Sunday, 25 September 2011


It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am completely and utterly rubbish at maths. The innumerate gene has, through great luck, bypassed my first three children. Our son and daughter both got excellent GCSE results in the subject and the nine year old seems to ‘get it’ and is slowly and surely mastering her times tables – but my poor darling little Red-Head is as mystified by mathematics as her mother.
Just the other night, as I was patiently trying to show her how to do taking away on her fingers, she explained how she felt.
“My head feels like a waterfall inside Mummy”, she said, rubbing at her temples.
“How so darling?”, I asked her.
“Well you know how the water in a waterfall falls down?”, she continued.
“And it’s like the water is falling off?”
“Well, my inside my head feels like that. Like the information is falling out of my head like a waterfall and I can’t remember anything”. Luckily I was squeezing her so tightly that she didn’t see my tears fall into her hair. I had to pull myself together.
“That was beautifully explained sweetheart”, I said, wiping my nose on my sleeve, “In fact few people could be that creative when trying to describe how they are feeling. Perhaps you will be a writer and write wonderful stories?”
After some consideration she seemed happy enough with this idea and we returned to taking six grammes away from ten grammes. It took a while. I feel so sorry for her. No-one in the world can understand her bewilderment as much as me. All those bloody lessons and extra lessons and tutors that I’ve had. All of them to no avail, all of them resulting in making me feel thoroughly stupid, my self esteem plummeting through the floor. Well this is the 21st Century. She needn’t tolerate as I did, being kept in at play time because she is ‘slow’. She needn’t suffer the ignominy as I did, of seeing her friends go to art whilst she is left with, God bless them, the smelly kids and even more sums to do until we got it right. We never did. Nope, if she carries on in this vein I shall have her assessed and if she is, dyslexic and dyscalculic then everyone shall know and she will get all the support she needs. Hell, if The Fonz can receive an award from the Queen for raising awareness of these special educational needs then his hard work may as well go towards making her life mathematically speaking, a little sweeter. Anyway, no sooner had we done sums, then spellings then reading, I very quickly had to throw off the mantle of mother to adopt the role of Commanders wife. These two posts cannot be done simultaneously for fear of shaking hands with my children and wiping the gravy of the face of a Naval officer. I daren’t risk it. So, ensuring all children were fed and watered, I ran upstairs to chuck on my trademark look of pearls, posh frock and pashmina.
Hubby and I had been invited to Truro for HM Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall’s Annual awards ceremony. We got there by the skin of our teeth and took our seats, panting. Now my back, has, much like mathematics, been the bane of my life. At any given time, on a scale of 1-10 of pain, it is an 8. I look like a wizened old woman much of the time, especially getting my knickers on in the morning, getting out of the car and up from a chair. I have seen all manner of doctors, chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists and masseurs. Apart from having to be peeled from the ceiling at the end of my treatment, little else occurs and my back continues to hurt. Very much indeed.
As I sat there then, shifting my bottom from one cheek to the other and rubbing the small of my back and stretching my legs out in front of me and generally fidgeting to the point that at the same time the woman on one side of me tutted and Hubby hissed, “Keep still”, as one might to a child during a long sermon.
Don’t get me wrong, the ceremony was inspirational. It showcased the very best of our reservists and cadets from the South West; the young people’s achievements bringing a lump to the throat due to their terrific hard work and commitment they show both their detachment and community.
What struck me though and why I mention my back was the image of Lady Mary, who has for the last 17 years been Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for Cornwall, but who will be retiring next week. She, I sincerely hope wouldn’t mind my saying, is an indomitable figure. Tall, strong and stately. As she stood up to present the awards, a gentleman offered her a chair on the dais. One look from her made it immediately obvious that she had no truck with a chair whatsoever and stood resolute for over an hour handing out awards and shaking hands. I looked on in wonder.
Not only would I have needed a chair, but I would also have needed someone to help me out of it. On the journey home I had to recline my seat and, as I lay there looking up at the Cornish Night sky, I mulled.
“Penny for your thoughts?” said Hubby, yawning. He rarely demands conversation. It must have been a ploy. Not to fall asleep and crash.
“I was just wondering how my life would have turned out had I been more supple and better at maths”.
“That’s a mad combination of thoughts Alice”, he replied, the indicator was flashing, we were almost home, “Is there that much call for a numerate gymnast?”
“The sad thing is”, I replied as we pulled into our road, “Is that it’s too late to find out”.

Regal Regale.

“Aren’t you going to get up with me then?”, I asked Hubby last Saturday as the alarm on my mobile phone went off at 5.20am. There was a text.
“Mags’s hubby has made her a cuppa”, I read.
He mumbled “traitor” from beneath the duvet.
