which still sported egg yolk from a soft boiled egg I’d had at the weekend. I scraped my hair back into a ponytail, kissed the children, gave babysitting advice to the eldest and dashed down the stairs and into the car.
“Shoes?” asked Hubby, his fingers, drumming the steering wheel impatiently. I looked at my feet.
“No, shoes”, Hubby interrupted, anticipating some vulgar, scatological utterance. He could talk.
I ran back inside, picked up my boots, ran back to the car and, as though chasing robbers, said to Hubby, “Drive”.
Luckily the pub where the AGM was being held was far enough away to give me the time to struggle into my boots and zip them up but when we finally entered the pub, flustered, we needn’t have rushed. There were eight people there. In other words, the current committee. My shoulders slumped. I think, given our present commitments, that most of us had planned to step down, instead we once again proposed and seconded each other’s positions and briefly discussed the Christmas fair. Then, the gavel came down and I relished a large Kir courtesy of the treasurer and a couple of ham sandwiches, courtesy of the pub.
We left soon after as I had yet to plan for the next day. Walking into the house, I heard screams of laughter upstairs, emanating from the youngest girls’ bedroom. I crept in.
“Ahem”. They both looked up but instead of looking guilty and diving under their duvets because they should have been fast asleep, they were delighted to see me.
“Mummy”, said the youngest, squeezing me tightly, “It’s so nice to see you” and then, right out of the blue the eight year old said, “Can you tell us about sex?”
Oh bloody hell. Not tonight.
“This is kissing isn’t it?” asked the Red-Head, gently planting a kiss on her pillow.
“It is darling, yes”, I concurred.
“And this is snogging” she added, burying her face into the very same pillow with all the passionate fervour of Rudolph Valentino. Her elder sister was hysterical.
“Do, it again, do it again!”, she goaded her.
“What? Snogging?” and once again she attacked her pillow. It was getting out of hand.
“Come on now girls, bed-time”.
“Have you stopped having babies?” asked the 8 year old.
“Yes, darling”, I replied, tucking her in.
“Because of sex?”. Oh God.
“Sort of”.
“Daddy had an operation”.
“Did they cut his willy off?”
“No they cut his tubes”.
“His pubes?”, said the other child. There’s something about that word that unhinges the dourest child, ergo mine were almost distracted with hysteria. This was impossible.
“Not pubes darling, tubes. Men have tubes inside”.
“Where the worms come out?” My God, my previous sex education talks had evidently been an outright disaster. Where was that glass of wine? I tried my best to go over it again. A sort of Bite Size revision version, but as I Ieft the room, turning the light off and blowing them a kiss, one whispered to the other, “Mummy’s been sexed four times”. Their father would probably agree.


“So, does the role of grammar raise attainment in writing at Key stage 3?” I have asked myself this question over and over again. I have posed the question to many friends, many of the friends being teachers who, rather worryingly answered, “Dunno. Kinda”. Then again, as they are teachers, they are all too knackered at the end of the day to actively advise me on my next assignment.
“Have you no opinion on this matter?”, I have demanded.
“You know which school I work at Alice. Do you honestly think I lose sleep worrying whether the kids know how to construct a complex sentence? I’m just glad that 8x turn up.” I tried another source.
“S’pose. Depends”. For heaven’s sake, depends on what?
“Well, what’s your opinion?”, asked Hubby, doing his best to engender interest.
“It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. I have to write a review of already published, learned work on the subject and what those scholars think”.
“And, what do they think?”, he pursued. God bless him, he was trying to sound attentive but I was interrupting the 9 o’clock news.
“Well, that’s the point. I really don’t know; one report suggests the formal teaching of grammar is paramount, another, that it is as inherent as learning to walk. I’m going round in circles and I have three thousand words to write on the subject.”
“Best crack on then love”. And that was the end of his indulging me.
I rang Bianca, fellow PGCE colleague, who terrified me by quoting all sorts of references that she has downloaded, highlighted and used in her already written, 1,800 words.
“How do you make sense of all that stuff”, I asked, quite literally grasping at the roots of my hair.
“Read it all last week mate. It’s been churning around for a while”, she replied. Utterly dejected, I rang Mags.
“Bloody hell. They are all such whizz kids around me”, I wailed, “They may look blonde and fluffy but when push comes to shove they have the upper hand”.
“Well, you know why that is?”
“No, why?” I asked.
“Because they haven’t done any pushing and shoving have they? How many of these bright young things have had their brains and bodies addled by raising four kids? How many of them look knackered in the morning, not because they’ve been up half the night breast feeding or dealing with vomit or bad dreams but because they’ve spent far too long ‘pulling’ at the student union bar?”
“I guess you’re right”, I said, “Still doesn’t help me with this bloody essay”.
I returned to my study to pore over ever more research on the subject. They were all inconclusive and finally I climbed the stairs to bed in abject defeat.
I arrived at Uni the following morning to a packed timetable. We spent hours in large groups discussing assessments. It was mind-numbingly tedious. My new found friends and I were thrilled when lunchtime arrived and we could muster together and groan.
“No wonder kids can’t stand school”, I said, “It’s all so serious. What wouldn’t you give for a moment of levity?” Prophetic words. We finished our lunches, drained our coffees and re-joined our carrousels, a word, up until now, that has been synonymous with all the fun of the fair, candy floss and a gaudily painted, wooden horse called Phyllis. Nowadays it indicates which groups I must join and which classroom I will find them in.
A few of my friends and I returned to our appropriate carousel, where we were given a lecture on inclusion and how terribly important it is that we embrace every child, for as we all now and, as the previous government kept reminding us, whether little delinquents or not, every child matters and we must be delighted to include them in our classes. To hit this point home, we were sent to yet another room to learn to juggle, the end product demonstrating, I assume, how awful it is when one feels they can’t do something as well as one’s peers. We regrouped 15 minutes later to evaluate our experience. How had we felt if we hadn’t succeeded? Did we feel marginalised? Did we feel excluded? None of us felt any of those things. We’d had just had fun. None of us cared a jot whether we were about to join Billy Smarts circus or not.
The tutor then asked, “Do you think you might have done better if you’d had bigger balls to play with?”. It was instinctive. Call me childish, call me puerile, but I challenge anyone not to have let out a schoolboy guffaw. I most certainly did.
“Is someone being silly?” asked the tutor, sharply. I went rigid and tried to suppress any more giggles.
“I think you should leave this room until you have calmed down”, the tutor instructed. There was a deathly silence as I got up from my chair, left the classroom and went to stand in the corridor. No more giggles were released and the irony of having been excluded from a lecture on inclusion didn’t escape me either.

