Sunday, 23 September 2012

Forgive me.

My ten year old daughter is nearing meltdown. She has a lot on her plate. It is of course, as it always is, my fault but I can at least offer myself small comfort in the knowledge that it is not only me that has a grumpy ten year old in the house because several other mothers I know, convinced that we are doing ‘the right thing’, are putting their child through the same pressure. We speak nervously to each other occasionally, either on the phone or in supermarkets or, whilst walking dogs and we all have the same furrowed expression on our faces. The one that says, ‘My child is going to take the 11+ exam. It is a punishing regime of hours upon hours of practise papers and hard homework. Like, really hard. So hard in fact that we struggle to help them. Verbal reasoning? Since when did that advance anyone’s chances in life? My heart sinks when I mention sometime after dinner, after ballet, or tap or swimming or musical theatre or just watching tv that it is homework time.’ These mothers, going through the same thing, nod silently, knowing exactly what you are talking about. Knowing the tears and the tantrums involved, the coaching, the cajoling, the tuition, the fees, the concern and ultimately the hope that after all this hard work one’s little darling has put in, that they pass, go to their grammar school of choice, continue to university, make like-minded friends, find a partner for life, become affluent, happy, fulfilled. Then it will all have been worth it. Of course, Hubby and I did exactly the same for the other two and we all know what has, so far become of my son. Shacked up with his bird, working in several pubs to pay the rent. I say so far, because hope springs eternal and he is a very bright young man with ‘A’ levels and a family who have always adored him. So you never know. Our eldest daughter on the other hand is, mercifully, following the party line and has excelled at her grammar school, has many interests, which as yet, do not seem to involve the attentions of love-sick, seventeen year old young men. She is ambitious and curious and desperate for adventure and can see that exams are just a stepping stone to that adventurous life. Exams which, if studied for and succeeded at, will never be referred to again. Hubby and I have not had to point this phenomenon to her; she has the sagacity to see it for herself. So, here we are again then, child number three attempting her 11+, her parents driving her on in the hope that it will deliver a better future for her. When you are ten though and are quite happy dressing up in your mother’s clothes and teetering around in her high heels and playing make believe with your sister, it is very hard to comprehend how another two hours homework will be better for you than whatever imaginary world you are currently immersed in. “Come on sweetie”, I cajole, “Just another few percentages”. She bites my hand off at the chance. Come off it. “But muh-um, I’m playing. I’m not eleven plus anyway, I’m only ten plus”. She has a point. For some reason, which has yet to be explained, the exam has been brought forward from January next year as it always was, to September this year. Many of the children will be very young indeed. Our youngest for instance, whose birthday falls on August the 29th, will only just be ten should she also take the exam when her time comes. “Ok, just finish your game, then put my clothes and shoes away and then, after homework, you can watch your ballet DVD”. She sighs. It is hardly surprising. It is not Swan Lake that I am promising her by way of a treat or Coppelia, or even The Sugar Plum Fairy. Alas not. It is an instructional DVD to help her with her ballet exam, which she needs apparently, because her ballet teacher is concerned that at the moment she is, “away with the fairies”. On top of which, she has a tap dancing exam and a summer show to practise for, a swimming gala to compete in and, as if that weren’t enough, she and her younger sister have recently relocated to a new school. I am hardly surprised that she is away with the fairies, were she my age, she’d be away with the valium. It will all soon be over though I keep telling myself and she is not the only one going through this I tell myself even louder. It does beg the question though whether it is right to put our children through this type of academic pressure. What if they fail? Do we as parents take the risk with such a young mind, allowing it, after having worked so hard for something perhaps ultimately unattainable, to consider itself spent and a failure forever? ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ I can hear my mother say. And she would have been quite right, for, where my mother’s idiom is as old as the hills, the more modern take, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, implores us to be brave, to take a new direction when it is so much safer, if far less satisfying not to. And as adults we know this. We know how set in our ways we so quickly become. How easy it is to say no instead of yes. How scary it is to start over. How scary it is to sit an exam. Children on the other hand are the bravest of the brave. They will give just about anything a try. We must strike whilst the iron is hot. In the end it will be worth it. She will never thank me, but please, let it have been worth it. 15th June 2012


No wonder Prince Philip has taken to his bed. I feel as though I could do the same and I haven’t exposed my kidneys to a perilous weather front on the River Thames, nor travelled the length and breadth of the country smiling and being polite to strangers. Nonetheless, a four day bank holiday with the expectation of fun and frivolity throughout has taking its toll on the best of us. It started last weekend when Mags invited us for a BBQ round at hers, I was sporting a badly sun-burned leg, acquired earlier in the week during a full day of sports day spectating. To cover up the smarting redness I wore my new dress, which has a sheer, long floaty bit over a very short underskirt. I felt quite attractive until Mags pointed out that the dress was ‘one buttock short of indecency’. I looked to Hubby for help, but he only shrugged his shoulders in a very cowardy-custard sort of way. Very conscious of said buttocks being too much on display, I tugged away at the underskirt all night after that and the new dress is now back in its department store bag, waiting for its fifteen minutes of fame on eBay. My wardrobe malfunction threw me into a huff, which I overcame by comfort eating. The food on offer was, as always, irresistible, especially to one who has just been told that her fat arse is in danger of being exposed if I should so much as tilt forward, let alone bend. Luckily for everyone then that dinner, whilst having been barbequed, was actually fairly formal and there wasn’t a finger roll nor ketchup bottle in sight. Nor did we have to stand, balancing wine glass in one hand, snorker in the other. In fact, we sat around a dining table groaning under home grown wonders and our plates were piled high with buttery soft lamb that Mags’s Auntie Sheila had provided from her Dartmoor farm. Over coffee, we discussed our Jubilee plans. Mags casually informed us that she was going to do a spot of wine tasting the following day and did we want to come? I almost choked on my espresso. Since when did I have to be asked if I’d like to do a little quaffing? “Where is it?” I asked her. “Near the Eden project”, she replied, “I’ve booked a mini bus. I was taking the whole family, but some can’t make it now, so we have some seats spare. Are you up for it then?” I looked at Hubby. “It’s free”, said Mags, reading his mind. As it transpired, we took the youngest children with us as well as my brother, his daughter and another good friend, Marie. It was in fact exactly like a Sunday School trip of yore. Young and old, off for an outing. An hour later, a mile or so beyond Bugle, we pulled up into a gravelly car park. It looked familiar. I hissed into the gap between two headrests to Hubby who was sitting in front of me, “Where are we exactly?” “Knightor Winery. We came here at the end of last summer, they’d barely opened then”. Well they’ve come a long way since. The kids all ran off to play with hens and pirate ships whilst the adults had an excellent tour of a sample vineyard and our guide showed us how their wine was made. “I’ve seen grapes before”, I whispered to Mags, “When do we get to taste it?” “Shortly”, said the guide, shortly, “All in good time”. All of a sudden I felt like the very naughty Verucca Salt caught out by Willy Wonka. I’d be in one of the vats if I didn’t behave myself, drowning, rather ironically, in what I loved to drink. Our guide led us into the bar and restaurant, where a most delicious and passionate young man spoke with great love about the art of viniculture and implored us to try the fruits of his labours. My brother, more a Whitbread man than a white wine connoisseur, was suitably impressed. “Better try another”, he said, holding out his glass for a top up, “Just in case the first was a fluke”. It wasn’t and both he, Hubby and Marie bought a bottle each of the two white wines and a Gold award rose. I didn’t, I bought honey and jam and chutney, cheese biscuits, posh tea, and even posher chocolate. “Will you come away from there”, demanded Hubby, dragging my arm, “Before you spend all my money. C’mon, it’s time to eat”. Suckling pig, salad, cold meats, the most divine Italian concoctions and homemade focaccia put a big, if weary smile on our faces and most of us dozed and dribbled on the journey home. My alarm went off on the Monday morning far too early. We had a rehearsal to fit in, cupcakes, meringues to cook, a Jubilee party to attend and another barbeque with friends in Plymouth. “I’m flagging”, I said as Hubby as I lolled in the sun at the Lawns that afternoon, surrounded by thousands of our fellow neighbours. It was Torpoint at its finest. My God, people had worked hard. There was three miles of bunting festooned around trees for heaven’s sake. Children danced, choirs sang, bands played. Suddenly, like a blonde mirage, Pia, my long lost Norwegian girl, came sauntering, among the throng of thousands, towards me. I was speechless. “Came to surprise you”, was all she had to say. There was a lot of hugging and kissing and all the while the band played Rule Britannia. It was a surreal moment. So guests have been entertained, requests for mid-week roast dinner have been met and we are girding ourselves for the carnival on Saturday and friends for dinner after it. “I’m rather relieved to be back at work”, said Hubby, “Anymore revelry and I may well have come down with a bladder infection”. 7th June 2012


I for one am swept along with the country’s summer celebrations. I love the Olympic flame and I love the Jubilee. Not everyone shares my nationalistic joie de vivre, preferring as they do to moan and groan and whimper and complain. ‘It’s expensive’, ‘it’s jingoistic’, ‘it’s nonsense’, they cry. ‘Who cares about the Queen?’, they continue. ‘The Olympics? Puff!’, they add disdainfully and then go on to tell me in no uncertain terms how much the security is costing. Ok, so the queen lives in palaces and owns priceless jewels and works of art. She has servants and handmaidens and her subjects bow and curtsey to her and call her ‘Your majesty’. But she was born into her world without choice as much as a child in Syria was born into his. Of course it isn’t fair, but wasn’t it ever thus? It isn’t fair that enhanced, large breasted, cartoon like women who pay thousands of pounds for unnecessary cosmetic ‘work’ are feted in this society and make a fortune by way of their ‘celebrity’, and it isn’t fair that little children in far flung corners of the earth are cast out of their society because of disfiguring hare-lips and other physical handicaps that blight their lives; lives that with a only a few pounds could be truly enhanced by cosmetic surgery. Every day on every news bulletin comes stories that sicken and depress and makes us wonder at man’s unerring inhumanity to man. War, slaughter, holocaust, terror, famine, murder, rape. It’s as though the BBC news is on a constant loop. There is only so much horror that we can absorb before we reach for the radio dials and switch off. There are only so many column inches that we can read before we turn the page and try our luck with the crossword. Closer to home, I listen to friends who are stressed or depressed. Their jobs are either at risk of being lost altogether or have changed so much that they cannot bear to go to them. Of the best students with whom I did my teacher training, one couldn’t bring herself to walk back into a classroom and another has already resigned. Another friend popped in to see me earlier this week to tell me that management had informed them that one hundred redundancies are to be announced within the next few months. Another, a nurse, is so unhappy with her working conditions and how her job of caring for her patients is being compromised by cuts that she cries as she drives around to do her visits. Yet another, a social worker, is so rushed off her feet with more and more cases as more and more families face crises and fall apart that, ironically if not altogether unexpectedly, she has no time for her own. The world is a very serious place right now. Some of the problems are unpalatably horrendous, others deeply sad and still others, enough to shake the strongest of constitutions. Which brings me back to the Queen, diamonds and a country celebrating a jubilee. The dictionary’s definition of jubilee is any occasion of rejoicing or festivity. Given what I’ve just written, I could be accused of being frivolous, trivialising the demons and despots that tyrannise the world. On the contrary. In straitened and in brutal times, the human spirit has always attempted to soar above the hell that is at times human suffering. I have often wondered how holocaust survivors carried on, how they found love and brought up families in a ‘normal’ world. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote after his long imprisonment at Auschwitz that, ‘man’s deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose….after all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips’. I wouldn’t be disgusting enough to attempt to compare the suffering of those who have truly looked hell in the eye with those who are struggling in Britain in 2012; a time and, to use the much mooted political parlance, of austerity measures, but what with our own troubles and those of the world’s which we are constantly fed, and which render us impotent and useless, in our own small way, we too need to find meaning and purpose. Hanging up some bunting and participating in a street party or equally cheering on team GB at the Olympics may not, on the face of it, seem very meaningful, but I would argue that it is the small stuff that sustains us in dark times. The parties and events for the Jubilee and the athletes and the coaches who have trained for a lifetime, will for a brief moment in time remind us how joyful it can be to come together as a community. Whilst there are those who will continue to be cynical about such events there are thousands more who will have baked, made record breaking lengths of bunting, mowed recreation grounds, organised, choreographed and swept and cleaned. It is just as the dictionary described it, an occasion for rejoicing. The day after the bank holiday will come soon enough. The news reports will continue to inform us of the slaughter of innocent children in Syria, the alleged murder of six sleeping children by the hand of their parents, poverty, unemployment, the continued double-dip recession, the apparent hopelessness of it all. But most of us will, as we have done since time in memorium, continue to search for meaning and purpose and where we find it will probably be in the most unexpected of places. For the time being God Save the Queen and God Save Tom Daley. We are relying on you more than ever. 31st May 2012