“I’ll take that as a no then”, I answered tip-toeing as quietly as possible around our bedroom whilst looking for my underwear. I’d laid everything out the night before, but couldn’t for the life of me now locate my bra. I lifted various other garments off the ottoman at the foot of our bed and felt beneath them for the tell tale silkiness of my M&S 36D and shrieked in disgust as my hand felt something cold and yucky.
“Aargh, what the hell?”, I wailed and ran over to the light switch. As my eyes adjusted to the light I realised that I’d put my hand through a mound of cold, cat sick.
“Oh dear God”, I shivered, “That is bloody revolting, how long has it been there?”
Hubby was by now most aggrieved that the light was on and that his wife was making far too much noise this early in the morning and that, now he was awake, he’d have to go to the loo.
“Flaming Nora Alice, how many times have I managed perfectly well to go to work in the pitch dark and never disturb you?”, he said pulling my dressing around him.
“You can’t go to the loo yet”, I said barging in front of him, “I have cat sick on my hand, I’ve got to wash it off”.
“Can’t we do both simultaneously? Kill two birds with one stone”, he offered.
“Eww. No thanks, besides the way I feel I’d rather kill two cats with one stone”. I patiently waited on the landing as he relieved himself, my hand at arm’s length as though I had some ticking bomb in it. Infernal cats.
The doorbell rang.
“That’ll be Mags then?”, said Hubby as he exited the bathroom yawning, “Is there any more noise you can muster between you? You may as well put the radio on”.
“There’s no need to be sarcastic is there.”
“Hello mummy”, said the Red-Head, emerging from her bedroom and rubbing her eyes, “Why have you got sick on your hand?”. The doorbell rang again.
“Well?”, I said to Hubby, “You’re going to have to answer it, I can’t stand it any longer, I’ve got to wash my hands”. Looking utterly beleaguered at not only having been woken up before dawn but now having the added encumbrance of going down and back up the stairs and then persuading the Red-Head back to sleep, Hubby sighed very heavily indeed.
The Red-Head sat on the loo as I scrubbed away at my hands.
“Will the queen be at her Palace mummy?”, she asked.
“No darling, she’s at Balmoral”.
“What’s that?”
I dried my hands. From downstairs Mags’s excited chatter could be heard. Hubby was going to be less than thrilled.
“It’s a castle sweetie, where she has her summer holidays”.
“It’s a bit greedy of the queen to have lots of palaces and castles isn’t it? Why can’t she have a holiday in a caravan?”
“I don’t suppose Queens go in for caravanning that much”, I replied lifting her up and carrying her into our bed.
“Why not? She’s got a Range Rover. It could easily pull a caravan”. The image of HRH Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh towing a six berth Bailey up to the Highlands made me laugh.
“Or”, added the Red-Head, seriously contemplating alternative holiday destinations for our monarch, “what about Center Parcs? The whole family could go then; all the grandchildren and the corgis. There would be plenty for everyone to do. Nobody would be bored. In fact they could go horse-riding like we did. They like horses don’t they, the Royal Family?”
A further image of Zara Phillips, Olympic horse jumping hopeful and dear nonagenarian Philip, fellow champion equestrian embarking on a gentle pony trek, being led by a rope by a teenage girl around the country lanes of Wiltshire made me laugh even harder.
“Ah but which corgi would they chose?”, I said, wiping my eyes as I tucked her in, “There is only one dog allowed per lodge”. I left her cuddled up considering this canine conundrum.
I passed Hubby on the stairs.
“She’s in our bed”, I explained kissing him, “Will you pick us up from the train station later?” Hubby nodded.
“Please just go now”.
For once, the railway journey was entirely without incident, it even pulled into Paddington early. Mags and I had a coffee in Fortnum and Mason’s and then strolled across the park to Buckingham Palace.
“Do you think we should have worn a hat?”, I asked Mags as we approached the Palace.
“Alice, this isn’t a bloody garden party we’re going to; think of it as a super-enhanced National Trust Property”.
Not bleedin’ likely. Not with the Faberge exhibition, the priceless private art collection and Kate’s wedding dress, shoes and cake, well, Cotehele it ain’t. We walked around gawping like kids in a sweet shop and like every kid on a school trip, we had the best time in the gift shop. Where Mags plans to use her gold plated teaspoons with carved, royal dwellings at the end of the handle, God alone knows. At least my God Save the Queen tea towel is practical.
Hubby met two weary women off the 22.41 train. His delight that we weren’t laden with shopping bags and thus hadn’t spent any money was palpable.
“No shopping then girls?”, he asked brightly.
“We didn’t have time” said Mags, “Too much to see”.
“I only bought this”, I said and showed him the tea-towel.
“Oh God Save the Queen indeed”, cried Hubby, as though praying, “God Save the Queen”.

Poor at the Palace.