Monday, 11 October 2010


“Is my absence as home-maker extraordinaire making you develop OCD”, I asked Hubby the other evening as he polished his work shoes with an intense ferocity.
“Ah you wish Alice my love, you wish. Actually, it’s very quiet in this house with you beavering away in the basement”. Oh.
“What gives with the polishing then? You hoping for a Genie to spring out of your shoes?” I went rather sulkily into the kitchen, opened the fridge and poured myself a large glass of wine. It felt and tasted exquisite.
“Don’t you remember anything Alice?”, said Hubby who had followed me and was now brandishing a shoe polishing brush in my direction.
“What? Do you mean apart from your parents’ birthdays, all our children’s birthdays, their friends’ birthdays, PTA meetings, ballet, tap and swimming classes…”
“Alright, alright you’ve made your point”, he looked impatient, “Don’t you remember me telling you that royalty was visiting tomorrow?” I choked on my wine.
“Bloody hell I forgot. Don’t I get to come and meet him too then?”
“No Alice, you do not. You have lesson observations to attend and well, whatever it is teachers do”.
“Two things mate, one, I bet I am invited, you just don’t want me to spend any more money on a new dress, shoes and hat do you?”
“Of that there is no doubt my dear but that notwithstanding, you are still not invited”.
“And two”, I continued, “What the hell do you mean ‘and whatever else teachers do’?” By the look on his face and the fact that he’d started to back out of the kitchen he’d realised that he was treading on dangerous ground.
“I’ll tell you shall I? Well? Shall I?” I chased after him. I backed him into a corner near the sofa which he very conveniently fell into and chucked my horribly heavy, briefcase onto his lap. Pulling out my lever arch file which after only three weeks at college is already groaning, I extracted from a plastic pouch, a list of ‘activities expected of teachers in an academic and pastoral role’.
I kept him pinned down until I’d read out all 28 of them.
“There, that’s what the hell teachers do”, I finished, slapping my hands together.
“Ok love”, he said awkwardly, “I was out of order. Teachers work very hard indeed”. I pulled the bag off his sternum but kept it hovering only an inch away, where, by dropping it again, I could easily have compromised his breathing.
“And?”, I said.
“And I’m really sorry”. I moved myself and my briefcase out of his way. He got up and went and poured himself a glass of wine too.
We sat down together. “I’m just really nervous Alice”, he said, taking a big slurp. “It has to be perfect tomorrow; there is no room for cock-ups. We’ve all been rehearsing like crazy. Even the chefs have been practising”. I’d have liked to have pointed out at this juncture that I doubted very much that the Prince would give a toss what he was about to eat, that in fact he probably had hundreds of military lunches every year and I would bet my bottom dollar that he’d never once sent his food back but, to have articulated these points would have seemed rather cruel, especially given the polishing, painting and marching that had been worked on so hard to perfect.
“Anyway, how are you feeling about tomorrow?” Hubby asked.
“A little anxious but we’re only observing, it’s not as if I have to teach a class. That joy is to come.”
The following morning, far too bright and early I drove myself with my fellow student Bianca as navigator, deep into the heart of Cornwall. Nearing our destination we were a little lost.
“Where has the school disappeared to?” I asked Bianca accusingly. She rather sheepishly, shrugged her shoulders.
“Sorry, I’ve never been any good at reading maps; I think maybe we should have turned left a little earlier”. It was almost 8.30, we were going to be late. I pulled over and suddenly we spotted some teenagers in school uniform. I wound the window down on the passenger side, leaned over Bianca’s lap and hollered, “ ‘Scuse me love?”
With trepidation the students approached the car.
“Are you going to school?”.
“Well duh!”, one replied.
“Great. So are we. Do you want a lift?” As soon as the words were uttered I knew I’d made a right clanger. The children scurried away as though the local paedophile had just attempted to abduct them.
“Nice one”, laughed my colleague. We dumped the car and ran, arriving seven minutes late, our teacher training co-ordinator tapping her foot.
“Before I take you to your classrooms word has got to me that there are a couple of women loitering near the school. They tried to pick up a couple of students barely minutes ago. Be vigilant for a red Fiat”. There was no fear of that. I knew exactly where it was.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Homework Sucks!

