Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Streets of London.

To the wonderment of my now 15 year old daughter, her birthday present was a trip to London. With her mother. She took the train tickets out of her card.
“Oh wow mum! How fab! When are we going?”
“Read the ticket”. She scrutinised the information written on it.
“Tomorrow? Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow”. Hubby was less than enthusiastic.
“Alice”, he hissed, “How the hell can we run to it?” Not wanting to spoil the moment of gift and card opening, I hissed back in whispers.
“Tickets were bought with my rail card; Mag’s parents have gone away and not only offered us the use of their flat but they’ve also lent us their Oyster cards.”
“Their what?”
“Oyster cards you dim, provincial hick. You can’t actually hand over money on London’s public transportation service anymore. You have to use an Oyster card. You swipe it before you ride a bus or a tube train.”
“Well I never”.
The flat was stunning, especially given the fact that it had an old fashioned lift where one has to crank two metal, concertina style doors open and shut. I could have ridden up and down it all day.
“C’mon mum” called my daughter after the fifth time, “And you had the temerity to call dad a provincial hick”. She had a point.
We walked miles and miles and miles. We visited every market. It both heartened and depressed me at the same time. The quality of produce was stunning. Each little market stall run by a ferociously proud artisan. At Borough Market we sampled every imaginable foods. The fish stall was breathtaking. Why can’t we have the same here? Do we care that little what we put in our mouths in the South West? Must our fish be fried and served with chips? At Spitalfields we meandered around stalls selling inconceivable quantities of handmade shoes, hats, bags and witty, sloganed t-shirts. At Covent Garden we marvelled at the performers and yet more gorgeous shops. My daughter drew the line at Camden Market.
“There will be too many people mum. Let’s do a museum instead”. I groaned. To my eternal shame I have come to the realisation that I’m not cut out for museums. We had nipped into the National Portrait Gallery on our way from the London Eye, via Westminster, St James’s Park, Horse Guards Parade and Whitehall. By the time we’d arrived at Trafalgar Square, my legs were columns of lead. I was looking forward to a few minutes peace and a bit of a sit down. My daughter was having none of it.
“C’mon” she said, heaving me up from a wooden banquette. Whilst I marvelled at the works I was secretly longing for an extra large glass of wine. I finally got my way after searching for and finding a portrait of every teenage girl’s favourite pin-up, Tom Daley. Even in my advanced years I could appreciate what all the fuss is about.
Sitting outside the Soho Bar, twenty minutes later, I was kicking myself. A large glass of wine and a coke had cost three quid. I thought the bar girl had made a mistake until I realised it was happy hour and all the drinks were half price. Damn it. I’d denied myself a cocktail for fear of Hubby’s wrath. After being chatted up by a dubious young man who loved the idea of a mother/daughter combination we fled, only to run across a gay, pole-dancing bar. The men were in the window, winking at us. It was hard to avoid.
Still giggling, we had dinner in Chinatown before meandering through Shaftesbury Ave to Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street where we capitulated and took a tube to Baker St and finally the lift to the flat where we literally fell into our beds.
So, when the idea of a museum was bandied the following morning I was less than enthusiastic. I’m not quite sure what it is about them. I’m obviously aware of the rare treasures held therein but to be honest, they leave me cold. Perhaps because it’s all so static? But, not wanting to be like the heathens depicted in the museums dioramas we caught the bus to the Victoria and Albert. Nice.
“Nice? For God’s sake mum”. I shrugged my shoulders. After an enormous ice-cream of appeasement across the road in Harrods, I promised I’d take her to the British Museum. The building was impressive but I was disappointed by its contents.
“Disappointed? Mum, you beggar belief”.
“The British Museum was a misnomer”, I said with certain haughteur “More like the bloody Egyptian Museum”.
“That was the Rosetta Stone”, she said aghast but then, and not for the first nor last time that weekend my daughter, in ever exasperated tones of role reversal, shook her head and said, “Let’s take you to your favourite Museum. Selfridges”.


I am relaxed. I mean really relaxed. The sort of relaxed that involves the hedonistic pleasure of reading a few chapters of a novel. In the afternoon. On a lounger. The sun may be playing hide and seek but nevertheless, even its elusiveness has not put the dampeners on things. We are on holiday and we are having a good time!