Well, I have polished the chrome on my barista coffee machine for the last time this season, the café will soon follow suit and go into some sort of caffeine hibernation; school uniform is in the process of being labelled, there is a great preponderance of colourful stationery, pencils, rubbers and fluffy pencil cases adorning the dining table; plimsolls have been Sharpied; hair has been cut and the nights are drawing in. All this can only mean one thing - the summer hols are over for another year.
I feel the most sorry for Hubby. He’s only just started to relax, his face has finally lost that pinched, scrunched up look and he remains resolutely under the duvet in the morning instead of jumping out of bed expecting ‘reveille’ to sound at any second. ‘Rounds’ have finally been dispensed with and he is now accustomed to living amongst many, many messy young people without swearing. As often. He opens a bottle of wine, sometimes as early as 5.50 and has taken to sitting outside in the garden, a rug over his knees, a wine glass to hand, a book in the other, a fire in his fire pit.
“What the hell do you mean I’ve ‘taken to sitting in the garden with a rug and wine?’”
He must have overheard me telling Mags. “I did it once Alice. Once when the flipping kids allowed me five minutes peace……in fact they didn’t even do that. They weren’t even here if I remember correctly, they were on a sleepover! Besides the image of me in the garden with rug, wine, book and fire makes me sound decrepit”.
Mags winked at me.
“Hey! I saw that”.
“Well you are getting on a bit”, Mags teased him, “Forget wine it’ll be cocoa soon”.
The rest of the evening past in jovial banter and as I served up a chilli con carne and sparkling champagne, or in this case, cheap Cava, Mags handed me a large envelope.
“What’s this?”, I asked, holding the envelope between my teeth as I sprinkled grated cheese onto the chilli.
“It’s a present”, she answered. I mumbled something incomprehensible, dribbling onto the envelope as I did so and carried three plates into our dining room. Pushing the fluffy pencil cases further up the table to make way for dinner, I took a big slurp and removed the envelope from my teeth.
“Open it now”, she implored. I looked at Hubby’s face and it was like looking into the face of a drooling Labrador.
“Let’s eat first ok?” I asked apologetically. She shrugged and picked up a fork. The conversation soon turned, once Hubby had steamed through three quarters of his chilli, to the Red-Head’s birthday treat.
“Build-a-Bear my arse”, said Hubby in his inimitable way, “Build-the-Buggers-a-Bloody-Fortune more like”.
“Why, what happened?” asked Mags. It has to be pointed out at this point that Hubby did not accompany our two youngest daughters and our niece to Build-a-Bear, rather he dropped us off outside and went ‘to park’, as though he were doing me a huge favour.
“It cost ninety quid, that’s what happened”, replied Hubby. It was a huge amount of money and I must admit that when the member of staff had put the items through the till and wished my daughter a ‘beary nice birthday”, that even I blanched at the total.
I stood outside waiting for Hubby, whilst three little girls hopped deliriously up and down with their Build-a-Bear boxes and looked through the receipt to see if there had been a mistake. No such luck.
“He only found out how much it cost after I’d confessed on Facebook.” Hubby grimaced.
“Why didn’t you tell him then and there Alice?”
“Because”, I said pointedly, “we still had lunch and the movie Mr Poppa’s Penguins to pay for and I didn’t want to ruin the birthday girl’s day”.
I didn’t bother to tell her that the next day Hubby had marched me down to our bank, demanded a meeting with the bank manager where I had to endure the most humiliating hour where the bank manager and Hubby tooth-combed my account. Most of it was pretty kosher.
“Do you want to cancel these direct debits Alice?” asked the bank manager kindly.
“What the hell are they for?” asked Hubby peering over my shoulder at the computer screen.
“My charity contributions”, I said quietly.
“Huh?” Hubby exhaled. The bank manager looked a little discomfited, after all this was impartial financial advice she was offering, not Relate relationship counselling.
“I pay a monthly direct debit to some very worthy causes if you must know”.
“I would like to know actually”. In for a penny in for a pound.
“Well, there’s the NSPCC, Macmillan Nurses, The British Heart Foundation, Greenpeace and Amnesty International”. Hubby twirled in his chair.
“God almighty Alice”, he roared.
“Okay, okay, I’ll cancel a couple”.
“You will cancel them all”.
“No way, that is very bad karma”. In the end I hung onto the Macmillan Nurses. Just in case. The others, when I am in serious employment, will once again benefit from my patronage.
I put my fork down.
“Yipee”, said Mags, “Now open your envelope”. I wiped my fork on a square of kitchen paper and tore it along the envelope and removed from it a shiny, glossy brochure .
“Can you tell what it is yet?”
“You sound like Rolf Harris”. I turned the brochure over. A gold crown was emblazoned upon its front cover.