My neck was aching, my eyes were stinging, my shoulders were stiff and I still had an assignment on grammar to write. I’d already read a tome on ‘issues in effective learning’ which introduced me to some new playmates, namely Piaget and Vygotsky and their respective theories on cognitive constructivism and social constructivism, although if I’m honest, I don’t feel very respectful to them at the moment, given that they’d just ruined my weekend. Who’d have thought there was a theory to teaching and not only one but several? And there was I, naively assuming that once I’d gathered a few poems together, got the gist of them, made sure that I covered the objectives in the National Curriculum that I would be able to stand there, chalk, or its technically advanced alternative in hand and wax lyrical.
Hubby walked into my study and rubbed my shoulders. “How are you getting on love?” I looked at my watch; it was 10.10 on a Sunday night. The youngest girls had gone to bed hours before. I’d barely kissed them.
“Tired”, I said in a little voice, grasping the big hands that massaged my shoulders.
“I’ve taped X-Factor for you.”
“Thanks”. He looked over my shoulder at the few words that I’d written on my laptop.
“Subordinate?”, he queried, “I wouldn’t worry about your pupils being subordinate Alice love. Good grief no. Start as you mean to go on. Don’t take any nonsense. Insubordination is taken very seriously in the navy you know. Very seriously indeed. In fact…”
I had to stop him in his tracks before he got on his vertiginously high horse.
“I’m not talking about insubordination in the classroom, although God knows, someone should. Your average Comprehensive classroom is light years away from standing to attention with ‘yes sir, no sir’. These days we are all ‘learners’, sharing and exploring together”. He looked at me pityingly suggesting that one day, disillusioned by my caring, sharing ways, I’d have kids on report and in detention before you could say, “My dog ate my homework miss”.
“So who’s subordinate then?”
“Not who but what. Subordinate clauses are grammatical”. I replied.
“What are they?” A week ago I probably couldn’t have told him, so I was proud to hear myself utter,
“A sentence is broken up into clauses, the main clause and the subordinate clause. The latter doesn’t make sense by itself”. His gormless expression made him look, well, gormless.
“For instance”, I explained, “ ‘He was very loyal to the Royal Navy – main clause?’” Hubby nodded. I continued, “ ‘so that I always felt second fiddle to Nelson, subordinate clause”.
“Oh I see”. I don’t think he did. He is still going to Trafalgar night on my birthday. He kissed the top of my head and went to make me a cup of tea. I returned to my assignment. It was very trying. My experience of grammar, being a school girl in the 70s and early 80s centred on three key terms: adjectives, nouns and verbs. All that was expected of me was to write the most interesting sentence incorporating those terms. So that for instance, ‘The Cat Sat on the Mat’ was transmogrified into ‘Regally reclining on a Persian rug, lay a feline of such majestic attitude that he seemed to rule the household who regularly attended to his every whim, which often included fresh, line caught tuna and filtered, ice-cold, spring water.’ I worried not a jot about clauses and modal auxiliary verbs. What worries me is that few teenagers still won’t worry about them and yet I have to teach them.
Two hours later I inserted my final full stop and went to bed to read a précis of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Hubby was snoring gently as was the cat at the end of the bed. My eyes felt as though they had grit in them and yet as I extinguished the bedside light, my mind raced. I tossed. I turned. I pulled the duvet cover hither and yon.
“Bloody hell, keep still”, came a very sleepy but grumpy retort from under the duvet. I doubted very much that it had been the cat. So, getting up again, I dragged a dressing gown around me and walked onto the landing. A chink of light glinted from my son’s room. I opened his door. He was sitting at his computer writing.
“What on earth are you writing at one in the morning?”
“My politics essay”. I wanted to put his pyjamas on and snuggle him up in his bed with his teddy but those days are long gone. He’s eighteen next month.
“Darling, it’s so late. Please go to bed”. I was a bright one to talk. I crept down the stairs, threw a throw over me and picked up the Sky+ controls. In seconds Simon Cowell et al were in my sitting room.
Almost instantaneously I forgot brain aching words like pedagogy, hegemony and paradigm and lapsed into the accessible vernacular of pop culture. It was lush and I was asleep in minutes.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Meltdown Number 1

I blew the steam from the mug of tea that I cradled in my hands.
“My life has been stolen Mags”, I said, my eyes sunken, my shoulders slumped.
“Jeepers Alice, keep things in perspective will you?” she replied.
“Try living with her”, added Hubby, “It’s been like this since day one. How the hell am I going to resist strangling her before July God alone knows.”
“Have either of you scrutinized the National Curriculum for English Key stage 3 recently?” From the blank expression on their faces I made the assumption they had not.
“Well it’s not exactly a riveting read. Shall I tell you the key concepts?” It was merely a rhetorical question because I didn’t pause a for a reply, “Well, within their programme of study for reading, writing, speaking and listening, we expect our 11-14 year olds to be competent and creative and to have a critical and cultural understanding in every task they undertake”. Still no response. I pressed on.
“And then we have to give them attainment targets. For instance, there is a considerable gulf between a level four piece of work and a level 8. You see..”
“Spare us the finer details Alice, please”, implored Hubby, “dear God and you tell me I’m boring”. Boring? This did not bode well. I was training to be a teacher, someone who was hopefully going to inspire young minds to greatness and yet, after only a few sentences I was being asked to shut up. It’s difficult to shut up though. For fear of sounding like Tony Blair I’m eating, sleeping and breathing, education, education, education. Apart from driving to Uni, I haven’t seen the light of day for over a week and when I get to Uni, I sit through lectures with such gripping titles as Strategies and Standards and Scaffolding and Modelling. This it turned out, had nothing to with the building trade or indeed, posing and pouting but was again another educational process, this time offering challenges that encourages pupils to know what they are aiming for and supporting them with ideas by providing tools to accomplish the task. It’s about as sexy as it sounds.
I have had a sheaf of handouts handed out to me all of which I have had to read, digest then annotate and write about. I have my own subject group of novels, poems and plays to read as well as my first written assignment to compose, let alone all the educational theorists and practitioners with whom I’m meant to be au fait. It’s a big ask, especially when I’ve had blood to give, food to shop for and cook, attend a PTA meeting and, before I forget, occasionally engage with four children whom I seem to be forgetting. I am beginning to lose not only my sense of perspective but my everyday vocabulary.
“Well I’m sorry you find me so bloody boring!”, I sobbed, jumping up, my hot tea spilling down my shirt, “And now look what you’ve made me do”. I ran out of the sitting room, furious tears spilling down my cheeks. By the time I’d reached my study, my shoulders were heaving and my brand new laptop that my college had so kindly provided us all with for free, was in grave danger of being dripped upon.
Hubby followed me, put one arm around my shoulders and used the other to diplomatically push the lap top out of harm’s way.
“There, there now love. Don’t be such a non-handler”. Ever the sensitive soul.
“I feel so overwhelmed already”, I tried to explain, “I’m intimidated not only by the amount of information we are meant to absorb but by the bright young things who feel no fear and whose fresh, dynamic brains have the capacity to absorb masses of alien information and who are then, infuriatingly, able to file it away, in some sort of thematic order. Why is it? Oh thanks”, Mags had appeared carrying the kitchen roll, “that since I was at school I always seem to sit next to the kid who likes her highlighters and her plastic pouches and ring binders and rulers and knows instinctively when to use bullet points or spider-grams”, I blew my nose, “By the end of a lecture their work is organised and tidy and filed in the correct pouch. Mine on the other hand, is a ream of A4 paper with a series of sentences scrawled on it?”. Hubby tapped my shoulder in an effort to be comforting.
“I’ll get the hang of it”, I said, attempting an optimistic grin, “It’s just that after all these years of academic torpor, it’s rather a steep learning curve.” They both nodded and smiled benevolently at me like two nurses in a mental hospital who have just managed to stymie a major incident.
“Anyway I’d better crack on. I’ve got to get off my A.S.S”. They looked quizzical.
“Applied Subject Study”. The world of acronyms does not it appears, apply exclusively to the language of the Armed Forces.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Making or Breaking of Miss.

