Friday, 30 April 2010


“Hope all this has put paid to all your fanciful notions of world travel Alice”, said Hubby rather piously one morning this week.
“What on earth do you mean?” I replied indignantly.
“Alice, an extended weekend cannot pass us by without you poring longingly over a travel brochure in the vain hope that we will suddenly find a couple of grand to whisk off to some remote palm fringed island”.
“I’d hardly call Tenerife remote”.
“It’s as remote as the Ascension Isles if you are bloody well stuck on it”. Hubby was talking from experience, having in fact been marooned on Ascension with an abscess. It was many years ago but it was an experience that has scarred him and put him off any island, archipelago or variation therein. When we went to Majorca, I fooled him into believing we were going to mainland Spain.
“It’s all those years at sea Alice. You like to have your feet on a bit of terra firma”, has been his refrain since his abscess and subsequently, his tooth were removed on Ascension. This was only after the dentist had had to grip Hubby’s head been his knees to get some purchase before he yanked his tooth out with the shaking ferocity only a terrier might demonstrate with a newly caught rabbit.
“So are you trying to tell me that since this volcano business we are never going to travel abroad ever again?”
“Well it makes you think. How many of our friends and colleagues are stranded in far flung corners of the earth, having to pay God only knows how much in extra living costs, not enjoying themselves but spending hours of the day on the internet trying to rearrange new flights and argue with insurance companies? Nope Alice, it doesn’t matter how exotic Cuba, Miami, Brisbane, New York or even Tenerife are. If you have outstayed your welcome then there is nowhere like home.”
It’s as if this volcano has been sent as a direct gift from God to Hubby as a lifelong justification of venturing no further than the Norfolk Broads.
The eight year old wandered in, deep in thought.
“You ok tiddler?” her father asked her, ruffling her hair, “You look very serious”.
“I’ve just been watching the news” she replied.
“Well that’s more than your brother is doing which, given the fact that he’s meant to be studying politics ‘A’ level, is slightly disconcerting. I’m sure he would be hard pressed to tell you who Nick Clegg was.”
The aforementioned son walked in, looking for some socks.
“Nick Clegg? Hmm isn’t he the bassist for the Arctic Monkeys?”
Hubby opened his mouth and shut it again in disbelief. Our son returned from the utility room clutching his newly washed underwear.
“Dad, chill. I was just kidding”, and he disappeared from whence he had come.
“So, as I was saying”, said the eight year old, “I’ve been watching the news”.
“And?” I asked her, “What did you hear that has made you so pensive?”
“Pompeii”, she returned flatly.
“Yes. Do you think if this volcano continues to spew out ash that it will fall on Torpoint and in thousands of years time we’ll be dug out by some architect..”
“..Archaeologist, and I’ll be in the middle of brushing my teeth and they’ll find me like this..” and she demonstrated her petrified body by contorting her expression to that of an exaggerated open mouth.
“Do you normally open your mouth that wide when brushing your teeth?”
“Well I’d be in shock if I was turning to stone wouldn’t I, so my mouth would be open very wide trying to get the last bit of breath in my lungs.”
“Darling”, Hubby tried to explain, “This volcano is nothing like Pompeii”.
“Why ever not?” one could detect a sense of disappointment in her voice.
“Because we are thousands of miles away from the direct path of billions of tons of fast flowing, molten lava.”
“So in the future no-one will use a chisel and a hammer on my head to discover what it was like to be a child in 2010?”
Not wanting to crush her ambition of being excavated for the continued understanding of cultural history, Hubby hugged her and said “Probably but it will have little to do with an Icelandic volcano”.
The Red-Head appeared.
“Where are my tights?” she asked.
“Where are my tights – please. They’re in there. Just washed and dried”.
“In the nativity room?”, she asked.
“In the where?” I enquired, laughing
“In the nativity room”, she looked at me as though I were an idiot, “Duh. Where we wash the clothes and have the rubbish bin and feed the cats?
Suddenly the image of our messy utility room, which is never free of laundry and God knows what being the home to a few donkeys, the odd shepherd and the infant Messiah was too fabulous for words and both Hubby and I vowed that forever after the Nativity Room would always be referred to thus.
As ever there was little time for reflection. It wasn’t yet seven thirty. I’d prepared four packed lunches, sorted out various piles of washing, made breakfast for all and sundry, had discussed world travel, past and future human societies and even pondered the idea of the Star of Bethlehem being a permanent fixture above our house. My mind was exhausted. The idea of being stranded on holiday very much appealed. Then Hubby walked in from the kitchen.
“Just had a text from a work colleague. Take a look”. I took his mobile and read the message: ‘Won’t be in work til next week. Can’t get on flight. Blew holiday budget. Up to limit on all credit cards. Insurance washing hands of us. Hotel kicked us out. Lodging in Grotsville. E missing first GCSEs. Me and the missus not talking. No place like home’.