Hubby to his credit had a surprise in store for us. I had only just emptied the suitcases from our consequently abortive attempt at camping and was filling the washing machine.
Hubby came up behind me and slapped my bottom, “Quick turn around on all this laundry love. We need to pack again”.
“Pack again? What do you mean?”
“You didn’t think our summer holiday was going to be two nights in a dingy campsite did you?”
“If I’m honest, I didn’t even expect that”.
“Now, now Alice love, don’t be spiteful”, Hubby replied, a little hurt.
“For someone who doesn’t do holidays as a rule, I find it hard to believe that you’ve got yet another one up your sleeve.”
“Well neh-neh-neh-neh-neh, I have”.
“God Dad, you are sooo mature”, said a passing daughter rather haughtily.
“Before you criticise your father too severely he has just dropped the bombshell that he is taking us on another holiday”.
“Will it require a passport, inoculations, litres of factor 25 and foreign currency?”
“Um, no”
“Knew it. Something lame and water logged and British. As usual.” And off the ungrateful little Miss sloped.
“Really? Are we going somewhere in this country? Don’t tell me it involves the bloody tent again?”. I genuinely couldn’t face wading through a shower-block full of verrucas for a second time in a week.
“No, No tent required”
“A hotel? All inclusive?”
“No, I can’t promise that either”.
“A gorgeous cottage with sea views?”
“Bingo!” The sly old fox. He’d spent the last fortnight, moaning on and on about money and all along he’d booked a self catering holiday for his family. I was so touched. Immediately I gathered ever more armfuls of laundry, made a few more lists, planned menus, went shopping for the ingredients, vacuumed and, organised Dad to feed the cats and water and harvest my tomatoes. The following morning I was ready and raring to go.
“Right then. Where are we going? Suffolk, we’ve never been there..”
“Bit closer to home than that Alice”, Hubby answered, squeezing my sun lounger through gritted teeth on top of a pile of stuff in the boot.
“Not Cornwall again dad?” groaned the 14 year old, slapping her forehead, “Don’t tell me I’m going to spend my 15th birthday in Cornwall again”.
“Afraid so”. Curiouser and curiouser. Where on earth was he taking us? Fifteen minutes later we found out.
“Cawsand?” asked my eldest daughter.
“Pier Cellars?” was all I was capable of.
Hubby hopped out of the car and withdrew a set of keys so enormous that they would have made even the most sadistic jailer lose heart. He unlocked an enormous padlock, pushed open the metal gates with an ominous rusty, scraping sound, drove the car forward, jumped out again to shut the gates and drove down to the cottage. We were going to spend a week in accommodation generally reserved for young, Royal Naval recruits whilst undergoing outward bound training. Had Hubby finally lost his marbles?
“The trainees stay in the long huts Alice”, said Hubby, once more fiddling with the set of keys, “Whereas we are here. In the Senior Rates cottage”. I tentatively stepped inside. It wasn’t bad. A bit municipal what with various memorandums on the walls and pussers old married quarters furniture but, you know what? I was instantly charmed.
The view is magnificent. My lounger, once erected, looks out to Plymouth Sound. It affords seclusion that A-list celebrities can only dream of. The children love it, they have their own exclusive little harbour, even the soon to be 15 year old, judging by her Facebook page is having an ‘awesome’ time, helped along by the company of her best friend. They’ve even built rafts. Rafts for God’s sake. It’s like being in a chapter of Swallows and Amazons.
Friends, desperate for a nose around, have dropped by in their droves every evening and they too have been captivated by the place.
“Jammy buggers” said one teasingly “perks of the job Commander?” Hubby is more aware than most of the brutal cuts in the MOD and was immediately defensive.
“Perks of the job? You have to be joking. I have paid the going rate to rent this place for a week and it’s been worth every penny”. He topped up our friend’s wine glass, threw another log on the bonfire and settled back in his folding chair. For the first time in a long time his forehead looks as though it has been ironed out. He has, to coin our son’s retro vernacular, ‘taken a chill pill’. It has a far reaching effect, which is why, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my book.