It was meant be a quick saunter down the cliffs at Whitsand Bay and I had intended on only taking the one dog but as I opened the front door and beeped open the boot of our Multipla, my bequeathed dog ran through my legs, hopped down the front door steps and up into the boot. Eagerly. I could hardly drag him out and lock him up in an empty house, especially when the golden retriever was sitting there as large as you like. The saunter down was without incident. The little dog did not keep up with mine and Mags’s but was happy to go at his own pace. He is very old after all. Eventually, he and I reached the beach. The tide was out and Mags and the other two dogs had walked out to where little waves were gently lapping on the shore. The sky and sea were indiscernibly blue. There were few people on the beach and miles and miles of golden, ribbed sand. It seemed criminal to think that our children were sitting in lessons and not cavorting with the dogs. As we were. “Can you still do one of these?”, screeched Mags, running ahead of me before throwing her hands onto the sand and turning a cartwheel. “What the hell do you mean, can I still do one?”, I shouted back, “I’ve never been able to do one”. “Come on it’s easy”, and she did another and another. I continued to walk decorously. “Bendiness is not one of my plus points”, I called back. My golden retriever was by now out of his mind with excitement. What with Mags frolicking, the wide open space, cool water and other dogs to play with it was, well it was driving him nuts. He woofed and he woofed and he woofed, darting into the sea, snapping at the waves, diving under them, before coming back to find me once again to woof some more and shake his shaggy coat all over me. “Push off!”, I said sternly, but his excitement was infectious and what started as gentle paddling in millimetres of water, soon became a wade in knee high sea. My leggings couldn’t be persuaded to be rolled up any further though, so, I looked around, found no one to shock and then ripped them off. Mags was walking further along the beach, every now and then her gait interrupted by another cart wheel. “I’ll show her who’s young at heart”, I said to my dog, and removing my tunic and flinging it onto dry sand, I ran further out to sea before, with a deep breath, I submerged my body, apart from my hair of course, under the waves. The dog was ecstatic. He swam around and around, circling me like a highly-strung shark. Mags, when she turned around to look for me, was dumbfounded. “You’ll catch your bloody death”, she called. “Less chance of breaking a hip in here”, I provoked, “Come in, it’s lovely once you get over the shock”. She walked over and allowed the tiniest of ripples to wash over her feet before she squealed and retreated back onto warm sand. “You must be joking. It’s arctic. I’ll stay here.” And the dear old thing stooped to pick up my discarded garments and stood very loyally waiting for me to get my first dip of the year out of my system. I wasn’t long. Wallowing in the shallows at Whitsand Bay is not quite the same as the wallowing in the Med. Especially in May. I hid behind a rock to peel off my sodden knickers and bra and Mags very gallantly lent me her cardigan to rub dry my wet skin. It was 2.40pm, time to drag ourselves back up the cliff and collect the children from school. Her dog and my dog raced ahead of us. After one hundred yards, it dawned on me that the old dog wasn’t with us. “Did he run past us?”, I asked Mags. “I don’t think so”, she replied. We both turned around and looked down the cliff and scanned the beach. There he was, walking away with another family. “Oh hell”, I said, “He’s lost me”. Both Mags and I ran back down the cliff calling him all the way. By the lifeguard hut, we whistled even louder and waved and flapped our arms and my dripping bra. He wasn’t that far away. Not for a dog anyway. Most dogs would have looked up by now. Hell, other people’s dogs were running to us to see what all the fuss was about. “Jakey!”, I called, “Jake-ee”, to no avail. “Jesus, it’s like taking Helen Keller out for the day”, I said, “He must have contracted German measles as a puppy, he is utterly blind and deaf”. At last, a very kind man lassoed him for me and walked him over. Dear old Jakey, as soon as I patted him, he seemed to realise that he was safe, and eventually, after much heaving of chest, and stopping for catch-your-breath breaks, him not me, we made it back to the car in time to pick up the kids. Less than an hour later and I was at the vets, attempting to buy him a worming tablet. “This dog isn’t yours”, said the receptionist. “He is now, aren’t you?”, I said, smiling down at the dog, “His owner is in Abu Dhabi. He’s given him to me”. “We need proof”. “Proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the poo”, I replied. Blank. “Look, this dog isn’t in care. I am not asking for Ritalin. Just a pill to stop the worms”. They did what they could but he’s been subsequently allocated his very own social worker and his owner in Abu Dhabi has been granted unsupervised access. Just hope that I don’t have to go to the CSA to ensure regular maintenance. 24th May 2012


Hubby, in an effort to curb his propensity for becoming ever more grumpy and grouchy has been looking for a distraction. I think running a marathon would be too much of a challenge for him, ditto another woman. “You’ve got to be joking”, he guffawed, when I suggested it might at least put on a smile on his miserable, bloody face, “Don’t get me wrong, the sex I’m sure, would be a welcome departure from my normal life, but hope springs eternal and well, one woman is quite enough”. And then he muttered almost imperceptibly, “Oh yes, one is quite enough”. I was not surprised therefore to find him last Saturday morning outside the back door with a large stick and a stanley knife. “New hobby?” I asked him, putting the kettle on. “Mm-hm”, he replied, his face the picture of concentration. “And apart from making a lot of mess, what exactly are you doing?” He was using the knife to strip the stick of its bark and all the bits were flying through the air and onto my kitchen mat. “Whittling”, was the answer. “Oh-kay”, I pondered out loud, “Whittling what exactly?” “Staffs, canes, walking sticks, that sort of thing”, Hubby said, holding up the stick proudly as though it would suddenly transform into a thing of such magnificence that Moses, that celebrated staff handler would have been privileged to have parted any sea with it, turn it into a snake or indeed use it to invoke any number of nasty plagues onto unsuspecting Egyptians. “Have you read up on it then? Do you know how to whittle, if that is indeed the verb?” “I know I need a ferrule Alice”. And that was the end of that. I went back into the kitchen and was immediately irritated by the fact that, as Hubby had left the back door wide open to allow the dogs the choice to stay in the garden to watch, or alternatively, admire his crafting from the kitchen, the consequences were that the wind and the dogs’ promenading meant that there was an ever increasing amount of wood shavings and long strips of bark decorating not just the mat, but the whole kitchen floor. Attempting the impossible, I tried to hide my irritation and attacked the detritus with a dustpan and brush and a rictus smile on my face. “Why the face?” asked Hubby. “Because of this”, I replied, uncoiling a snake-skin length of bark that had found its way under my kitchen work top, “I’m shutting this door. Do you want to stay in, or go outside?” I asked the retriever. He replied by looking up at me from under very expressive eyebrows and ski-daddling to be with his master. Hubby was in the garden all morning. Some staffs were more successful than others and some had sling-shot style tops to them. For resting one’s thumb. Apparently. He is a tall man and by virtue of the occupational hazard of his height, the walking sticks that he has produced are a reflection of his stature. “Who exactly are you hoping to give this to?”, I asked, when at the end of the day, he asked me to admire and stroke his staff, “Goliath?” Less than a week later and I was to eat my words. The phone rang mid-morning, just as I was about to whip the Dyson around. “Alice. Come quickly” said Mags, “There’s an intruder in the house. I’m terrified. Let yourself in with the spare key” and she put the phone down. I picked up my kagoule, my keys and Hubby’s staff, threw everything in the car and drove to Mags’s. “Where is the noise coming from?”, I asked her, rushing in. Poor Mags was cowering in her hall way. She lives in a bloody big house. The stairs climb up and up. “Up there”, she gesticulated. “Let’s go”, I said and, brandishing my staff in front of me with the vehemence of a provoked American brandishing a pitchfork on a witch hunt, up the stairs I went. “I’m just behind you”, said Mags, herself wielding a torch – of the Maglite variety and not of the witch hunt notoriety. “What is that for?”, I whispered, “It’s the middle of the day!”. “To conk him out”, she said reassuringly. So, like Cagney and Lacey up the stairs we proceeded, pausing every few steps if we thought we heard something. Eventually, we got to the top of the second landing and sure enough, behind the door of the room dedicated to her mother-in-law’s visits, came frenetic banging. “Mary, Joseph and all the Saints”, said Mags crossing herself. “Are you sure that your mother in law isn’t in there?” I asked, quietly. “Quite sure Alice. She’s in hospital. Open heart surgery”. “Maybe she didn’t make it. Maybe it’s her ghost”. “Not her heart surgery for God’s sake. She volunteers on the ward! WRVS!” “Oh”. I swallowed hard and, with Hubby’s staff held out in front me and Mags bringing up the rear with her superbright LED Maglite that could have blinded a rapist/murderer/burglar let alone wield one unconscious, we burst into the room. Cue instant squawking, fluttering, flying and shrieking as two terrified middle aged women and one equally horrified hen, ran around the spare room, clucking and cursing. “How on earth did she get up here?” asked Mags after she’d regained her composure and the trust of her spotted leghorn. “I cannot begin to imagine”, I replied, my heart still thumping in my chest. Believe me, there are few things more terrifying in life than an airborne, stricken chicken, flying for one’s head, spurs first. “Come on Dotty Lotty”, said Mags soothingly, stroking her chicken, “Let’s get you some corn”. And she left me there, perched on the end of Nana’s bed, clutching Hubby’s work of art. “I will fear no evil”, I found myself saying, “Thy staff and Thy rod, comfort me". 17th May 2012


