Monday, 24 May 2010

Sing for your supper.

Sorry this post should have been posted last week. A little out of synch now!

As Hubby and our lofty guests discussed proportional representation, I for once, was more than happy to be stuck in the kitchen addressing my plump, gnocchi. There was nothing I could contribute to the conversation anyway as I didn’t really understand it with any authority and instead of explaining it to me nicely, Hubby had, before our guests arrived, called me a dullard and had instructed me to “Google it to find out”.
Funny old thing but I didn’t feel too confident after that to enter into an intellectual debate. Instead I fiddled around a little more in the kitchen, grated some parmesan and wiped the plates, so that as I entered the dining room carrying large plates with a just a few gnocchi, each plate decorated with little blobs of pesto oil, a la Masterchef, I felt rather proud of my efforts.
The conversation stopped momentarily whilst my guests politely oohed and ahed over their starter but in no time at all they resumed political dialogue as I feebly handed around olives and tore off hunks of rosemary focaccia. The chilled Prosecco slipped down my throat far too easily after which I found the main course a doddle. By the time pudding was served, I was quite content with being ignored. We had after all, in the eventual interests of politeness, abandoned politics in favour of the Royal Navy, a subject, having been married to one of its incumbents for 20 years, I felt I had some experience of but after an hour of swapping ‘dits’ more jack than Captain Ahab and the usage of more acronyms than a Government Agency text message, I’d lost the will to live when suddenly the spotlight was on me.
“This has been a wonderful dinner” said one, wiping his mouth enthusiastically with a napkin, “One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.”
“And such a good idea to use paper napkins too, much more convenient than linen ones but I’m such a glutton for punishment, I insist on using the starched article” added his wife, giggling airily. Whether buoyed by Prosecco or too old to care I just replied,
“Consider yourself lucky it’s a John Lewis paper napkin and not Andrex’s finest loo roll. I only just made it to Waitrose in time after work”. Stupid cow.
I went back to the kitchen and returned with eight individual dessert glasses.
“Tiramisu!” squeal ed Stupid Cow, “How retro! Do you remember darling when he had an Italian dinner in Tuscany that year and I made that dazzling zabaglione? This is so much wiser Alice; foolproof in fact”. Her husband looked as though he couldn’t give a jot whether it was Zabaglione, Tiramisu or Bird’s Eye, Arctic Roll. He just wolfed it down greedily.
More wine bottles were opened as well as a couple of Beaumes de Venise. My earlier consumption of Prosecco had slowed down a pace as I’d been busy creating; looking at the empties littering the table it seemed as though I had a fair bit of catching up to do. I took a quick sip of the dessert wine, finished my pud, gathered the dishes, and then went out to the kitchen to retrieve the Cornish cheeses supplied by my boss. She has also supplied a skillet, the eight white pasta dishes, eight white dinner plates and eight white side plates.
“How on earth can I possibly have a formal dinner party when I don’t have matching Wedgewood?”, I’d groaned to her and like a fairy God-Mother she disappeared out the back of her cafe and returned within moments doubled over by the weight of said matching crockery. I’d kissed her.
Stupid Cow passed on the Mennallack Farmhouse cheddar.
“No thank you Alice, far too many calories already” she said, tapping her non-existent, size eight tummy, “besides when in Rome..”
“What do you mean by that?” asked her husband.
“Well it seems such a pity after all this Italian food to spoil the flavour. Whilst I value you nobly supporting local producers Alice, you can’t beat a creamy bit of Gorgonzola”.
“Actually you can”, said another of my guests, “With some soft cheese. Then stick it to a prune and wrap some parma ham around it”. Awkward silence. Then Hubby stuck some music on quickly. Always a bit of a muso, he seems to have every track anyone has ever heard of.
“Any requests folks?” They came in thick and fast and before I could make coffee, at least three people were disco dancing on the rug in front of my dining table. Putting the kettle on seemed pointless. Instead more wine was opened and the marsala that had been bought for the Tiramisu was secretly being poured into Stupid Cow’s glass. She thought nobody had seen her.
After a few numbers, it was obvious that no-one was going to go home quietly and that all efforts in formality or indeed ordering a taxi, had, thank God, gone by the wayside. I ran up the stairs to my son’s room.
“Get the Singstar thing going will you sweet. I don’t know how to do it and dare I say it, my guests are having fun, carousing”.
It took no time at all for a middle aged dinner party to degenerate into rowdy karaoke.
Hubby and his boss did a fine rendition of Sonny and Cher’s ‘I've got you babe’, another guest and his wife sang a mean rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, and when I say mean, it was bloody awful but, the piece de resistance came when Stupid Cow returned from the loo with her bra on the outside of her dress. We will all have an abiding memory of a sozzled Commander’s wife, living it large, believing she was Madonna and belting out, with the odd squint at the screen, Like a Virgin. Hubby had never been more relieved that for once it wasn’t me up there.

