Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Red-Neck or Toff?

A friend of Hubby’s recently invited me out. It was not some clandestine rendezvous involving dinner and a drink or even the pictures and a packet of chips. Nothing could be further from the truth. The conversation Hubby had with this chap, for I vaguely remember it after the Christmas ball, one night at the mess and it was along the lines of:
“Mate, next time you go out, take her with you will you? The old girl needs some fresh air”. I stood there in my finery, feeling for all the world, like an old horse. I must have said this last bit out loud for Hubby quipped, “More like an old nag”. The two men obviously found this hilarious enough to chink their glasses together. As if suddenly overwhelmed to attempt a modicum of discretion, he lowered his voice, “Seriously mate, she’s driving us all crazy. Assessments, assignments. A Saturday away would do us all the power of good.” He cast his eye in my glowering, direction, “Only got your best interests at heart Alice love”, he added in a most jocular fashion, slapping my sequined if bristling, behind.
A week ago I got an email from the aforementioned friend to dress up warmly, bring some wellies and to meet him and his friends on Saturday at an address, miles away in the country. I was most intrigued but couldn’t find the location on any map, so my dear old lovely dad, leant me his dear and not so old car and, more importantly, his Satnav. I have never driven by satellite navigation before, preferring to rely on research, maps and asking strangers if research and maps did not suffice. It takes a little getting used to therefore to put your trust and faith in a computerised woman, one whom you know for a fact has never been to the place you are now hoping to arrive at in an hour’s time and you can only blithely follow her insistence to turn left at a particular junction and right in so many, point whatever of a mile.
Unbelievably, even though the route had to be recalculated twice as doubt got the better of me, I arrived in a muddy farm yard at precisely the time anticipated on the Satnav. At this point, I still had no idea what sort of day out I’d agreed to but, knowing that he was an outdoorsy sort, anticipated that it must have something to do with horses. As I got out of dad’s car and pulled on my pink Hunter wellies and was introduced to the others, I knew immediately that horses were not going to be on the agenda. There were so many Barbour jackets shaking my hand that to be honest I half expected to meet the Queen. Under the green wax jackets the men wore tattersall check shirts tied at the neck with silk, bird motif, sharp, Windsor knots. On their legs they wore breeks (I was put right when I referred to them as pedal pushers) and tasselled garters. All wore a tweed, flat cap.
The women wore a similar, if jauntier combination. Thank God Hubby had leant me his Barbour, it may have drowned me and I doubt that The Filed magazine will be asking for my services anytime soon but at least I was dressed in the right colour. Or so I thought.
“Trying to frighten the pheasants to death Alice?” laughed my host, “Pink wellies will do the trick!”
“Pheasants?” My eyes were as wide as saucers.
“Yes Alice. Pheasant. Don’t look so horrified. Come and have a drink”. I’ll say this for the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ community, they’re a convivial breed. It was 9.30am as Hubby’s friend ushered me into the barn; immediately his wife thrust a glass of sloe gin into my hand, “Or would you prefer a port?”
Within ten minutes I was starting to tremble. I’d only ever used a spud gun before and even then the potato was dead. A very dashing young man called Ade, followed faithfully by several black Labradors, was to show me the ropes. We took our places at our ‘peg’. I have a glossary of new words at my disposal. Ade taught me how to load my gun and how to break it, this has nothing to do with actually breaking it. I wasn’t confident and so, as we walked, I felt and looked like Private Jones in the closing credits of Dad’s Army, clutching my gun, eyes darting hither and yon for the enemy. Ade explained the safety procedures. All I had to do was spot a bird, aim and fire. We heard the beaters in the distant copse. I held my breath. Suddenly, a mighty flap of feathers flew overhead. I shut my eyes and fired. I didn’t expect such noise nor recoil.
A bird fell at my feet. I gulped.
“Did I?”, I barely dared ask.
“Shoot it?” asked Ade. I nodded.
“No”. Thank God. They put me on beating duties after that and out of pity, handed me a brace at the end of the day. Nothing like knowing the provenance of your quarry. I couldn’t keep it quiet though. The photos are on Facebook along with the rather ignominious comment, ‘Bloody hell! It’s Sarah Palin!’

