Friday, 22 April 2011


“But I just want to get on Alice”, whined Hubby, rubbing his ‘leave period’ unshaven chin in frustration.
“Carpe diem darling, carpe diem”.
“Huh?” Latin is not one of Hubby’s strengths and were I utterly truthful, neither is it mine. I went to an average comprehensive and was put in a stream where the teachers felt that our little brains would fry if, along with science and algebra and our rampaging hormones, Latin verbs were thrown into the mix. They were probably quite right. I for one had bigger fish to fry than my brain at that age, snogging my 6th form boyfriend at break-time being one of them. Still, carpe diem is a Hallmark card classic. Surely everyone knows what it means?
“Seize the day darling, seize the day”.
“Your dad has just invested in a state of the art lawn mower and strimmer. I want to get on and cut the grass. The garden looks like the upper reaches of the Limpopo and to use your proverbial parlance, I want to ‘make hay while the sun shines’”.
There were many points that I wanted to make here, namely, a state of the art lawn mower is an oxymoron unless it’s a tractor; the upper reaches of the Limpopo is a river and is thus not analogous to an overgrown back garden in South East Cornwall; and lastly, to make hay while the sun shines is metaphoric . This last point I articulated.
“It does not literally mean to cut the grass and make hay just because it is a sunny day. What it actually implies is ‘Go to the beach with your wife and family as it’s a glorious day and, as this is England, tomorrow the weather will probably be crap. Ergo, perfect for lawn mowing, less ideal for a bucket and spade and a beer in the Devonport, Kingsand’”. This last point had the most effect and within half an hour a bag was packed and we’d spread out our rug on the pebbley beach, the children were in 7th heaven as was Hubby waving at me from the railings outside the pub, a pint of Skinner’s latest brew in his hand, fashionably named, ‘Kate loves Willy’.
The following day was grey. I detest the colour grey. Other than a warship and a marl, cashmere dressing gown that I wish I owned, the colour has little to recommend it.
Hubby however, on leave and an eager beaver, was out of the house just past the crack of dawn and keen to play with Dad’s new toy. ‘State of the art? My arse!’ As soon as he pressed the on switch it sounded as though CORMAC, the asphalt and macadam specialists were laying a B road in my garden.
We all vibrated in our beds. A sleepy Red-Head walked into my room rubbing her eyes,
“Is there an earthquake mummy?”, she asked.
“No sweetie”, I replied, “Just daddy cutting the grass”. He was like a man possessed. It was pointless trying to sleep.
We all got up and dressed and by the time most normal people during a holiday period are contemplating the first coffee of the day, Hubby had advanced from mowing to strimming, which, if at all possible, was even noisier. Bits of wood and bark were of no consequence to him. With that tool in his hands he was indomitable. The girls were too scared to go outside lest they be floored by flying debris. The cats and the dog cowered behind the cat-flap peering through it, wondering what on earth had possessed their master to brandish a machine that was destroying their natural habitat faster than any multi-national conglomerate with little regard for destroying swathes of the Brazilian rain forest. And me, a card carrying member of Greenpeace.
Eventually and with an Errol Flynn style, thigh slapping, flourish, Hubby desisted. He looked very pleased with himself. “There”, he said, hands on hips, surveying his bald lawn. The children and I looked at each other nervously. Hubby was obviously a man on a mission. His ability to relax when on leave is notoriously unmanageable. The man needs a project. Before you could say B&Q, I heard myself uttering, “The bathroom needs decorating”.
Already blue and white, we meandered around that orange DIY superstore looking for paint and decided on scarlet for the walls. To ‘dress’ the bathroom , I picked up a red, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ cushion for the Lloyd loom chair and on the way home insisted on stopping at TK Max for red towels. They didn’t have any, but what they did have and what I found I couldn’t live without, was an enormous, distressed style, union flag mirror. Debenhams provided the towels, a red bath rug and some red, pillar candles. I was very pleased with my purchases. Hubby less so. He’d stayed in the car with the girls, assuming, rather erroneously as it transpired, that buying a bale of red towels would take approximately seven minutes. By the time I’d lugged the mirror and the other wrist cutting carrier bags up Royal Parade my arm had seized and Hubby had to unclasp the mirror from my crooked clasp.
A day later and the bathroom was finished. It is dressed to perfection. I invited Mags to the official unveiling. She was very quiet.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked, hurt.
She surveyed the red, white and blue; the union-flag mirror, the patriotic propaganda cushion and said, “In the words of Lloyd Grossman, ‘Who lives in a house like this?’”
Nick, who is very much at home here these days, popped his head in and quipped “Alice, it’s over to you”.
I’ll concede that with a bit of bunting it may well look as though I’ve taken the Royal Wedding pageant to heart, but one can’t argue though that it gives the euphemism, ‘on the throne’ a far deeper resonance.

