Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Real World Sucks.

I had to wash that job right out of my hair and send it on its way. Time to reassess and lick my wounds and forget all about corporate bullies and petty rules. Idling my time away in a long queue for the Torpoint Ferry one day, I played with my phone. Having checked all my friends’ Facebook statuses, my emails and my messages my digits turned to Google. A dangerous place for all sorts of reasons, none of which are applicable here unless you subscribe to Hubby’s point of view and consider any type of holiday the work of the devil.
Months ago I had promised my two youngest daughters, once my job came to an end, an adventure to London, on the premise that we could do it in winter before school was fully back in the swing of things. So, sitting on the ferry that morning, I Googled ‘Travelodge’ and unbeknownst to me, there was a sale on. A three night stay at the Travelodge in Covent Garden was £19 per night, per room. Good grief, one can’t even park in the centre of London for that price. Breakfast was just over six pounds with two children eating free with one paying adult. A latte and two muffins in the piazza at Covent Garden would cost more than that. I was about to press ‘Book’ when the Libran in me took over. I had to weigh up the pros and cons; how would I travel? When should I go? Would we fit in a show? Could the other kids do without me for a few days?
I rang Mags. She, like most other people of my age was at work and clearly busy.
“Mmm?” she asked absently.
“Mags. It’s me. Alice”
“I can see that on my phone. What do you want?” I could hear her tapping at her computer; by any stretch of my imagination I did not have her full attention.
“I was thinking of going to London”.
“Mmhmm (then in a loud, stage whisper – ‘Thanks John, I’ll have an Americano. Cold, skimmed’) and when were you thinking of going to London and with whom?”
“Brad Bloody Pitt”.
“Now you are just being silly.”
“The kids”.
“What? All of them?” she asked.
“No, the youngest two”.
“Sounds fun. Thanks John. Yes of course, well he should, we contacted him yesterday. It’ll be on the ISBN file. Ask Charlotte to look it up..”. I waited.
“Ahem”, I said finally, having now driven off the ferry and pulled over on the Devonport side.
“Sorry Alice. Things are a little manic here at the mo. I’ll call in on the way home. Chill some Prosecco and we’ll discuss London at length” and she hung up. I didn’t have time to wait all day; the sale rooms would be sold out. Instead I brought the website up once more on my phone and pressed ‘Book’. I entered in my bank details and within seconds it was all confirmed. We were going on Sunday.
I drove as far as Ealing and left the car outside the house of a very old friend then took a tube and into the bowels of London we sank. The girls were very excited, more so when we reached the enormous hotel which dwarfed the surrounding buildings. The lift and the credit card style key elicited even more delight as did the flat screen TV and pull out trundle bed.
“Come on then, let’s go and explore”. It was beginning to get dark and, as we approached Leicester Square we could see a crowd gathered and quite a commotion. I wasn’t too sure what to expect as the girls jostled their way through the throng, nothing ghastly I prayed. Nothing of the sort. It transpired that it was the premiere of the film ‘War Horse’ and directly in front of us, as we emerged like blinking rabbits from the crowd, was the radiant beauty that is Kate Middleton. My girls both took a sharp intake of breath simultaneously. Being up close and personal with a princess is surely what being in London is all about. We waved and smiled and she waved and smiled before being whisked away to Princessland.
“Well how about that?” I beamed.
We ate our dim sum in China town later chatting furiously about all the things we’d already seen.
“What would you like to do tomorrow”, I asked slurping my noodles.
“Can we go to the Eifel Tower?” asked the Red-Head absent mindedly, focussing her efforts on her chop-sticks and pork dumpling. Her nine year old sister glanced at me and we rolled our eyes to heaven in despair.
Funnily enough we didn’t go to the Eifel Tower the following day but we did however go to the Museum of London, rode several red double-deckers, ice-skated at Somerset House and tried on ludicrously priced children’s clothes in Harrods. I have a rather disturbing picture of my nine year old in a pair of six inch, blue, suede, Jimmy Choos thinking she is the dog’s whatsits.
The following morning, fortified at breakfast, having had the best fun ever and made several rounds of toast in the conveyer belt style toasting machine, we walked miles and miles and miles and, as we watched the changing of the guards outside Buckingham Palace the Red-Head came out with another corker, “Are they German soldiers mummy?”
That night, the piece de resistance was to see Matilda the Musical – courtesy of my very generous dad. It was magical theatre, made even more special by the Red-Head’s insistence that we go autograph hunting at the stage door. The father of the girl who plays Lavender was waiting there too and he made sure that every member of the cast signed my daughter’s programme. It was the icing on a very thrilling, metropolitan cake.