“Told you so”, said Hubby playing his trump card.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Marching Orders.

Fine weather brings out the best and the worst in people. The best is seeing Hubby on his second week of leave beavering away in the garden like some demented boy scout, desperate for that last badge on his arm. His wheel barrow has been trundled hither and yon across the lawn as he humps the detritus of branches and dead plants left in the wake of the wall fall, into a pyre. The expression on his face as he sets light to it and sees a smoulder grow into a roaring fire, would gladden the heart of any Akela. It also proves that in every grown man there is still a little boy who loves setting fire to things. It probably also explains why ‘man’ is happy standing guard over his barbecue, presuming himself to be the alpha male as he flips his burgers with masculine verve. He is unaware that the gathered throng of WAGs know damn well that the wife has done the donkey work to provide said barbeque and they also secretly think that he looks a bit of a twit in his jocular, bra and stockings apron and not as he assumes, a wit.
The sunny weather has also meant that the Band family, after persuading Hubby to put down his barrow and put on his boots, has been lucky to enjoy several wonderful walks along the coastal path of the Rame Peninsula. Is there anywhere more breathtakingly fabulous in the rest of the world? When the air is calm, the sky and sea a blue only holiday brochures boast, and butterflies flitter past and ones nostrils are accosted with the scent of wild gorse, then I very much doubt it. Sadly, it probably goes without saying that the eldest children have no truck in coastal walks and have steadfastly stayed put on a warm sunny day, in their beds, their heads enshrouded by a duvet.
The only unfortunate aspect of going for a walk with Hubby is that he seems to think that his 5 and 8 year old girls and 44 year old wife are the Royal Navy’s new entry trainees and although the culture for ‘beasting’ these youngsters has well and truly been put to bed, the walks are nevertheless at a hearty pace that leave the youngest to the oldest flagging and begging to know ‘are we nearly there yet?’ “Get your arse in gear” Hubby barks before issuing ‘Remedial Training Measures’ which means he hopes to see the three of us knocking out a few press ups. He looks rather crestfallen when his orders are met with three tongues being stuck out at him. Luckily for Hubby, the dog is more obedient and bounds over craggy outcrops with the zeal encouraged by the RN, his tail wagging enthusiastically, thrilled to be the team leader. The girls and I continue our gentle perambulation, exploring the flora and fauna that surrounds us. It takes a while to stop and scoop up a furry caterpillar and watch as it curls into a ball. It takes even longer to wait for it to unfurl and make its meandering way home again, indignant that it was so rudely interrupted. By the time we have ‘mustered’ at Moran’s in Cawsand, Hubby is half way through a ‘full English’, impatient by our loitering. The girls order cheesy chips and I am made to wolf down the most sublime poached eggs. “Right let’s go”, he orders, indigestion stuck in my chest as I rummage in my bag for some Rennies.
The sunshine and unhurried pace of the Easter holidays has meant that we have hosted our first get together of the season. I love nothing more than seeing my house full of my favourite people all happy to be together, drinking, eating and laughing, the children in seventh heaven to be with their friends too. Unfortunately, the increasing needs of various diets must be met and ensuring that all my guests have enough to eat is tricky. Once they were just vegetarian which meant plonking a salmon steak on the barbie at the last minute but more recently two friends have been diagnosed as coeliacs. That means no gluten. Ergo, no buns, no sausage, no pasta salad, no couscous, no beer. Thank God they were able to eat the Pavlova but, this left a child with a dairy intolerance in tears. “I can’t eat that or I’ll vomit”, he sobbed. I was half inclined to encourage him. Instead I magnanimously handed him an ice lolly before another child asked if he too may be allowed one as he had an intolerance to eggs. And I have an intolerance to fussy children I desisted in replying.
To redress the balance of having spent so much time with my youngest children recently, my fourteen year old and I went into Plymouth a couple days ago to do some girly stuff. We had a mooch around the shops, then sat al fresco with a coffee and watched the world go by. This is where the sunshine brings out the worst in people. My God we saw some sights. Please let it not just be Plymouth where enormous women don thin strapped white cotton cheesecloth smocks that billow like sails over the tops of their pushchairs, concealing the babe within but revealing myriad, garish tattoos.
Teenagers with barely a scrap of clothing on, reclined on any given surface, snogging without coming up for air, as though this was their only chance and they were about to do down with the Titanic. We walked to the Hoe. More snogging couples, only this time and with more space afforded to them, were astride or atop each other in a most vulgar fashion. I didn’t know where to look until my daughter pointed her finger.
“Oh my God look. There’s my brother”. Remedial Training Measures have been adopted forthwith. When not doing press-ups, he is cleaning his bedroom.