So Many Children She Didn't Know What To Do..

Our house, the first thing in the morning, is not for the faint hearted or for anyone of any nervous disposition. It was rather disconcerting then to discover that my 9 year old fits the former description to a tee. I’m surprised as I have always maintained that is the 6’ 5”, loping, long haired brother who is the most delicate of all my children. As a reminder, he is the one with fire-pants by the side of his bed, just in case the house goes up in flames one night and he finds himself on the pavement, modestly cupping his credentials. He is also the one who is quite literally terrified of wax mannequins, the type found in any tourist attraction where there are tableaux illustrating days of yore. Generally speaking these mannequins have by this time been there almost as long as the historical period they are depicting, their glass eyes glassier, the moustaches lopsided and years of dust having gathered in every crevice and fold of their fake skin, hair and costumes. To say these tableaux give my son the hee-bee-gee-bees would be an understatement. The thought of Flambards Victorian Village still has the capacity, 12 years on, to bring him out in a cold sweat.
And so the other morning, whilst he lay in his bed, his pants carefully by his side, Hubby and my eldest daughter having left for work and school respectively, all hell broke loose. Nick, our latest lost boy, who is a lot less lost of late, was running up and down the stairs as I prompted him with things to remember – books? Damn. He ran to his room before remerging from the basement.
“Glasses?” He looked at me before slapping his forehead.
By the time he’d found them I was making his packed lunch.
“Right then Nick”, I said handing him his lunch and his breakfast bagel, “Are you sure you have everything?”
He nodded, chomping .
“You’ve got your money, your books, your glasses and your phone?”
He looked stricken and once more ran to the basement. Up he came again. At this point other events had taken over. The younger girls had got up and were sitting at the dining table duly awaiting their breakfast. The 9 year old was excited. It has been exactly six weeks since she had her ears pierced and therefore this was the day that she could officially change them for another pair. She had been crossing off the days on her Dog Breeds calendar and now handed me a bottle of Claire’s ear care disinfectant and some pretty dragonfly studs.
At this juncture Jacob, who has just returned from checking out various universities, also emerged form the basement, in a fury.
“Flaming hell Alice”, he said, running his fingers through his hair, “I am going to be blind and uncontactable for the next few weeks”.
“Why?”, I asked simultaneously pulling at my daughter’s stubborn earring back.
“Because I bloody well left my glasses and charger at a friend’s house and now he’s gone back-packing until the end of May.”
Nick ran back up the stairs, waving his phone at me.
“I really am off this time”, he smiled.
“Really?”, I replied pointing at his feet.
“Daaarh”. I think he may just have had the micky taken out of him if he’d turned up at assembly with black, towelling slip on slippers adorning his feet. And this kid was expected to live alone in hostel?
Whilst all this toing and froing was occurring and Jacob was grabbing himself a hot cross bun, the 9 year old had gone a distinct pea-green colour.
“Oh mummy, I don’t like this sensation in my ears. I feel dizzy”, she said, before flopping onto the sofa and without any warning, vomited. Holy hell, I didn’t anticipate that one coming, neither did I anticipate that at that precise moment, the doorbell would ring. Nick, having now once again re-emerged from the basement, really was going to school and opened the door to our visitor. The first thing the man saw was a peculiarly coloured child throwing up onto a rug at the foot of a sofa, two hot and flustered teenage boys and a middle aged woman in a scarlet dressing gown and little else, bent over the aforementioned, puking child.
“Um, hello, Mrs Band”, he said, clearly terrified, “The Commander sent me. My ship deploys tomorrow and he said that it was ok to borrow a pair of tartan trousers?”.
It was the most random if not surreal comment to make and it stopped us in our tracks. Why on earth would he need tartan trousers was only one of the questions I could have asked him, but this really wasn’t the time nor more specifically, the place.
Nick, shrugged his shoulders and I’m sure that, albeit fleetingly, his expression seemed to imply the thought that, a hostel could be quite comfortable after all. Jacob took over the role of nurse, before I finally recovered my manners and said “Tartan trews? Of course, of course”. I hurried to Hubby’s wardrobe, dragged the trousers from the hanger and ran back and handed them over. The 9 year old was still heaving. Our visitor was shifting nervously from foot to foot, before the Red-Head, in her own inimitable fashion, offered her unique, view on the world,
“Do you think the Queen likes chavs?”
I motioned to the tormented trouser borrower that he did not need to answer this question and with one had on the door handle and the other thrusting the tartan into his chest, showed him out.
“Will there be chavs at the wedding mummy?”
“I don’t think so sweetie”. Lily Langtry, who had recovered from her fainting fit, elaborated.
“Dad shouted at the telly that Wayne Rooney was an effing chav”.
“Yes, well the Roonies aren’t going to the Royal wedding whereas the Beckhams are”.
“Is that because she’s Posh?”

