Monday, 25 January 2010

Situation Vacant.

“Bloody thing has shrunk at the dry cleaners”, grumbled Hubby the other evening whilst sorting out his mess undress uniform.
“I hate to tell you this”, I hated to tell him, “but they use chemicals at the dry cleaners, not soap and water, ergo your waistcoat hasn’t shrunk, more er, your tummy has grown”. His face dropped.
“Look on the bright side”, I added, breezily, “You are very tall and still exceedingly dashing. It’s just that you were skinny before, and now as you’re getting older, you look, well, more normal”.
“And everything was going so well then Alice. Did you have to bring my age into the equation?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Men. They’re so touchy. He’ll be asking me if his bum looks big next.
“Let it out a little bit and hold your gut in. Women have been doing it for years. I have pants in fact that do it for me. Do you want to borrow them?”
“Ew!”, said the 14 year old walking in on proceedings, “What are you talking about?”
“I’m going to lend daddy my ‘hold your tummy in, wonder knickers’. That’s all.”
She looked at me agog. “Oh great, that’s all I need, a cross dressing father”.
“And I was led to believe that you and your brother are so right on. Isn’t there a Facebook status that says, Miss Know-it-All Band has become a fan of the group ‘my dad wears my mother’s knickers and its cool with me’?”
“God mum, you are so lame” and without more ado she flounced out as quickly as she had flounced in.
“Nice one Alice. You know how to alienate your children”. Hubby was hardly in a position to criticize given that he was still tugging and twisting at his waistcoat and was getting demonstrably more agitated as the moments passed.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, unravelling him, “I was only joking, unless of course you genuinely do fancy the idea of donning my undergarments?”
He looked at me grimly.
“Anyway, why did she say, ‘that’s all I need?’ and why did you add that I know how to alienate my children? What’s going on? Please, tell me, is there something I should know?”
“Alice you’re starting to sound like Simon Le Bon. No, she just has a few teenage issues she’s dealing with, that’s all”.
What? My girl was having issues and I didn’t know anything about it yet my husband did? How come? Was it easier to talk to her father than me?
A dark cloud of doom settled above my head. I tried to analyse the past few days and pinpoint a moment where she had seemed anguished. It was usually physics and Spanish that was the main arena for despair.
I got up and went to my computer and looked at her Facebook page. My God, it come to this. I had to check what they were telling the world to know the intimate feelings of my own children?
Her status seemed innocuous enough in that she detested badminton. Nothing new there then. Whacking a shuttlecock around in my gym knickers never did it for me either.
I went and knocked on her brother’s door and asked, “What’s wrong with your sister?”
“Narrow it down a bit for me Ma, I have so many of them that there is probably a collective noun for them.” I sighed.
“I’m talking about the eldest one. Dad knows something I don’t. Should I be concerned? Is it serious? Is she being bullied?”
“No ma, she is not being bullied”.
“Oh, so there is something then and I am the last to know”. He turned once again to his computer as though in an attempt to block me out.
“What is it?” I demanded. He refused to look at me but just said, “Just let it go mum ok?” before turning the volume up.
I exited his room distracted. I have spent the last 17 years doing everything but breathe for my children and now, just as they are growing up and when I thought we might be friends where they would tell me everything, it would seem in fact, as though they view me as the inaccessible, judgemental, indifferent mothers of yore. I might as well have sent them to boarding school like several of my friends did with their darlings. They seem to cope far better with remote teenagers and are not in the slightest wounded by their offspring’s lack for need of a maternal confidant.
Hubby looked more than bewildered when I left the house 10 minutes later in my gym kit, my eyes puffy and my face blotchy.
“I’m going to Legs, Bums and Tums”, I sniffled. It was a hard workout and momentarily the pain in my glutes and hamstrings over-rode the pain in my heart but, as we stretched to some gentle exercises to cool down my thoughts once again drifted to those of my children. Luckily Mags was there and having seen my lachrymose appearance had mouthed during a Beyonce number “Want to talk?” Having been in the middle of a fast, grapevine routine however, talking had been out of the question and I’d meekly nodded.
Later, we sat in the village pub in front of a roaring log fire, cradling a diet coke each and I poured out my misgivings to her. “I might as well move out Mags”, I said, “I’ll take the babies with me but the others don’t need me. Hell you wouldn’t put up with a job where your colleagues made you feel so unvalued and there was such little job satisfaction. I may as well hand in my notice. Let’s be honest, they can pay someone to wash and cook and clean their bedrooms”. Expecting her to nudge me in a ‘come on it’s not that bad’ way, she didn’t. Instead, she listened intently and added, soberly, “Find a flat big enough and I’ll come with you”.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Driving me crazy.