This morning I awoke to face the real world. Laundry, school, unemployment. The Real World is nowhere near as much fun.


As yet another year bites the dust, so does yet another career. Ok, so a temping Christmas job hardly constitutes a career, but I have been told that, due to my ‘misconduct’, I cannot ever again be considered for re-employment by the shop in which I worked for the past seven weeks, so in effect, any career in retail is a non-starter.
Misconduct. What would the average Joe, shopping in one of the UK’s most famous store, consider to be misconduct? One’s hand in the till? Nicking things off the shop floor? Telling a belligerent customer where to stuff their fat butt?
None of these transgressions applied to me thank God and even though there were times when I most certainly didn’t want to be there, like dawn on Boxing Day, I somehow, as did my colleagues, managed to smile between gritted teeth, apologise for the long queue and check the customer had the correct size (so many of the hangers are erroneous), and asking if the Sir/Madam will be using the store’s credit card. If not, why not? It has many advantages and so on and so on. Failure to ask if they will be using their store card results in disciplinary action, just ask one of my colleagues.
I also made small talk with many of the customers, went the extra yard in helping them and held their hands or even had a full on cuddle with many who were suffering for all number of reasons. Customer service was the best part of the job. As a customer in my own time I had the odd run in with colleagues on other floors that were a little more obdurate in their methods than I was. Their losing the order form for my turkey caused me great consternation and it was only after the fourth day of my asking when I would receive it and naturally being rather unimpressed with being fobbed off, did I actually have it handed to me, by which time I was apparently ‘rude’. I was most certainly disgruntled.
I was also slightly aggrieved when, on attempting to reserve a coat for Hubby, the customer assistant was unprepared to assist me. She wasn’t allowed to apparently.
“Why not?”, I asked, perplexed. I knew the lay out of the screen that she had in front of her and how to sort out customer reservations.
“You are only allowed to reserve it for 24 hours”, was the reply. Funny that as I’d had a demonstration by one of the managers on my second day on how to precisely change the reservation date on an item to make life a little more convenient for the customer. Anyway, whilst the above may have been instrumental in making a name for myself, I continued to make friendships with other staff members, enjoyed a Christmas staff do and take pride in several members of the public thanking me for my help.
So, why then would I receive a message to visit call the managers office and, a few days later would the same subject be brought up at my ‘exit’ interview wherein I was given the ignominious news that I wasn’t fit to be a shop girl comprise of?
It goes like this. A couple of days before Christmas, the shop in which I worked provided a space for a local, severely disabled war hero to raise funds and awareness for the charity he now works for having left the Royal Marines. He and his colleagues were selling calendars, had collection boxes and were also handing out key fobs and chocolates. As I was adjacent to them in my green, beauty queen sash, meeting and greeting customers at the top of the first floor escalator, I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with the chap in question who explained how he had received his appalling injuries. As a military wife it was deeply shocking. He was flanked by tall, stately Royal Marine veterans proudly wearing their berets and medals. It being Christmas and far from home in Wales, they were happy to talk and offered me a chocolate.
“I’d better not”, I replied shaking my head, “It’s against the rules”.
“Go –on, please, have a chocolate. It’s Christmas!”, one insisted. The injured marine also implored me and so, smiling and thanking them all, I popped a tiny, bite-sized Bounty bar into my mouth and let it melt. And that’s it. The sum total of my misconduct. However, I’d been clocked by a senior, female, fellow colleague who later apprehended me and rebuked me for eating the chocolate.
A week later I was hauled over the coals and had to sign a letter admitting to and agreeing to my misconduct. “This is absurd”, I objected but they were deadly serious. My misconduct had been asterisked – it was as though I’d transgressed one of the Ten Commandments with an 11th written especially for me ‘Thou shalt not chew gum, nor suck sweets on the shop floor’.
“I know that”, I said to one of the many managers, “I do not need to be told this but, one has to be judicious and I accepted the chocolate in the spirit in which it was offered”. I’d have liked to have added ‘to have done otherwise would have been far more damaging to your reputation’ but I was infuriatingly, in tears by now and my vocabulary was distinctly limited although I did try to articulate the inexpressible pettiness and absurdity of the situation but my protestations were seen as aggressive. So, there you have it, ‘chocolate-gate’ was my undoing in my short and appositely metaphoric, shelf life.