“It’s an advance souvenir programme”, explained Mags, “We are going to London to see ‘the dress’”
“You’re kidding?”
“No! We go on Saturday. I’ve bought the tickets!” For a card carrying lefty, she was very animated.
“But Mags, I’ve always had you as flag waving Trotskyist?”. Well she’d been to Greenham Common in her youth and fancied Billy Bragg.
“Sssh. I’m putting it down to my hormones".


I’ve been vindicated. At last, after all these years of selfless mothering, the worry, the nagging, the curfews and the tantrums – mine not theirs. The insistence that the 16 year old was to only read books with any literary merit; the lofty disapproval of the viewing of chavvy t.v programmes, the expensive theatre trips, the traipsing around museums when I’d have far preferred the shops. It all paid off. It was a good investment. Her GCSE results were outstanding. So outstanding in fact that the press wanted to take ‘one of those pictures’ of her. The one where grinning girls jump into the air, holding their stellar results aloft.
I did in fact, tap the press photographer on the shoulder and say, “Oi, take one of me. Us mothers should be recognised for our children’s success and not just given a hard time when they riot”. I was serious. Unless he has teenagers himself then he has no idea what these last 18 years have been like. Most of my friends are now breathing a well deserved sigh of relief and patting themselves on the back. Their eldest are off to university, the youngest having passed GSCEs and so the future looks bright. They are off the hook. They can at last take up golf or watercolour lessons, or darts.
As I stood in my daughter’s school hall as she read her results and beamed, I wept. Not only because I was so very proud of her, but because I still have to live through this again. Twice. And not only the GSCEs but the journey there too. The 11+ coaching, the 11+ mock, the 11+ itself, the results, the studying thereafter, further GCSEs etc, etc. Hubby is 50 and his son and he can still enjoy shared enthusiasms: music, football, beer. Normal young man, middle aged dad stuff.
When the youngest receives her A levels though, her father will be an OAP and her brother in his 30s. What were we thinking? Will we still have the energy to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on their elder siblings or will we, exhausted by our previous efforts, give up the ghost and allow our youngest, second set of children a more lax childhood? I fear the latter. Already the youngest are a lot more lippy than either of the previous two. They have a precocious attitude which makes me wince and they whole-heartedly believe that models and pop-stars are to be revered. Books are used to pose with, high heels to impress. Hello! Magazine is the new Michael Morpurgo and even Harry Potter is a film star; a celebrity and not a school boy wizard who lives in a thick book and thus one’s imagination.
I despair for the next generation. My eldest two, looking back on it, enjoyed the last of the age of innocence. Admittedly they rarely went out to play on their bikes and almost never got dirty, neither did they spend incalculable hours watching trash TV and looking up to people who are the living incarnation of Ken and Barbie. They like to Facebook regularly enough so that they are not social pariahs, but the 16 year old is just as likely to be creating something on Photoshop or writing a story, whereas her elder brother is most often found, if he is home at all, in his room either writing lyrics or organising a gig for his band. Their imagination has already been fired. Me and Hubby must have had something to do with that surely? Just as we have as much to do with two younger children, who, although quite active, have yet to demonstrate any lingering interest in a novel or gold standard BBC programme which is why they think that Daniel Radcliffe genuinely is Harry Potter and that Britain’s Next Top Model is as fascinating as anything that David Attenborough had to say. So, as much as I can feel a certain vindication for my eldest children’s academic accomplishments, must I not equally share the ignominy of my youngest’ liking nothing better than dressing up as baby sluts and regarding academe with scorn and derision, the realm of geeks and nerds?
How do I put the brakes on this mind-set? They have excellent role models in their sister and her equally high achieving friends, who are as beautiful as they are brainy; the two lost boys are absolutely no trouble whatsoever and their brother, whilst hardly flying the flag for an university education, is enviably dedicated and loyal to his band and their music.
I can only deduce therefore that their rather defiant attitude is the fault of their mother and father, who having been parents for so long are knackered with the whole process and, instead of reading hours of endless bedtime stories and trying to inspire their young minds are just as likely to go sleep before them.
Watching them cavort around the sitting room to some god awful pop-music, dressed in wholly inappropriate apparel, I saw Hubby’s face twitch nervously. I read his mind.
“You know that empty nest syndrome? The one where people learn golf and painting and go on cruises and such like?”
His eyes had that far way look of an unattainable fantasy.
“Well, it’s also when couples start to have affairs, because their raison d’etre, i.e their kids, are no longer there to keep them together”. Hubby considered this analysis for a moment.
“That would be too cruel to bear Alice; the idea of putting up with this… this shenanigans” and he gestured at the posturing progenies, “only for you to bugger off with the milkman the minute I get my bus pass”.