The Rock Star, aka our 17 year old son, loped into my bedroom the other night. Now when I was 17 I’d been in bed for hours by midnight. These days one’s children think they can have an audience with you at any given time of day, or preferably, night.
“So, ma”, he said, sitting on my bed and switching on my bedside light. I squinted and groaned and pulled the duvet over my head.
“Why aren’t you asleep?” came my muffled response. He pulled the duvet down enough so that my face was visible.
“Hell ma, what’s happened to your skin?” I flew my hand up to my cheek and realised that, due to the cold weather, I’d taken the advice of some skincare expert and plastered on ultra thick night cream, consequently, having been asleep for an hour and then having hid my face in the bed linen, a tissue and much lint type stuff had adhered itself to the cream. I must have been quite a sight to behold. Luckily Hubby was out for the count bedside me.
“It’ll wash off”, I said, “So why aren’t you asleep? You’re not even undressed”.
“Ma, it’s only twelve”.
“Only twelve? You’ve got school tomorrow, not to mention your first driving lesson. You need to get a good night’s sleep”.
“Okay, okay, I’m a growing lad and all that”. He smirked. They think they know it all.
“Well actually you are. What the hell are you doing in there anyway?”
“Loads of my friends are on Facebook at the moment. I was chatting”.
“There is no way that what you were doing in there is any approximation of chatting. You were in fact typing”, I said, “Moreover, chatting elicits facial expression, mutual listening, a nod of the head that sort of thing. A real smile cannot be replaced by a ‘smiley’ or a nudge or a poke or whatever it is you people do to each other these days.
“These days?”, he guffawed, “Mum you have more Facebook friends than I do”. He had a point.
“I’m too tired for all this midnight badinage, what do you want?”
“You know we’ve got this gig on Friday?” I knew. What about it?
“Well I need an amp”. This meant nothing to me; the only amps I’d ever had any dealings with were of the 13 variety when the fridge fused.
“As in amplifier ma”.
“But grand-dad bought you a fab one for Christmas last year. Why can’t you use that one?”
“It’s not big enough for a pub situation Alice”. That was clever, Hubby looked dead to the world and yet here he was able to join a conversation whilst still officially asleep. Like some somnambulant ventriloquist.
“See?”, said my son, “I’m going to be totally crap if they can’t hear my bass”.
“Less of the crap love there’s a good boy. Anyway, you knew this at dinner, why didn’t you mention it then, why must we talk bands and gigs and amplifiers in the middle of the night?”
“She’s got a point son” added Hubby helpfully, “C’mon mate we’ll discuss this tomorrow. I’ve got a big, honcho VIP coming to work at o’crack sparrow. I need my beauty sleep” then crushing me in the process and squashing the living breath out of me, Hubby leaned over and extinguished the light. He then kissed our son, gave me a quick peck, mumbled something along the lines of ‘you might want to address whatever it is on your face’ and within seconds was snoring.
“Will you sort it out for me then ma?” whispered my son, “Only I’ve got a busy day tomorrow what with the driving and all”.
He gave me a hug and went back to his room, to sleep presumably. I snuggled back down into my bedding and waited for the waves of unconsciousness to envelop me. I waited, then turned, then tossed, then rearranged a pillow, then tutted at Hubby and nudged him, then lay flat on my back eyes wide open and stared in the darkness at the ceiling.
How on earth could my baby boy be learning to drive? How was that possible? How could I let him do it? Then, as is always possible but luckily not very frequent, the deep dark night of the soul grasped me and I lay there fretting, terrified of the ramifications of my gorgeous boy out there on the killer roads of Britain.
What if he got in the car with one of his friends who’d been drinking? What if he drove and drank? What if he was silly and drove too fast? What if he fell asleep at the wheel after one of his ‘gigs’? There had been mention of going to see a band in Bristol. Bristol! That’s up the motorway. The deep dark night of the soul insisted, like the ghost of Christmas Future that I watch him and his friends laughing together in the car, singing along to the music, oblivious to the truck bearing down on them....
I sat bolt upright in bed. My skin was clammy and my heart was beating like the clappers. I got up and pulled my dressing gown around me then went into the Rock Star’s room.
He had one leg in a pant and one out; earphones were glued to his lug holes. I flung my arms around him. He jumped out of his skin.
“Bloody hell Ma”. I squeezed him tight.
“I love you so much. Please be careful tomorrow won’t you? Don’t go fast. Don’t ever drink and drive. Don’t be distracted, don’t...”.
“Ma, it’s my first lesson. I’ll probably just turn on the ignition. Besides don’t you think that 17 years of being parented by you wouldn’t have rubbed off? Are you not familiar with the works of Philip Larkin? I consider every driver out there to be a potential murderer and recklessness akin to suicide.”
Excellent. I’ve done a good job.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Repeating on me.

