Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Disco Diva.

I wish I could dance. Really float and rise and fall on the balls of my feet, my partner guiding me across a polished dance floor as we glide effortlessly to the music. Unfortunately the reality of it is, is that I spent my teenage life during the 80’s, when weekends meant going to a disco. I didn’t know any better at the time; in fact I abhorred Come Dancing and all these cheesy grins, fake tans and billion sequins. What I was after was a bit of John Travolta thrusting his very tight jeans in my direction. One rarely got John Travolta or any approximation thereof in any disco on a Saturday night in Plymouth. It mattered not a jot because what you did get was dry ice, lasers, the throb of the bass and the exciting anticipation that only being young, free and single, mingled with a throng of unfamiliar bodies can provide.
Some weekends were better than others; the curling tongs had worked, the pimple had remained at bay, your mum had given you an extra couple of quid and, if you were lucky or, unlucky depending on the poor sod desperate to pull, several drinks were bought for you. If feeling benevolent one might capitulate by the end of the evening and allow him the slow dance but you were really holding out for the cool boy with his asymmetric hair and blazer with the sleeves rolled up. I can remember one such heady time; one summer in the mid 80’s when I was in a disco on Union Street. Mags and I had spent hours getting ready but she was always edgier than I, whereas she looked like Madonna on a night out, all ripped clothes, big hair and big make-up, I looked more like Lady Diana on a day out at the Polo, with my Laura Ashley blouse, floral skirt and shiny, flicked hair. I’d lost her pretty early on in the night and now, whilst studiously trying to avoid the guy who’d bought me a couple of martini and lemonades, I needed her moral support. There was none forthcoming as, tripping over the bodies on the dance floor I spied her through the fog, snogging some very unsuitable, suitor, a pink Mohican sitting atop his head. I sighed and sucked on my cherry. The tempo of the music changed to the ‘slow song’ and I willed myself to be somewhere else, when suddenly the boy I’d clocked before with the said lopsided hair and rolled up jacket sleeves grabbed my hand and pulled me into the middle of the floor.
“Zoom, just one look and then we’re on the moon”, Fat Larry’s Band sang and I looked into his eyes. Both his arms were firmly around my lower back and as was custom in those days, mine were tightly around his neck. Before I could ask his name, he kissed me. Long and deep and never ending. It continued beyond the record finishing, beyond everyone going home, beyond Mags trying to drag me away. He never said “I’ll text you”, or “I’ll email you” or indeed “I’ll meet you on Facebook”. He just remained forever in that part of your memory that you like to take down from the shelf and savour from time to time.
This is where I was last week, lost in thought at a formal mess dinner. We’d eaten, we’d drunk the loyal toast, Hubby had made his speech. We’d all behaved ourselves impeccably and we withdrew to the bar and dance floor area. My feet weren’t too sore as I’d taken some ibuprofen before I went out. A sure sign of aging – not to deal with a hangover but to tolerate the agony of high-heels. Hubby suggested we dance and for a couple of numbers we bopped away as we have done for decades, our dance style unchanging. Puffed out, we returned to the bar. We’d brought some very dear friends with us as guests and as I took another sip of my wine, the husband grabbed my hand and once again I was back on the dance floor in the 80’s. No! He didn’t kiss me! But boy could he dance and the unexpected pleasure of being twirled and dipped and spun and turned and dipped again until my hair brushed the dance floor was comparable to that unexpected pleasure of being singled out all those years ago. Warm, pleasant memories. The stark reminder that I’m living in the here and now though was only too apparent the morning after the night before when I found bleeding toes and a bruise on my chin and remembered with a groan, I’d been dropped, mid dip. The ibuprofen had worked. It had numbed my feet and evidently, softened my fall.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


The words MRI, biopsy and tumour send a chill through the blood of the toughest nuts, whilst for the rest of us mere mortals those simple words simply send us nuts. They remind me of a line from a Woody Allen film where he says, “The greatest three little words in the English language? Not ‘I love you’ but ‘It is benign’”. I know where he’s coming from. I understand that neuroses, especially when extended to my children. Currently my bright and beautiful, 14 year old.
For years she has complained of a pain in her knee. At times the pain has been so great she has had to miss school. Three years ago she had an MRI and a biopsy and subsequent diagnoses of Woody Allen tumour – i.e it is benign. I thanked all the Gods, whichever one would listen, in return I promised to live a good and virtuous life, and then promptly relaxed.