I squeezed his hand reassuringly, “I’ll be past my sell by date by then as well love” and we drank our wine together, contended in our entrapment.


A few weeks ago, Hubby showed a smattering of VIPs around his place of work. I was allowed to tag along, “As long as you behave yourself Alice. No wisecracks, no flirting, no wandering off”.
“But you always forget about me”, I pouted.
“What the hell are you talking about now?”
“Whenever we go to one of your dos, you just abandon me to talk to some Captain Bligh or other; I’m left to peer miserably into the bottom of my G&T”.
“Well, as this event is during the day there won’t be any G&Ts for you to have to peer miserably into”.
“Usher me then”.
“I’ve watched other Officers and whenever they are about to embark on a walkabout with their wives they always put a gentle yet guiding arm almost imperceptibly behind their wives backs as if to say, ‘This way love’”. Hubby looked utterly bewildered.
“So imperceptible that I’ve never seen it”.
“Wills does it with Kate all the time as does Obama with Michelle as does David with Samantha or David with Victoria for that matter”. Hubby scratched his head. I helped him out.
“All I’m trying to say is that when we go for this walkabout and are about to move on, don’t stride off down some corridor with the VIPs or pop into another room with them without your hand being on the small of my back ok?”
Famous last words. We were barely off the mini bus before Hubby set about proudly showing off his department. Now I, who in the entirety of Hubby’s naval career has only really been to ‘dos’ that require a semblance of formality, was at a loss as what to wear. Hubby was already at work when I pitched up and, when I’d phoned him was unavailable for comment, which meant that when I eventually stepped off the mini-bus in kitten-heeled sling backs and a smart skirt and blazer, I was already impeding his tour. He scowled impatiently at me.
‘It’s alright for you’, I shouted silently, ‘You have an uniform to wear’. The other wives, appropriately sartorially briefed, hopped off the bus in their smart casual slacks and Clarks sandals. I click-clacked behind them, desperately trying to keep up.
The terrain couldn’t have been worse for kitten heels. As Hubby strode onto the playing fields to introduce the VIPs to some young, active, sport playing sailors, paces behind him I’d actually got stuck in the grass and, whilst my shoes stayed sunk into the turf I kept on going and performed what can only be described as a forward roll. I staggered up and gathered myself together with as much panache as is at all possible when around 50 young sailors, your Husband and his VIP party have been privy to your gusset. Hubby glared at me. I extricated my shoes from the grass, slipped them on and hurried over to him on my tippy-toes.
We were given a demonstration of teams running very fast around an obstacle course and whilst carrying a very heavy log. Practise for when called to do so when on active duty. The log presumably would be an injured comrade.
I’d seen this before somewhere and racked my brains as to where.
“Blue Peter!”, I suddenly hollered excitedly, “That’s where I’ve seen this before”.
“Oh yes”, said another wife and then whispered conspiratorially, “Gethin Jones. I would”.
The demonstration over we walked quickly back to the minibus. This time I hung on to Hubby’s arm. Our next stop was a state of the art firing school. Yet again I’d click-clacked down a corridor attempting to keep up with the others. An uniformed chap mercifully waited to show me in. It was a state of the art room. A chilling reminder of what our men and women are expertly trained to do. We were given a demonstration in shooting the enemy. It was like being in a 3D cinema experience only this time you were surrounded by baddies and not Pixar animations.
“Ma’am”, said a chap handing me a gun, “Would you like to try?”
Bloody hell. Another ignominious example of how Alice Band could make a tit of herself.
“Well, I…”
“Come on Alice”, said the Gethin Jones fan. Once again I removed my shoes and lay flat on my tummy, although this time it was a little less accidental. The gun was indescribably heavy. My heart was in my mouth. It was pitch dark. God alone knows where our troops find the endurance, tenacity and sheer courage to do this for real. Suddenly from out of nowhere, the enemy emerged. I pulled the trigger, again and again. More insurgents. Bang, bang. It was over.
The light came on. A Petty Officer who had been following events on a computer, showed me my score. Not only had I shot a few, but they’d been ‘double taps’. There was no way these baddies were getting up again.
“You are a natural born killer ma’am”, said the PO dourly. Hubby’s expression seemed to imply that he didn’t need million pound equipment to tell him what he already knew.
Another double whammy featured large and looming in the Band household this week. Two milestones were reached. My son’s A level results and my eldest daughter’s 16th birthday. Pow-pow. Both on the same day. An emotional rollercoaster that saw me oscillating between the party girl, her guests and her presents, my mobile which was continually receiving texts with friends’ kids’ results and Hubby, who was in the kitchen pacing, furious with a son who, by some miracle, passed his A levels with fairly decent grades.
“He didn’t even read the books”, I said. We were in mourning for the grades he could have achieved had he actually applied himself. My mobile vibrated. A text.