If you can walk with kings nor lose the common touch...

Hubby has washed his hands of me. It would seem a Haven holiday is not his cup of tea.
“It’s not just that Alice”, to which he then added with extra hoity-toitiness, “but some of us have to work”.
“I understand that”, I replied loftily, “It’s just that I diligently saved up my tokens in the evening paper to take them on a cheap holiday”.
“And so you’re going to take them out of school as well?” His tone was such that I wanted to punch him on the nose. Of course I didn’t. I’m too much of a lady to do that. Instead I called him a terrible name and walked out of the room shouting behind me,
“I had a tan done as well. Especially”. I’m not quite sure what the significance of ‘especially’ was. Perhaps I wanted to emphasise that my golden skin was in some way to be viewed as a trophy, for him to admire and fondle, much like the world cup, as though the elusiveness of such prizes were almost too much to bear.
“Alice love”. Full stop. Here it comes. “Your skin, I am sure agree you would agree is not exactly a Halle Berry brown is it but more of a Jordan orange.”
I flounced off. The cheek of it. I was delighted with my Fake Bake. Never before had I experienced such an instant feeling of well being. Loads of people had come up to me in Sainsbury’s and said, “Alice, I’ve never seen you look so well. You look marvellous. Have you been away?”
I wish I could carry off a little white lie with panache. But I’m hopeless. I did tell one woman I’d been to the Maldives but she looked at me wryly and I immediately blurted out, “No, It’s just a spray. I had it done down the town”. I might have got away with it had I said Lanzarote instead.
So, once more I saw myself packing a case to go on a single parent family, holiday. The older children are in the middle of exams so there was no way they were going to accompany me.
“I wouldn’t really want to go anyway”, they both said at different junctures.
“Why-ever not?”, I asked, “It’ll be great fun.”
“We are just not holiday park people”.
“Don’t be such insufferable snobs!” I exclaimed.
“Mum. Really, you’ve tried this before. We left Butlins early because you fell out with the security guard.”
“He was being absurd”.
“And the place in Wales?”
“I’ve told you never to mention that incident ever again”
They had a point. But hope springs eternal and all that, so, I heaved the last of the clean laundry and toiletries into my case.
“Where do these go?” asked the eight year old, brandishing a box of Tampax at me. I sighed. She picks her moments. Nevertheless, strike while the iron’s hot as they say. So, lifting her onto my knee I very gently explained, as far as was appropriate for a young girl, the biological manifestations of puberty. When I’d finished she took a deep breath.
Oh God. Had it been too much? Had I scarred her for life?
“I knew all that mummy”, she finally said, “Duh. I just wanted to know where do they go as in, which bag do they go” and she walked away slapping her forehead as if I were the biggest idiot. Like ever.
The following morning having kissed the big kids, the dog and Hubby a fond farewell, the eight year old, the Red-Head and I drove to Perranporth. I think the girls were just as excited that we didn’t have to queue to get on the Torpoint Ferry as much as going on holiday.
“You mean we are going the other way?” asked the Red-Head. She was still marvelling at this prospect when we turned off after the Windfarm roundabout.
We parked up.
“I can’t wait to see our caravan” said the eight year old, “Will we have bunks?”
I went into reception. The girl behind the desk was polite but firm.
“You can’t get into your accommodation until four pm”, she said. I looked at my watch. It was ten past eleven.
“There is no chance of an earlier check-in?”
“That’ll be fifteen pounds then”.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find something to do”. Thank the good Lord the sun was shining otherwise we would have been very miserable indeed. As it was we walked the coastal path over hill and dune to the beach in Perranporth. Consumed some delicious paninis, the walked back along the beach and up the cliff.
I looked at my watch. 2.30. Now what? I was a bit popped to say the truth; a lie down would have been lovely.
“Let’s go swimming”, two young girls squealed. So, heaving the suitcase out of the car, I rummaged for cosies, towels and goggles. Finally, eventually, it was four o’clock.
The process I had to go through to pick up the key I don’t want to be reminded of, but after another forty minutes we were in.
Five minutes later the family in the mobile home ten foot away from ours made themselves known.
“Have a glass of wine”, he said, “Life is tough on you single mums. I’ve got my partner and step daughter with me. She knows all about it”. I smiled at the partner. He opened the tap on the wine box.
“Only three ninety eight, this was for the box. From Merthyr’s ASDA and I don’t normally drink wine. It’s normally Jack Daniels”.
“Lush” said the partner, chinking my glass.
Later on they knocked on the door.
“Coming to the slots?”
The abiding memory of this holiday? The Red-Head’s big blue eyes, wide as saucers when, on putting a pound into the change machine, she ‘won’ 50, two pence pieces. Her delight was infectious. We should all embrace our inner Nessa Jenkins. It’s a lot of fun actually.