Alice 580. Meera Syal once wrote a book, ‘Life isn’t all Ha Ha, Hee Hee’. She wasn’t wrong. I am struggling at the moment and I want my mother. I want to sit down with her over a cup of tea and ask for her advice. Tell me how I should be feeling. Guide me on how to handle the situation. Hold my hand. Let her tell me that this is how it is. Perfectly normal. Not to worry. It’ll get easier. I can’t talk to my friends about it because they are divided. One lot with younger children laugh and say “God, I can’t wait until mine move out. Can’t wait until I get rid of all their toys”. Easy for them to say. They still have little ones, as I do, whose teeth-brushing still needs to be supervised, but whose little tousled heads are safely on their pillows when we look in on them at night. They have no idea what’s ahead of them. I look at my little girls tousled heads and know that I am living on borrowed time. Then there are the other set of friends who don’t say anything because they feel relieved. Relieved and smug that, unlike my son, music and sex didn’t deviate their kids from the path they had planned for them and their investment of time, holidays, home-cooked food, affection, boundaries, support, extra-curricular everything and infinitesimal love paid off, and their university children’s future looks bright and, if not affluent, then at least well educated. I cannot put into words the pain of my son moving out. Oh, I know, I’ve joked. I’ve played the crazy mother card. I’ve shouted and wailed but my heart is actually breaking. It’s so sudden. I don’t feel as though I’ve had time to get the hang of being a good enough mother to him yet. I wanted a longer shot at it. I don’t feel that I’ve had him long enough. In my ignorance I thought that when he did eventually leave home, he’d be prepared. Have wisdoms and philosophies about life that would stand him in good stead. He’d know how to change a plug – a redundant skill these days I suppose. Make a white sauce then. Know to how make a gin and tonic. The reality is though, it is I who is the one who is unprepared. Utterly unprepared. Covert goings on are almost imperceptible. I rang my daughter just yesterday to see where she was. “Cleaning the flat”, she replied. “What flat?”, I asked. “My brother’s”. Another stab. I haven’t even seen the place and my daughter gets to clean it? I’ve tried to help. I put an appeal out there on Facebook to see if anyone had any old furniture that they could donate to them. A sofa was pledged. “Cheers Ma, but no need. We have some beanbags”. Beanbags? With my back and your father’s knees? You’d hope that at times like this, Hubby and I would be a comfort to each other. Alas not. After only a few weeks apart, our relationship, as I very much predicted it would be, is remote. He comes in on a Friday evening grumpy with the long drive and awful job and throws himself on the sofa, surrounds himself with small children and large dogs, eats his dinner, watches tv and falls asleep. I, only to happy to transfer the reins of parental responsibility and never one for taking lightly to being held hostage, leave him there. By the time Saturday mornings arrive, a whirlwind of events overcomes us, leaving us almost breathless with exhaustion. By Sunday evening after more laundry, homework, 11+ tuition, walking the dogs and the preparing, cooking, eating and washing up of Sunday dinner Hubby is once again to be found removing from the tumble dryer his clothes for the following week, his mood gloomy and impenetrable. When are we meant to fit in conversation and romance? To try and redress the balance a bit I visited him this week at his new place of work. For one thing, it’s one hell of a drive and for another it’s one hell of a place. No wonder he’s gloomy. Dreadful accommodation. Dark and pokey and lonely. His office, were he surrounded by colleagues and the buzz of activity that was ever present in his last job might make up for his living quarters, but, there is only Hubby and another man in the whole building. Tumbleweed cartwheels by. We went for dinner. The youngest girls, enjoying a longer bank holiday due to two Baker days, joined us. And that was the sum total. In this enormous dining hall there were the four of us and two stewards and a couple of chefs. “What’s for pudding?” asked Hubby of the steward. “Chocolate fudge cake”, he replied. Cue two very excited little girls. “But we don’t have any”, he added. Cue two very crestfallen little girls. That reply begged a lot of questions. Why offer a pud when there wasn’t one to give; and why, when the staff equalled the customers was there not a pud? I could easily have whipped something up in the time it took us to eat our dinner. It was not a successful visit, although at least I now know that Hubby is telling the truth and not living a parallel life with another family somewhere off the A303. “I read about that once in the Daily Mail.”, I protested when Hubby said I was mad. “Really? Well I can’t afford the family I’ve got let alone another one”. We drove home in rain so heavy it sluiced down the windscreen. I returned home to an empty house. My son and my daughter were at work, our lost boy, lost. My mother should have been in the kitchen of the house next door. My son may feel he does not need his anymore. I need mine more than ever. 10th May 2012

Rich Pickings

“I’ve won the lottery!”, Mags yelled down the phone. Having just read The Sunday Times Rich List, I almost swooned. Several in this list are Euro Millions Lottery winners and Mags and I have made a pact that, should either of us win the lottery, we would pay each other’s mortgage off. I steadied myself. Hubby would be happy again. We wouldn’t be crippled by household expenses; there would be some dosh free to help daughter number one with her university fees. I swallowed hard. “How much?”, I said, barley daring to breathe. “Seventy eight pounds!”, she replied. I wiggled a little finger in my ear. “Seventy eight thousand pounds?”, I checked. “No. Se-ven-ty-eight”, she over pronounced. I sighed. “Why are you bothering to tell me that? That’s peanuts!”. “Don’t be so bloody ungrateful”, she joshed, “I thought that, as it isn’t enough to pay off loans and mortgages, we’d make the best of it and go out to lunch”. Beggars can’t be choosers. “Sounds like a good plan, have you got an idea of where you’d like to go?” “None whatsoever. I’ll leave it to you. Nowhere too far as we have to be back in time to pick up the kids from school”. “Thanks Mags”, I said, “Sincerely. There are several people you could have asked, I feel honoured that you’ve invited me”. “Nonsense. Besides, all my other bloody friends nibble at lettuce at lunch time and hold their tummies after a Muller Light because and I quote, they are ‘so full’, at least you have a rapacious appetite Alice and as I’m sure you’ll order a pudding, I’ll get to share it”. Cheeky cow. Later that day, my baby brother, who is about to turn forty, popped in. He always comes to visit when I am cooking. Funny that. He walked into the kitchen as bold as brass and lifted the lids on various pots and, having taking a dessert spoon from the kitchen drawer, helped himself to the things bubbling inside. “Tasty”, he declared, sampling my Moroccan chicken, “A little more turmeric?” I slapped him with a wooden spoon. “To what do I deserve this honour?”, I asked, pouring chicken stock onto a pan of couscous. “Thought you might like to hear about our weekend”, he said, helping himself to a hunk of bread. I took the bread away from his reach. “Oh yeah, of course”, I remembered, “Your dirty weekend away. How was it?” “Sufficiently dirty, but the food was better!” I slapped him anew. “Charming. Don’t let your wife hear you say that”. “I think she’d agree”, he laughed, “It was a bit like taking Sally, from When Harry Met Sally out for dinner, if her moans were anything to go by”. “Where did you go then?”, I asked him, absent mindedly adding another teaspoon of turmeric to the pot. “Well”, he replied, “We stayed in a lovely hotel in Tavistock because I really wanted to eat in Gorton’s” “Oh”, I recalled, “That chef from the Horn of Plenty?” “The very same. Peter Gorton has opened a restaurant in Tavistock and it was a good place to celebrate my fortieth. It was sublime”. He told me what they’d eaten and it gave me an idea. The next day I texted Mags –‘Lottery lunch booked. We are going to Gorton’s’. I drove. Mags paid, amongst other things, for the parking. She looked lovely in a pair of smart jeans and suede jacket. I, on the other hand, had put a rather unforgiving jersey dress on over an even more exacting, panty girdle. A gift from my mother-in-law. I’d like to say that I don’t know what she was implying, but sadly I do. As we took our seats, the panty girdle did not live up to its expectations and rolled, rather unflatteringly down my tummy and as it gathered speed, it created another roll, this time of flesh. This was far from the streamlined look that I was hoping for. My stomach looked like uber corrugated cardboard. I tugged at the pants. They resolutely refused to budge. “Why are you fidgeting so much?”, asked Mags, peering over the top of the menu. “I’m having a serious wardrobe malfunction with regards my undergarments”, I whispered. The waitress took our order and within minutes, two ginger syrup and prosecco cocktails were handed to us, along with a delicious treat of an amuse bouche of a little cup of soup. I tucked into my pigeon risotto when it arrived and Mags dug into her goat’s cheese starter. Our main courses of duck and a trio of fish was met with my sister-in-law’s similar orgasmic moans, but by now, I was getting a little full and really, the panty girdle thing was playing havoc with my innards. There was no way I was going to be able to digest, let alone enjoy my chocolate tart and coconut sorbet unless I dealt with the situation under my dress. “Excuse me”, I said to Mags, standing up and then, with a sudden terrific snapping of elastic, the hosiery rolled down further until, almost unbelievably, it ended at my knees. The establishment being what it was, meant that other diners had the manners not to point and laugh at my standing there, utterly at a loss as to how to get to the ladies’ in a dignified manner when my knees were bound together with a rather unbecoming pair of pants and I was met instead by silence as though I were an elephant in the room, which at that particular moment was a mortifyingly physical reality and not some silly idiom. There was nothing for it other than to shake my bottom and step, with as much dignity as I could muster, out of the pants, fold them and place them in my handbag. “Nicely done Alice!”, said Mags, chinking my glass, “Style like that can’t be bought” and she picked up her spoon and plunged into my tuile basket.