Life came and went with its inevitable ebb and flow. Walls fell down and were re-erected; ceilings fell in and were re-plastered. Friends got married, others divorced, some were sadly lost and new babies made. All the while we keep on going, expecting tomorrow to be better. If we anticipated it would be worse, if we didn’t have that uniquely human capacity for hope springing eternal then human life would have ended millions of years ago, probably around the first, Stone Age, freezing winter, when the baby in the cave was up all night, food was sparse and Mr Cave- Man had been caught knocking off his Stone-age neighbour. How did his wife get through it? Not through a bottle of Chardonnay, not through Oprah Winfrey, not through a counsellor and certainly not through Prozac, though God knows it would have helped. No, she got through that vile winter by hoping and praying that the baby would soon grow up, Spring appear early, food be abundant and Mr Cave-Man would come to his senses to swear his utter remorse and undying love.
So there I was last November, minding my own business I was in the kitchen making breakfast for the teenagers before they materialized yawning and rubbing sleepy eyes. My 14 year old was the first to make an appearance. We don’t talk much in the morning. I’ve learnt from experience that it’s best not to. Best to just quietly faff around them and send them on their way with a hug and a kiss and my mantra of “Watch the road”.
My daughter sat on a kitchen stool, quietly munching her bagel. Her knee caught my eye. Even within black opaque tights it looked significantly bidder than her right knee. For a split second I stopped breathing and as calmly as I could asked, “Is that your bad knee love?”
“Yeah”, she replied, “I think it got bigger”. Blood coursed through my veins. My fingertips tingled with the immediate adrenalin rush. I felt the colour drain from my face.
“We’ll have to go back to the GP about it”, I managed.
“Sure”. She kissed me and went to school. My heart was racing. A tumour that had grown? Had they done the biopsy thoroughly enough last time? What if they’d missed something? It took all my will power not to Google knee tumours. I knew if I did, I’d probably pass out. We went to the GP. Hubby came too. The GP read us a letter from the previous biopsy; I heard the words, ‘Suspicious nodule. No evidence of malignancy’. Yet again my head felt empty of blood and my skin tingled. That was years ago. What if there was now renewed suspicion regarding this bloody nodule? Pray Alice. Pray, promise and hope.
As often happens in this country the GP wrote to a consultant asking for another appointment with ‘orthopaedics’. Christmas came and went, another wall fell down. The New Year was seen in. The longer I heard nothing more, the more I tried forget about it.
Then one morning, in February half term, just as I was about to go with the little girls and visit friends in Wiltshire, the hospital rang me. “Could you bring your daughter in tomorrow please to see a consultant?”
In my absence Hubby took her. He rang me later that day, “They want her to have another MRI. The consultant has no idea what it is. He is very curious”. This was evidence to me that mothers and fathers have very different emotional responses. I practically stopped breathing when he told this information. Within seconds my tummy was ‘funny’ and I was on the loo for most of the day.
The MRI was duly scheduled. We waited for the results and waited and waited. Finally we were given a date. Mags came with me. By the time the consultant’s helper saw us, I was literally a swooning, sobbing wreck in the corridor of Derriford hospital and I thank whoever it was who put their arms around me. “Mmm” she said, reading the notes. Why do doctors do that? Do they not understand the previous months have been very anxious ones? An innocuous “Mmm” spoke volumes to me and I couldn’t possibly imagine good news.
There was a lump. A sizable one. The consultant however is “almost 100% sure it’s nothing to worry about”. My girl had it removed this week. Seeing one’s baby anaesthetised is horrid but I was remarkably brave. Administration at the hospital was as ever appalling- we arrived on the ward with them unaware of her surgery ergo no notes, no welcome and no bed made but the care by nurses, the anaesthetist and the surgeon was fantastic. Thank you all so very much. My daughter is now in bed upstairs, her knee recovering as are my nerves and I am more than happy, grateful in fact, to be at her beck and call. And, much like Mrs Cave-woman, I can only hope for the best.


Just after cock crowed on Saturday morning I was like a rat on a sinking ship and abandoned mine. Hubby and the children were blissfully unaware as they woke an hour or so later that I was gaily driving to the Royal Cornwall show. By the time they were compos mentis, I had already meandered around the site and bought ‘stuff’ including an irresistible rake for the dog’s fur that promised wonders, a magic cleaner for the kitchen, a depilatory device that did not require wax, razors, pain nor mess and, after half an hour of lying on it, would have gladly paid £4000 for an amazing back loving bed. Problem was, had I signed on the dotted line then I’d have been sleeping in it alone. Hubby would have had a cardiac.
As it was he wasn’t best pleased. “Where the hell are you?” he asked.
“At the dog show at the Cornwall show in Wadebridge”, I whispered.