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Curriculum Vitae.

“That’s it”, I said, slamming down the lid of my laptop, “I’m never going to get a job”. Hubby, who had only been home a matter of minutes and who was no doubt, looking forward to snuggling on the sofa with a daughter or two before the evening’s onslaught began, sighed deeply.
“What is it now?”, he asked wearily, taking off his coat.
“This!”, I spat, lifting the lid again and gesticulating furiously at my computer.
“What has it done to you to make you so cross? It is an inanimate object”. I could, at this point, have thrown that last comment back in his face given his severe lack of humour two days previously when the new tv we’d bought in the sale had not fitted into the cubby hole in the sitting room where the tv resides. This meant that Hubby had to apply hammer and saw before he could sit back with a beer and gaze at his new, flat screen. He was very grumpy. Very grumpy indeed.
Instead I bit my lip and pouted a little. Hubby looked over my shoulder.
“So, what’s the problem love?”. His tone was decidedly more delicate. Perhaps he had remembered his contretemps with the MDF shelf and a 32 inch Toshiba.
“I’m unemployable”, I groaned, “I’m trying to write my CV but it’s a joke. I don’t know where to start. Who’s going to give a 45 year old woman a job who, for the past, almost 20 years, has been out of the serious job market? Making cappuccinos in a cafe doesn’t count and neither does the not, inconsiderable task of raising four children. Besides, I can barely get them to write their Christmas thank-you letters, so they are hardly likely to write their old mother a reference”.
At this juncture both my eldest children and Jacob the lodger, walked in.
“I’d give you a reference ma”, said my son, “You are a great cook and bon vivant!”
“Very kind of you my love but I’m not going for a job as a dinner lady”.
“Good point”.
“You are good at spelling mummy” added the 15 year old, “and you like poetry”.
“Yeah and look how you’ve taken me in Alice. Surely that comes under pastoral care or something?”
I smiled, “Listen kids, this is terribly sweet but there’s a little bit more to it than that. It has been quite a job bringing you all up and whilst the jury is still out”, I looked rather pointedly at my raven haired rocker of a son, “on how you may eventually turn out, you are at least not drug taking, little old lady attacking, car-jacking ASBOS. Unfortunately that means for knack all on my CV”.
“But mummy”, interjected my 15 year old daughter, “ if you have inspired us to read all sorts of works of literature and care about punctuation and grammar and how we construct a sentence, then I’m sure that you can inspire other young minds too”. I could have eaten her.
“Thank-you darling, I’ve also taught you all about persuasive speeches if that was anything to go by, I’m just not quite sure how to include that on my CV. Present teenagers recommend? I don’t think it would wash with the Head.” The Red-Head came looking for me and once found, climbed onto my lap.
“How was school?” I asked her, burying my face into her newly washed hair.
“We are learning all about the ancient Greeks”.
“Wow! That’s interesting”, I said.
“Yes but why were they all ancient? Wasn’t anybody young?” I looked at her askance. Her siblings laughed. The eight year old wandered in.
“I’ve tried explaining it to her mummy but she doesn’t get it” and as if to prove a point she came right into her sister’s face and said, very pointedly, “ These people lived a long-long-long-long-long-long-long-long, long time ago. That’s why they are ancient and not because they are all extremely old. Duh!”
We were all now in the dining room, seven humans, a dog and three cats. Almost everyone arguing with the other about some subject or other. The youngest were discussing the chronological intricacies of historical anthropology.
“So, you see after the Ancient Greeks came the Romans, followed by the Anglo-Saxons, followed by the Vikings. Then there was the Victorians..”
“When was baby Jesus then?”, asked the Red-Head. The eight year old scratched her head.
“Not sure”, she said, “After the Vikings maybe”.
There was a knock at the door and dad walked in.
“Alice dear” he said, waving a newspaper at me, “I’ve almost finished the crossword. Stuck on the last one. With whom was Yeats in love?”
“Maud Gonne”, I replied perfunctorily.
“Mum”, asked the 15 year old, “Can you help me with my essay? I need to analyse forms of love in Romeo and Juliet”.
“Yeah ma and I need help with The Great Gatsby and…”
“The decline of the American Dream?” He looked amazed.
“It’s always about that”, I said. Passionate about my subject, I can simultaneously inspire young minds and help old dads. Where oh where, can I insert that into my Curriculum Vitae?