Emptying Nest

Incredible though it seems, my life and that of my family, seems to be degenerating further into a situation comedy, with the rest of my community as its laughter track, whilst I sit in a corner somewhere, not so silently pulling at my newly highlighted hair. It was bound to happen now that Hubby is no longer here , because were he, I would, if not pass the buck, then at least look at him helplessly as I grapple with the change that I am struggling to embrace. So, first things first. My son. That gorgeous first born who informed me a few nights ago that he no longer requires my services and instead wants to shack up with his girlfriend. “That’s it?”, I cried, “That’s it? You don’t want me anymore?” There is no manual when your baby gives you this sort of news, ergo I had absolutely no idea how to respond rationally and relied, perhaps a little erroneously, on gut instinct i.e with a modicum of high drama and emotion. “See this?”, I demanded, pointing to my belly, “This gave you life. And these?” I added, pointing to my nipples, “These bled for you and now you tell me, oh so casually, that you don’t need me anymore”. “Mum”, he replied, “You stopped breast feeding me 18 years ago, get over it”. “Get over it?”, my voice had by now reached dangerously high decibels, from which there is little chance of return to normal and more measured speech. Under normal circumstances, I would have by now passed the baton to Hubby, whilst throwing myself onto the sofa, to wail and tear at my breast. As it was, I was alone with my son and my histrionics. “But why?”, I beseeched, “Why? Aren’t you happy here? Don’t you feel loved anymore?” “Ma, for God’s sake, it’s not like that. It’s just that me and my girl want a bit of space”. I reeled. “Space? Space? Space?”, I spat, “What the hell do you mean space? Have you become an astronaut now?” “You’re mental”, he replied. “I am not mental, I am heartbroken. You have all the bloody ‘space’ you need. Far more generously awarded you than any other teenager that I can think of. Apart from walk the dogs occasionally and empty the dishwasher, little else is asked of you, and your girl stays over seven nights a week, I do your washing and feed you and her too when I have a vegetarian option on”. “Well, we’ve found somewhere Ma. It’ll be fine”. And that was the end of that. I poured myself a very large glass of wine and picked up a baby photograph of him with his tiny, precious foot in his father’s hand. He’s nineteen. I had such hopes for him. Such expectations and now, instead of being at University with his friends, he wants to go and play house with his girlfriend. I am redundant. I drank more than was wise, especially given the fact that the following morning I had to drive my eldest daughter to Cardiff University’s Open Day. She was excited. Her eyes blazed with the fire of opportunity and adventure. “It’s a great Uni”, she said later, “The English lecturer was clever and eccentric. The student union is buzzing and the city is fab”. I have one more year of her. One more year of my darling girl and her brains and her beauty before I have to hand her over and share her with the rest of the world. All the time Hubby, at his meetings and schedules and admin is utterly oblivious to my breaking heart. We drove home again that night in torrential rain. The windscreen wipers were I redundant as I. When I arrived home, Dad was flaked on the sofa. “Have they been good?”, I asked, gesticulating to my youngest children who were now hanging onto each of my legs. “As gold”, he said smiling, although he didn’t stay, glad to return home next door to a little peace and quiet, where the demands are few and the television not as exuberant. I snuggled one and then the other under their duvets and asked about their days. The eldest of the two happily regaled me with the results of a perfect spelling test and the fact that she can now name every one of Henry VIIIth’s wives. In order. The Red-Head however, was a little subdued. “How did your presentation go?” I asked her. She and her very big sister had worked hard on a presentation of our Queen. “Not good”, she sighed. “Oh dear”, I replied, lowering myself onto the bed beside her, “What went wrong? Did you forget what you had to say?” “No”. “Well what can be so bad then?”, I asked, oh so naively. “There was a funny bit at the beginning”. “There you are you see. You entertained your class. You made them laugh. Was it about the Queen?” “No”. “What was it then?” “My brother’s girlfriend in her bra and knickers”. My blood ran cold. It seems that the USB stick that the presentation had been saved onto had belonged to our son. Hubby had found it on the coffee table and handed it, without realising, to our eldest daughter who, being an expert on the Royals, helped her youngest sister with her presentation and saved it onto said USB stick. The ensuing drama unfolded when the Red-Head had then opened her presentation up in front of a class of 7 and 8 year old and voila, cue delighted 7 and 8 year olds, a bewildered Red-Head and a mortified, newly qualified young teacher, when instead of a picture of HRH on the interactive whiteboard, a rather revealing, if thank God, tasteful picture of her brother’s girlfriend’s corset confronted the class instead. Were it a sitcom, it would be hilarious, but honestly? You just can’t make this stuff up.


Before Hubby returned to work, we gutted the toy room. It was a dirty job and one that required a stomach of steel. What were those green, fluffy masses growing behind the Lego box? And why were the calcified remains of birthday cake, circa 2007, hidden in the Postman Pat jigsaw puzzle box? These enigmas will remain unanswered because the culprits involved, who were no more than toddlers at the time, have grown up a bit and have no recollection whatsoever as to why penicillin spores are more abundant in their play room than in a bio-technological laboratory, although they were very keen to help ‘sort’. Many, many bin bags were utilised in the big clear out. Limbless and beheaded Barbies and more than a couple of sexually ambiguous Kens, got the heave- ho. “But I love that Barbie”, was opined more than once by one daughter or another. “But she hasn’t got any legs/arms/hair or head”, I replied in vexation. Depending on the Barbie in question, she mightn’t have had any of the above, let alone delete as appropriate. Hubby was ruthless. “It’s going in the bin, ditto any jigsaw without all the pieces and any game without its component parts.” This, as it transpired, turned out to be most of the jigsaws and almost all of the games. With bin liners piling up as big as a thief’s outside a toy shop, the children’s resolve began to waver. “We haven’t got anything left to play with”, one wailed. “You haven’t played with this stuff for years”, replied Hubby, stamping on a doll’s head with rather over-enthusiastic fervour. “Get in that bag”, he added, squishing her in. “You are hurting her”, cried the Red-Head, attacking her father’s leg with remarkable gusto, “Leave her alone you pig”. “It is an inanimate plastic doll!”, retorted Hubby, attempting to prise her off. “So?”, she hissed at him. “The same doll, whose once sleeping eyes have been rather cruelly removed and, whose face is now disfigured by black marker pen where one of you has tried to remedy the doll’s blindness by providing it with felt-tip pen eyes.” The girls had the grace to look a little discomfited. The makers of Toy Story 1, 2 and 3 would have been up in arms as a Woody who couldn’t talk anymore, a Mr Potato Head who no longer had a head and who was now just reduced to a potato and a Buzz Lightyear with smashed visor and dislocated leg were plonked unceremoniously into a cardboard box, a scene that has been played out in the movie several times, but alas no plastic dinosaur, nor springy dog, nor green plastic toy soldiers came to their rescue. Books, hundreds of them, took hours to work through. I could not dispose of cherished books that had been read and re-read, time and again as bedtime stories, memories that are particularly precious to me now that two of my children are virtually grown up and the other two demand to read to themselves. Also all the books that have been inscribed in had to be kept. All books from my mother, from Godparents, and long lost friends. “Alice, we can’t keep all these books in the loft. They’ll bring the ceiling down”. “I can’t get rid of them”, I replied, beseechingly, “They are so precious. Our children’s babyhoods are written into the very fabric of these pages” and I brandished ‘Dogger’ into his face. Hubby sighed, “Good God Alice, never let it be said that you are not dramatic” but, I was careful to note, he put the special books in another pile – the pile of ‘things to be kept’. This pile, whilst being emptied from one room, now clutters another, only it isn’t even a room. It is the landing. Already this week the ‘pile’ has caused much embarrassment as Hubby, who having just about managed to lug it all from downstairs before he had to leave before dawn on Monday, never quite got it as far as the loft. And so, in this current mess it would have to be that Jacob, one of my lost boys, has returned from university to visit, bringing a friend with him. Said friend is South Korean and whilst, exceptionally polite, was at a loss as to why, “Such big house have many toys outside bathroom?”. No linguistic stereotyping intended by the way, he just genuinely used no prepositions. I was at pains to explain to him that they had originated from the room in which he was sleeping. “No, no! You do that for me? No” and he ran upstairs. Minutes later I found him humping a doll’s house down the stairs. “What are you doing Kim?”, I asked bewildered. “You very kind Mrs Band, but you no need empty room on my behalf”. Korean translators are very thin on the ground in Torpoint and so, whilst I wrested the doll’s house from him, I implored Jake to take pains to make Kim understand that whilst he was a very welcome visitor, I had not infact emptied the downstairs room so that he wouldn’t have to share a sofa-bed with a Playmobil Pyramid. “What are you going to do with this room now that’s it empty?” asked Hubby on the phone later that night. “It will be my boudoir”, I replied, “A place where I can entertain my friends in my private sitting room without having to compete with Horrible Histories”. Hubby was not impressed. I impressed on him that it was wonderful idea; he could have the sitting room to himself where he could watch Ice Truckers and listen to his music with impunity. We then had a slight verbal fracas which culminated in my hanging up. Minutes later a text arrived on my mobile, ‘Your boudoir is a perfect place for you to hang out. Just looked up its meaning – from the French: literally, a sulking place’


The demands made on Hubby since he’s been on leave have made him increasingly frowny, due to my to-do list, to ensure that, now he longer lives at home during the week, he doesn’t escape certain male domestic responsibilities, especially as he no longer doesn’t even get to put the rubbish out. More on that later. ‘The List’, in fairness was only written as an aide memoire, a brief reminder to the two of us not to waste Easter leave when so many small, niggling domestic jobs could be getting sorted. Unfortunately, what neither of us took into account was a serious of unfortunate events, which would put pay to the other tasks that had been so patiently waiting. It all started a few mornings ago after I’d flushed the loo. There was the usual din that a macerator lavatory makes as the monster inside it chews up whatever the person has just evacuated into the bowl. It grinded and shuddered; splashed and chomped and then, as I washed my hands, it began to whine. Quietly at first, like the soft hum of a few summer bees, but then the hum became more of a high pitched tone like that of a lone mosquito. I walked back into our bedroom where Hubby was enjoying the first sip of what he hoped was going to be, a mugful of tea. “Toilet’s buggered”, I said as I lifted the duvet to get in beside him. He lay his mug down. “What exactly do you mean when you say that the toilet is buggered? Do you mean broken?” “I think so”. Hubby groaned. “What’s the big deal?” I asked, “You’ve become a dab hand at mending it. It breaks all the time. I never thought it bothered you.” “I hate it Alice. I despise it. I loathe it. I find it an experience of such appalling disgustingness you just cannot imagine. It revolts and repulses me. It’s nauseating and makes me heave. The last thing I want to do now is leave my warm bed, my hot wife, my even hotter tea to immerse myself up to my elbows of familial effluence, especially as I had plans to.., well do any of those things on the list other than this!” He threw the duvet back with a force and drama appropriate to his abhorrence of a malfunctioning, macerator toilet and stormed out of our room. Five hours later, having employed my pretty, flower patterned hammer, my torch, my ladle and my kitchen tongs, not to mention my rubber gloves and, having emptied the airing cupboard of several dozen, clean, warm fluffy towels, he found the offending article. A Chanel lipstick. “Yours I presume?”, he said, brandishing the offending and now rather filthy, if not half chewed, article at me. “That’s where it went! Yes, it is mine, but I can assure you that under no circumstances, not even when I’m really mad at you, would I throw one of my best lipsticks down a loo bowl just so that it would make you clean it out. That would be very cruel indeed.” He flushed the chain again. “I’m not happy with the seal on the jubilee clip at the back. Just popping to the hardware store. Back in a jiff”. “Where’s daddy gone?” asked the Red-Head wandering in. “To buy a jubilee clip sweetheart, he won’t be long”. She looked surprisingly delighted and sat on the outdoor step waiting for him to come home. When at last he ambled back up the road, she ran over to him. “Can I see it dad?”, she said, grasping a paper bag out of his hand. She removed from it a coil of metal with a key at the end. “What’s this?” she asked, most disappointed. “It’s a jubilee clip poppet”. As they walked through the front door, tears ran down her face. “What’s the matter darling?”, I asked. “I thought daddy had gone to buy a jubilee clip?” “But he had”, I explained, “You saw it”. In a little embarrassed voice, hidden into my neck , she explained that she thought the clip would be red, white and blue, maybe have the picture of a diamond Queen on it and would look nice in her long hair. Bless. A bit more grinding and groaning later and that was just Hubby - and the bathroom was finally, fully functioning once again. My kitchen utensils weren’t though as, with wrinkled nose and held at arm’s length, I dropped them into the bin. “Will they get recycled?” I asked Hubby. “Don’t ask me, the whole recycling thing is an utter mystery to me.” Since Cornwall County Council in their infinite wisdom has decided to provide fancy boxes for every resident and change collections days and times, some towns have gone into meltdown. Don’t get the residents started on overflowing dog-poo bins and long grass in parks. That service seems to have been abandoned. It is a hornet’s nest of dissatisfaction around here. And, as no-one seems to know exactly when refuse and recycling day is, bags of rubbish are put out in the morning and brought back in again, uncollected in the afternoon. Hokey-cokey for refuse. In out, in out, shake it all about. We didn’t even receive one of these new, black boxes and I had to purloin one from dad, who doesn’t really ‘do’ green. One morning, as ever in my dressing gown, I heard the rumble of the rubbish lorry. Opening the front door, I chased the recycling lorry down our road heaving fistfuls of recycling bags as I ran. “Yoo-hoo”, I called, “Please take my bags”. “Can’t love” said a bin man, “We are refuse, not recycling.” “But yours looks like a recycling lorry. There are huge pictures of glass and paper on the side of it”. I pointed. “That’s just advertising the service love. We don’t touch that stuff”. What a load of rubbish, or not, as the case may be.