“You never said you were going”, he said, mightily cheesed off.
“Well I didn’t want to cause a furore”, I said even more quietly as I was very aware of a very large, cross lady, sitting astride a rather unforgiving shooting brake. At the end of a pink, sparkly lead laid a hot and panting Pomeranian, who looked as though he would have given the world to have been anywhere in the world other than a sunny field in Cornwall, all brushed and groomed and ponced up. I looked at him sympathetically and stroked his head.
“I have to go”, I said to Hubby, “I won’t be all day”.
I finished my coffee and walked up the rows and rows of stands. At the SeaSalt stand I bought Hubby an appeasement sweatshirt and the girls some jaunty Cornish t-shirts. Then I entered the food hall marquee. Apart from the farm animals this is my favourite bit. A bit of cheese here, a Cornish fairing there, a dip of this and a sip of that. Marvellous.
Stuffing my face at Baker Tom’s bread stall I got caught out by some farming friends.
“Alice! Rosemary foccacia is not ideal for the waistline”.
“No, but it’s wonderful for the soul”, I said, relishing the gloriously fragrant, olive oil infused bread.
“Shall we get you out of here and take you to see some animals?”
I nodded complicity before nabbing a little pot of chicken vindaloo. One needs sustenance at this show; one end of it is bloody miles away from the other and I’d be damned before catching a showground, shuttle-bus.
“Which are your favourite farm animals Alice?”
My friend rears pedigree sheep and whilst they are fine looking beasts and the lambs terribly sweet, you can’t, in my view, beat a pig.
“That’s handy”, said, Jer, “My father is a pig steward. Come and meet him”. Minutes later I shook hands with an awfully dashing gentleman, in a very pucker check suit and bowler hat. I was intrigued as to what a pig expert looks for in a pig, after all most of them are just massive and pink, the boars with the most enormous set of testicles I have ever seen.
“Ahem”, coughed my expert, “We call that their development”. Oh I see. He then went on to explain that what he looks for in sow is what he looks for in a woman, firm to the touch, sturdy, good pair of legs. I think he was teasing me. These farmers are fruity chaps.
I looked at the pigs anew and tried to use a steward’s scrutinizing eye but to be honest they still all looked the same, although some it could be argued, were decidedly more ‘developed’ than others. Leaving my friends and the fine swine behind me I went and sat at the main ring for a while, took in the atmosphere, watched a few turns then made my way to the car park. An hour later I was still there. God only knew where my car was.
Hubby was getting frantic. “Alice, c’mon, we seem to have a deal. You’ve been gallivanting so I’m going to the pub with your brother to see the football. You need to be here”. I know I did, the children and I were also meant to be at Mags’s barbeque in forty minutes. I tried another field. It all looked so different from this morning when the fields were relatively empty. I came across a girl of about twenty, crying. She couldn’t find her car either. And she had to be at work. We walked and we walked. And finally we found mine. Perhaps she’s still there, searching.
I had news for Hubby when I finally came home. “Whilst you’re already in a bad mood, you might as well know that I’m going to Cardiff on Tuesday”.
When I arrange these coach trips we leave at the crack of dawn to have a full day at our destination. On Tuesday we didn’t leave until just before nine. I couldn’t complain though as the local Pensioners Voice had allowed me to gate crash their party and for only £12.When we arrived at 12.30 after a comfort stop that saw one of the ladies so bewildered by the automatic flush in the loo that it went off as she was bent over trying to haul her panty-girdle up, my God-mother was there to meet me.
We had just enough time for lunch at Jamie Oliver’s before going ball gown shopping. I tried on a stunner. By the time I’d got dressed, she bought it for me. She’s more a fairy god-mother. At 4.30, clutching bags with tissue billowing out of them I was the last to board the coach. Waving and blowing kisses out of the window at my God-mother I swear that she seemed to disappear into a puff of smoke, or was it just perhaps the coach’s emissions?

Thursday, 10 June 2010


“Enough!” bellowed Hubby one evening over dinner, thumping his fist on the table, “Do I bloody look like Hugh Dennis?”.
His family put their cutlery down and peered back, scrutinising him. The ensuing silence was eerie.
“Well dad,” offered our son, pulling one earphone out of his ear, “You’re tall”.
“But not as funny” added the 14 year old.
“Thanks for that but I wasn’t thinking of the persona on Mock the Week, but more the poor sod of a father in Outnumbered. I don’t remember him cracking jokes. In fact he spends his time walking around as though in shock and awe”
“Wassup?” asked our son, “You sound grieved”.