Thursday, 19 August 2010



“One week left Alice” said Hubby resting his silver topped cane on the back of the sofa, “and then I’m on leave”. He hopped from foot to foot kicking off his black, shiny, shoes and peeled off his socks.
“Must you?”, I asked, my nose wrinkling in distaste.
“What?” asked Hubby playfully, dangling an offending sock in my face, “fresh as a daisy darling since you bought these posh socks”. Marks and Spencer’s Freshfeet finest.
“Yeah? Well I think poor Marksies have bitten off more than they can chew”. The idiom unfortunately provided an image of said feet and socks being snacked upon and a sudden sense of revulsion overcame me and I shuddered and escaped to the kitchen. Hubby, sensing a moment of high-jinks, chased after me. The back door was locked; I had no-where to go.
“Stop!” I screamed, covering my face and mouth, “Stop it you pig!”.
“Look Alice, I haven’t got the sock. Look. I promise”. I peeped through a crack in my fingers. His hands were waggling in front of me. Empty. I relaxed.
“That was mean”, I said, pouting.
“Darling, as if I would ever shove a sweaty sock in your beautiful face. Come here”. My back was pressed up against the kitchen door. He lifted my chin and kissed me. For what seemed a very long and lingering time.
“Ahem”, said a voice. We looked up. It was our son. Behind him, another tall young man, indistinguishable apart from tribal tattoos dancing up his forearms. He too sported a long mane, mildly unpleasant facial hair, black jeans, a dead rock band on his black t-shirt and beads around his neck and wrists.
“Ma, Pa, this is Louis. Lead singer of The Mighty”. I pulled my top down rather self-consciously. God knows why. I’d been kissed, not molested.
“How do you do Mrs Band?” asked Louis very politely, holding out his hand, “..Mr Band”, extending his manners to Hubby, “It’s very kind of you to let us stay here tonight. It’s difficult to find lodgings on tour, especially for six. I hope we aren’t putting you to any trouble”.
“None at all”, I managed with what I thought was an air of gravitas, before my son, silently indicated to the top of my head. My hand flew up and there, like some grotesque, Grayson Perry style bow, was Hubby’s discarded sock. I chose to ignore it. Instead I put the kettle on to boil as though I oft wandered around in a distracted state, my lipstick smudged, a size twelve sock flopping atop my hair. It seemed more rock’n’roll to appear a little mad.
Louis, our son, two of our son’s band members, our 14 year old daughter and two of her friends departed soon after.
Hubby mentally counted the number of people staying under his roof that night, “Six of us and twelve extra”, he sighed defeated, before finally going to change out of his uniform. The phone rang.
“I’ve got a ticket for the Port Eliot lit fest. Come with me?”
“Mags, I’m not paying forty quid for a couple of hours to watch some yuppies float around drinking mimosas”.
“Don’t be such an inverted snob. At least come to the pub for a drink”. She twisted my arm. Hubby was taking a trip to Lords to watch the cricket in a couple of days so did not protest too much.
I got to the pub first and ordered myself a glass of white wine. I was still reeling when Mags turned up. “Four pounds ninety five!”, I said, brandishing the glass at her.
“Get it down your neck and come with me”, she implored, a wicked glint in her eye. “You can gatecrash. There’s a spot in the fence you can negotiate”. I looked at her as if she were mad.
“I’ve a silk dress on and high heels Mags”.
“All the more reason; you won’t look out of place. Meet you there.” Minutes later I was wedging my body through a very, very narrow gap. At one point my right bosom was harpooned by a bramble.
“Ouch” I yelped.
“Who goes there?” At least I think that’s what I heard. I felt like a fugitive. I remained stock still, my heart beating audibly. I could see the headlines, ‘Local Commander’s wife scales festival fence’.
“Do you need a hand?” I accepted the offer, and the hand extricated the bramble from my bust, gave a little pull and a second later I was in. Music thumped, people floated, food sizzled, and fairy lights twinkled. Hell knows where Mags was.
“Drink?” my rescuer handed me a cocktail, “Come and meet Grayson Perry” and taking my hand he led me through the revellers. Good job I’d removed the sock. Wouldn’t have liked him to think I was taking the mickey.