This is a confessional. I have been living a lie. Not a huge one. I’m not married to an RAF officer and I do have four children who, in their own, charming, individual way, ensure the grey hairs are not stymied but creep through my highlights, however hard I attempt to stem the flow.
No, what I have kept hidden all these years is the fact that I am not a qualified teacher. I was in fact a teaching assistant and should have a red badge of courage for my efforts, as should the army of TAs out there, who do a sterling job in keeping kids in their seats as the teacher sets about attempting to teach the little darlings.
I do have a degree in English literature and have harboured the dream of writing my own novel. As yet it hasn’t happened and, with Hubby leaving his beloved Royal Navy in a few years time, it has become more and more apparent that I have to consider a more serious career than the one I have loved. Who would have thought that chronicling my life and, making coffees and paninis for visitors to our ‘forgotten corner’ of Cornwall and, for my beloved regulars, the lattes and flapjacks I would comfort them with when, in the bleak midwinter, they came for a chat would have given me so much satisfaction? But there it is. It has.
Three days ago however, I embarked on a new chapter in my life. That of fully fledged teacher training. To say that I am terrified is an understatement that bears no immediate analogy. It is something that I have put off for years, for many reasons, the most pressing if I’m honest, apart from my dream of novelist, is my utter ‘special needs’ in mathematics. A test has to be passed in maths before I can qualify. Yes, even to be an English teacher. I girded my loins at the weekend and had a go. There are practise tests online. I couldn’t do one. Not one.
Hubby, in his inimitable manner, strode in, shoved me, albeit gently out of my swivel chair and, with a macho, “Tut, tut, how hard can it be Alice?” was himself subdued in seconds, and this is a man who can compute, in his head, in a matter of seconds, all manner of mathematical gymnastics.
“Gee whizz, Alice love”, he said, after completing it, successfully, forty eight minutes later, “You’ve got your work cut out for you”. Thanks for the moral support.
So, it was on our 19th wedding anniversary that I walked into our local University College and took my place beside eleven other wannabe teachers, all of whom should apparently, “Be congratulated on getting this far. The competition was ferocious”. Really? I looked around at my fellow students and not one of them jumped out at me as particularly leonine. To be honest, I thought we seemed quite ordinary. Time will tell.
Our first day was fairly mind boggling with information overload on a number of subjects, primarily the help and support available to us. Immediately after one lecture by the study skills, support team, I hurried to register my ‘disability in maths’. Dyslexia is taking very seriously indeed and there is a wealth of support and finance out there for those who find spelling hard. There is little available to help those of us who find, ‘express 2/5 as a decimal’ or indeed a percentage. The support staff were very kind but had no leaflet to give me. I’ve made an appointment to discuss my ‘issues’ at a later date.
Later, after seeking out a cafeteria, difficult when most of ‘Uni’ has been reduced to rubble, okay, not exactly rubble, but a lot of building work which has demolished the dining hall, our group went in search of lunch. The kids, those youngsters to whom this is just another milestone in their unadulterated lives, went to the pub; a more studious, mature student and I stayed on site and shared an empathic, “My God, what are we doing?” moment. She, having locked herself away these past few years, between school runs and family life, in the solitary confinement of her box room, beavering away at an OU degree, is glad finally, to be released and walk among the living.
So we have been set our first assignment. To create a name badge. I was thrilled. Whilst the other young things groaned, I knew that I had a secret army. Two little girls who can think of nothing better than to get the felt-tips out, some stickers and the glitter. How can I fail? A mature student, hoping one day to inspire the minds of future generations is surely one who, through strong leadership, is one who can delegate and get those subordinate to her to do all the ‘admin’. To be continued...

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

With a knap-sack on my back...

Pens and pencil cases have been carefully mulled over in WH Smith before the much desired Hello Kitty range was finally opted for. School uniform has been purchased and name tapes have been, albeit clumsily, sewn in. That sinking feeling is much upon the household. The youngest, amid much enforced bonhomie from their mother along the lines of “Yay, school in a few days time! Yay! You’ll see your friends again”, has been met with stony silence.
So, before the hamster wheel of school, homework, ballet, tap, swimming, Rainbows, musical theatre, after school clubs, spelling practise and homework starts rolling and the eldest two embark on their GCSEs and A levels respectively, we have tried to take full advantage of lying in bed until after nine, not minding that the youngest are watching Hannah Montana before breakfast, eating dinner at odd hours and basically wallowing in the calm before the storm.
This hasn’t been quite fulfilling enough for Hubby who is now, after several weeks of downtime, eager to get back to his recruits and what better example to these determined, young people than if their Commander were to do a little ‘exped’ of his own. So, as soon as it was decently possible after the Red-Head’s sixth birthday party, he downloaded a map from the internet, borrowed all manner of walking gear from a more roister-doistering friend and then, went about the challenge of embroiling our nocturnal, lounge lizard of a son, to accompany him.
Of course Hubby had to be patient and await the emergence of his son from his bedroom, which was approximately two hours after lunch. By this time Hubby had packed and was champing at the bit.
“This is really important Alice love”, he said, tying his boots, “Our lad will be eighteen in a matter of weeks; it’s high time we spent some quality time together and what better way than walking the coastal path”.
I didn’t want to rain on his parade but were they physically up to it?
“I mean, you take daily drugs because of the arthritis in your knee and our boy, well, the most active thing I’ve ever seen him do is take a shower”.
“Alice you forget his bass playing. He comes off that stage drenched in sweat”.
“I appreciate that, but that takes a different kind of stamina. I can’t think off the top of my head of any rock-star sports men. Keith Richards is hardly renowned for his charity walks is he? Whereas Ian Botham, is”.
“What are you getting at Alice?” I wasn’t entirely sure, other than I didn’t think either of them were particularly enviable specimens of masculine perfection. I didn’t articulate that last bit though. They didn’t need my negativity. Instead I silently made up a first aid kit of Savlon and plasters and Ibuprofen.
Hubby began to pace, then paused to re-check his rucksack for a torch, a map and a compass.
I was bewildered by the last item. “I may not be Shackleton darling and I’ve done few mega walks. None to be honest, but I would have thought that as I long as you had the sea to your left, you were, well, going the right way?” Hubby looked slightly sheepish but I think that he just liked the compass as an artefact. It’s synonymous with adventure.
Eventually he could stand it no longer and went to wake our son. It came as bit of shock to him to find that he wasn’t going into town with Jim to search out some gigs, but was in-fact, going to walk from Looe to Mevagissy with a rucksack on his back. “Oh Fal-da-ree man”, came his only comment.
Before they left I took my boy to one side and, after giving him an enormous hug, tried to explain the significance of this father/son time together. “You see dad has always hankered after a father that would have done something similar with him. Someone to look up to, to depend on, to learn from, you know that kind of thing that you, having dad for a father, take for granted”.
“It’s cool ma, I get it”. And with a bagel in his hand, he, his father and a very loyal dog were whisked away by Mags who dropped them off in Looe for the start of their awfully big adventure.
And it was awfully big. By the end of the second day they rang from Charlestown.
“I surrender Alice. Our blisters are bigger than our toes. The dog is half dead. We are drenched in sweat and knackered. We won’t get kicked off the course if we don’t finish the next eight miles”. I drove to rescue them. They were upbeat, suntanned and beaming. When we arrived home, Hubby emptied the rucksacks and I drew a bath for my boy.
“Know what Ma?” he said, sitting on the edge of the bath, as I whirled his bubbles, “This trip meant a lot to dad and it was great being with him. He’s a good guy. He really is”.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Streets of London.

