Sunday, 25 September 2011

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".

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