Monday, 10 May 2010


Hubby peered at my grow-bag ruefully, “Just stick to what you’re good at”, he said, shaking his head.
“Like what exactly?” I replied, zipping up my cheap and cheerful, plastic, tomato tent.
Hubby didn’t say anything.
“Oh great”, I said confrontationally, my hands on my hips, “So, you can’t think of one thing I’m good at?”
“My darling Alice, there are myriad things you excel at. Gardening is not one of them”.
“Well at least I’m having a go”, I shouted after him as he walked up the garden path and into the kitchen.
I looked down at my empty growbag. He had a point. No wonder the allotment association expelled me.
My son walked into the garden carrying a mug of tea.
“Wassup ma?”, he asked, handing me the mug. Something fishy was going on.
“I’ve made a bit of a twit of myself”, I replied.
“How so?”, he said, putting his arm around me. He was taking an alarming interest in my feelings.
“Well if you must know, I bought this grow bag and some tomato feed and this tent thing..”
“I wondered what that was. I thought it was some sort of state of the art beach thing”.
“Nope. Tomatoes are meant to grow in it”.
“So, what’s the issue?”
“The issue, it would seem, is that you are supposed to buy tomato plants to put in the grow bags. Hence the name I guess”.
“And what did you think you ought to do?”, my son asked. I started to laugh and blush. It was ridiculous.
“Well, I thought”, I said, giggling, “That I was just meant to cut holes in the plastic and water the compost and then ta-da, as if by magic, tomatoes would grow”. This conversation was lasting longer than any we’d had since we’d discussed his Christmas list. It was lovely to have his undivided attention but my son looked at me with what I’d like to think was compassion but which I knew was, pity.
“But, Ma”, he started, gently, “How could that have been possible?” The more I thought about it the funnier it became.
“Um, well, there are pictures of tomatoes all over the bag and so I assumed, naturally, that there were special seeds or something in the compost”.
“Like mushroom kits?”
“Exactly!” We were silent. Then the penny dropped.
“What on earth do you know about growing mushrooms?”
“Nothing, that’s the point, Jack and I bought a kit when we were about 15 and put it in his dad’s airing cupboard but, unbeknownst to us, he’d turned the heating off and besides we forgot to water the kit. Then his dad went mental because the whole thing was tipped upside down when he went to get some towels out. It was quite a mess, half grown, dried out fungi and smelly spores”.
“I can quite imagine. That still doesn’t answer the question. Why were you growing mushrooms or am I being naive?”
It was his turn to look sheepish, “We just wondered if we could grow magic ones”. Superb. That’s all I needed, a drug baron for a son.
“So that I hope, was the beginning and end of your psychedelic experiments?”
“Yeah, I can trip now just by playing my bass ma”. Sometimes, it really is just like living in the middle of a Rolling Stones documentary.
“Well there we are then. Lovely”, I said, profoundly, “What do you want for tea?”
“That’s what I came to talk to you about”. I knew it. This was the fishy thing I’d anticipated. It transpired that it was his and his girlfriend’s anniversary and he wanted to take her out for dinner, but he was “like, um, financially embarrassed”.
“What am I to do about it?” Why was I even asking? I should just wear my purse on a string around my neck, and then my children could access it any time of day or night.
“I know that I already owe you”.
“Big style”.
“Really? Big style? Sheesh. Anyway, I get paid at the weekend, I’ll give it to you then ok? Please? I just want to make her happy. I ..” Suddenly Dad popped his head around the wisteria.
“Oh A-lice!”, he sang, beaming. “I’ve won on the premium bonds. One hundred pounds! Ten pound each to you and the Commander and twenty each for the children. Here you are son!” My son and father high-fived each other and my son trotted back into the house, grinning from ear to ear, gripping two ten pound notes in his fist.
“Dad, that was really kind but he’s rubbish with money. He already owes loads”.
“Takes after his mother then”, Dad teased. I looked at my feet acutely mortified.
Dad nudged me, “Come on I was only pulling your leg. Growing tomatoes now?” When embarrassed, a change in conversation would generally be welcomed but not today. So I lied.
“Yes, I was preparing everything, just need to get some plants and before you know it; I’ll be in business”.
Hubby stuck his head out of the kitchen door, “Alice? Are we busy on Friday night?”. I shook my head. He put the phone to his ear.
“Friday is perfect Sir. Relaxed, casual. Of course. Yes, Commanders Manly and Kerry and their wives are up for it. Great Sir. See you then”. He clicked the phone and walked out. Dad and I looked at him expectantly.
“Well?” I asked.
“Dinner party Friday. Here. The Captain, his wife and a couple of others. Ok?” I felt the colour drain from my face.
“But I’m working on Friday.”
“You asked me what I thought you were good at and this is it. Cooking and stuff. It’s your forte Alice love. After the tomato fiasco I thought you’d be pleased”.
“So chief cook and bottle washer is now my forte?” I yelled, storming indoors.
“Tomato fiasco?” asked Dad. I left Hubby to explain.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

It's just a jump to the left...