There was a tv programme on years ago called ‘In At the Deep End’ which featured Paul Heiney and Chris Searle attempting new jobs every so many weeks. If anyone has any similar bright ideas for ‘Alice Band: All At Sea’, do get in get touch. I’ve nothing to lose.

You Can Keep Your Capitalism.

With the exception of Third World Country sweat shops. Obviously. Working on Boxing Day must be one of the most soul destroying jobs on earth. By the time Christmas night arrived I was already agitated and unable to relax because of the prospect of getting up so early. Downton Abbey was taped for me and I went to bed well before any other members of my family. The following morning as the alarm sounded at 4.45am, Hubby gave me a ‘There, there’ tap on my bottom as I hauled my body from under my gorgeously warm duvet, then mumbling “See you later”, he rolled over and went back to snoring. I sighed as I pulled my socks on in the dark. This really was the pits.
It’s not as if I were a doctor or nurse or indeed anyone with a worthwhile job with the satisfaction of knowing one was making a difference to someone’s life. Whereas I? I was just going off to work in a shop to take more money off senseless people who had probably spent more than enough already recently.
I tiptoed downstairs in the dark and was surprised to stand in something warm and squidgy. I grappled for the light, let my eyes adjust, looked down and then groaned in disgust. The dog hung his head in shame. Poor sod. It wasn’t his fault. The rather rhythmic and frequent farting the night before should have been a warning of things to come. I told Hubby not to give him the leftovers. The dog’s tummy is only used to dry dog food; it is no wonder then that it found turkey, sprouts and Christmas Pudding intolerable. Hell, most of the humans in the house were sitting in their own cloud of noxious fumes. There was no hope for the dog. I peeled off my sock and walked on my heels into the kitchen, lifted the lid on the Addis bin and chucked the sock inside it. Then I gave the dog a jolly big cuddle, just to let him know there were no hard feelings and then went about cleaning the carpet and my foot. Ten minutes later, after scrubbing with kitchen paper, Oust and Fabreze, both carpet and foot were shiny, clean and sweet smelling and there was no evidence to suggest that my dog had suffered chronic, Christmas incontinence.
I removed a fresh pair of socks from the tumble dryer. That’s another thing. Having to put a wash on on Christmas day was not very festive, but without which I wouldn’t have had a polyester uniform to wear to work. I then put a layer of cling film over a mug of tea, a slice of toast into an envelope of kitchen paper and got into the car; two minutes later and I was parked on the Torpoint ferry feeling very sorry for myself indeed.
If I was feeling sorry for myself though, God alone knows how the little children who were being dragged around Drake Circus shopping mall at 6am were feeling. It was all I could do to stop myself from going up to their mothers’ and demanding to know what on earth they were thinking. The children I saw ranged from babes in arms, to toddlers in pushchairs to five year olds, who, with eyes as big as saucers as it was so early and I’d like to think after an exciting day the day before, were being dragged, bottom lip quivering, by the arm by fierce mothers, hell bent on acquiring a bloody bargain.
I was appalled. How on earth was I going to do my job? How on earth was I going to give excellent customer service when I resented each and every customer? I can vividly remember how shocked I was when we lived in America and the whole huge business of being America never seemed to pause for an instant. The shops never shut, the tv never closed down, transport kept chugging, schools barely took a break. I remember seeing Tigger being killed in a parade at Disney World and someone else getting into his costume and the show just going on. I remember driving past a bank open for business on Good Friday and thinking to myself, ‘It won’t be long before it’s the same at home’. Mark my words, I’ll bet within a decade the shops will be open here on Christmas Day.
Nothing could have prepared me for the number of people who came through our shop doors on Boxing Day though. Well, they didn’t come in, they ran. And piled their trolleys high as if Dale Winton were lashing them in a frenzied, festive edition of Supermarket Sweep. It was, quite honestly, rather unnerving. People seemed to have a look in their eye that suggested they were unhinged. One woman emptied two large trolleys onto my counter whilst beside her, her little girl with big puffy eyes stared up at me. In one hand was brand new, shiny, Barbie doll, in the other, a family sized tube of pink Smarties. Most of the pink colouring decorated her face. She looked a very sorry little mite. She should have been in her bed in her new pyjamas, waiting to get up soon to play with undoubtedly the very expensive presents that she’d unwrapped only the day before.
Behind me a battle broke out over a beige blouse. Two women tore over it. It was a situation only King Soloman could have handled. “Someone is going to get hurt”, said one bystander rather prophetically. I returned home to the news that in London, a young man had been stabbed to death over a trainer.