“What goes around Alice, comes around”. I don’t think Hubby quite understood the sentiment of that statement.
“What are you talking about?”, I asked, standing at the kitchen window and looking at the devastation in the garden.
“Well,” said Hubby, pondering. “ I think it means what has happened before will happen again”.
“It doesn’t mean that at all”, I said, slapping my forehead.
“What then?” Hubby asked looking both wounded and confused.
“It’s more karmic.” That was the wrong word to use. Hubby suddenly looked utterly bewildered.
“Oh, don’t worry your pretty head about it but basically it means that if you behave in a particular way i.e kindly, then you will be repaid by kindness or conversely nastiness, if you were nasty in the first place”.
“It does not mean that if you have paid thousands to repair a patch of your two hundred year old garden wall then expect the rest of it to fall, with dramatic results into your garden, months later.”
Once again I looked out of the window at the slate and rubble, ivy and God knows what that was obliterating half of my garden. My enormous and very expensive terracotta pot and its huge palm tree that I’d bought as a big treat when we’d moved in, was lying forlornly on its side, partially covered by detritus. My garden furniture, lawn, rosemary bush, rhododendrons, clematis and banana tree were wiped out by wreckage. A doll’s plastic arm poked grotesquely out of the debris. It looked like a scene of a natural disaster from the News at 10.
I kept trying a mantra of ‘It’s only a wall, it’s only a wall’ but it was no use. The spectacle of it combined with the horrific possibility that it could have fallen the other way onto the pavement and onto some poor, unsuspecting passer-by was making me feel sick and there was no alternative other than to reach for Bach’s Rescue Remedy.
“Come on darling” said Hubby gently massaging my shoulders, “We’ll get it sorted”. I dropped the liquid onto my tongue and waited for calm. It lasted a nano second. Here came the storm.
“Mum”, said the 14 year old walking into the kitchen, “I’ve just flushed the loo and it’s making a funny noise”.
Hubby and I immediately swung our heads around to look at each other just as cartoon characters do when they both think of the same thing at the same time. The scrambling music that accompanies such an action was almost audible as he and I scarpered through the kitchen, into the hall, through the dining room and up the stairs. Given what had happened with the wall, we could now foresee a torrent of water and whatnot pouring through our sitting room ceiling. As it has done in the past. Twice. Swiftly followed by the ceiling falling down.
On entering the bathroom however we were immensely relieved to find that the Saniflo loo had not overflowed but that it was indeed making a ‘funny noise’.
“Stand back”, said Hubby, heroically, “I’ve dealt with this before, I’ve got it covered”. Hubby sounded as though he were about to do battle with a particularly ferocious dragon but I was not going to argue. I find it exceptionally sexy when a man takes charge and mends things.
“Fetch me a bucket, old towels and such like”, were his instructions. It seems men require the same equipment whether they are unblocking a loo or assisting with the birth of a baby. I did as I was bid before returning to my more traditional role of kitchen maid.
Forty minutes later Hubby found me folding laundry.
“Sorted?”, I asked beaming up at him.
“Nope, I’ve wrapped my hand in. It’s a job for a specialist”.
“You’re kidding?” I said, glumly. I think I was more disappointed that my hero had not been able to address the situation than our upstairs loo was out of action and would now have to be mended by an engineer.
“Nope, it’s well and truly kaput”. Hubby rifled through the kitchen drawers.
“What are you looking for?”
“Harry maskers. I need to seal the loo seat so that no errant bum sits on it by accident and causes all sorts of unmentionable horrors”.
Retrieving a sock from the bowels of the washing machine, I then stepped down into the kitchen and once again reached for the tincture that would hopefully ‘help me cope with balancing life’s ups and downs’.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Let’s move. Let’s by a new house. One of those brand new executive things. Better still let’s rent. Let’s move to Australia. Nothing’s old there. It’s warm; we wouldn’t have to cope with this freezing weather. Our money would go further. Would the Australian Navy have you? Let’s do it. That’s it, a new decade and a new life. I’m going to Google it”.
Hubby grabbed my wrist and wrestled the rescue remedy from me.
“You’re manic Alice. How much of this have you taken?” He read the packaging.
“It says four drops onto the tongue as it ‘assists you return to a more positive outlook when you need comfort and reassurance’. A more positive outlook Alice? That means keeping things in perspective when walls come down and lavatories break. It does not suggest, even in the small print, a radical lifestyle change with the possibility of emigration to Australia. Now breathe into a paper bag and chill out.”
I have been through several paper bags since. Especially given the very negative response from both the insurance company and the rubble collector. Good to know then that, when the proverbial poop literally hits the fan, the Saniflo plumber with his optimism and bleach, a cuppa and a piece of cake was able to get my loo flushing with impunity.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Oh Boy.