“But I’ve got a silver medal in my L.A.M.D.A acting exam. With honours”, I lamented to Mags, who was patiently listening to my wittering, “I shouldn’t be nervous. I am though. I don’t have pretty little butterflies fluttering around my tummy either but great big, hairy, ugly moths”. I took a swig of my Americano, shuddered, wrinkled up my face and stuck my tongue out. It was very strong. “Not to your taste?” she asked. “Bleurgh. No. How can you drink this stuff? I haven’t even got a complimentary biscuit to dunk in it. That, at least, would take the edge off it”. “You are such a wimp Alice. Honestly. They do two shots here. It’s meant to pep you up”. I looked at her beseechingly. “Do I look like a woman who needs pepping up Mags? I am a bag of nerves.” “For God’s sake woman! Pull yourself together. You are singing as part of a choir. No-one will even notice you. You are hardly one of third of Banana-bloody-rama”. She had a point. “But I’m tall. What if they put me on the end? I don’t know the words to the songs and the musical director has told us we should be music free.” The trouble with an Americano coffee is, is that there is no redeeming feature to it. Nothing sweet. No froth. No chocolate sprinkles. Either of the former would have soothed me at this moment. I was looking for something comforting to suck off my spoon. “When is the concert?” Mags asked, making a concerted effort to sound interested. “Tomorrow night”. “What are you singing? “Well”, I said, “The rest of the Torpoint Lady Singers will be singing The Nun’s Chorus, The Rose, Wherever You Are, to name but a few. Personally I’ll be some oxygen starved guppy, opening and closing my mouth in desperation.” “But your first gig was ok wasn’t it?” Mags asked. I shook my head. “The rest of the choir were harmonious but the minute the bride entered the church, I lost my concentration. I was too nosy looking at what dress was like. Beautiful by the way, but I couldn’t find my place after that so I had to hide my face in my music folder”. “Hardly a Sarah Brightman moment then?” I shrugged. Mags squeezed my hand, “The next gig isn’t a wedding though is it. Just try and relax and enjoy it”. In the event, apart from the faux pas of helping myself to an egg sarnie before being told to do so – I felt as though I’d drunk the port before a toast to ‘The Queen’, it was a great success, mostly due to the fact that my fellow lady singers are very practised and professional and know the words and harmonies in their sleep. The musical director relented and allowed me to read mine and, as we took our places, my ladies were very supportive and guided me to my singing spot. I was relieved to find that even being tall, due to the lady in front having had her hair professionally coiffured, the lacquer was such that it obliterated my face. I was delighted and, for a short time, obliviously enjoyed a certain false sense of security until I was suddenly manoeuvred to stand in the front. In front of a packed audience is not the time to question the whys and wherefores of such a decision. Afterwards, I was told that it had something to do with sopranos and second sopranos. I took their word for it. Not that I’d like to imply that my life is one large mug of coffee, but no sooner had I recovered from the concert than Hubby, dearest, darling Hubby, was home again on Easter leave and I was making the most of being able to leave the house without so much as a backward glance and so, I arranged to meet Mags again, although in Polperro this time at the house of a mutual friend. Well, I’d planned to meet the girls, but I was stymied at the last hurdle. Without thinking that I might need a bank loan to park my car, I left Torpoint and its banks, drove straight through Looe and another few banks and continued my journey to Polperro which not only has no banks, but no cash machines that I’m aware of. I was already five late when I pulled into the car park and couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw that the price to park my car was four quid! Four. Quid. For three hours. There were no concessions, no half an hour drop offs to get essentials – like milk and bread or to run down to your friend’s house to inform them that you would not be joining them for coffee after all as you didn’t have four pounds in small change in your purse. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have paid it. That’s just extortion. Starbucks would have been cheap by comparison. I don’t know how the summer visitors will manage. Fuel prices have already changed our Easter holiday plans dramatically. How can families on, let’s say a multi destination day out – Looe, Talland Bay and Polperro be expected to pay these parking prices on top of the horrendous price of the fuel they’ve had to fork out on to get here in the first place? And what about the loyal locals? There is literally nowhere to park in Polperro apart from the top car park. I can’t imagine anyone being prepared to pay four pounds for the privilege of getting their groceries. I texted Mags to say that I was turning around and going home again. Her reply was ‘Shopkeepers are up in arms. Come back and sign a petition. All the shops have them”. Had I been able to afford it, I would have signed it. Gladly and with a most emphatic full stop. April 2012

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Ole Red Eyes.

He’d sung the first verse in the car that had driven us home. The driver diplomatically kept his silence. In fact as he helped me get Hubby out of the car, instead said, “I shall miss you Sir. It’s been a privilege.” Hubby shook his hand firmly before I led him up the steps of our house and in through a dark and quiet house up the stairs to our bedroom.
Pussy Galore, I am convinced, had nowhere near as much trouble undressing James Bond as I did my husband in a very similar rig because, as Hubby lay flat on his back on our bed warbling the second verse -
“I've lived a life that's full
I travelled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way”
– I stood at the foot of said bed, still in a long frock, still in my high heels, heaving off his shiny, black patent dress shoes, arguing crossly with him.
“No darling”, I muttered, “You have all the highways yet to travel”.
“Very profound Alice love, very profound”, he added, helpfully lifting his bottom off the bed so that I could pull his trousers down.
“No. I was just stating a fact – you will be very familiar with the route to your new job. M5, A30, A303…” and I yanked his trouser legs down his long legs.
“Bloody Nora, you are going to regret that last snifter tomorrow morning”, I snarled. Unfortunately, my remonstration only reminded him of verse three which he sung with gusto -
“Regrets? I've had a few
But then again too few to mention”.
“Be bloody quiet”, I hissed, “and sit up a minute”. He did as I instructed helping me remove his dinner jacket and undo his bow tie but he slapped my hand away as I fumbled with the top button of his dress shirt.
“Are you trying to garrotte me Alice?”, he asked, hurt. I didn’t dare reply. He wrestled away with the infernal button for another minute or two, after which, with some success, he lay down on his pillow again, leaving me to attempt to pull his shirt off. I was doing a jolly good job until it came to his wrists when the stupid cufflinks stymied my efforts. Hubby was by now rolled onto his side, the sleeves of his shirt joining his hands together behind his back as if he were handcuffed and under arrest.
“Oh for heaven’s sake!”, I declared, more than happy to leave him in that position all night if push came to shove, as quite literally, it had. The Tiffany cuff links which I had bought him on 5th Avenue all those years ago when we lived in America, were buried in the deep, by now inside-out cuffs and no amount of pushing and shoving were helping my labours.
“For God’s sake!”, I now shouted at him, “Don’t just bloody lie there, help me to help you.” After much struggling and wriggling, one hand broke free of the cloth apprehending his freedom and with one foul swoop he dragged the other sleeve off with his free hand.
“Ta-da!”, Hubby exclaimed.
“Ta-da indeed”, I replied imperiously, “Honestly, had you planned to get bat faced tonight?”
Hubby rolled over, looked me in the eyes, took my hands in his and said,
“Alice, I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way”.
It took me a moment or two to realise that the words he was saying were the unsung lyrics of the bloody song he’d been singing since we’d left the party. I too fell back on my pillow. I’d run out of energy. All the parties, all the final speeches, all the gift giving, all the concerts and lunches and dinners that in this, his final week at work had been dedicated to him, had taken its toll. There was no denying it any more, I was an emotional wreck. I don’t want him to go. I don’t want to say goodbye to all the lovely people he has worked with for the past two and a half years: the captain, his wife, his PA, his colleagues, the wardroom hall porters, the chaplaincy, the training officers, the medical staff, the stewards, the chefs. I don’t want to be a single mother all week and deal with the daily traumas of bringing up five children. One of us needs to mop up the kitchen whilst the other mops up the problems of one or other of our fast growing family, problems which are of such disproportionate concern to them that one understands completely why the phrase, ‘teenage angst’ was coined. Basically one of us needs to solve domestic crises whilst the other cracks on with the domestic chores.
Hubby, lying on top of our duvet, in little more than a pair of little pants, our son’s surely, and a pair of stripy socks, looked oddly vulnerable. He held my hand and, as we both stared up at the ceiling, he sang again, quietly, with a certain sobriety:

“Yes there were times I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all
And I stood tall and did it my way”.
Tears dripped down the creases of my eyes and onto my pillow. Hubby wiped my face.
“I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside…”.
But Hubby choked on the final few words. He couldn’t articulate that he ‘found it all so amusing’. Not even the image of him in his undies and me in my long frock, lying on our bed, crooning the ultimate swan song, could detract from the fact that, ultimately Frank Sinatra was talking a load of bollocks.

Gin soaked.

