Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Streets of London.

It was the tonic we needed. Two full days. No work. No household chores. No cooking. No kids. Well, for Dad that wasn’t exactly true as he had his daughter either trailing behind, gazing longingly into designer shops, or blazing forward, A-Z in hand, leading the way.
First things first, having bought the train tickets, we arrived at Plymouth railway station at some utterly ungodly hour in the morning and, after a restorative coffee, made our way along a snaking train before we found our carriage. Dad looked at our bags. He had a wash bag, a posh shirt that I’d bought him for Christmas and some clean pants (at least I assumed he’d brought some clean pants). I, on the other hand, had a weekend bag which held, a few frocks – just in case, not quite sure in case of what, a hairdryer, various shoes of differing heel height, make-up, jewellery and nightwear. That was nothing compared to a handbag, a laptop and a Morrison’s, heavy duty, carrier bag which held so much school stuff that only a trainee teacher could comprehend. Dad was certainly stymied by it.
“Sweetheart, did you really need to bring this?”, he asked, huffing and puffing in my wake. I waved him to hurry up.
“Course Dad, loads of work to do. Long train journey is the perfect opportunity”, I wasn’t really concentrating on his needs as he wheezed behind me. My mind was set on finding our seats. I held the tickets at arms length and was most disappointed to find us squished into a tiny space.
“Where’s the table?”, I pondered out loud, “I need a table. I can’t do all this work on a…flap”.
Dad dropped the bags.
“No Alice, you can’t. Let’s upgrade”. My eyes lit up. Upgrade? I didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, let’s”. We made our way up the train to the pointy end, the one the other side of café and sprawled in big, comfy chairs. A big smile animated my face.
“This is the life Dad”, I said, slipping my shoes off and opening my lap top bag. I plugged the charger into the ‘wall’ and started to work.
“Good on you Alice”, said Dad, approvingly, “And we haven’t even got to the big Sainsbury’s yet”.
Seemingly 24 hours later and a journey I’m sure that went via Aberdeen, we arrived in London.
Two country bumpkins, we heaved luggage to the taxi stand and waited in line. They’ve got queuing for a taxi down to a fine art in London and it wasn’t long before we were hurtling up Park Lane. Bliss. Until it dawned on me that we shouldn’t be anywhere near Park Lane. Shizer. I checked my friend’s address. Balls. I’d given the driver the wrong address, worse, Dad would think I was an incompetent buffoon. I moved out of my seat and attempted a subtle discourse with the driver along the lines of “I’m terribly sorry, but we’re going the wrong way”.
“What was that Alice?” asked Dad. Drat. He’s deaf as a post most of the time, I won’t fall for that next time, it must be bloody selective.
“No worries Dad. Slight GPS malfunction, that’s all”, I explained, tapping him reassuringly on the arm. Within a second, the taxi had turned 180 degrees on a sixpence and we were, at last heading, towards our destination. Dad was in his element, sitting back and enjoying the view, humming quite contentedly, ‘The Streets of London’.
“Oi, Ralph McTell”, I said to Dad, “We’re here”. Dad tipped the taxi driver generously for having an incompetent daughter and, then after a few steps, we unlocked the door into the flat.
“Well, well”, he said, looking around, “This is very London I must say”. I never really ascertained what ‘very London’ was as we had to hot foot it almost immediately across Hyde Park to the Royal Albert Hall.
“All sorts of types up here isn’t there?” announced Dad as woman boinged her way past us, like a latter day Zebedee on what can only be described as stilts with springs; one attached to each foot. Air-trekkers, by all accounts.
Dad was further impressed that far from yet another cramped seating situation, I’d pushed the boat out and we had a box at our disposal. There was a Moet & Chandon bar behind us, which dad rather infuriatingly seemed to ignore rather than acknowledge. Never mind, it was a wonderful concert. A real Classical Spectacular, although, I must admit, HM Royal Marine Band at HMS Raleigh are just as impressive if with fewer pyrotechnic wizadry.
It had been a long day. By the time the matinee performance had ended we were both pooped, but it is so rare that the two of us have time to hang out together that I was determined we would keep going until we dropped, which is why it was, that an hour later, as dusk began to settle over the West End of London and an enormous moon seemed to have trouble staying in the sky, we meandered around Soho, one hand holding on tightly to my A-Z, the other clutching Dad’s.
“C’mon”, I said for the hundredth time that day. It’s not that he couldn’t keep up with me, but that he just kept lingering in front of shop windows that were nothing, if not a little indiscreet. I do not mean that he peered into the more seedy of these windows, good lord no, but it would be fair to say however, that to him a gents outfitters is exactly that, he was a little surprised then when the very gay shop assistant gave him a little camp wave, before the salutation, “Bonjour matelot!” We hurried on, laughing, “It must have been your Jolly Jack Tar tattoos that gave you away Dad”.
Not for the first time that day, Dad shook his head with the refrain, “Well it is very London I must say.”