“Grieved is a good word for the way I feel. This isn’t dinner. This is snack time in Babel. It literally confounds me. God alone knows what you are all talking about.”
“Well I’m pretending to be the princess”, offered the eight year old, an old skirt of mine belted around her chest, a bra of mine acting as a crown.
“Yeah and I’m the frog”, added the Red-Head, “We are talking ribbit-ribbit language”.
As if that explained it, Hubby then asked, “And you two?” of the teenagers.
“I was texting Laura”, said one.
“And I was singing some lyrics” said the other.
“And you?” Hubby asked me.
“I was just talking to myself”.
“Dinner”, said Hubby, “should be a time when the breadwinner is rewarded for his efforts. A time when he sits at the head of the table after a busy day and eats in peace, his family awed into silence by his very presence. This newspaper”, he waggled the paper under his plate, “ought to be for me to read in quiet, to catch up on world events and not, as a place-mat to shield me from the paintings and sequins that lie beneath it”.
“Sorry”, I said huffily, “But we’ve been for a long walk today and since I’ve got back, I’ve unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, unblocked the bathroom sink of PlayDoh...”
“You promised you wouldn’t tell”, whined the eight year old.
“..Put away the laundry, put a white shirt of yours to soak”, I looked pointedly at the Red-Head, “and made dinner. I’m sorry that I didn’t quite manage to clear the dining table as well. I have just tried to adapt and overcome.”
“Would it be too much to ask of you all, if I were offered just a modicum of respect? A hiatus in the day when we all just eat in peace and I can think and digest without feeling the need for Gaviscon afterwards. Can’t you revere my authority from time to time?”
“God dad, you sound like a character from a DH Lawrence novel”.
“Sooner that than a besieged character from a BBC sitcom”.
“Have you ever laughed Dad?” asked the Red-Head.
“Of course I have”, answered Hubby stunned, “What a preposterous question”.
“I’ve never seen you” and she nonchalantly popped an olive into her mouth. I looked at Hubby and shrugged my shoulders. There was a certain resemblance between him and Hugh Dennis; I think it lay in the grim, straight line of a mouth, grey skin and furrowed brow. I think most modern fathers would recognise this expression and agree that is less a facial look but more the effects of a syndrome of living in a large family where one’s authority has been eroded over the years by self-assured children who have rewritten the ‘seen and not heard’ idiom into, seldom seen yet always heard.
It was with great relief that Hubby went to work the following morning. Stepping into his uniform, I could sense his growing confidence, as if by donning gold stripes it gave him a super hero quality, a sense of ‘no-one messes with me now’, because at work, hundreds of young people, many younger than his son, quake in their boots when they see him approaching. No wonder dinner in a chaotic household is such an adjustment to him.
“Have a good day Commander”, I said as he leant over to kiss me goodbye, “What are you up to today?”
“V.I.Ps up the ying-yang. Divisions. You name it. You?” A Red-Head popped her head out from under our duvet.
“Can we go to this guard?”, she asked.
“This guard what? The Guard? You can see ‘the guard’ on the parade ground”. Then he whispered, “Please don’t bring them to divisions Alice”.
I was very confused.
“What is this guard?” I asked our daughter.
“You know where we go swimming”. Oh. Liskeard.
Later that evening after a full day of half term activities, I lay on my bed. Pooped. Hubby came bounding up the stairs.
“Hey gorgeous”, he said, throwing himself onto me, “This is where I like to find you. Where is everyone?”
“The eldest are at various parties and the youngest playing in the garden”.
“Friday evening, kids all busy, best time” he said, nuzzling expectantly into my neck. Before I was able to respond one way or another, the eight year old appeared around the door holding a Waitrose carrier bag.
“I found a dead mouse”, she said, indicating to a lifeless creature inside the plastic bag.
“Oh my God”, said Hubby. Suddenly I saw water dripping onto my bedroom carpet.
“Why is the bag dripping?”, I yelped.
“Because I rinsed the mouse out. It was covered in blood”. Child, bag and dead, wet, mouse were deposited outside the house within seconds all thoughts of amorousness booted out with them.
“See what I mean Alice?”
“The Hugh Dennis thing?”. He nodded. I squeezed his hand. There was nothing I could say, we are, literally outnumbered.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Hottest day of the year thus far and Mags had the bright idea of a picnic at the beach.
“Why is that such an alien concept to you Alice? It’s what people do. It’s the summer”.
“But it’s so bloody hot”, I complained, icky sweat trickling between my generous bosoms as, bent over, I studied the darker recesses of the kitchen cupboard to see what I could rustle together for a picnic. There wasn’t much in.