At the staff briefing today the manager told us that trading on Boxing Day was a huge commercial success and that they’ll be doing it again next year. They can fill their boots. I only have two shifts left. I’ll raise a glass to that. Happy 2012!

Time of Life.

I sat Hubby down with a stiff drink.
“I’ve got something to tell you”, I said, holding in my hand what looked exactly like, a pregnancy test.
If ashen is descriptive of a complexion devoid of colour, then it does not accurately describe Hubby’s waxen skin tone.
“Alice. What. The. Hell. Is. That?” his voice was staccato, and bizarrely soundless, as if he had lost the ability to speak coherently.
“This, my love, is a menopause test. It is in fact a complete antithesis to my previous pregnancy tests which were indications of my fruitful, fertilized loins. This, however faint a line” and I demonstrated to him the line in question which was spitefully presenting itself in the positive, plastic square window, where only a few years ago, it had told us that we were once again about to be parents, “is proof positive that I am officially getting old”.
His relief was palpable; he was immediately cheery and downed his drink in one.
“Is that all?” and he laughed uproariously, “Oh, ah, ha-ha, ha-ha”. I was not amused.
“’Is that all’ you ask? Is that all you have to say to me? All these decades there has been a monthly, if at times inconvenient, reminder of my fertile femininity and now it is apparently on the wane. No fanfare, no thanks for the good times. Not so much as a, by your leave”.
“But that’s a good thing isn’t it?”, asked Hubby, pouring himself another, seemingly celebratory, drink, “You can do as you wish now and not worry”.
“Worry about what?” I asked.
“Well, for a start you can go swimming whenever you feel like it”.
“I’m not Sharron Davies for God’s sake. I’m not in the pool at the crack of dawn on a daily basis, only to be stymied once a month by my…”.
“Ok, Alice, I get the picture, you don’t need to spell it out in black and white”.
“Aren’t you at all concerned?” I asked him, most indignant that a significant milestone in my life as a woman was being trifled with.
“Concerned about what?”
“Well, it’s not meant to be plain sailing you know? I could become moody”. Hubby at this juncture, raised his eyebrows rather suggestively and most irritatingly.
“Ha, ha, very funny. I am not a moody woman. But the menopause is meant to make you collide with an emotional wall. Tears regularly, you know that sort of thing, because the finality that I can no longer bear children can apparently, drive me insane”.
“Alice, face it. The kids have been driving you insane for a long time. In fact I would go so far as to say that you have not been able to bear children for years already.”
It was hopeless talking to him about it. Hubby obviously couldn’t empathise, but I thought at the very least he’d be a little more sympathetic. I dealt him a trump card.
“It’s meant to make me go off sex”.
“In that case you should have done that test years ago. You’ve obviously been menopausal for a lot longer that you give your womb credit for.” I stormed upstairs as moodily as I could muster, just to prove a point that if living with me had been challenging before, then he didn’t know what was going to hit him. I threw myself on my bed and rang Mags.
“Merry Christmas!”, she carolled down the phone.
“Bah, humbug”, I replied.
“What the hell is wrong with you, oh domestic Christmas goddess? If you aren’t Christmassy Alice, what hope in hell have we mere mortals?”
“I am officially old”. And I explained the positive menopause test. I could hear the water running from her kitchen taps.
“I’m just washing my hands”, she explained, “I was in the middle of making sodding sausage rolls. Right”, she added, obviously having made herself comfortable, “Tell me more”.
“There is nothing more to tell”.
“Well then, why did you do the test in the first place?”
“Things weren’t as regular if you get my drift”.
“For God’s sake Alice, we are grown and now it seems, officially old women, do you still need to talk about this euphemistically?”.
“Not really I suppose, but perhaps it goes with the territory. Perhaps I will begin to speak like an old lady now and find things ‘rude’ and keep a budgie and start taking a keen interest in my herbaceous borders.” Bloody hell, I’d just remembered that I’d just bought a Perry Como CD. The writing had been on the wall.
“Alice if it is really, genuinely true and not a duff test, try and remember the good bits of being old. About wearing a purple and a clashing red hat and not giving a hoot and making a noise to make up for the sobriety of your youth. Old age is not a time to sit back and wither and wane. It is a time to rage, rage against the dying of the night”.
“Very poetic. Jenny Joseph and Dylan Tomas in the same breath”.
“You know what I mean; old age is a state of mind”.