To the wonderment of my now 15 year old daughter, her birthday present was a trip to London. With her mother. She took the train tickets out of her card.
“Oh wow mum! How fab! When are we going?”
“Read the ticket”. She scrutinised the information written on it.
“Tomorrow? Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow”. Hubby was less than enthusiastic.
“Alice”, he hissed, “How the hell can we run to it?” Not wanting to spoil the moment of gift and card opening, I hissed back in whispers.
“Tickets were bought with my rail card; Mag’s parents have gone away and not only offered us the use of their flat but they’ve also lent us their Oyster cards.”
“Their what?”
“Oyster cards you dim, provincial hick. You can’t actually hand over money on London’s public transportation service anymore. You have to use an Oyster card. You swipe it before you ride a bus or a tube train.”
“Well I never”.
The flat was stunning, especially given the fact that it had an old fashioned lift where one has to crank two metal, concertina style doors open and shut. I could have ridden up and down it all day.
“C’mon mum” called my daughter after the fifth time, “And you had the temerity to call dad a provincial hick”. She had a point.
We walked miles and miles and miles. We visited every market. It both heartened and depressed me at the same time. The quality of produce was stunning. Each little market stall run by a ferociously proud artisan. At Borough Market we sampled every imaginable foods. The fish stall was breathtaking. Why can’t we have the same here? Do we care that little what we put in our mouths in the South West? Must our fish be fried and served with chips? At Spitalfields we meandered around stalls selling inconceivable quantities of handmade shoes, hats, bags and witty, sloganed t-shirts. At Covent Garden we marvelled at the performers and yet more gorgeous shops. My daughter drew the line at Camden Market.
“There will be too many people mum. Let’s do a museum instead”. I groaned. To my eternal shame I have come to the realisation that I’m not cut out for museums. We had nipped into the National Portrait Gallery on our way from the London Eye, via Westminster, St James’s Park, Horse Guards Parade and Whitehall. By the time we’d arrived at Trafalgar Square, my legs were columns of lead. I was looking forward to a few minutes peace and a bit of a sit down. My daughter was having none of it.
“C’mon” she said, heaving me up from a wooden banquette. Whilst I marvelled at the works I was secretly longing for an extra large glass of wine. I finally got my way after searching for and finding a portrait of every teenage girl’s favourite pin-up, Tom Daley. Even in my advanced years I could appreciate what all the fuss is about.
Sitting outside the Soho Bar, twenty minutes later, I was kicking myself. A large glass of wine and a coke had cost three quid. I thought the bar girl had made a mistake until I realised it was happy hour and all the drinks were half price. Damn it. I’d denied myself a cocktail for fear of Hubby’s wrath. After being chatted up by a dubious young man who loved the idea of a mother/daughter combination we fled, only to run across a gay, pole-dancing bar. The men were in the window, winking at us. It was hard to avoid.
Still giggling, we had dinner in Chinatown before meandering through Shaftesbury Ave to Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street where we capitulated and took a tube to Baker St and finally the lift to the flat where we literally fell into our beds.
So, when the idea of a museum was bandied the following morning I was less than enthusiastic. I’m not quite sure what it is about them. I’m obviously aware of the rare treasures held therein but to be honest, they leave me cold. Perhaps because it’s all so static? But, not wanting to be like the heathens depicted in the museums dioramas we caught the bus to the Victoria and Albert. Nice.
“Nice? For God’s sake mum”. I shrugged my shoulders. After an enormous ice-cream of appeasement across the road in Harrods, I promised I’d take her to the British Museum. The building was impressive but I was disappointed by its contents.
“Disappointed? Mum, you beggar belief”.
“The British Museum was a misnomer”, I said with certain haughteur “More like the bloody Egyptian Museum”.
“That was the Rosetta Stone”, she said aghast but then, and not for the first nor last time that weekend my daughter, in ever exasperated tones of role reversal, shook her head and said, “Let’s take you to your favourite Museum. Selfridges”.