“Oh c’mon Alice”, said Mags, “it’ll be a right laugh”. I rarely need persuading to go on a night out, especially one that is on impulse. This was slightly different though. It meant that far from going out in my glad rags, I would in fact be going out with very little on at all. I wasn’t sure if I could quite carry that off.
“Just the two of us?”, I asked warily.
“No, I managed to get hold of four tickets, so, husbands included.”
“I don’t think Hubby will be up for it Mags. He’s a naval officer for heaven’s sake. Sober and dignified. He’s got a sword and a silver topped cane. People salute him. He’ll never agree”.
Not only did Hubby agree, but with alarming, enthusiastic gusto. We only had a few hours to get our outfits together and as I was working, I no time to run into Ann Summers.
“There must be somewhere in Torpoint where you can buy fishnet stockings for me”, is not a phrase I would ever have thought I’d have heard my husband utter, but utter it he did and with genuine concern.
“Get the holdup ones”, he added, “I’m too tall for a suspender belt”. Perish the thought. So as if I had little else to do after finishing work other than walk the dog, get our son’s hair cut, pick the girls up from school, prepare their dinner and going out, I now had scout around the few shops of Torpoint in the vague hope that I’d find what I was looking for. I wasn’t optimistic. We are very well served in this town for pasties, estate agents, hardware, pets, holidays, pharmaceuticals and a handful of toher services that keep a small town ticking over but I genuinely didn’t think that Fore St had much to offer in the way of exotic undergarments.
How wrong I was. Two shops sold the requested stockings and the optional belt and of those two, one also sold a rather saucy line in basques. Another shop, wholly independent of the other two sold a dazzlingly blue, feather boa. Who’d have thought it? The only thing Hubby needed now was a pair of men’s tight briefs. I wasn’t able to find a pair of those in any shop. There’s a hole in the market there.
I rang my brother, “Yo, bro, got any tight knicks?”
“Ladies ones you mean?” he sounded bewildered.
“No of course not. I have plenty of those myself, I mean as in briefs. For a bloke”.
“Nope, sorry sis. I wear boxers. Dad favours the brief style though, try him”.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to explain to dad why Hubby would need to borrow a pair of his underpants and so, whilst he was out at bowls, I went next door and raided his drawers. Literally. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
By the time Hubby came home from work I had his outfit ready for him to wear. An old basque of mine which I’d worn on some amorous weekend when rather more comely, the all important hosiery, a feather boa and dad’s pants. Size 12 high heels would have meant buying at a ‘specialist’ shop and I wasn’t quite up to that, his steaming bats would have to suffice. At least they were shiny.
The children squealed with excitement.
“Daddy, is a gu-url, daddy is a gu-url”. Hubby picked up the lacy girdle.
“Oh my God Alice”, he said, as though the reality of his transvestite challenge had suddenly dawned on him.
“You can’t back out now. Mags has got the tickets and is waiting for us in her office. C’mon”.
“You mean we don’t have to walk on the Torpoint ferry dressed like this?”
“I wouldn’t do that to you! No we’ll get changed at Mags’s and she’ll drive to the car park and bring us home.” We threw our outfits into a kitbag and kissed the children goodbye.
“Oh dad”, said the eight year old, “I’m really disappointed; I wanted to see you look like Beyonce”.
Forty minutes later and I saw Hubby in a new light. It was something akin to what Simon Cowell undoubtedly feels when he spots new talent and sees dollar signs in front of his eyes. The cash register sound of ‘kerching’ went off in my mind too. Hubby took to his new image very much in the fashion of that duck to water and I suddenly thought that when, it not so many years Hubby retires from the Royal Navy, I could be his agent, we could buy a little swish pad in Brighton and he could have a drag act.
Being 6’ 7” gave him a certain something but combined with stockings, basque and an artistic application with Revlon, he was a knockout. I wasn’t the only one to find his alter ego attractive; once at the theatre Hubby was surrounded by hundreds of other ‘queens’ many of whom came up to him asking to be photographed with him. Mags’s husband also threw himself into the role, although the multi coloured spectacles he’d bought to hide behind made him look more Timmy than Tranny Mallett. It was though as Mag’s had promised, a ‘right laugh’. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a hoot; we got into the spirit of things, the only incident being as we walked back to the car when a Petty Officer Hubby knows saluted him with a rather wry, “Evening sir”.
As we stood, weirdly, side by side in the bathroom later, removing our makeup, Hubby reminded me of our next social engagement.
“Don’t forget we’re having dinner with the Padre tomorrow night”. The juxtaposition did not escape me. Tarts and Vicars are us.