So, first things first,. We have two new cars. Well, not exactly new, in fact one might go so far as to say they are quite old, but, and this is the crux of the argument- they go. From A-B, without hiccupping, without kangarooing and without the all too familiar, ominous noise of banging or rattling. This is more through luck than anything else, because, no sooner had Hubby and Dad been across country to purchase the second, more large family accommodating, car and had driven in convoy back to the wardroom for lunch to celebrate Dad’s not insignificant birthday than it all went, horribly wrong. I have been regaled thus: Hubby got half way out of the new car, too late to realise that the handbrake hadn’t been applied hard enough to secure it to a parking spot. Being on a slight incline, the car started to move, and rather horrifyingly it moved with Hubby’s leg sticking out of the door. Dad’s car was parked right next to Hubby’s and as Hubby frantically tried to apply the handbrake- which, Hubby realised rather too late, is placed on the right hand side of the driver, a rather alarming and in this case calamitous revelation given the vulnerable position of Hubby’s leg, the two cars rather predictably scraped together and Hubby could not get his leg out of the way fast enough to prevent it being crushed between the cars. How Hubby didn’t lose his leg is a miracle. The metal inside the driver’s door is buckled where his leg got in the way.

It was a bad start to the new car that my dear husband had been so chuffed to find. Not only that, but it was after all Dad’s birthday, and not only that, but the poor guy had only just had his car returned from the garage where it had been rebuilt after a drunken driver had smashed into it late one night. It’s another story, that after the impact, which I heard from my bed, I’d hurriedly pulled a dressing gown around me, and ran outside to see what was going on before desperately trying to make the miscreant see sense and stay put at the scene of the crime. It’s a further story that the whole family were now also in their nightclothes out on the pavement; Hubby on the phone to the police, the teenagers looking on open mouthed and poor Dad, standing there bewildered, scratching his bald head, as I, naked under my dressing gown, ran up the street, hell for leather after a swaying drunkard, the whole while pleading with him to stay put. I didn’t stop until it got very dark and I could hear Hubby imploring me to come back. You’d have thought that the sight of my nether regions flapping under my dressing like some pornographic super hero would have been enough to apprehend the chap, but on reflection, it was probably more of an impetus to keep on running.
Suffice it to say then , the last thing that Dad needed on his big birthday was his car to be once again damaged, but as is Dad’s style, he was very magnanimous about it and I was very glad that I had spent a small fortune on four foot, silver, helium balloons that signified his age.We spent a pleasant evening, regardless, eating party food, drinking champagne and dousing Hubby in Arnica ointment.
The following day, a long scar disfiguring my nice, new car, I drove to my ‘Placement B’ school. The children are delightful and one can understand how teachers, however knackered and however disenchanted with the goings on in education, stick with the job. The kids are what it’s all about. I am surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoy standing at the front of the class and teaching my students. I am very enthusiastic. The trouble is, is that I tend to go ‘off script’ and my mentor, whilst being very positive and encouraging, had to point out that in an hours lesson on creative writing where the ‘learning objective’ – oh yes, the students must have an agenda these days – was to ‘explore genre, setting and characters’, I had spent fifteen minutes spouting on about Lent, Jesus in the wilderness and sacrifice.
“Rein yourself in Alice”, she advised, “Or you will never meet your objectives and when the head honchos come to call they will criticise you”. But it had been so apt. I’d provided pancakes and syrup and napkins, hell I’d even had the wherewithal to buy baby wipes for sticky little fingers. I felt it needed a little clarification as to why we gorge ourselves thus. I felt it just as pertinent to point out that in Mexico, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Fat Tuesday and regale them with an anecdote of when we lived in America and how it was celebrated there. No doubt I see myself as some modern day Miss Jean Brodie, hell bent on given my students extra curricular information, to be the ‘crème de la crème. It doesn’t go down well with OFSTED apparently, they like ‘focus’ not imagination. Pah.
I sloped off to my next class, entirely made up of high achieving girls, who are up to debate against a class of equally bright boys. Printing information from the internet about girls versus boys, they found statistics about female incarceration.
“Are you familiar with that expression? Do you know what it means?”, I asked.
Rows of big eyes looked back at me, “Is that where they get burned miss?”.
Regardless of wounded car and wounded husband, I laughed all the way home.

A Warm Embrace.