“Subtle, sweet, soft and smooth”, I said.
“And very sexy”, said Hubby peering down my cleavage. I slapped his nose away.
“Not my bosoms for goodness sake; gin”.
“Gin? I just thought it was junipery and fizzy and great with ice and a slice”. I groaned. Suffice it to say that it was my son who bought me a master tour at the Plymouth Gin distillery as a gift and not Hubby, who wouldn’t know the difference between a supermarket brand and a Plymouth gin if he were unfortunate enough to drown in it.
“That is how our master guide described the flavour of their gin – subtle, sweet, soft and smooth”
“And was it?” asked Hubby.
“Well the one in the bar with tonic and lime was”.
“Ha-ha”, said Hubby punching the air triumphantly
“The others”, I added, ignoring him, “were a little more curious”.
“How so?”
“Well, the ones we had to taste weren’t all Plymouth ones. One was a Bombay Sapphire, another was a Gordon’s, another a Beefeater. One very pucker chap in a seersucker blazer and cravat was horrified. Apparently he hated Beefeater gin”.
“So what did you have to do?” asked Hubby rummaging about in my goody bag the guide had kindly presented us.
“Well we sat at a bar with five different gins in front of us, then, we had to water them down a bit and then, do as you would a wine.”
“Knock it back d’you mean? Oh well then Alice, I’m very surprised to see you still standing. ”
“Ha, bloody ha. We did have to knock it back actually. Twice for each gin. First we had to swallow it quickly and secondly we had to swirl it around our mouths and then swallow it. Apparently one’s mouth tastes gin differently to wine, further down or something”. Hubby looked at me askance.
“Sounds kinky to me”.
“Well it wasn’t. It was very interesting and our guide was fantastic. We learnt how to nose a gin and what spices to sniff for and then we had to say which one had been our favourite of the five and Mr Seersucker said ‘number 3’, which was revealed to be the Beefeater!”
“Anyway, cut to the chase”, said Hubby rather impatiently, “Did you bring any home?”
“As a matter of fact I did. My very own, hand made by me. And, like the Little Red Hen, as I made it all myself, it will be drunk all by myself”. And I took the bag away from Hubby. I didn’t really mean it, but I was feeling peevish that he wasn’t listening to the fascinating procedure involved and just wanted to imbibe my masterpiece instead of appreciating how it’d been conceived.
“Oh come on. Don’t sulk. It’s just that we’ve been there, done that. Don’t you remember?”
“That was entirely different. That was the cheap tour; this was the crème de la crème of gin tours.”
And I removed from my Plymouth Gin plastic bag, a little bottle of personally labelled gin, the flavour unique to my blend as I had hand picked the spices from quite a selection then added some citrus peel and Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt, distilled it myself.
As I carried it through to the dining room, our son ran upstairs from the basement.
“Mum! You’re home, how did it go?”
I gave him a huge hug. “Thank-you my darling, it was fantastic, I had a wonderful day. It was a very personal and thoughtful gift. Most unique”.
“What did you do?” he asked. Not wanting the same reaction that I got from his father, I chose to tell him a snippet of information that, as a boy still, he would love.
“Well, before we could go into the huge room where these gigantic vats of gin are being distilled, we had to leave our phones in a locker. Can you imagine why?”
“Thieves and scoundrels?”
“No darling, I somehow doubt that on a masterclass gin tour on a weekday afternoon we had to fear our mobile phones being nicked from our handbags”.
“Why then?”
“Because the alcoholic vapours were such in this vat room that a spark from our mobiles could have triggered an enormous explosion. Bigger than any on a petrol station forecourt”.
“No way. Wow! That’s like, really cool”.
“I thought you’d like that nugget of health and safety advice”. You could tell by the faraway look in his eye that a part of him wished that I’d been reckless enough not the heed the safety advice given and that far from bringing home a bottle of gin, I’d come home with singed eyebrows and a far more exciting tale to tell. Hubby too was nodding his head as if my involvement in a cataclysmic alcohol calamity would have been one hell of a story to dine out on.
“They even insisted we touch a metal handle before we walked into that room”. They both looked at me with big eyes, as though listening to a bedtime story.
“To get rid of any static on our person, apparently even a spark from a nylon jumper would have been enough to cause a mighty bang of such catastrophic proportions the building would have been razed to the gorund”.
“Wow!” they both said in unison. Boys eh? It’s no wonder Top Gear is such a popular show. A show about cars and explosions. The producers know their target audience very well indeed.
“Shall we try it then?” I said. Our son ran to the fridge/freezer to get ice and tonic, Hubby cut a lime into a wedge. We poured it into two tumblers and took a swig each, our son watched; his taste buds have yet to mature beyond Carling Black Label.
“Jeeze”, I said coughing and thumping my chest.
“Crikey” added Hubby, “That’s more potent than Navy strength gin, enough to knock old Nelson off his plinth at Trafalgar square”. Mother’s ruin? This mother was that night. Very.


Hubby’s departure from the homestead is imminent. I don’t need to feel it in my waters as there is evidence all around me. He has started to stockpile his stuff. There are little mounds around the house that belong to him ready to be packed and driven away. CDs, books, new socks and unfamiliar pants litter the stairs in a most perilous manner. Long lost shirts and sweaters have been excavated from the back of the wardrobe; some have not passed muster, the moths having feasted but, some have been washed and pressed and hang on backs of doors, like immaculately ironed spectres, waiting for their new haunt in an unfamiliar cabin, somewhere in Wiltshire, a place where we, his family, have no place and do not belong.
For the next twenty months or so, Hubby will live a life and conduct his business completely outside our realm of understanding. We have no points of reference to imagine him in situ. We cannot picture where he will sleep, where he will eat, his office or his colleagues. It is all very disconcerting.
Hubby, for the first time in a 35 year career is not excited about this last chapter. He has been so very happy in his last job that it is such a shame that his final appointment in the Royal Navy is taking away from home and to a place which is unfamiliar, even to him.
His departure is also affecting our marriage. There is still three weeks to go before he finally leaves, yet our biorhythms must know that something is afoot as we have, to our youngest children’s great disgust, become a bit lovey-dovey.
Even Mags was taken aback when she called in last week and happened upon Hubby and me, in the kitchen, snogging.
“Oh put her down”, she scolded, “it’s not right, people of your age, conducting yourselves in such a manner”.
“They do it all the time Mags”, added our ten year old, wandering into the kitchen on the search for some Ribena, “I’m scared to walk around the house in case I catch them doing it”.
Mags raised her eyebrows, luckily as our girl is only 10 and therefore couldn’t possibly imagine (I sincerely hope), the, permutations and double entendre of ‘doing it’, she was only referring to us kissing.
“Are they now?” asked Mags, “Well, it must be better to see a mummy and daddy love each other so much than those who are always rowing and shouting at each other”.
“I guess you’re right” replied our daughter, although she wasn’t entirely convinced. It’s peculiar how we react to being parted from one another. There are tell-tale stages. We are starting to cling to each other and are indulging in a bit of smooching. Hubby rings me from work and tells me that he loves me far more frequently than usual and I am buying him little love tokens, just to show him that his feelings are reciprocated. Freshly made Peanut butter fudge from Roly’s in Totnes for example, was met with disproportionate joy.
“Oh my God Alice!”, he said popping a chunk into his mouth and as it melted, his eyes shut just so that he could savour the experience. Funny little moans emanated from him.
“Ok, ok, I get the idea. You love the fudge. Those noises are just weird though. Cut it out”.
Even our son, the rocker with the black hair and tattoo, has been increasingly affectionate of late. Working in the wardroom as a civvy steward has given him an ‘access all areas’ pass and he has been privy to find out a lot about his dad and his colleagues’ opinions of him and, the general consensus is, that people like his father. An awful lot.
When articles are written in papers that talk about our teens and wayward boys and troublemakers, it always comes down to the fact that these young men have rarely had a good male role model in their lives. This man may not necessarily love to play football with his son, but he must be decent, he must be a man to whom the lad in question can look up to. This is probably why excellent, male, primary school teachers are so much in demand, because so many boys do not have regular access to a decent bloke who is a part of their lives, day in day out.
Imagine then, Hubby’s dining out. The mess was packed, the food sublime, the wine generous, the staff, family members included, professional. My brother and his wife sat to the left of me, Hubby to my right. After dinner, Hubby cracked a few groan inducing jokes and paid tribute to the leavers. The gavel was struck again and the Captain stood up and what was said next, were the sort of words one never gets to hear as one is usually dead, in a wooden box adjacent to the eulogiser. I could see my son’s eyes well with pride up as though thinking, “That’s my dad, he’s talking about”.
So, chez Band is a very emotional place at the mo, but, like I said and I have been a Navy wife long enough to recognise the stages couples go through before a separation so that, just before he goes, where one would think our lovey-doveyness would reach its zenith, we will row and bicker and bitch at each other, as though repelling the other from oneself – a sort of self-preservation order so that it doesn’t hurt so much on the day. And that is how the next 20 months will be. We will both live for Friday, we’ll be delighted to see each other and then on Sunday afternoon, as I dish up Sunday lunch, I’ll be remote again, not being able to bear his grip being put in the car for yet another week away from us. Hands up how many Navy wives know what I’m talking about?

Wizard's Sleeve.