“There is a surfeit of, well just about everything”, I said, not to anyone in particular as the only living creatures there to hear me were the dog and three cats and, whilst I am awfully fond of all them and appreciate their companionship enormously, it would be pushing it to say they are good conversationalists.
It was Boxing day. The rest of the family were still in bed, even the littlest girls had given up on their Plymobil pyramid and slept in. Sighing, I scraped the vestiges of Christmas Day’s dinner into yet another bulging black bin liner. The pudding had dried overnight and had adhered itself to my posh plates like cement, it was no wonder then that all our tummies felt distended and the aromas emanating from various guests’ nether regions was toxic.
The dog looked particularly eager to help with the task of clearing the food but as I had yet to locate a whole tin of barely opened Quality Street I couldn’t take the chance of feeding him anything other than his customary Large Breed Maintenance kibble, just in case. Pushing him out of the way, I replaced foil on the turkey and ham and cling film on the pudding and trifle. The cheese too needed re-wrapping. I tried to rearrange the fridge but it was an onerous task. Creams, salads and pickles vied for attention on every shelf, vegetables that hadn’t made the first cut were desperate now to be peeled and prepared but I wondered when any of us would ever again be able to look a sprout in the eye let alone of dish of pureed swede.
Even the cava, which was stuffed in the door of the fridge, was making me feel a little sweaty. Had I really needed to drink it from breakfast the previous day? I was so proud of my home-made sloe gin though, that I’d been eager to try a couple of Sloe-motion cocktails. They’d been very moreish. Yesterday.
It was all too, too much and we still had Boxing Day to get through when all that was left would be reheated and served with chips as opposed to goose fat, crispy, roast potatoes. Hubby walked in, looking I might add, a little dyspeptic.
“Morning love”, he said, with a pained expression and holding his belly and burping, “Oh sorry. Dear God, we ate a lot yesterday”. And kissing me as he walked past, he patted the dog with one hand and lifted the full bin liner with the other and carried it into the garden, to sit, jostled amongst the other five hundred.
“I slept like the dead though”, I said, putting the glass, turkey shaped dish of cranberry sauce on the bottom shelf, next to the whole St Endellion Cornish brie, that had about two millimetres cut from it.
“Which”, I added, “is probably more than can be said for my brother and his wife”. Forget the books, the scent, bath-salts and CDs which are a given on any Christmas, our greatest gift this year and joy to the world, was the birth of my baby nephew on Christmas Eve morning. Fabulous. Hope springs eternal with the birth of a new baby and he is a big and bouncing nine pounder. Having had a couple that size, I remember vividly the nourishment they need to keep their weight on a continuing upward trend on the all important percentile chart which paediatricians, midwives and health visitors obsess about. It’s a full time job that continues all morning, a lot of the afternoon, a few hours in the evening, oh and most of the night.
“Poor them”, said Hubby, opening the dishwasher stiffly, “Lovely as he is I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.”
“He’s exquisite”, I replied then, very slowly, added, “Would you consider a reversal?”
Hubby who was bent over emptying the dishwasher, jumped up as though electrocuted, a bloody great big carving knife in his hand.
“It’s ok”, I laughed, shieing away, “I was only joking”.
“Jeeze Alice, don’t do that to me, my tubes have been well and truly snipped and I can assure you that much as I look forward to cuddling my nephew, I do not, under any circumstances, want any surgeon, anywhere near, any part of my severed vas deferens”.
“Hmm” I said, “Emphatic.” We put the rest of the clean dishes away in silence and refilled the dishwasher and put another washing cycle on. By the time we’d made a couple of cups of tea, two sleepy headed little girls came into the kitchen and muttered something about poached eggs.
“Won’t a bowl of cocoa pops do darling?” I asked, “Only I really don’t want to perform the slightest culinary task before midday”.
Speaking of which, at the stroke of midday, more people turned up for lunch including a pale looking brother and his daughter. The other half of his family were finally sleeping.
Later, once everyone had gone home, I threw aside my apron, donned a new skirt and we all went by taxi round to Mag’s house for a soiree. It was bliss to sit in someone else’s house and not be responsible for what was in the oven.
Mags has a lovely house, full of interesting objets d’art and antiques hither and yon, one piece being a chamber pot that sits next to the downstairs loo. I was a little distracted however when, on pulling up my tights and looking down, seeing that the chamber pot had been, how can I put this delicately, utilised. Quietly, I found Mags and whispered my discovery before she rushed away, blushing. Minutes later she returned laughing hysterically, the chamber pot in her hand and tears pouring down her face. She could barely stand upright.
“What is it?”, I asked, laughing too.
“It’s not a poo”, she howled, “It’s a chocolate profiterole”. To which the Red-Head quipped,
“I didn’t like it and couldn’t find a bin”.