Friday, 23 July 2010

Plus One

The last time I came within hat admiring distance of the Duchess of Cornwall was about three years ago, in a deluge, in Cawsand Square with a party of schoolchildren. I wore a bright blue Kagoule and thrust a soggy box of fudge at her Highness. She kindly accepted it, smiled benevolently at me and got into a minibus. When Hubby told me on Sunday that he was going the next day to a ceremony at Truro Cathedral where the Duchess was going to be presenting awards, I was quite excited.
“What’s the rig?”, I asked.
“My uniform”, he replied, “What else? A fascinator?”
“Droll. I know what you’ll wear because, give or take a few medals and the odd cummerbund, it’s always the same thing but what should I wear? Hmm, let’s see, I’ve got that lovely, navy blue two piece suit and my court shoes, or the pink, floral silk dress, or the Hobbs spotty number? What about a hat? It’s a bit short notice to find a hat.” I was merely thinking out loud, not genuinely asking for his advice.
“Alice. You are not invited”, Hubby said, flatly. I threw my hand up to my chest as though I’d been shot.
“Not invited?” I gasped, it hardly seemed possible.
“No love. Not invited. I’m standing in for the Captain as it is”.
“But surely the Captain was expected to have a plus one. Can’t I be your plus one?”
“No” and that was the end of the discussion. The next day, as Hubby rubbed shoulders with Royalty I decided to have my own adventure.
When I got to Taunton Dean, I pulled into the service station and texted the after-school club to book my girls in until such a time that Hubby had finished schmoozing and could retrieve them. That done, I texted Hubby to inform him of my plans and his involvement therein. Immediately, my mobile buzzed, informing me of a new text message. It read, DO NOT SPEND ANY MONEY. Like that, in capitals. Funny how he could shout at me via a text. I put my phone back into my bag and continued my journey until I got to IKEA in Bristol.
I had a pleasant lunch, resisted the temptation of meatballs and gravy, mooched about and then, funny old thing, but bit by bit my trolley filled up. Eventually, when I could no longer push the trolley lest a Health and Safety officer should apprehend me, I went to the check out. I paid, refilled the trolley and humped an enormous shelving unit, with ‘Two People Must Lift This Item’ emblazoned on it, under the trolley. Rubbing the small of my back, I stood up straight very gingerly, made my way to the Swedish shop, bought a few Scandinavian comestibles, a coffee and an ice-cream and leant against a bar top to eat and drink them before loading the car and driving home again. It was at this juncture that uncharacteristically, I checked my receipt. The fitted sheet that I’d bought in a peculiar chartreuse colour that had been thrust into my hand by a mature shop assistant with, “It’s been reduced from £19.99 to £3.25” had been charged to my account for £19.99. I can put up with chartreuse for £3.25 but not twenty quid.
“I say, excuse me”, I said to the check-out girl, “There seems to have been a mistake with a price here”.
“Customer returns”, she said, not even looking in my direction. Customer Returns was like Argos. I had to get a number then wait until my number was called. I was feeling rather weary at this point and still had a drive, now during rush hour, to contend with. Finally my number was called.
I went up to the desk. “I am a little aggrieved”, I said very calmly, “That I have to go through this process when it wasn’t my mistake. I have a long journey ahead of me and could well do without this rigmarole”. The woman in question said not a word but tapped, repeatedly with the end of her biro, at a sign on her desk. It was one of those you see everywhere these days in places where customer dissatisfaction is rife which elicits verbal abuse and how they don’t have to put up with it. I agree, no-one should feel threatened at work, similarly, surely we as customers, whether in a bus, hospital, airport or IKEA have the right to express that dissatisfaction?
“But I’m just trying to say that this isn’t my mistake. I would like a refund” I was exasperated but not angry. She pressed a button. “Violent customer”, she said into a microphone and before you could say Gravadlax, a surly supervisor materialised.