I am relaxed. I mean really relaxed. The sort of relaxed that involves the hedonistic pleasure of reading a few chapters of a novel. In the afternoon. On a lounger. The sun may be playing hide and seek but nevertheless, even its elusiveness has not put the dampeners on things. We are on holiday and we are having a good time!
Hubby to his credit had a surprise in store for us. I had only just emptied the suitcases from our consequently abortive attempt at camping and was filling the washing machine.
Hubby came up behind me and slapped my bottom, “Quick turn around on all this laundry love. We need to pack again”.
“Pack again? What do you mean?”
“You didn’t think our summer holiday was going to be two nights in a dingy campsite did you?”
“If I’m honest, I didn’t even expect that”.
“Now, now Alice love, don’t be spiteful”, Hubby replied, a little hurt.
“For someone who doesn’t do holidays as a rule, I find it hard to believe that you’ve got yet another one up your sleeve.”
“Well neh-neh-neh-neh-neh, I have”.
“God Dad, you are sooo mature”, said a passing daughter rather haughtily.
“Before you criticise your father too severely he has just dropped the bombshell that he is taking us on another holiday”.
“Will it require a passport, inoculations, litres of factor 25 and foreign currency?”
“Um, no”
“Knew it. Something lame and water logged and British. As usual.” And off the ungrateful little Miss sloped.
“Really? Are we going somewhere in this country? Don’t tell me it involves the bloody tent again?”. I genuinely couldn’t face wading through a shower-block full of verrucas for a second time in a week.
“No, No tent required”
“A hotel? All inclusive?”
“No, I can’t promise that either”.
“A gorgeous cottage with sea views?”
“Bingo!” The sly old fox. He’d spent the last fortnight, moaning on and on about money and all along he’d booked a self catering holiday for his family. I was so touched. Immediately I gathered ever more armfuls of laundry, made a few more lists, planned menus, went shopping for the ingredients, vacuumed and, organised Dad to feed the cats and water and harvest my tomatoes. The following morning I was ready and raring to go.
“Right then. Where are we going? Suffolk, we’ve never been there..”
“Bit closer to home than that Alice”, Hubby answered, squeezing my sun lounger through gritted teeth on top of a pile of stuff in the boot.
“Not Cornwall again dad?” groaned the 14 year old, slapping her forehead, “Don’t tell me I’m going to spend my 15th birthday in Cornwall again”.
“Afraid so”. Curiouser and curiouser. Where on earth was he taking us? Fifteen minutes later we found out.
“Cawsand?” asked my eldest daughter.
“Pier Cellars?” was all I was capable of.
Hubby hopped out of the car and withdrew a set of keys so enormous that they would have made even the most sadistic jailer lose heart. He unlocked an enormous padlock, pushed open the metal gates with an ominous rusty, scraping sound, drove the car forward, jumped out again to shut the gates and drove down to the cottage. We were going to spend a week in accommodation generally reserved for young, Royal Naval recruits whilst undergoing outward bound training. Had Hubby finally lost his marbles?
“The trainees stay in the long huts Alice”, said Hubby, once more fiddling with the set of keys, “Whereas we are here. In the Senior Rates cottage”. I tentatively stepped inside. It wasn’t bad. A bit municipal what with various memorandums on the walls and pussers old married quarters furniture but, you know what? I was instantly charmed.
The view is magnificent. My lounger, once erected, looks out to Plymouth Sound. It affords seclusion that A-list celebrities can only dream of. The children love it, they have their own exclusive little harbour, even the soon to be 15 year old, judging by her Facebook page is having an ‘awesome’ time, helped along by the company of her best friend. They’ve even built rafts. Rafts for God’s sake. It’s like being in a chapter of Swallows and Amazons.
Friends, desperate for a nose around, have dropped by in their droves every evening and they too have been captivated by the place.
“Jammy buggers” said one teasingly “perks of the job Commander?” Hubby is more aware than most of the brutal cuts in the MOD and was immediately defensive.
“Perks of the job? You have to be joking. I have paid the going rate to rent this place for a week and it’s been worth every penny”. He topped up our friend’s wine glass, threw another log on the bonfire and settled back in his folding chair. For the first time in a long time his forehead looks as though it has been ironed out. He has, to coin our son’s retro vernacular, ‘taken a chill pill’. It has a far reaching effect, which is why, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my book.

Thursday, 19 August 2010



“One week left Alice” said Hubby resting his silver topped cane on the back of the sofa, “and then I’m on leave”. He hopped from foot to foot kicking off his black, shiny, shoes and peeled off his socks.
“Must you?”, I asked, my nose wrinkling in distaste.
“What?” asked Hubby playfully, dangling an offending sock in my face, “fresh as a daisy darling since you bought these posh socks”. Marks and Spencer’s Freshfeet finest.
“Yeah? Well I think poor Marksies have bitten off more than they can chew”. The idiom unfortunately provided an image of said feet and socks being snacked upon and a sudden sense of revulsion overcame me and I shuddered and escaped to the kitchen. Hubby, sensing a moment of high-jinks, chased after me. The back door was locked; I had no-where to go.
“Stop!” I screamed, covering my face and mouth, “Stop it you pig!”.
“Look Alice, I haven’t got the sock. Look. I promise”. I peeped through a crack in my fingers. His hands were waggling in front of me. Empty. I relaxed.
“That was mean”, I said, pouting.
“Darling, as if I would ever shove a sweaty sock in your beautiful face. Come here”. My back was pressed up against the kitchen door. He lifted my chin and kissed me. For what seemed a very long and lingering time.
“Ahem”, said a voice. We looked up. It was our son. Behind him, another tall young man, indistinguishable apart from tribal tattoos dancing up his forearms. He too sported a long mane, mildly unpleasant facial hair, black jeans, a dead rock band on his black t-shirt and beads around his neck and wrists.
“Ma, Pa, this is Louis. Lead singer of The Mighty”. I pulled my top down rather self-consciously. God knows why. I’d been kissed, not molested.
“How do you do Mrs Band?” asked Louis very politely, holding out his hand, “..Mr Band”, extending his manners to Hubby, “It’s very kind of you to let us stay here tonight. It’s difficult to find lodgings on tour, especially for six. I hope we aren’t putting you to any trouble”.
“None at all”, I managed with what I thought was an air of gravitas, before my son, silently indicated to the top of my head. My hand flew up and there, like some grotesque, Grayson Perry style bow, was Hubby’s discarded sock. I chose to ignore it. Instead I put the kettle on to boil as though I oft wandered around in a distracted state, my lipstick smudged, a size twelve sock flopping atop my hair. It seemed more rock’n’roll to appear a little mad.
Louis, our son, two of our son’s band members, our 14 year old daughter and two of her friends departed soon after.
Hubby mentally counted the number of people staying under his roof that night, “Six of us and twelve extra”, he sighed defeated, before finally going to change out of his uniform. The phone rang.
“I’ve got a ticket for the Port Eliot lit fest. Come with me?”
“Mags, I’m not paying forty quid for a couple of hours to watch some yuppies float around drinking mimosas”.
“Don’t be such an inverted snob. At least come to the pub for a drink”. She twisted my arm. Hubby was taking a trip to Lords to watch the cricket in a couple of days so did not protest too much.
I got to the pub first and ordered myself a glass of white wine. I was still reeling when Mags turned up. “Four pounds ninety five!”, I said, brandishing the glass at her.
“Get it down your neck and come with me”, she implored, a wicked glint in her eye. “You can gatecrash. There’s a spot in the fence you can negotiate”. I looked at her as if she were mad.
“I’ve a silk dress on and high heels Mags”.
“All the more reason; you won’t look out of place. Meet you there.” Minutes later I was wedging my body through a very, very narrow gap. At one point my right bosom was harpooned by a bramble.
“Ouch” I yelped.
“Who goes there?” At least I think that’s what I heard. I felt like a fugitive. I remained stock still, my heart beating audibly. I could see the headlines, ‘Local Commander’s wife scales festival fence’.
“Do you need a hand?” I accepted the offer, and the hand extricated the bramble from my bust, gave a little pull and a second later I was in. Music thumped, people floated, food sizzled, and fairy lights twinkled. Hell knows where Mags was.
“Drink?” my rescuer handed me a cocktail, “Come and meet Grayson Perry” and taking my hand he led me through the revellers. Good job I’d removed the sock. Wouldn’t have liked him to think I was taking the mickey.