‘Nicky got 3 As. Reading biology at York. Yours?’ My fingers texted back: ‘3 Cs. Reading Music Magazines at Torpoint’.


“I feel as though I’ve been in a car crash”, I said to Hubby the following morning, proffering him my bottom to rub.
“More fool you”, he replied.
“Do my shoulders next”, I instructed before he got too carried away with my bottom. I winced under his strong hands.
“Ouch. Don’t worry about the massage; I’ll take some ibuprofen instead”. My back hurt, my shoulder blades felt as though they had bruises on then, my neck felt as though it could do with a brace and my brain still felt as though it had been shaken thoroughly within its cranium, which of course it had.
The nine year old walked downstairs and into the kitchen, “Mummy my head still feels wobbly”, she said, but with that extraordinary capacity that children have for an unending gusto for thrills and spills, added, “Can we go again?”
“Again? Are you crazy? You’ve only just stopped being sick”
“I still loved it though. What did you like best about Speed mum? My favourite bit was when we tipped over the edge”.
“Your day out almost tipped your mother over the edge”, quipped Hubby. What did he know? He didn’t even come with us.
The day out in question was a visit to Oakwood theme park in Pembrokeshire. We were once again in Wales as part of our annual pilgrimage to visit our friends. The annual pilgrimage that involves, without fail, getting to know your fellow M5 motorists so well, that after 5 hours on the same patch of asphalt you are sharing personal information with them and inviting them to be your Facebook friends. This year was by no means an exception, but due to engine failure which meant we only took one very packed car and not the usual convoy it was an even more keenly charged atmosphere, especially as it took over 8 hours to get to our friends’ house.
Oakwood theme park is just over a five minute drive from our friends’ house and for years, every time we’ve driven past its flags and precipitous roller coasters, the youngest girls have begged to go. Now, as I have always known that I would have to go alone – Hubby just doesn’t ‘do’ coasters, it just hasn’t been practical in the past to go. Height restrictions an all that. I think it might have been frowned upon if I’d tied the Red-Head up at the foot of the rides as her sister and I stood in queues for hours and then looped the loop above her head. This year though, after quite a growth spurt, I felt the Red-Head might just be tall enough and so, I did my research, visited the website, got out the measuring tape and was pleased to tell the youngest that she now qualified for Megaphobia and all the other ‘thrill’ rides. There was no longer an excuse.
I’m not sure that ‘thrill’ is quite the word I would use. I am thrilled when the car passes its M.O.T; I am thrilled when my children get good school reports and I am thrilled when there is a BOGOF on loo roll in Morrison’s – being catapulted into the ether in a wooden carriage, with only a lap bar to restrain me from certain death, is not thrilling. It is in fact petrifying. Made much worse by the fact that weren’t any queues ergo no respite, we didn’t even have to get off; we just went around and around and around. And up and down of course, oh and upside down. Now, having lived near Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, USA, I got used to a few scary rollercoasters and rather blasé, but years have past since and I am decidedly more creaky than I was and it is not without reason that they write at the entrance to the ride a litany of cautionary advice just in case one should suffer from heart complaints, be pregnant, have high blood pressure or back and neck problems. By the end of the day, apart from being pregnant, I am sure that I suffered from all of the above. The ride Speed was quite honestly, speedy. Thank God. At least it was over with quickly. That’s why my shoulders hurt from where my harness had held me in as I was hurled hither and yon and upside down and in screwdriver fashion for all of 10 seconds. My face at the end of the day had settled into a rictus of fear, like some bodged botox job.
By the time we walked back to the car, feeling decidedly worse for wear, the 9 year old was pea-green but managed to make the journey back to our friends’ garden before vomiting. To hear her asking to go again then made me shudder.
“I can’t take her back for years”, I whispered to Hubby, “A paediatrician would think she was suffering from shaken-baby syndrome”.
The rest of our break was far less adrenaline based; none of the children or Hubby for that matter wanted to move away from our friends’ garden. I on the other hand had to pop to Tesco’s from time to time in Pembroke. From Pembroke one can catch a ferry to Ireland. There are ‘embarkation’ directions in the town. I love the word embarkation. I find it far more exciting than any roller-coaster. Wherever I am I almost feel compelled to follow its instructions. Embark. It’s the start to an adventure. Be it a train, or plane or a ferry. Who knows what might happen on the other side of the journey?
“I can give you a clue” said Hubby as I explained this romantic streak to him on the drive home, “Just had a text from our son who wants to know what time we’ll be home and where we keep the bin liners. Shall I tell him we’ll be ‘dis-embarking’ the Torpoint Ferry soon?”


It was the deep dark night of the soul. 3 a.m to be precise when the Red-Head walked into our bedroom and clambered over me and snuggled down between me and her father.