Later that evening as I fitted my £19.99 chartreuse sheet to my mattress, Hubby walked in. “You know Alice. That’s not a dissimilar colour to Camilla’s suit”. Hubby wished he’d had a panic button to press thereafter.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


It is a common enough sight these days. Hubby sprawled on one sofa watching football whilst I lie on the other. To untrained eyes we look like any long married couple watching an evening of television sharing a cosy, harmonious silence that comes after many years cohabitation. Those in the know though, would sense great dissatisfaction. As Hubby whooped and blasphemed in equal measure at the screen, I lay there conjuring up ever more elaborate ways to kill myself. I genuinely and obviously naively thought that, once England were out, there might be a chance of conversation or an evening walk with the dog to the pub. No chance. Hubby seems just as enthusiastic regarding his support for the World Cup -although this may have something to do with the fact that he stands to win 90 quid if Spain win. Viva Espagne. Many might criticise me and say it is only 90 minutes of my life and that I ought to let my poor, hardworking husband enjoy his football and would I not be better employed washing down the skirting boards or addressing the ironing? And I would answer, they can go to hell. I do more than my fair share and at the end of the day also like to throw myself with gay abandon onto an adjacent sofa and zone out. What has exacerbated my annoyance is that once the football is over, the Sky+ has been working overtime and is poised ready to play, at a second’s notice, The Tour de Bloody France. What I don’t know about a peloton then neither does Lance Armstrong.
So there we were. Our son out with ‘the band’, the youngest girls in bed, our eldest daughter in her room working on a bizarre piece of art homework and Sandy the Swiss girl, perhaps inspired by the Tour de France or more likely, desperate to get out, had gone for a ride on our son’s bike. It hadn’t been in use for a number of years but, after a liberal spray with WD40 it sprung into action.
Hubby cheered, Spain had got through to the final and Geraint Thomas was currently saddle sore but in second place with his bike. Hubby was in 7th heaven and I was thwarted in my plans of putting my head in the oven and gassing myself because a) after Sylvia Plath’s toxic exit it is no longer poisonous and b) being eye-level it would be a very uncomfortable way to die as I’d probably get a crick in my neck first so, I continued to lie there, staring at the ceiling thinking, any more of this and I wouldn’t have to make any effort to kill myself as I’d be bored to death within the hour. Suddenly the sitting room door opened and Sandy stood there, flushed, panting and shaking. I jumped up.
“Sandy! My love! What has happened to you?” Within seconds all sorts of horrors entered my mind most of them involving drunken sailors or local youths, hell bent on getting their hands on a pretty Heidi as she free-wheeled down the dips, her blonde plaits flying behind her. Nothing could have prepared me for what she was about to say.
“I have killed an eagle”, she said. Even Hubby looked up.
“You’ve what?” he asked, inserting a finger into his ear and wiggling it vigorously.
“She said she’s killed an eagle”. I didn’t want to contradict her but swooping eagles are few and far between in Torpoint.
“Um, are you sure Sandy love? Are you sure it was an eagle?”
“Why yes, of course” she answered in her formal English, “It has very sharp... what do you call these?” and she gestured with stiff, gnarled fingers.
“Talons?” I said, with eyes ever wider.
“Exactly, of course. Please come”. Wild horses, let alone wild eagles couldn’t have stopped me.
“But that bloody race on pause”, I said to Hubby, “Let’s go”. We drove to the Raleigh dips, where in late dusk, the trees, heavy with summer foliage, made it a very gloomy place indeed.
“Where is the eagle darling?” I asked, feeling to be quite honest, rather creeped out. She put a finger to her lips and lifted a pile of bracken. We all held our breath, expecting to see the cadaver of a great bird of prey with gigantic talons, stricken. Instead, still in a very tight ball was Mrs Tiggywinkle, a rather rotund and some might say, not a little aggrieved, hedgehog.
Sandy did the stiff talon thing with her fingers again. Only they obviously didn’t signify talons but more the spines of a small, nocturnal woodland creature.
“It is still alive!” she cried, “The igel is still alive”. Igel being now, oh so evidently Swiss-German for, hedgehog.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Anyone for Toblerone?