“You are so lucky”, I said to Hubby after I’d returned from the nurse’s couch.
“Of that I don’t doubt”, he replied, emptying the Morrison’s carrier bags that I’d left strewn on the kitchen floor, “Buying the absolute essentials again I see?” he added, holding aloft a tub of Crème Egg ice-cream.
“It was on special offer”, I responded quickly, attempting to brush him off before he found other ‘bargains’ in the bags, “Well, aren’t you in the slightest bit intrigued as to why I think you are so lucky?”
“You’ll probably tell me it’s because I’m married to you”.
“Well obviously, that goes without saying…”
“And that I have my health and my gorgeous children etc, etc,?”
“And don’t you forget it. No, whilst all of the above do most certainly provide you with an unfair share of life’s advantages, the fact that you do not have a cervix, is my particular grievance this afternoon.”
“Alice for God’s sake!”, he expostulated as though I’d just articulated the filthiest word in the English language”.
“Oh don’t be so squeamish. What on earth do you want me to call it then?”
“I don’t see that you need to call it anything. Do I need to hear it referred to at all?”
“Yes, given that I go and check it out to ensure its health and wellbeing and thus go on providing you with a beloved wife and cherished mother to your myriad children”.
“You’re not the only one. I have check-ups too” replied Hubby a little petulantly.
“Really? The occasional cough whilst the doctor cups your family jewels cannot, on any level, be compared with surgical instruments invading your ‘lady garden’as you find the word cervix so abhorrent.” Hubby blanched.
“Oh God, I can tell that whatever it is you are going to enlighten me with is going to be excruciatingly candid” said Hubby, surrendering to a nearby kitchen stool.
“Excruciatingly candid? My experience was definitely excruciating, but not for its candidness I can assure you”.
Our son walked into the kitchen.
“Bloody hell dad? Are you ok? You look like sh…”
“Shouldn’t you knock?” I asked him. Our son looked around him quizzically.
“Er, since when have we had a door to the kitchen?”
“I was speaking metaphorically”.
“Oh right”, he answered, shrugging his shoulders in a ‘whatever’ kind of way as though he’d never had a seven year grammar school education and access to the term , metaphor, “What’s wrong with dad?”, he continued, peering into the bread bin.
“I was trying to tell him about my cervical smear”. My son winced.
“Do you have to use the word ‘smear’ mum? It sounds so, well, unsanitary”.
“I very much doubt the term was coined by a woman. In fact you’ve brought up a good point, why are female medical procedures which involve their reproductive bits and pieces, referred to in such a manner that one would expect the doctor involved to have a Dettol spray gun handy? You’re right; the word smear evokes images of something nasty, greasy and dirty. It most certainly isn’t a positive image.”
“England are playing tonight Dad”.
“Yes, son. Shall we watch it at home or go down the pub?” replied his father. I ignored them,
“I’ve started so I’ll finish”, I said.
“Bwm, ba-pa, bwm, berapa…”, my son hummed the Mastermind theme tune under his breath. I clipped his ear.
“Don’t be flippant”, I chastised, “So, as I was saying, the conceit of dirty and clean regarding women has been used throughout history, every since Eve the dirty girl, was the original seductress.”
My husband and son looked back at me with gormless expressions. I tried to make my point clearer.
“Look, men have blokey, medical sounding vasectomies right? A similar procedure for women conversely, the original sinners and cause of the Fall of Man, is known as, a sterilisation. Get my point?” They nodded and my son shuddered.
“Anyway Dad, I’ll see you later ok?” and he tore off the end of a fresh tiger bread crust and ski-daddled out of the kitchen.
“Shall I assume, given your feminist rant, that all didn’t go well on the couch then?” asked Hubby.
“Not exactly, no”. I could see Hubby gird his loins.
“Dare I ask why?”
“It was the most humiliating moment of my life”.
“But darling, you’ve had four children and countless procedures ‘down there’”. It was evident that he was still finding it hard to come to terms with articulating the word cervix.
“I have received dozens of insults in my life, but this one took the biscuit”. Hubby scratched his head; I could see that he was desperately trying to work out why this ‘smear’ had been so much worse than any previous one.
I buried my head in his shoulder, “It didn’t fit”, I said quietly.
“Come again?”
“There I was, lying in one of the most vulnerable and mortifying and intimate positions a woman could be in, legs akimbo and being brave and awaiting the cold speculum. Anyway, in it went and the nurse fumbled around…” I took a deep breath. Hubby hugged me tighter; he had no idea where this story was going.
“Well, she suddenly stopped and was most apologetic”.
“What on earth happened Alice?” Hubby asked, trying to peel me away but I stayed buried in his shoulder, I couldn’t look him in the eye.
“She said, “I’m sorry Mrs Band, this speculum is too small, I’m going to have to get the extra large one”. Hubby tried to muffle a snigger.
“I mean, I’m used to extra large knickers and tights and size 16 skirts and commodious tops but I honestly thought that one’s vagina was much like a poncho. One size fits all”.
I’ve just about accepted that having four kids has ruined my figure, I just hadn’t quite realised the extent of the ruination.

Comfort Blanket.

“Bye-ee. Au revoir. Bon voyage”, I yelled and waved until our very dear friends became only specs on the horizon and then finally, disappeared. I fumbled in the pocket of my duffel coat and found a very old bit of kitchen towel with which to blow my nose.
“There, there” said Hubby, thumping me oh, so sensitively on my back, “they’ll be back one day”.
The kitchen towel was useless; there was nothing for it other than to use my sleeve.
“I know, I know”, I snivelled, “But it’s the end of another era. I hate goodbyes and change and…”
“Yes, yes, I know Alice. You’ve carped on about nothing but change for weeks now”. I shut up.
We went inside and I hung up my coat and, sighing I took down the flag of the United Arab Emirates that I’d bought on eBay as a sort of salute to our friends’ new life in Abu Dhabi and folded it neatly away.
Hubby brought me a cup of tea and a pear and cinnamon cup cake. I’ve become a bit of a convert to baking.
“Would you consider taking a posting in Abu Dhabi?”, I asked, my tongue licking at the icing with the ferocity one might use to extract the soft fondancy from the inside a Creme Egg. It was distracting if nothing else.
“If I weren’t married to you Alice, then yes, perhaps”.
I looked up, a blob of icing on the end of my tongue.
“Gee, Fangs”, I mumbled.
“Seriously Alice. Do you honestly think you’d last an afternoon in an Islamic country, even one that is professed to be a little more relaxed and dare I say, more liberal that its neighbouring Emirates”.
“What on earth do you mean?”, I said, most affronted.
“Sweetheart, there are many reasons why I love you: your demureness is not one of those reasons”.
“What are you trying to say? That I’d flout laws and customs and deliberately try to offend my neighbours?”
“Not deliberately, no”.
“For God’s sake!”, I yelled.
“See?” said Hubby infuriatingly, “That’s exactly what I mean. Something would happen or someone would say something you don’t agree with and we’d be in big trouble”.
“You are making me sound like a crazy, loose cannon that is a liability to polite society”.
“No Alice. That is not what I’m saying. What I am trying to say is that I have actually looked into it. The package is very attractive. Tax free earnings, private schooling for the kids etc. etc, but the rules are endless and you’re a member of Amnesty for crying out loud and certain things would make it impossible for you to ignore”.
“Like what?”, I barked.
“Being locked up for being gay for instance and, did you know, that there are penalties for unmarried women who give birth in the UAE?”
“You’re joking? Oh my God, that’s barbaric. Even in the 50s era of Call the Midwife they’d have turned a blind eye to that, or at least only raised their finely tweezed eyebrows. I’d have to…” and my voice trailed off. The penny dropped. We won’t be going to live in the United Arab Emirates any time soon.
My heart still feels heavy though. It’s awful saying farewell to friends, even if they do bequeath you a bicycle and washing machine when they go. What the hell I’m to do with a hostess trolley though God alone knows.
“I thought you’d love it” said Hubby as he lugged it from the boot the week before.
“Why? Why on earth would you think I’d love a hostess trolley that only someone with the social aspirations of Margot Ledbetter could possibly covet?”
“It might come in handy” said Hubby with a finality that I wasn’t going to argue with and, since then, it has been hidden in the corner of the hallway, used as a dumping ground for winter coats and book bags.
The objects handed to us didn’t stop at white goods and 1970s dinner party accoutrements; indeed they extended to livestock and now, apart from five children, three cats, two dead goldfish that have yet to be removed from their orb and a golden retriever, I am now the foster mother to a rather charming cross bred Yorkshire terrier type dog, but, as he was found on the roadside in Italy over 12 years ago then the possibility of him having any Yorkshire provenance is slim indeed.
I patted the little feller, who seems to look continually expectant. Not in a pregnant way. Obviously. But in a ‘my master will be back any moment now’ way and every time the doorbell rings, he scurries to the door and yaps at it. Once I opened the door to receive a parcel from the postman.
“Your dog alright?” he asked me quizzically.
“Er, fine”, I replied, “why?”
“Have you had him neutered recently?”
“Er, no, why?”
“His voice has gone terribly high”. I let the little dog peep around the door frame.
“Oh!”, laughed the postman, “I see” and off he went, chuckling. Did he honestly think that golden retrievers become like castrati after they’re neutered and bark in a higher register?
The dog looked at me now from under his fluffy little fringe as if wanting an explanation.
“It’s unsettling isn’t it mate?”, I said to him, “But, we have to take it on the chin. Your master has left and my Commander will be the next to go. It’s called the ebb and flow of life”. He seemed to understand because he flopped down on the rug with a very world weary sigh and, pulling a recently abandoned fleece blanket over his head with his little teeth, hid under it. His actions spoke louder than words. It is his refuge, his comfort blanket. The alchemy of cake batter has become mine. Pulling a blanket over my head seems preferable though. One can become invisible and there is far less washing up to do.

"Yes Chef!"

Were it not for the fact that the work I do is unpaid or badly paid, I would be more than happy. It was, whilst cycling through the town that it dawned on me that I cannot ever again work where there are rules to be followed and a line to be towed. This epiphany came as I rather appositely freewheeled downhill. There was no denying it though, and the truth was suddenly as crystal clear as the ice on the road that I narrowly avoided.
My childhood came to me in flashbacks. I was asked to leave the Brownies and subsequently the Girl Guides due to my disruptive influence on the pack. Sunday school was the bane of my life on a Sunday afternoon; an hour and a half of peace and quiet for my parents meant an hour and a half of head-aches and debate for the elderly and very grave deacons of my chapel, who felt it was their duty to drill into me the word of God.
“How do we know that for sure?" I would ask.
“Because it is written in the Bible”, they would answer.
“How can you believe a book that has been written by various contributors thousands of years ago? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
I questioned the existence of The Garden of Eden; Moses and the parting of the sea, Noah and his improbable Ark.
“As various animals exist on various continents, how on earth did they muster them together on one big boat just before it started drizzling?”
Job, Thomas, Zacheus, Lazarus and so on. Had the deacons taken the time, if only for a moment to say to me:
“Well, we are not exactly sure of the source of the gospel, but how about we accept them as metaphors for how to live a Christian life? Would you be prepared to accept that?”
If they had said, “For instance, if we took Noah as a metaphor for looking out for our planet and fellow creatures, so that in time of war, or man’s brutality or natural disaster, the fact that we have cared for and nurtured our beasts might mean we can avoid their extinction”, would have made sense to me. I would have accepted that God might have had a hand to play in it too. As it was they never did and I was forced to accept their doctrine and it took years before God and I were on speaking terms again. The deacons were extremely relieved when I got to sixteen and told my mother in no uncertain terms that I had ‘done’ with Sunday school and would not be going back.
It was the same at school, I found it hard just to sit there and absorb stuff. If I didn’t understand it at all, like maths and chemistry, I would gaze out of the window and day dream; if it was English, History or Drama then I had a better time. Although I still needed clarification, the teachers of these subjects were more adept at exploiting my creative bent and set me to work writing essays, plays, poems and stories. It was easier for them that way too. The funny thing is I was never rude and impertinent; never swore or rebelled; didn’t hang out with the bad girls, didn’t smoke, barely had sex before marriage, was nice to my mother and passed my exams. To all intents and purposes, I looked normal. Conservative even. Certainly conventional.
It has taken me forty six and a half years to realise that I am none of the above. I find it really hard to follow the herd if I think the herd is going in the wrong direction. Rules, whilst I would never deliberately go about sabotaging them, I find, must be weighed up and considered carefully before blithely following. The rest of the world though, in my experience, does not think like this. This is why they are successful at work and I am not. There is no place for me inside the machine of a big corporation whether it is teaching or commerce. At some point or other, I will ask, as I did of the deacons, “Why? It doesn’t make sense. It is in fact, absurd.”
I have come across other people who think as I do and they are self-employed. All of them, without exception. My uncle Dave is one of them and he knows a kindred spirit when he sees one and so the week that has just passed has seen me sojourn into the world of that as a chef. Uncle Dave went skiing and left me in charge of his restaurant. There are certain rules that apply here that make perfect sense. Food safety, the dangers of cross contamination, cleaning thoroughly etc., etc. However, I was not watched and surveilled as I worked. I didn’t have to serve so many customers per minute or be penalised, nor did I have to offer the customers extras when they most certainly didn’t want them. Lamb shank? Coming up. Hunters chicken? Of course. Steak? ‘How would you like it cooked?’ was as far as the customers were interrogated. Not, “have you considered a sauce with your steak?”, “Would you like extra onions rings? Only one pound extra?”
Whilst in the kitchen before service I whizzed up, with some superfluous mushrooms, a soup in the same name, whipped up a pavlova that would have reduced Nigella to envious tears and my Yorkshire Puddings were the most miraculous things to rise since, well, Lazarus. I felt the freedom I’d experienced freewheeling down the frosty hill. Sod the chocolate that led to my undoing in my previous job, here I could quaff wine as I stirred my soup. And, once I’d bought some extra strong Marigolds for the washing up, I loved every minute. It seems to me that ‘independently owned’ is as much a mind-set as it is a small business.