Canned Laughter.

Is it any wonder that we embark on a New Year beset by the nastiest of bugs and germs when the last few weeks has seen such a contrast in temperatures? Only a few days ago, the pavement outside my house was as frozen as the northern tundra; its ice as slippery as any glacial counterpart if the countless cartoon like scrabblings of pedestrians, desperately attempting to stay upright before they fell on their bottoms, was anything to go by. Now that the temperature has risen by almost 15 degrees, the bacteria are procreating like spring time bunnies; consequently, the rubbish which is piled outside our back door and which when frozen, only looked objectionable, now smells offensive too.
If only what happens outside would stay outside, unfortunately, the indoor viruses are spreading through this family as quickly as God knows what through the decaying and defrosting turkey carcass in a black bin-liner.
There is so much to do and I am running out of hours in which to do it. By Tuesday, I have to write a pretend letter of application for a job, in order, I presume, to demonstrate to our uni tutors that we have the wherewithal to string a decent sentence together whilst selling our skills as young bright things, intent on inspiring young minds. The being young thing is proving to be a bit of a challenge.There are other tasks even more onerous to complete that I cannot actually face and have thus shoved them all to the back of my mind. At least I thought that’s where worries were stored, however, given the gnawing feeling gripping my tummy very early, every morning, one must assume that all one’s demons and inner conscience has little to do with the mind and an awful lot to do with the gut.
Hubby has been a dead loss. For over a week now he has been dressed in the most appalling of garments, coughing, spluttering and nose blowing, resolute in not moving from in front of the fire or his armchair, a blanket over his knees, his glasses perched on his sweaty and snivelling nose, as he peered through them at the television set. I have lost count of the number of ‘social engagements’ we’ve missed out on.
Fortuitously, I have until these past 24 hours, been hale and hearty. How could I not? There was 44 metres of wrapping paper to get through – I counted the empty cardboard tubes. Eleven rolls, each four metres long. That’s a lot of paper and even more sellotape, revolutionised this year by a contraption on my wrist that dispensed sticky tape at the rate of knots. Good job really as it was a one woman show. As was the Christmas Eve party, the day itself, the cooking for 13, the magic, the madness, the mayhem. The parties, the pantos, the games, the sausage rolls. The sales, the shopping and the charades and not only the parlour game but the whole metaphor for happy families. It is no wonder that I have finally crashed and burned.
Even Mags, whom I depend upon to rouse my spirits, has herself been in the depths of despair. Frozen in time in a village cut off from the rest of polite society, trapped in the company of a far less polite mother-in-law, she made a heroic effort to reach me on Christmas Eve. She is evidently less well read than she professes to be otherwise she would have known the recklessness of venturing out into the icy wastes and that slamming the door of her 4x4 in a fit of pique and yelling “I’m just going outside and may be some time”, would have only scarified the car, nothing else. And so it came to pass. Only a couple of hundred yards into her polar expedition, the car and all of its four by four, flipping useless wheels, hurtled into a wall. Her car and wall are dented. She is unhurt. Her marriage less so. Her mother-in-law has, it goes without saying, taken every opportunity to tut-tut and gang up on her with her husband, calling her fool-hardy, selfish and irresponsible. In turn and I have it on good authority as Mags rang me on her mobile from the far corners of a frosty field to tell me so, that she screamed back with, “Not as irresponsible as when you had unprotected sex the night he was conceived”, simultaneously jabbing her until then, smug husband in the arm with a hot, oil-filled turkey baster.
“Shizer”, I replied, “What happened then?”
“The old boot demanded on being taken home, but the car is, quite literally, off the road and the trains aren’t running either, so we have no alternative other than to endure each other until such time as a thaw occurs, either in relations or in the weather, whichever comes first”.
The main difference between modern life and its sitcom counterpart is that it would be infinitely more bearable if only we could hear the studio audience laugh once in a while.