Camping it Up.

First week of summer leave and it’s good to know that some things never change. There arepeople in this world who are so reliable that one can almost second guess what they are going to say next. It was no surprise therefore when Hubby walked through the door fairly early last Friday afternoon. If I’d expected him to be beaming, with a little jaunty step in his walk, I’d have been most disconcerted but year in, year out, it is exactly the same scenario. He walks through the door, flings himself onto the nearest sofa and sleeps for a couple of hours, before waking and informing me that “We need to talk”.
My heart sank this year as it does every year, not because the phrase, “We need to talk” was, as is often the case in melodramas, a pre-cursor for disclosing an affair, but because I know the discussion we are about to have will not be about his mistress but about his money.
“So, Alice”, he said, delving into his briefcase, “I’ve looked at our bank account. It’s far from healthy which, it being leave and all that, is a bit of a bummer but, there it is” and he handed me a printout from the computer which did indeed indicate a certain brutal deficit.
“But we’re going camping tomorrow for a few days”, I protested.
“Only to Whitsand Bay. I took the liberty of buying a couple of disposable barbeques on the way home; we’ll chuck a few snorkers on the fire and we’re good to go”. Are we indeed? I couldn’t wait.
The next day in relative sunshine, I remembered why it had been, from the gold, felt-tipped pen graffiti in one of the tents, precisely three years since we’d last been camping. It took a list as long as my arm to remind myself of all the necessary equipment required for a couple of days under canvas. Basically, as much as one needs for a fortnight. So a few hours later we arrived at our destination about 15 minutes from our own front door. By the time we had unpacked, pitched the tent, laid it out, and put things “where they should be Alice, let’s start as we mean to go on, i.e ship-shape” and inflated beds, I was all ready for lying down on one. But there was little time for relaxation. The dog, delighted to be in an open, unexplored field with his glorious family, was wildly excited and it took all of our tenacity to retrieve him from our neighbour’s caravan and tether him to a special spike I’d bought, when I thought, oh so foolishly, I would take him with me to my ignominious days as allotment owner. The youngest girls too were irrepressibly thrilled being of an age to relish the adventure of sleeping on a blow-up bed, inside a sleeping bag, under canvas and have no qualms whatsoever regarding the sanitary conditions. Even our 14 year old joined us.
“It makes me nostalgic”. I’m eternally grateful that she didn’t follow that up with, “For better times”.
Finally, as the evening sun began to fade, the familiar tones of “Co-ee”, were heard and Mags and Sue appeared, gesticulating madly. Mags it must be said looked a dead ringer, apart from the beard and ruddy complexion, for Sherpa Tensing what with her Uggs and enormous haversack on her back.
“I knew it would be terribly basic”, she said, before adding, “Step aside Commander Band.” Hubby looked aghast as with one flick of her arm, which would have intimidated any Moroccan salesman, she unfurled a Kelim rug.
“There”, she said, “Take that look off your face”, she directed at Hubby, “There is no need for my friend and God-children to camp as though they are naval trainees” and she continued to decorate our humble pitch. A table cloth was flung with the same aplomb as the rug, bunting was draped and tea-lights and fairy-lights were lit.” From her bag she also removed an I-pod and speakers, a jug and some wild-meadow flowers. Plaid cushion pads were applied to nasty plastic seats. Whilst Mags styled us fit for a ‘Cool Camping’ editorial in Country Living, Sue emptied her bag. Out of it she withdrew, olives with feta, a live basil plant, rustique bread, runny Camembert and several bottles of red wine. Whilst the 14 year old was beside herself to be in the company of the Trinny and Susanna of the great outdoors, Hubby looked genuinely crest-fallen.
“But what about my sausages? I bought beans and corned beef as a surprise. We could have had pot-mess”. His eyes suddenly glazed and I realised that it wasn’t just my daughter who was feeling nostalgic. An ex-ped on Dartmoor, bivouacs, a camp fire and the camaraderie of other sailors were all visible on Hubby’s expression. Camping a la Royal Navy had not only provided him with a pot-mess but his salad days too.