I broke the news as gently as was possible.
“Darling you know these last few years we’ve had international students to stay...”
“Don’t remind me”, Hubby interjected, “Now there’s an experience I wouldn’t repeat in a million years”. Gulp.
“Really? It wasn’t that bad”.
“Not that bad? Alice, you have a very convenient memory then because as far as I remember, two Spanish girls absconded to a dive of a disco in Plymouth and were most indignant to be brought home and the Japanese almost killed our pregnant cat”.
It was my turn to interject. “That’s not entirely fair. Takeshi was just a little exuberant. The Finn and the French were delightful”.
“In the parlance of my children, ‘whatever’. The point is, after Pia’s year long stint the basement has never been the same again. We had to redecorate for God’s sake”.
“We had to take the wall paper down and repaint. Don’t be so melodramatic”.
“Me melodramatic? Pot calling kettle black Alice! Were you the one in there with the wallpaper stripper and the Dulux?” I had to concede that I was not.
“Besides, my impressionable teenage daughter, under the direction of a Norwegian lass, learnt more about the ramifications of the birds and the bees than most sailors I know”.
“Well, given that you are still calling it ‘the birds and the bees’ that’s hardly surprising.”
“It’s just so nice to look forward to a quiet summer Alice. I can do a bit of DIY, we can go camping, walk some of the coastal path with the dog. Lazy, hazy days.” And he picked up his newspaper and settled back in the armchair. Contented and at peace. This was far harder than I’d imagined. How on earth was I going to tell him? Best just jump in and get it over with.
“I have bad news. Piaandjamiearecomingbackforafewdays?”
“What was that?” Hubby asked, barely interested. I swallowed hard.
“Pia and Jamie are coming back for a few days mid July”. He dropped the newspaper. In for a penny in for a pound “and the day after they go, our friends from New York come to stay with their three children.” He was up on his feet. I kept my ground.
“But tomorrow, I, well, we are, well”, I was faltering and losing my nerve, “You see the head of the girl’s school asked if I’d do them a favour and well, you know that you joke it’s like the united nations here, um, well I’m picking up a Swiss student from the railway station in the afternoon and she is staying here for a fortnight”. There, I’d done it. The expression ‘blowing one’s top’ was undoubtedly penned after someone had given their husband some unpleasant news. I could see exactly what they meant. Hubby’s face went a very unattractive shade of purple, great big blood vessels and veins popped out on his forehead and throat, his eyes glazed and steam seemed to literally emanate from every facial orifice. I was most concerned he’d have a stroke.
“Shall I get you a drink?”, I offered, backing out of the room.
“A Swiss girl?”, Hubby roared behind me, “A fortnight? From tomorrow? When the football is on?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. By the time I’d returned from the railway station with a very pretty 17 year old blonde girl, the football score was so dire that Hubby was happy to be anywhere other than in front of the television.
Sandy was duly introduced to all four children, my dad, Mags, three cats and a very enthusiastic Golden Retriever who likes nothing more in life than a new crotch to sniff. Hubby pulled him away.
“Bienvenu Sandy”, he said, “Angleterre avez crashed out of le world cup. Onivar le plage ce soir?”
“I am sorry”, replied Sandy very apologetically, “but I am from ze North east of Switzerland and so I speak Swiss-German and not Swiss-French. I do however know that le plage is the beach and that it would be very nice to visit, yes?”
“Ah! German! Zey are very goot at football yah?” Hubby, still hanging onto the collar of a drooling dog, was digging himself a large and somewhat xenophobic, hole.
“Dad”, whispered his son, “leave it ok? You are starting to sound like bloody Basil Fawlty”.
Apart from the cats, we all went to the beach and soaked up the last of the evening’s rays. After Pimm’s and Smoky Bacon crisps, football and visitors were soon forgotten about, helped along later by the gift of yards and yards of Toblerone that went a long way in mollifying a long suffering husband, enduring yet another season of entente cordiale.