Camping it Up.

First week of summer leave and it’s good to know that some things never change. There arepeople in this world who are so reliable that one can almost second guess what they are going to say next. It was no surprise therefore when Hubby walked through the door fairly early last Friday afternoon. If I’d expected him to be beaming, with a little jaunty step in his walk, I’d have been most disconcerted but year in, year out, it is exactly the same scenario. He walks through the door, flings himself onto the nearest sofa and sleeps for a couple of hours, before waking and informing me that “We need to talk”.
My heart sank this year as it does every year, not because the phrase, “We need to talk” was, as is often the case in melodramas, a pre-cursor for disclosing an affair, but because I know the discussion we are about to have will not be about his mistress but about his money.
“So, Alice”, he said, delving into his briefcase, “I’ve looked at our bank account. It’s far from healthy which, it being leave and all that, is a bit of a bummer but, there it is” and he handed me a printout from the computer which did indeed indicate a certain brutal deficit.
“But we’re going camping tomorrow for a few days”, I protested.
“Only to Whitsand Bay. I took the liberty of buying a couple of disposable barbeques on the way home; we’ll chuck a few snorkers on the fire and we’re good to go”. Are we indeed? I couldn’t wait.
The next day in relative sunshine, I remembered why it had been, from the gold, felt-tipped pen graffiti in one of the tents, precisely three years since we’d last been camping. It took a list as long as my arm to remind myself of all the necessary equipment required for a couple of days under canvas. Basically, as much as one needs for a fortnight. So a few hours later we arrived at our destination about 15 minutes from our own front door. By the time we had unpacked, pitched the tent, laid it out, and put things “where they should be Alice, let’s start as we mean to go on, i.e ship-shape” and inflated beds, I was all ready for lying down on one. But there was little time for relaxation. The dog, delighted to be in an open, unexplored field with his glorious family, was wildly excited and it took all of our tenacity to retrieve him from our neighbour’s caravan and tether him to a special spike I’d bought, when I thought, oh so foolishly, I would take him with me to my ignominious days as allotment owner. The youngest girls too were irrepressibly thrilled being of an age to relish the adventure of sleeping on a blow-up bed, inside a sleeping bag, under canvas and have no qualms whatsoever regarding the sanitary conditions. Even our 14 year old joined us.
“It makes me nostalgic”. I’m eternally grateful that she didn’t follow that up with, “For better times”.
Finally, as the evening sun began to fade, the familiar tones of “Co-ee”, were heard and Mags and Sue appeared, gesticulating madly. Mags it must be said looked a dead ringer, apart from the beard and ruddy complexion, for Sherpa Tensing what with her Uggs and enormous haversack on her back.
“I knew it would be terribly basic”, she said, before adding, “Step aside Commander Band.” Hubby looked aghast as with one flick of her arm, which would have intimidated any Moroccan salesman, she unfurled a Kelim rug.
“There”, she said, “Take that look off your face”, she directed at Hubby, “There is no need for my friend and God-children to camp as though they are naval trainees” and she continued to decorate our humble pitch. A table cloth was flung with the same aplomb as the rug, bunting was draped and tea-lights and fairy-lights were lit.” From her bag she also removed an I-pod and speakers, a jug and some wild-meadow flowers. Plaid cushion pads were applied to nasty plastic seats. Whilst Mags styled us fit for a ‘Cool Camping’ editorial in Country Living, Sue emptied her bag. Out of it she withdrew, olives with feta, a live basil plant, rustique bread, runny Camembert and several bottles of red wine. Whilst the 14 year old was beside herself to be in the company of the Trinny and Susanna of the great outdoors, Hubby looked genuinely crest-fallen.
“But what about my sausages? I bought beans and corned beef as a surprise. We could have had pot-mess”. His eyes suddenly glazed and I realised that it wasn’t just my daughter who was feeling nostalgic. An ex-ped on Dartmoor, bivouacs, a camp fire and the camaraderie of other sailors were all visible on Hubby’s expression. Camping a la Royal Navy had not only provided him with a pot-mess but his salad days too.