“I’ve had a bad dream”, she said.
“Have you angel?”, I asked her in whispers, “What was it about?”
“A boy drank all the sea in the world.” I cuddled her tight.
“Through a straw”, she added. A gruesome image for anyone to have to imagine, let alone subconsciously invading your slumber.
“He got bigger and bigger and all the sea creatures were dying on the sand”.
“Hush now”, I soothed, stroking her hair, “It was only a dream”. Nightmares are not only the scourge of infancy, I still have the most alarming dreams that literally make me writhe in bed, sweating and breathing fast.
“That’s just after you’ve been dreaming about Mr Lover-Lover”, said Hubby, squeezing my bottom the following morning as I was trying to explain the previous night’s dramatic events.
I slapped him off. “Seriously. It’s awful. I dreamt there was a cliff falling down on people, only it was as hot as molten lava and I had no alternative but to keep driving towards it. There were no road closures. Charred bodies lay everywhere”.
“Bloody hell Alice”.
“I know, it was horrific. What does it mean? And what does it mean that our little Red-Head is having shocking, apocalyptic, ocean dreams. It makes wonder whether Jacques Cousteau is communicating with her beyond the grave.” Hubby looked at me askance.
“Don’t be mad Alice. I’ll tell you what that dream meant”. He is not renowned for his dream interpretations. Joseph of, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat fame, he is not. So I waited for his verdict. This should be interesting.
“Come again?” I asked, blinking at him.
“Cheese. It’s a well known antagonist where nightmares are concerned. It gives you the collywobbles”. He said the last word with as much gusto as one who has just discovered some rare and virulent disease.
“Oh good grief. You sound like my great-aunt Bessie. Collywobbles indeed and that is your scientific analysis is it?”
“Well, thanks all the same, but I shan’t be accessing Dr Band’s encyclopaedic knowledge of dreams and rare disorders any time soon”.
“Suit yourself but you mark my word, a bit of cheddar before bedtime plays havoc with your psyche”.
I went to work. A world away from family and nightmares and the confines of the domestic kitchen, is that of the kitchen of a café, which in summer, allows me to escape mine. It is as far removed from a familial kitchen as can be imagined. At least for me it is. The food that emerges from the metaphoric swing-doors has been previously carefully selected by the customer, and expertly cooked by the chef. At no point does anyone ask, with sullen attitude, “What’s for lunch?” or riffle through the shelves and biscuit tins and sigh. Then, when the food is served, no-one, absolutely no-one whines, “Oh but you know I don’t like crab salad/smoked fish platter/bacon, avocado and mozzarella sandwiches”. In fact, when I put their plates in front of them, the customers, without fail, remark, “Oh thank-you! This looks delicious” and then, as if that weren’t enough, they remind their children, “Darling what do you say?”. “Thank-you very much”, the little, beautifully, brought up darling remembers.
In a commercial kitchen neither are you on your own, forgotten about whilst your family sits in other rooms, waiting for you to chime, “Dinner’s ready”. The chef is not brow beaten and defeated, attempting hundreds of tasks singlehandedly, yes, she may be very, very busy but, at least she is producing food that people are going to enjoy and, ultimately pay for.
Maybe this is where I am going wrong. Vive la revolution I say. Imagine if you will, a world where our children and spouses are given a daily menu, a simple table d’hote where there are a few items on it. Sausage and mash; jacket spud and cheese and beans; spag bol/chilli con carne. The last two items are easily interchangeable - just add kidney beans and chilli powder. Off that list they can order what they want. I often cook various meals to suit different palates so that would be no particular challenge, then, when their plates are empty, which they will be because what they ate was after all what they chose and not, what was after all their mother’s whim to cook that day, I would present them with a bill. The eldest have part time jobs, the youngest pocket money. They can afford it. I cannot believe I’ve never thought of this before. Like I said, it’s revolutionary.
And so, as I pirouetted around the café, making coffees and milkshakes and serving English breakfasts and cream teas, I relished every moment. My heart sank as I turned the open to closed sign on the door and after cleaning up, went home. It sank even further on seeing Hubby’s face.
“Hiya”, I said, kissing him, “I didn’t expect to see you here. Where is the car?”
“At the garage. The AA man spent three hours trying to fix it. To no avail”. That night Hubby sat bold upright in bed. He was dripping in sweat and his heart was pounding.
“Bloody hell what’s the matter?”
“Jeeze, I just dreamt the car was knackered.”
“We haven’t had it long have we, it’s bound to be a spark plug or something.” That something was a new engine. A new engine? You’d have to eat a wheel of cheese to give you these kinds of collywobbles, only it’s a thousand pound living nightmare and no bloody dream.