Shamed by Mags into cleaning the bottom of my fridge, all I did before filling it up with the morning’s recent supermarket shop was empty the shelves and give the interior a bit of a Cif-fing. No big deal. It was a bit awkward; I was crouched and leaning in and reaching uncomfortably but really, it wasn’t exactly hard manual labour, nevertheless I have been left with crippling back pain which has resulted in my taking to my bed. I haven’t taken to my bed for an awfully long time. Not until recently anyway. Now suddenly this is the second time in a week. The first time was, I suppose, my fault entirely but it was such a good summer ball. Hubby looked as ever, immaculate. I felt movie star glamorous in my evening dress, my hair turned out alright, my shoes were comfortable without being ugly, Dad was sleeping over to keep an eye on the teenagers, which also meant Hubby and I could stay ‘on board’. We were, to coin a rather vulgar, Mancunian phrase, ‘up for it’. Our joie de vivre was helped along by summer drinks beforehand with the Captain, his wife and our friends. We continued with our merrymaking by way of pre-dinner champagne, continuing throughout dinner with copious bottles of wine.
After leaving the table all sorts of entertainment was provided and my prowess on a simulated surf board was not humiliatingly awful, neither was my shieing of a ball at the coconuts, my having to carry two for the rest of the evening, evidence of my success. We danced and danced to the phenomenal Freshly Squeezed, boogied to the disco and finally at 3.30am, went to bed. I will accept that up until dinner I had not heeded the government’s advice to drink responsibly and, had I continued in that vein, would no doubt have disgraced myself by either falling over or being sick, or God forbid, doing both simultaneously. From 11.30pm until 3.30am however, I only drank water, gallons of it, so that when I eventually went to bed, I was in high spirits and full of beans having attended the best ball, ever. When Hubby woke me at 9am however, to join our friends for a post ball debrief over breakfast, I thought I was going to die.
“Leave me alone” I moaned, “Just leave me rest in peace”. But he was having none of it. Dragging me out of bed and applying a variety of garments to my body, my whining all the while, Hubby then took me by the hand and pulled me along various corridors and stairwells until we finally reached the dining hall.
Mags, who had had to be carried to bed hours before me was tucking into black pudding and fried eggs, a broad grin on her face.
“Mornin’ Alice. Fantastic ball huh?”, she said with obscene chirpiness. I sat down and, whilst terribly bad manners to do so, put my elbows on the table and then with undoubtedly far worse manners, buried my head in my hands.
“Mornin’”, I groaned.
“Full breakfast mam?” asked a steward. I shook my head and shivered.
“Not on your nelly”, I said with a very small voice, “Just toast and tea please”.
“Non-handler”, said Hubby, dipping a large, greasy sausage into his egg yolk. I was feeling increasingly queasy.
“Hello Alice”, said a passing parson, slapping me across the back with characteristic bonhomie, “Excellent dancing last night not to mention your fine pair of coconuts!”. Not wanting to crush his feelings for not laughing at his saucy joke, I managed a weak smile.
“Not feeling your usual self old girl?”, he asked, roaring with laughter.
“You could say that”, I replied. I nibbled on some dry toast, and then left the table. Hubby and I gathered our belongings and drove home in silence. I offered my thanks to Dad, gave him a hug, relieved him of his duties, climbed the stairs, stripped off, then burrowed under my duvet and stayed there, all day. It being a Saturday Hubby, although feeling rather jaded himself, was at least at home and capable of walking both dog and daughters.
Today though he is at work and once again I am confined to bed. Perhaps it is God’s retribution. A question of ‘You want to stay in bed all day? Then I’ll show you my girl”. I am in agony and frustrated. The aforementioned dog and daughters were going stir-crazy until Mags saved the day, she also drove me to the doctor, who, left perplexed by my symptoms could only offer hard drugs. Plenty and of an astonishing assortment: Valium, codeine, ibuprofen and paracetamol vie for my attention. It remains to be seen what happens next; I’ve dallied with the drink and the drugs this week, all that remains in the sex and rock and roll. With my back in its current state, one of those recreational activities is out of the question. I may as well just listen to my i-Pod.