Shamed by Mags into cleaning the bottom of my fridge, all I did before filling it up with the morning’s recent supermarket shop was empty the shelves and give the interior a bit of a Cif-fing. No big deal. It was a bit awkward; I was crouched and leaning in and reaching uncomfortably but really, it wasn’t exactly hard manual labour, nevertheless I have been left with crippling back pain which has resulted in my taking to my bed. I haven’t taken to my bed for an awfully long time. Not until recently anyway. Now suddenly this is the second time in a week. The first time was, I suppose, my fault entirely but it was such a good summer ball. Hubby looked as ever, immaculate. I felt movie star glamorous in my evening dress, my hair turned out alright, my shoes were comfortable without being ugly, Dad was sleeping over to keep an eye on the teenagers, which also meant Hubby and I could stay ‘on board’. We were, to coin a rather vulgar, Mancunian phrase, ‘up for it’. Our joie de vivre was helped along by summer drinks beforehand with the Captain, his wife and our friends. We continued with our merrymaking by way of pre-dinner champagne, continuing throughout dinner with copious bottles of wine.
After leaving the table all sorts of entertainment was provided and my prowess on a simulated surf board was not humiliatingly awful, neither was my shieing of a ball at the coconuts, my having to carry two for the rest of the evening, evidence of my success. We danced and danced to the phenomenal Freshly Squeezed, boogied to the disco and finally at 3.30am, went to bed. I will accept that up until dinner I had not heeded the government’s advice to drink responsibly and, had I continued in that vein, would no doubt have disgraced myself by either falling over or being sick, or God forbid, doing both simultaneously. From 11.30pm until 3.30am however, I only drank water, gallons of it, so that when I eventually went to bed, I was in high spirits and full of beans having attended the best ball, ever. When Hubby woke me at 9am however, to join our friends for a post ball debrief over breakfast, I thought I was going to die.
“Leave me alone” I moaned, “Just leave me rest in peace”. But he was having none of it. Dragging me out of bed and applying a variety of garments to my body, my whining all the while, Hubby then took me by the hand and pulled me along various corridors and stairwells until we finally reached the dining hall.
Mags, who had had to be carried to bed hours before me was tucking into black pudding and fried eggs, a broad grin on her face.
“Mornin’ Alice. Fantastic ball huh?”, she said with obscene chirpiness. I sat down and, whilst terribly bad manners to do so, put my elbows on the table and then with undoubtedly far worse manners, buried my head in my hands.
“Mornin’”, I groaned.
“Full breakfast mam?” asked a steward. I shook my head and shivered.
“Not on your nelly”, I said with a very small voice, “Just toast and tea please”.
“Non-handler”, said Hubby, dipping a large, greasy sausage into his egg yolk. I was feeling increasingly queasy.
“Hello Alice”, said a passing parson, slapping me across the back with characteristic bonhomie, “Excellent dancing last night not to mention your fine pair of coconuts!”. Not wanting to crush his feelings for not laughing at his saucy joke, I managed a weak smile.
“Not feeling your usual self old girl?”, he asked, roaring with laughter.
“You could say that”, I replied. I nibbled on some dry toast, and then left the table. Hubby and I gathered our belongings and drove home in silence. I offered my thanks to Dad, gave him a hug, relieved him of his duties, climbed the stairs, stripped off, then burrowed under my duvet and stayed there, all day. It being a Saturday Hubby, although feeling rather jaded himself, was at least at home and capable of walking both dog and daughters.
Today though he is at work and once again I am confined to bed. Perhaps it is God’s retribution. A question of ‘You want to stay in bed all day? Then I’ll show you my girl”. I am in agony and frustrated. The aforementioned dog and daughters were going stir-crazy until Mags saved the day, she also drove me to the doctor, who, left perplexed by my symptoms could only offer hard drugs. Plenty and of an astonishing assortment: Valium, codeine, ibuprofen and paracetamol vie for my attention. It remains to be seen what happens next; I’ve dallied with the drink and the drugs this week, all that remains in the sex and rock and roll. With my back in its current state, one of those recreational activities is out of the question. I may as well just listen to my i-Pod.

Monday, 2 August 2010


“Alice, please lock the door and don’t let anyone else in”. We had just hugged and kissed another guest a fond farewell.
“Darling”, I said, soothingly, “It is almost over, the last of the guests will be gone in few days. Keep smiling”.
“Keep smiling? Bloody hell Alice. I’ve started to dread the doorbell ringing. Every time it does there is someone standing there with a suitcase”.
“Sweetheart”, I continued gently, “It’s not for much longer I promise. We’ve done the Swiss and the Norwegians, so that’s Europe taken care of. Just got to get through the Americas and we’re done until next summer”.
Begrudgingly Hubby followed me to the basement where we changed yet another set of bed sheets, scrubbed the shower and Parazoned the loo.
“So how many are arriving later”, Hubby asked.
“Five of them. Two adults and three children”. Hubby’s shoulders visibly slumped.
“You’ll be at work for most of the time”, I answered, “All you have to do is open the wine for dinner and then talk animatedly for a couple of hours.” Unconvinced Hubby was quiet and in silence we carried the dirty linen up the stairs and filled the washing machine. The poor thing looked genuinely frightened at another heap of laundry it was expected to wash.
Finally I spoke. “Just pray that the sun shines”. God must be rushed off his feet at the moment as he most certainly didn’t hear my prayers. The first few hours in the company of my American friends was pleasantly warm and sunny. We sat in the garden and chatted amiably over a pot of coffee. The children did as children do and just ran off to play as though they’d known each other for years and our 14 year old daughter awkwardly took their 13 year old son for a stroll around Torpoint. We were just about to go the pub near the beach when the skies darkened and the heavens opened. We ran inside and the teenagers ran home.
Outside, the decibel level of four young children, two being exuberant Americans had been diluted. Inside, the noise level was insufferable. They crashed up and down the stairs, banging doors almost off their hinges. They bounced my exercise ball with all the gusto of Serena Williams along my hallway, even though the difference in circumference between a tennis ball and an exercise ball is like comparing planet Earth with the Sun. My nerves were so much on edge that my teeth were involuntarily grinding. My eight year old was in 7th heaven. I think she genuinely thought, if her accent and mannerisms were anything to go by, that she had landed a part in an American tv show. Hubby looked at me beseechingly. I shrugged my shoulders and poured him another glass of wine.
Then armed with a golfing umbrella, he went to light the barbeque. “Hey, before you go to too much effort”, said Bill, “We ought to let you know we don’t eat meat”. Hubby looked confounded.
“None at all?”
“Only of the feathered variety”.
“Oh and we don’t do gluten” added my friend, “I brought rice cakes with me”. Hubby looked at the pile of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference beef-burgers and stack of Tiger Vienna Rolls and wondered what to do with them. Luckily I’d bought four, 2 for £5 chicken tikka kebabs, so at least there was something to feed our guests. They are all very thin, so they didn’t seem to mind. The children nibbled half-heartedly at a rice cake, turned their noses up at the coleslaw, made a pukey face at the tomato and mozzarella and insisted that “this stinks” at the Indian flavour and thus alien tasting, chicken. They went to bed eventually, leaving the adults to chat. My dear husband, mostly urbane and articulate around his type of men i.e in the Navy who preferably support Crystal Palace and Paul Weller with equal fervour, was literally at sea with Bill. A professor in Cinema and Media.
“Have you seen Apollo 13?” asked Hubby eagerly, certain that another man would share his passion for macho movies, “It’s brilliant!”
“Who’s the cinematographer?” asked Bill. Hubby looked utterly lost.
“Dunno”, he said, “But Tom Hanks is in it” as if that offered a satisfactory reply. Hubby was relieved to go to work the following morning and spend a working day with real men. The sky continued to drown us and we spent a fraught day with sweaty, noisy children in an indoor play centre. It was far removed from Manhattan. It continued thus for a couple of days and finally they too embraced us and departed.
Hubby retreated to his armchair with a glass of Calvados, the Tour de France and a happy sigh. I received a text from my son, ‘Ma, the support band we are watching need lodgings. I said you’d be cool with them kipping here’. This was not the time to share that information.