“Share ours” said Mags.
“That wouldn’t be fair”, I replied, frustrated on unearthing several packets of half eaten posh crisps at the back of the cupboard which were now as damp as a British barbeque.
“We could have a barbecue this evening when we get back”, added Mags as though reading my mind.
“Oh okay. You win. I’ve found a couple of packets of out of date Quavers. I can make some marmite sarnies and I’ve an apple”.
“See you on Kingsand beach then in half an hour” and she hung up.
Hubby once again declined the invitation of spending time in familial pursuits.
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked him, narked, “Is it the fact that now two of your children have gone beyond bucket and spade age you are so ‘over’ going to the beach? Been there, bought the t-shirt?”
“Alice, don’t be ridiculous. I was going to do some gardening actually”. I looked at him accusingly, a copy of the Times on the garden table along with a fresh pot of coffee.
“Seriously”, he offered, aware that I obviously didn’t believe that as soon as I’d driven away he’d be out there with the Flymo and Weedol, “There is a lot of cutting back and potting up to do. Go and enjoy yourself and I’ll make a coleslaw for this evening.”
That clinched it for me. Hubby knows how much I detest making coleslaw. Life is too short for all that shredding.
So, somewhat reluctantly I bundled the youngest children into the car along with the buckets, the spades, the sunblock, the spare set of clothes, the towels and the rather meagre picnic. It’s only a ten minute drive but by the time we arrived the 8 year old was fidgeting in the front seat. I parked the car.
“I don’t feel very well”, she said, before quickly opening her door and vomiting spectacularly onto the pavement. Passers by rushed past with wrinkled up noses. Tutting.
“It’s very hot”, said my little girl. I gave her a bottle of water and plonked her sun hat on.
“Hopefully you’ll feel better once you are by the sea”. She looked as unconvinced as I felt. We found Mags reclining on a beautiful, ethnic, Fair Trade, throw.
“Yoo-hoo”, she waved, sitting up, her still pert boobs barely covered by two triangles of gold bikini.
“God Mags”, I said, throwing myself, not particularly gracefully onto her blanket. It was a long way down, “You haven’t got much on”.
“I know”, she giggled, “I couldn’t resist this little number. A fiver. Ebay”.
I took my skirt and t-shirt off to reveal an old cossie that had seen better days.
“I think you’d better put your skirt back on”, said my eight year old handing it to me, “I think you may have forgotten to shave”. I looked down and was shocked by my hirsuteness. Jeeze when had that happened? I’d only recently been for a Fake Bake; I know for sure that I’d addressed my bikini area then.
“A lot can happen in a fortnight”, laughed Mags, “Drag my sarong around your bum”.
I wrapped a few metres of cotton around my waist and sat down. Immediately the Red-Head wanted to go to the loo. I clambered up again.
“Are you ok now”, I asked the eight year old, “I’m just taking your sister to the loo. Do you need to go too?” She shook her head. I left her next to Mags, a little lacklustre but chatting away.
Ten minutes later we got back and once again I parked myself on the beach. The eight year old had gone to join Mag’s children in the rock-pools. That was a good sign.
“But I want to go too”, whined the Red-Head, “It’s not fair”. Bloody hell. Mags shrugged her shoulders, “See you later”, she said.
Once more I heaved myself off the shingle and picked my way across the rocks, the sun beating down on my shoulders. I realised that in plastering the girls skin in sun-block, I’d forgotten to apply it to my own. I’d pay for this later.
Finally I caught up with the rest of the gang. My daughter ran over to me, jigging up and down.
“I do need to go to the loo after all”, she said, a pained expression on her face. Bloody hell.
“Let’s go then”. Of course, I couldn’t leave the others on their own and so amid much bellyaching and whingeing, I dragged them back to the beach and deposited them with Mags. To cut a seemingly very long day short, my butt hardly made contact with the sand all afternoon, although my sandwich did which is just as well as Marmite couldn’t really compete with Mags’s picnic. Tupperware after Tupperware was opened to reveal bruschetta with Parma ham and mozzarella, a Greek salad, strips of pitta bread and homemade houmous. Juicy strawberries and pineapple followed. I felt most inadequate. My kids looked at their Quavers forlornly.
“Can we go home soon?” asked the 8 year old. We made it in time for her to be sick again. In the kitchen.
I still had a barbecue to host. And the coleslaw was in the fridge. I had no alternative. I set the coals alight although an hour later there was little distinction between the skin on the chicken and the skin on my shoulders. Both had first degree burns. We put mayonnaise on one and calamine on the other.