Monday, 19 April 2010


I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Hubby tremble. Once or twice when the bank has written to us, the time Paul Weller spoke to him, oh and when I told him for the fourth time that my pregnancy test had shown a positive little blue line. He is after all a commander in her majesty’s senior service, he has sailed the seven seas on waters so rough that the captain stayed up all night as the waves crashed down the funnel. He has chased pirates, intent on blowing up our shores, across the channel and has, in more recent, sedentary but no less scary years given steely presentations to sea lords aplenty. So it was not without a little amusement that this last week, the youngest children and I stood, rather unsteadily at the top of the knobbly, uneven keep of Pembroke Castle, one hundred feet up, as Hubby stood just below us, still high but not quite as uneven. He was green, clutching a lichen encrusted wall and looked close to tears.
“Health and Safety had no part in the court of Henry VIIth”, I yelled down, teasingly, my words stolen away on the wind that savagely whipped our hair around our faces.
“Please, Alice”, replied Hubby, knuckles white on the stone, “Please get down. I think I’m going to be sick”.
“Dad, don’t be such a cowardy custard!”, laughed his eight year old, “It’s great up here, I can see for miles”. Her hubris resulted in her tripping backwards a little over a prominent rock causing her to grab me and we both stumbled but, as is evident, we did not fall to our deaths but instead and rather inelegantly, crumpled onto the uneven floor. Which hurt. Like hell.
We scrambled to our feet again, smiling unsurely but when we looked for Hubby he was retching over a rusty railing.
“We’re ok, we’re ok”, I called down. Hubby was having none of it and his green complexion had paled to ashen.
“I can’t cope Alice”, he called up, “Please come down”. His voice suggested he was not joking and the three of us slid down on our bottoms and were with him in seconds.
He was trembling and shaking and a weird, clammy sweat had attacked his brow.
“Get me down”, he said, his voice unfamiliar. As quickly as someone can move with jelly legs, we descended the one hundred steps of the cold, unyielding, spiral stone staircase. The girls tripped down like mountain goats and ran on ahead into the fresh air. Hubby and I emerged from the tower, with him clinging to me like a drowning man. We had to find him a chair. Had they been there, St John’s ambulance would have attended him. Unfortunately they were not but a cafĂ© was and after a strong coffee and a fresh Welsh cake, Hubby felt sufficiently revived to explore, if tentatively and without climbing, the rest of the castle grounds.
“But darling”, I said as we walked, hand in hand, “You’ve been up the Eiffel Tower”.
“I only got as far the premier etage”.
“Yeah, if truth be told, I didn’t really vacate the lift.”
“But you took the eldest kids up the Empire State Building”, I replied in amazement.
“Very true but unlike Henry VIIth, the Americans are at the forefront of health and safety and there were nets and railings everywhere and I kept my back against the wall. I never saw Manhattan”
“You could never have been an extra in Vertigo then?”, I teased.
“Listen, that Hitchcock bloke knew a thing or two about fear. Can’t say that I’m that partial to birds either”. Well I never.
We meandered a little while longer before returning to our friends’ house. The eldest children had declined to come, the fascination of the Pembrokeshire countryside no longer fascinating.
“Really mum”, the 14 year old had argued, “I am really fond of our friends but they live in a field, and that field is about five miles from the nearest house, let alone shops and cafes. I’m happier with Drake’s Circus if it’s all the same with you”.
“Ditto ma” agreed our son, “What I don’t know about Caldey Island then neither do the Cistercian monks that inhabit it”.
“Fine, I won’t make you come but neither are you staying home alone. Alternative lodgings must be found”. There was a roll of the eyes from our daughter, our son might have done the same but I wouldn’t be able to swear to it, I haven’t seen his eyes since early October, not since a curtain of hair obliterated his facial features.
I rang them when we got back. From the land line. No mobile signal for miles, another reason not to go on hols with mum and dad.
“Your dad had a funny turn”, I told each of them in turn, “On top of a tower”. The relief that they hadn’t been there to witness it was palpable.
“Poor dad”, said my daughter, “Did anyone see?”
“That’s not cool”, said my son, “Was it crowded?”
I was able to reassure them that their tall, dashing, Naval hero of a dad had not shamed them in front of a horde of tourists, by being “gay”. I reminded them, in rather uppity tones that most of the gay people they knew were actually quite brave.
“Girly then”, said my son instead.
“Still offensive. To me and your sisters, who are girls and who were in fact on top of the tower”.
I repeated that they were to behave themselves, to act responsibly and not bring shame upon the family, “unlike dad”. Then I lay back in the garden and enjoyed the shining sun. The dog, having acres of fields to run and roll in, lay in seventh heaven panting by my side. All that remains to be said is that as long Hubby doesn’t see any adders that secretly inhabit these parts, he should be equally relaxed.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Virgins, Eggs and Resurrections.