Monday, 2 August 2010


“Alice, please lock the door and don’t let anyone else in”. We had just hugged and kissed another guest a fond farewell.
“Darling”, I said, soothingly, “It is almost over, the last of the guests will be gone in few days. Keep smiling”.
“Keep smiling? Bloody hell Alice. I’ve started to dread the doorbell ringing. Every time it does there is someone standing there with a suitcase”.
“Sweetheart”, I continued gently, “It’s not for much longer I promise. We’ve done the Swiss and the Norwegians, so that’s Europe taken care of. Just got to get through the Americas and we’re done until next summer”.
Begrudgingly Hubby followed me to the basement where we changed yet another set of bed sheets, scrubbed the shower and Parazoned the loo.
“So how many are arriving later”, Hubby asked.
“Five of them. Two adults and three children”. Hubby’s shoulders visibly slumped.
“You’ll be at work for most of the time”, I answered, “All you have to do is open the wine for dinner and then talk animatedly for a couple of hours.” Unconvinced Hubby was quiet and in silence we carried the dirty linen up the stairs and filled the washing machine. The poor thing looked genuinely frightened at another heap of laundry it was expected to wash.
Finally I spoke. “Just pray that the sun shines”. God must be rushed off his feet at the moment as he most certainly didn’t hear my prayers. The first few hours in the company of my American friends was pleasantly warm and sunny. We sat in the garden and chatted amiably over a pot of coffee. The children did as children do and just ran off to play as though they’d known each other for years and our 14 year old daughter awkwardly took their 13 year old son for a stroll around Torpoint. We were just about to go the pub near the beach when the skies darkened and the heavens opened. We ran inside and the teenagers ran home.
Outside, the decibel level of four young children, two being exuberant Americans had been diluted. Inside, the noise level was insufferable. They crashed up and down the stairs, banging doors almost off their hinges. They bounced my exercise ball with all the gusto of Serena Williams along my hallway, even though the difference in circumference between a tennis ball and an exercise ball is like comparing planet Earth with the Sun. My nerves were so much on edge that my teeth were involuntarily grinding. My eight year old was in 7th heaven. I think she genuinely thought, if her accent and mannerisms were anything to go by, that she had landed a part in an American tv show. Hubby looked at me beseechingly. I shrugged my shoulders and poured him another glass of wine.
Then armed with a golfing umbrella, he went to light the barbeque. “Hey, before you go to too much effort”, said Bill, “We ought to let you know we don’t eat meat”. Hubby looked confounded.
“None at all?”
“Only of the feathered variety”.
“Oh and we don’t do gluten” added my friend, “I brought rice cakes with me”. Hubby looked at the pile of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference beef-burgers and stack of Tiger Vienna Rolls and wondered what to do with them. Luckily I’d bought four, 2 for £5 chicken tikka kebabs, so at least there was something to feed our guests. They are all very thin, so they didn’t seem to mind. The children nibbled half-heartedly at a rice cake, turned their noses up at the coleslaw, made a pukey face at the tomato and mozzarella and insisted that “this stinks” at the Indian flavour and thus alien tasting, chicken. They went to bed eventually, leaving the adults to chat. My dear husband, mostly urbane and articulate around his type of men i.e in the Navy who preferably support Crystal Palace and Paul Weller with equal fervour, was literally at sea with Bill. A professor in Cinema and Media.
“Have you seen Apollo 13?” asked Hubby eagerly, certain that another man would share his passion for macho movies, “It’s brilliant!”
“Who’s the cinematographer?” asked Bill. Hubby looked utterly lost.
“Dunno”, he said, “But Tom Hanks is in it” as if that offered a satisfactory reply. Hubby was relieved to go to work the following morning and spend a working day with real men. The sky continued to drown us and we spent a fraught day with sweaty, noisy children in an indoor play centre. It was far removed from Manhattan. It continued thus for a couple of days and finally they too embraced us and departed.
Hubby retreated to his armchair with a glass of Calvados, the Tour de France and a happy sigh. I received a text from my son, ‘Ma, the support band we are watching need lodgings. I said you’d be cool with them kipping here’. This was not the time to share that information.