“Must you go gallivanting at every given opportunity?”, enquired Hubby beseechingly.
“Must we have this conversation every time we have a holiday?”, I retorted.
“Some of us are not on holiday”, he replied. I sighed. Here we go again. Hubby had better get used to the holiday situation if I pass this teaching course and find myself, every six weeks or so with a week or so off.
“The petrol will cost a fortune to Wiltshire you know”, Hubby added.
“I understand that, but once there I will spend a lot less on the kids as they’ll be happy to run amok in the garden with the other children and the free range chickens, the trampoline and the Avon and Kennet canal.” Hubby raised one eyebrow.
“For heaven’s sake I was using hyperbole for dramatic effect. They will not be going anywhere near the canal unless they are tethered to me. Ok?” For one fleeting moment I’m sure I saw a faraway look in Hubby’s eye that seemed to suggest, rather murderously “What if?”
“Ahem”. Hubby pulled himself together. “And I have no plans for mid winter bathing”.
The following day, I packed the Passat. Hubby was not best pleased about that either as it meant that I was leaving him with the clapped out, leaking like a sieve, Fiat.
“I’ll be bloody lucky if the car make sit as far as work.”
“Well it’s not going to make it to Wiltshire then is it?”. This was met with silence.
“Just take it easy Alice ok? Driving fast is not economically efficient regarding fuel consumption, nor is it responsible. I don’t want a phone call to say you’ve dented the ruddy thing because you drove into the back of another car. Remember, ‘two chevrons apart’”.
Prophetic words indeed. Driving along the M5, approaching Weston-Super-Mare, the car suddenly issued a directive from the warning light panel to STOP, STOP, STOP – it being German, it would have felt more comfortable to yell, HALT!, HALT!, HALT, but it was no less intimidating in English. Driving at 75mph and singing away to Buddy Holly, I was cut short in my tracks.
“Bloody hell”, I yelled.
“What’s wrong mummy?”.
“It says to stop because we are out of oil”. My mind raced, what to do for the best? Pull over on the hard shoulder and stand by the side of a terrifyingly busy M5 with two little girls and a dog or, continue until we were safe? I chose the latter. Soon, we were in the petrol station of a Morrison’s supermarket. I bought a container of oil, opened the car bonnet and looked at the engine. Hmm. Which one of these screw lids was the correct one, I pondered. As is often the case in these situations, the age of chivalry is proven to be far from dead. A chap appeared as by magic, gallantly rolled up his sleeves, unscrewed the oil cap, poured fresh oil into the thingy, checked my dipstick a couple of times and wiped it off with his hanky, before slamming my boot shut and checking all was well before leaving me to it.
The girls were impressed, “Who was that man mummy?”, the Red-Head asked.
“I don’t know, but he was very kind”.
“But if he was a stranger you shouldn’t have spoken to him. He could have kidnapped us.”
“Listen sweetheart, it would take a special sort of man to want to kidnap a middle aged woman, two little girls, a large hairy dog and a crappy car. Just ask your father.” We continued our journey, but on the M4 just before the Bath exit, the car, rather alarmingly started to squeak and make kangaroo jumps. I swore out loud.
“What is it now mummy?” asked the 9 year old.
“Bloody, bloody car”. The next services weren’t for miles and miles, I had no choice this time, but to pull over onto the hard shoulder. If I’d thought the M5 was busy, then by comparison to this race-track it was a drive in the countryside. We piled out of the car. Ensuring the girls were safe, whilst at the same time retrieving a golden retriever from the boot was hair raising. We clambered over the crash barrier and in the rain and wind, huddled together on tiny strip of grass verge. The lorries shook us as they trundled past in their droves. I called the AA.
“One of our patrol cars will be with you very shortly Mrs Band. Try not to worry”. Worry? I was terrified. The Red-Head was crying and clinging to me, both shivering from the cold. The dog was trembling and whimpering. Suddenly, the elder one started to sing, ‘These are a Few of my Favourite Things’. We picked up the refrain and by the time we’d worked through the whole of the Sound of Music and were about to embark on Doh- a-Deer again, the comforting, flashing, orange lights of an AA van hove into view.
My reaction on greeting ‘Mark’ was perhaps a little too welcoming. It was as though he had returned from war.
“Oh thank God”, I said, over and over, hugging him, “Thank God you are here. It is so wonderful to see you”. It must be a rewarding job. He bundled the girls into his van and towed me and the dog back to Bristol, waited until all the admin had been sorted and a hire car had been allocated before leaving us.
The garage ran a diagnostic test on the car. The prognosis was terminal. It was a write-off.
Hesitantly I dialled Hubby’s number. “You there safely?” he asked.
“Not quite. Remember you said you didn’t want me to ring saying I’d dented the car? Well…” He took the news as well as any man. As well as any man who has been told his ‘good’ car is now a worthless piece of scrap.