The car has once again, whilst I’m driving and attempting to keep my mind focussed on the road, been the venue for deep philosophical discussion.
As I drive, my youngest children who innately know that I am a captive audience, ask me all sorts of questions that generally speaking have me floundering and, because I’m in the driver’s seat, I cannot escape, cannot lie, cannot wriggle out of it. My expression is scrutinized by my eight year old who sits next to me on the way home from school.
At Christmas, she wanted to know about the virgin birth, on Valentine’s day she wanted the definitive answer on what is love, on mother’s day she asked me how I was coping without my mummy because I was her mummy and she didn’t want me to die. It is all very profound stuff and I often struggle for an answer deep enough yet appropriate for a girl of only eight who is evidently growing up and in need of some answers to life’s oft questioned puzzles.
“I want the truth mummy” she says gravely, as though the thought has just dawned on her that I’ve been lying to her for years.
“About what?” I ask, my foot automatically searching for the clutch, my hand reaching for the gear stick in preparation to slow down so that I can concentrate.
“Well, you know when it was Valentine’s day and you and dad got all snoggy and gave each other cards?”
“Yes”, I said, hesitantly. “We’ve already discussed this subject”. At length.
“I know, but I don’t understand why, by the end of the day, you were shouting at each other and saying rude words. How can that be love? How do you know that you love someone enough that you want to marry them?”
A school bus carrying scores of gesticulating teenagers overtook me.
“Well”, I began, “When you fall in love at the start it is all very exciting and wonderful and you can’t eat much and all you think about is the other person. Eventually, after courting for a while..”
“What’s courting?”
“Huh? You know, when you go out with someone, like your brother and his girlfriend”.
“Oh dating”, she said. Those American shows have a lot to answer for.
“Yes darling, dating. Anyway after a while it becomes apparent that even after a few rows and being able to tolerate one another’s annoying habits, that perhaps this is ‘the one’ and you get engaged, save some money, then get married and hope for the best”.
“Some people have babies first”.
“Yes, they do”. When the hell would we get home? I was stuck in a line of traffic behind a tractor.
“Well how do they manage that then?”
“Like the frogs in our pond silly”, interrupted the Red-Head from the back seat, “It’s to do with tadpoles and eggs”. My eight year old cocked her head to one side and looked at me quizzically. I shrugged my shoulders.
“That still doesn’t answer why you and dad were cross with each other when you are supposed to love each other”.
“Well that’s simple. Sometimes when you are stroppy and rude or have made yet another mess in the playroom, I am quite cross with you. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you though. And if you remember I had been up all the night before Valentine ’s Day because that one”, I said, nodding my head behind me to indicate her sister, “had been sick all night. Mums and dads get very grouchy when they are tired”. This seemed a sufficient explanation. She was quiet for a quarter of a mile.
“The year is going by very fast. Christmas, my birthday, blah, blah. Now it’s Easter”.
“Yes darling, two weeks rest. No getting up early, no packed lunches to make. Lovely”.
“I don’t get Easter”, she added, flatly.
“What is there not to get?” And why, oh why, did I ask such a leading question?
“Chocolate eggs? Delivered by a rabbit? That’s just silly”. I’d never given that one much thought before, “And why is it called Good Friday then? There is nothing very good about Jesus being crucified”. The lights were on red. This journey was interminable.
“Yes mummy, why is it good that Jesus died?” asked the Red-Head, troubled. They go to a Church of England school. Hadn’t they covered this in assembly?
“Well I suppose because it was extremely good of Jesus to die for our sins”.
“But I wasn’t born” added the eight year old insulted, “I hadn’t sinned.” Good grief.
“His sacrifice carries on sweetie, besides maybe a long time ago it was God Friday”. I indicated right at the pedestrian crossing, nearly home.
“Hmm”, she was unconvinced. Finally I pulled the handbrake on outside the house just as the Red-Head asked,
“How did Jesus come alive again mummy? It’s not fair. Lots of people loved Jesus but lots of people love other people. You loved your mummy. But she’s dead forever isn’t she?” Five year olds have an exceptional capacity for flooring adults and my throat constricted.
“Yes darling she is dead forever”.
“So was Jesus a Christian Zombie?” asked the elder one. It was such an appalling and preposterous image that I laughed out loud. The change in mood was welcome.
“No”, I said smiling and gathering coats, book-bags and lunchboxes, “Jesus wasn’t a zombie. Christians believe that He came back to life to show love and life everlasting.” It’s a difficult concept to grasp.
“But does that mean that our life will last forever?” asked the Red-Head jumping up the steps.
“Sort of. I think it means if you have faith in Jesus, when you die, you will be with God forever”.
“I like that” said her sister as we walked in the door, “It gives me comfort to think that your mother is with God being looked after”. Me too, darling, me too.