For one with the constitution of an ox, the fact that it hurt my arms when wallowing in Cawsand Bay should have been a warning to me. I didn’t expect it to be the balmy seas of Kefalonia but neither did I expect the sensation of such frigidity that I might have been ice-hole diving.
“C’mon mum”, shouted the kids, “Don’t be a wimp. Just go for it”. They frolicked, adults swam, kayaks swept silently past me, but I felt as though I were participating in a New Year dip. “It’s absolutely freezing”, I said through chattering teeth.
“It is not”, laughed my daughter, as, with orange goggles on her head, she delved her head under the sea like a cormorant. “See?” she said, emerging again, equally orange hair dripping down her face.
I didn’t see, no. All I knew was that my blood and bones were quickly becoming immobilised, so after a very brief doggypaddle, I waded out and wrapped all our towels around my shivering body.
All around me were sun-worshippers sipping cokes or licking ice-creams; I, on the other hand unscrewed the Thermos and poured myself a coffee. Cupping the plastic cup as though my life depended on it, I wondered how long it would be before I could suggest going home.
I soon found out. The nine year old ran over to me, bursting with excitement, dragging a familiar little girl in her wake.
“Look who I’ve found mum. Stacey”. I said hi to Stacey, before she informed me that she had her own kayak and that, would it be ok if my girls went with her on it around the bay. Before I was able to utter any remonstrance or words of warning regarding deep water and subsequent drowning my daughter had said,
“Oh Cheers mummy”, and without so much as a by your leave, she’d gone, still dragging Stacey; the Red-Head was waiting for them in the shallows. She is bright enough to realise that the further away she is from me the less likelihood there is of capture. By the time I had heaved myself off the pebbles and strode down to the water’s edge, they had paddled away and all that was left for me to do was wave rather pathetically.
It goes without saying that they eventually returned safe and sound and very happy with their adventure, I by this time, had packed our bags, folded towels and beach mats and was waiting for them. Not very patiently either as I was still shivering uncontrollably.
Walking back to the car, the youngest asked why I was being so quiet. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had been and it wasn’t until I started to then enter into conversation that I realised that it hurt to talk.
“Ouch”, I said, rubbing at my neck, “My throat hurts”.
Later that evening, once spaghetti had been served up to the masses and I’d swallowed, with some difficulty, a couple of enormous ibuprofen, I went to the local pub to meet Mags for a drink and a catch up. She was in the corner, sporting an oversized Amy Winehouse t-shirt.
“Holy karumba Alice” she said, standing up to kiss me, “you look like the proverbial poo”.
“Thanks”, I replied dolefully, “I feel like it too”.
“What’s up?” she asked, throwing wasabi peanuts into her mouth.
“I’m not sure, but I ache and have a really sore throat”.
“Sauvignon blanc will do the trick”. Now, for most hum-drum everyday glitches such as a crap day at work, children playing up, marital disharmony etc. etc., then an enormously large, chilled white wine and the company of a best friend invariably makes the issues of the day seem suddenly less significant but, tonight it just didn’t work. I took a few sips of my wine, resolutely refused any offer of wasabi nuts and tried to sound interested in Mags’s condemnation of energy bills but, I was very aware that I was being very much a wet blanket.
“I have to go home”, I admitted.
“Home? Sorry, am I boring you that much? We’ll talk about Zara’s wedding if you prefer?”
“Cheeky cow”, I said slapping her with a beer mat, “I’m not that vacuous!”
“Well don’t go home then”.
“I must. One minute I’m shivering, the next I’m having hot flushes”.
“Menopause?”, she asked quietly.
“Maybe, and I know that there are a myriad symptoms of menopause but I genuinely can’t recall that a sore throat is one of them”.
An hour later and I was in bed. Hubby came up a little while later.
“My God”, he said, “You must be ill. I’ve never known you party poop on a night out with Mags before”. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to reply. Instead, I buried my head into my pillow and went out like a light. At 4 am, I awoke, choking on my own spit. Disgusting. My throat seemed to have closed over, my neck and ears were throbbing and it was difficult to move my tongue. For the next four and a half hours I lay propped up in bed whimpering, and willing the to time to fly so that I could ring the doctor’s surgery.
“Have a Strepsil” yawned Hubby some time around dawn. Something frothed in my throat as I tried to reply that he could shove his Strepsil, but he was already asleep again. I got up and attempted to drink some water. It was impossible.
By 9am I was at the surgery with a torch being shone down my throat.
The doctor shook her head, “Nasty case of tonsillitis. You must be in a lot of pain” and she wrote me a prescription for penicillin.
I know that it may have been through accidental discovery, but as I swallow each little tablet of penicillin and every hour I feel a little better, I can but salute you Alexander Fleming. Thank-you for your miracle mould.