Ooh La La.

I have been called a lot of names over the years. ‘Fat Cow’ springs to mind. It is therefore hard to accept this new moniker of ‘Angel’ which does not sit at all comfortably upon my shoulders. Surely the definition of angel is a celestial being put on earth as God’s messenger. Pure and perfect. Divine. Spiritual. Superior to man in power and intelligence. Anyone who knows me well would read the preceding words and laugh. Uproariously.
The more I think of it, the name Angel Band has a certain je ne c’est quoi to it, alas I cannot claim it as my own as I am as flawed and as imperfect as every other human being on this earth. Hubby and I haven’t even done anything particularly kind, in fact as functioning members of the human race, I consider looking out for our fellow humans as a moral obligation. It is the right thing to do. It is as simple as that. And so the situation is this, a mum at my children’s school died last month. We weren’t best friends, but I liked her. She was very young and had four lovely children: a baby, a boy of 6 and a girl of 7 and a lovely lad of 17. They have different fathers and have thus all gone their separate ways, all except the 17 year old, who has no relationship with his father and, given his age - social services in their infinite wisdom, deem a grieving schoolboy of 17 needing the comfort, love and security of a big family, superfluous and so the lad has found himself, homeless.
Actually, I think that I can count the seconds of how long he was literally without four walls and a roof, around 180, or however long it was for his belongings to be driven from his old address to ours. The rest of the time was spent setting up his room for him, unpacking and plugging in his lovely telly. His mother had splashed out, with weeks to live, I guess you would. Given the trauma he has suffered over the past few weeks, losing his mum, his siblings, his home and a lot of his ‘stuff’, he is bearing up extremely well. I am proud of my children and my other lost boy for having welcomed him with open arms and treating him like a well used piece of furniture – albeit one that needs a little TLC, lest any more stuffing fall out.
I like to think that having him live with us has given him a chance. A chance to save his soul. God knows how embittered and angry he might have become if, when he needed to be shown comfort and human compassion most in his life, he’d been shunned. What gives me the greatest comfort is hoping that by holding out the hand of friendship, it has made him realise that the world is not such a bad place, and that he will grow up a fine young man and in turn do his bit. Lead by example, I was always told, although when one’s daughters strut around in high heels and make-up, that particular idiom does not work necessarily work in one’s favour.
And so that’s where we’re at, a great big family ever more like the Waltons than before. The house is filthy, the washing is piling up, ironing is now a number of items folded; food is served as though in a canteen, conversation is loud and opinions are vehement and emphatic. Nothing new in other words.
Getting out, I must admit, when Hubby wants me suited and booted by a certain time, is more of a challenge. Supper takes some planning. There are, depending on the menu, a lot of vegetables to peel, meat to cook, pasta to boil and bread to butter. My tea bag consumption has, since October, increased almost one hundred fold. A packet of biscuits lasts no more than 5 minutes, a tray of yogurts is eaten at one sitting and cocoa-cola is rationed, along with orange juice.
“There’s plenty of water in the tap”, I say, echoing my mother.
Of course, when one is in a rush because one’s husband wants you to look vaguely presentable, garlic butter has the habit of stymieing your efforts and last night was no exception. Lasagne, salad and garlic bread were the dish du jour, but as I retrieved the bread from the oven, the butter ran off the baking tray, down my sleeve and into my bra. It was hot. It was smelly. All I needed was a Gauloises hanging from the corner of my mouth and a jaunty beret atop my head and I would have looked and smelt, stereo-typically Francais.
Hubby was incensed, “For Pete’s sake Alice, there are four perfectly able bodied teenagers in this house. Two of them are legally men. Couldn’t you have delegated just this once?”
I ran upstairs whipping off my top and oily bra as I went. Luckily, as all the kids were chowing down, all were spared that sight. I mopped and scrubbed away at my skin until it was raw. I bent my head down towards my cleavage and sniffed heartily. Damn. I still smelt like a sodding salad. I threw on a clean bra and different shirt and all the time Hubby was roaring at me. It was a very fancy occasion, we couldn’t be late. I slipped my feet into killer shoes and for good measure, liberally sprayed some perfume over the offending odour. Hyper-ventilating, I ran downstairs and into Hubby’s arms.
“Dear God Alice, you smell like a French prostitute”.
“I most sincerely hope that you are not speaking from experience”, I replied loftily as I made my way to a waiting car.