Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ship-Shape and well, what is Bristol Fashion?

From the furious screaming, hissing, spittle and fur that resounded from the landing, I thought the cats were having a vicious fight to the end. I ran upstairs two at a time to boot one of them away only to find my youngest daughters in the middle of a pugilistic brawl.
Tearing them apart, I demanded to know what on earth was going on.
“I hate her; she’s really mean”, squawked the youngest.
“You started it”, spat the 9 year old.
“No, you started it”, screamed the 7 year old, attempting to free my grasp and launch herself upon her sister once and for all.
“Well everybody knows how to add two to a number. You’ve just got special needs”. There was a sharp intake of breath and if I thought for one minute that the youngest one was going to capitulate and cling to me in a sobbing, self-pitying heap, I was very much mistaken. Instead she pulled herself up to her full four foot four and delivered her coup de grace, “I hate your personality”, she said icily, before adding, “Oh, wait, you haven’t got one”.
Before blood was let, I plonked one in front of the t.v and the other with a box of Barbies. It was before nine on Sunday morning and I had a houseful of young guests, all of whom had ‘crashed’ after our Lost Boy’s 18th birthday party. By all accounts no one had died of alcoholic poisoning and there was only one vomiting victim, who mercifully, had made it to the lav. In just over an hour, having fed the various teenagers, hosted family and dressed to the nines, I had to be present and correct at a Freedom of the Town parade.
I put in another load of washing, emptied the tumble drier, fed the dog, turned the bacon under the grill, buttered some baps, boiled the kettle and laid the table. Hubby had already gone to work for one final debrief, so he wasn’t available for scullery maid chores. I waited for the bacon to crisp, laid the rashers in the baps, squirted ketchup, poured boiling water into a teapot, carried the tray in to the dining room and then bellowed for all to ‘come and get it’.
The warring daughters had now forgotten all vows of enmity and were dressing up as St Trinian’s girls. The teenagers emerged from various bedrooms, looking undeniably worse for wear. The Lost Boy’s family ding-donged the bell and were shown in, made welcome and given tea and breakfast and that is where I left them. It was finally 10am, that hour when Sunday starts - the shops are finally unlocked. I needed nude coloured tights and lunch for all my guests.
My usual Sunday morning routine is to groan my way through a particularly gruelling keep-fit class. Today, I had been excused. My fellow keep-fitters, on the way to class, were in line outside the supermarket’s ATM presumably getting cash to pay for the agony. They were shocked to find me there.
“I thought you had a parade this morning?” asked one.
“I do, I do”, I said, undeniably in a bit of a flap.
“What are you doing here then?” asked another. They were all beginning to snigger. I felt a little uncomfortable.
“I need tights”, I explained, even though I have so very often been advised to, ‘never apologise, never explain’, “To go with my outfit”.
“What are you like?”, said the first again.
“You are so disorganised!”, laughed the other. Oh, am I? Really? I could have reeled off the list of jobs that I’d already achieved this morning, but at best that would just have seemed peevish, besides I didn’t have time. I still had to hare around Sainsbury’s, fill a basket, drive home, empty the shopping bags, apply my makeup and the ruddy tights and slip on a posh frock. A ritual that I have performed a thousand times. Suddenly, as I pinned on a ‘sweetheart brooch’ to my jacket, it dawned on me that this Freedom of the Town parade would be my last.
I reiterated my sentiments to Hubby an hour later, after he and the Royal Marine Band had led the parade of sailors through our town, for one final time.
“Bloody hell Alice”, he said, choking on the Mayor’s dry sherry, “You sound as though we are about to pop our clogs”.
“Metaphorically speaking we are”, I replied. The mayor came to shake my hand.
Later, over a splendid lunch, Hubby asked me what I’d meant by metaphorically speaking.
“It’s a comparison between two things, saying one thing is the other”.
“For God’s sake Alice I know that. But figuratively speaking, what did you mean’?”
“Our days of doing this sort of thing” and I waved at the company gathered, “Are numbered aren’t they? You’ll soon be in another appointment and then crash, bang, wallop, you’ll be on your terminal leave. Even that expression has more than a ring of mortality to it. All this” and I waved again, “will soon be a distant memory”.
“For crying out loud Alice”, Hubby replied, downing another sherry.
“It’s like the countdown clock to the Olympics; my days as a navy wife are counting down too”, I said.
“It’s fair to say being married to you has been quite an event. I’m happy to stand on a podium to receive a medal”.
An elderly lady sitting next to Hubby, intervened, “Once a navy wife, always a navy wife. It’s a way of life isn’t it? Ship shape and Bristol fashion. It’s taught me order and discipline. Loyalty, self-reliance and organisation. Surely you agree?”
“You’re asking Alice?”, guffawed Hubby, “She didn’t have tights to wear an hour ago”. I kicked him under the table.
“But that’s quite a skill” he added hurriedly, “to appear outwardly hapless when in essence you are methodical maestro”. And don’t you forget it shipmate.

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