Winds of Change

“I can feel a wind of change”, I sighed uneasily. Hubby took the book out of my hands.
“You always get weird when you read a classic novel. It’s fiction Alice. Not real life”.
“I wasn’t talking about the book you idiot; I’ve just been thinking”. Hubby held his breath. It was late. He’d just wanted to go to sleep and now, here he was, trapped with me in one of my reflective reposes. Hubby realised that sleep would elude him unless he made a decision, quickly. So, should he insist that I keep my inner thoughts to myself, thus taking the risk of me disregarding his request and continue in the dark, to talk, disturbing his sleep, or, give in and give me his full attention, thereby allowing me to get whatever wind of change I felt was occurring off my chest immediately and briskly, allowing him to sleep in a few minutes or so?
His dilemma was, he had no idea what I was referring to and therefore couldn’t gauge how much undivided attention he would have to afford me. He hedged his bets and snuggled up to me, reaching over and switching off the light.
“Alice, the world is in constant flux. However it is the weather and Wuthering Heights that will have enhanced your feelings of apprehension. Take it from me, the bleak Yorkshire Moors, the brooding sexuality of the passionate Heathcliff combined with a distinct change in climate will be the culprit for your disposition”.
“I wasn’t aware that you’d read Wuthering Heights”, I said, somewhat surprised by his knowledge of 18th Century heartthrobs.
“I haven’t, but I’ve always had a thing for Kate Bush and all I needed to know about the antics of Cathy and Heathcliff, Kate told me in her lyrics.” And then he started to sing:
“Bad dreams in the night/ They told me I was going to lose the fight…My God, I’ve just realised how prophetic Kate Bush was”.
I elbowed him in the ribs.
“Well it’s true. All I want to do is sleep and I can see that I’m going to lose the fight”. I joined the refrain.
“Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home/ I’m so cold, let me in your wind-how-how-wow”
“Oh it gets dark, it gets lonely/ On the other side of you..” Hubby sang.
“Ooh let me have it, let me grab your soul away”, I joined.
“I pine a lot, I find the lot/Falls through with-hout yoo-hooo”, but by this time Hubby was sitting up in bed pretending to be Kate Bush, eyes wide, stare-y expression, fingers splayed in front of his face as I hummed the chorus, flinging my hair about. Hubby got on top of the duvet and straddled me. Naked as nature intended I doubt it was a pretty sight but we didn’t care. We were on Top of the Pops circa 1978.
Suddenly our performance was illuminated and we both stopped mid wail by the sharp intake of breath which emanated from our 16 year old daughter’s lips. Our 16 year old daughter who was now standing by our bed, her hands over her eyes.
“Oh my God you are disgusting!” she exclaimed.
“No we’re not”, retorted Hubby, “We’re Cathy and Heathcliff, your mother is the jealous yin to my passionate yang”.
Our daughter shuddered, “Like I said, disgusting” and she turned on her heels and fled.
Hubby smiled and leant over and kissed me, “So Cathy”, he said, a steely glint in his eye, “Is your yin receptive to my yang?”
I pushed him off. “You can keep your yang well out of this”, I replied, firmly, thrusting a pillow between us.
“Spoil sport” replied Hubby huffily.
I kissed his shoulder, “Seriously, Charlotte Bronte not withstanding, change is in the air and it’s leaving me feeling nervous”. Hubby gave up, rolled back towards me and put me in the crook of his arm.
“Alice, sweetheart, if I must, I will quote yet another iconic pop artist, non other than the great Bob Dylan..”
“Times they are a changin’?” I proffered.
“Exactly”, replied Hubby.
“But I want things to stay the same; I don’t want the upheaval of changing times” and then I said it, “Please don’t go. Don’t go away from us again. I can’t bear it” I could hear his breathing being suspended.
“Alice love…”
“Everything will change”, I continued before he had a chance to try and placate me, “Everything. Our social lives, our domestic lives, our working lives. It will affect the lives of our children. Hell even that of the dog”
“He can come with me”.
I sat bolt upright. “Is that all you have to say? I am declaring my misery to you; my fear at being once again an abandoned Navy wife and you reassure me that the dog will be ok because he’ll have you? Your wife and kids bloody well won’t, but hey, don’t worry, the dog will be fine”. I was shouting now.
“Alice, please, don’t. It’s late. There is nothing we can do about it. After all these years you should be used to life in a blue suit. I will commute as I have before. You will get used to it. You will get into a routine. I am not going to sea and I am not going to war”.
That silenced me of course. Took the wind out of my sails immediately. We lay together in the dark, each too caught up in our thoughts to dare articulate them. It was time for damage limitation.
I fumbled around under the duvet searching for his hand and retreated my hand immediately as though electrocuted. He rolled towards me.
“I knew it” he murmured into my ear, “I knew you’d find my yang irresistible”.

My Family and Other Animals

We were at our local restaurant. A family affair. A bit of a do as they say, to celebrate our third child’s 10th birthday. I was a nervous wreck. These relatives are relatively bonkers.
“Slow down on the wine, you lush”, hissed Hubby into my ear, “I’ve only got twenty quid cash on me”.
“What else is there?”, I hissed back, “hard drugs are not an option, smoking is prohibited indoors and Boots is shut for some prescription drugs. Wine is the only way.”
The kids squabbled across the dining table; a bottle of J2O was capsized. A teenager was busy describing it on Facebook, the other two were arguing over who had the control of the TV controls that night; Dad thankfully, had left his hearing aids at home and so sat amongst the throng looking quietly bemused.
Other members of the family looked on, their own child sitting at the top of the table with its hands folded nicely in its lap.
“Would you like a J2O as well love?” asked my father of it. It looked to its mother.
“May I mummy please?”
“No darling, you may not I’m afraid. J2Os are full of sugar and therefore are not only really, really bad for your teeth but they will also spoil your appetite”.
“Then no thank-you”, it said to my dad, “Mummy is quite right, I’d better not. Please may I have some water instead?”
I took another large swig of chenin blanc. I’d have killed for a fag.
My youngest daughters were by now, having had as much fun as is possible with a bottle of J2O and a bendy straw, bored and fidgety.
“When will my dinner be here?” asked the Red-Head, “This is really boring”.
“I know”, said her newly reached, 10 year old sister, “Let’s show them our dance routine”. I took another swig and gulped.
My cousin looked animated, “Of course, you go to ballet don’t you? Please show us your steps”.
There is a book out at the moment called “French Children Don’t Throw Food”. Apparently it’s about how the French rear their offspring and why French kids know how to behave in restaurants and British kids to not. No doubt my cousin had swotted up on it. I was desperate to download it onto my Kindle then and there and sneak off to the lav to read it and pick up some emergency tips but it was already too late. As the perfect cousin sat at the top of the table sipping iced water demurely, my two, far from feeling self conscious in a packed restaurant, got up from their seats and did their routine.
Perhaps my cousin thought she was going to witness two little girls teeter around on their tippy toes, for all the world as if their were in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, by God, she was in for a surprise.
First they revved up their arms, then, Jimmy Hendrix style, played air guitar, there then followed a routine which would have made Pan’s People blush. I didn’t know where to look. Hubby lifted the menu up to his face as though he had suddenly become as blind as a bat; my teenagers turned their backs on them; Dad loyally clapped and the rest of the family looked on agog. Literally, their mouths were hanging open.
The perfect child uttered, with what can only be described as shock and awe, “Is that what you call sexy mummy?”.
“Where on earth did you hear such an appalling expression?”, countered the mother on it whilst simultaneously glaring at me.
“Yes. It is sexy isn’t it?” asked the Red-Head, “We’ve been practising” and she beamed, absolutely delighted with herself.
“Would you like to see another dance?” asked the Birthday girl, but I grabbed her arm just before she launched into ‘My humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps’ . The waitress also appeared, just in the nick of time. I’d never been happier to see a plate of chicken teddies.
My cousin wrinkled up her face.
“We’ve never allowed processed food”, she said. Her husband squeezed her hand and smiled at her appreciatively.
I was about to retort but Hubby kicked me under the table. He was right of course. She’d made up her mind about us a while ago and any protestations that my kids hardly ever eat chicken teddies would only be seen as ‘methinks my cousin doth protest too much’. Dad handed me another glass of wine.
Perfect’s food was brought next: a baked potato, no butter, salad and tuna, no mayonnaise.
“Pass me the ketchup please?” asked the Red-Head, “Do you want ketchup to brighten up your food?” she asked of her cousin.
It shook its head, “Mummy says ketchup is poisonous, don’t you mummy?”.
For a fleeting moment ‘mummy’ looked a little discomfited, until the Red-Head, amidst much farty noises from the plastic bottle, squeezed a big blob of scarlet goo onto Perfect’s plate, wherein, it started to holler and scream and demand that the poison be removed from its plate.
Hubby sighed heavily into a mouthful of mushroom omelette and even dad’s shoulders slumped and neighbouring diners tutted. Luckily, the waitress brought over a clean plate, briskly transferred the untainted food onto it, calm was restored and I allowed myself to breathe again.
In bed later, discussing the events of the evening with Hubby, we remembered the sorrowful expression on poor little Perfect’s face as its cousins tucked into shop-bought, candy pink birthday cake as it dolefully picked at a little box of organic raisins. This expression was soon to be replaced by one of anguish as one of the raisins was ingested instead of chewed and the poor mite started to choke.
Dad pushed the table aside, grabbed the child, tipped it upside down and thumped its back. The offending raisin shot out from its gullet and a collective sigh of relief was heard across the restaurant.
“Raisins seem to be a lot more poisonous than ketchup don’t they?” the Red-Head had asked.