“Like osteoporosis and facial hair?”
“Exactly. Come on Alice. It’s Christmas Eve. You have five gorgeous children, a delicious husband, a dad, an uncle, a brother, sister in law, niece and nephew depending on you to provide them tomorrow with all their hearts desires. Not to mention that in a few hours time my family, as well as scores of others will be walking through your front door expecting the annual Family Band eat, drink and be merry Christmas Eve party. Now turn the wireless up and get on with it”.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll do just that. Merry Christmas xxxxx

Bloody Good Eggs.

I met Mags for a coffee during one of my breaks. I was not a happy bunny. Mags was consulting a Christmas list and I knew that I did not have her full attention and boy, did I need some attention.
“Will you listen to me please?” I asked her, “Or I’ll get up from here in a right huff”.
“Sure”, she said, ticking off the people she’d bought presents for.
“Talk to me!”, I said, rather more loudly than I’d have preferred, given that those around me thought I was addressing them and more than one, who had their hazelnut lattes raised to their lips, placed them back in their saucers. I lowered my voice.
“Mags, please, I’ve only got half an hour and I have a lot to say.” She finally got the hint and folded her list and put it in carefully back in her handbag.
“Ok”, she said, “I’m all yours. Spill the beans”.
“Well, I um, am cheesed off”.
“Go on”, Mags replied, her chin resting on her hand which was resting on the café’s table, her eyes and face so serious and intense that she reminded me of a psycho-analytic therapist and I had to laugh.
“Bloody hell Mags, it’s not that bad, I just want someone to ‘drip over’ as my dear husband would say”.
“Drip away”, she said.
“Well, you know this ongoing debacle that we’ve had with the Christmas trees?”
“Of course I know about it Alice. I have dined out several times on the story that my best friend has managed to get herself banned from a Christmas tree nursery!”
“Yes, well, and you know that we need really tall trees, because, well ,that was the tradition we started with when we moved into our house and now the youngest children obviously don’t think it’s really Christmas unless we adorn both hallway and sitting room with 14 foot trees”.
“But they look magical”, she added.
“That’s the point. Of course, it costs a lot of money and all that but, as we don’t go in for ludicrously expensive gifts, then I like to still indulge them with the trees”.
“So what are you going to do?”
“Well, I’ve Googled tall trees and unless I want a couple shipped from Norway, then I’m out like trout. It’s almost Christmas Mags and we don’t have so much have a bloody card up. It’s not exactly festive.”
“I see where this conversation is going”, said Mags, her face now covered with her hands.
“The thing is I may as well get hold of a menorah at this rate and celebrate Hanukkah.”
“Oy vey”, quipped Mags.
“I think it would be rather lovely to be honest. I like the idea of the miracle of olive oil.”
“The Jews were having a tough time of it and there was only enough olive oil to light a lamp for one night, but, miraculously, it lasted for eight days, until new supplies could be found. That’s what Hanukkah is all about”.
“Well I never. Not exactly a virgin birth though is it?”
“Mags!”, I was horrified, “For God’s sake!”
“Well it’s true!”
“They are completely different scenarios. I wasn’t making a comparison between which religion has the best miracles for crying out loud”. Mags looked suitably mortified.
“Besides”, I said, “I’m sure that if I went on that, Who Do You Think You Are programme and they did some digging into my geneaology, I think they’d find that I was Jewish”.
“Why on earth do you say that?”, asked Mags. I explained to her that as I was down-to-earth, intense and funny and pressed huge amounts of food onto any passing visitor and had a very healthy interest in my children’s private lives, then, from what I’d seen of Woody Allen films, Jewish mothers and I have a lot in common .
“Anyway”, I went on, “whether I am Jewish or not, it does not help with the tree situation and I wondered, dear sweet Mags, as they recognise us, if we have your kids for a couple of hours, whether you and your beloved husband would go undercover and buy two trees on our behalf?”. It goes without saying that she agreed to the terms of the espionage I had planned even if I had to bribe her with a glass or two of mulled wine when she and her husband returned: mission accomplished. I went back to work, relieved that within the next day or so, trees, fairy lights, Lilliput villages and other such festive décor would indeed trim our house from the coving to the carpet.
I did not however,account for apocalyptic weather. They were turned away on the first attempt due to severe gale force winds and on the second attempt there was no-one there due to the aforementioned conditions. By the third attempt my children had stopped being excited; Mag’s boys were no longer a novelty and I believe that they never thought they’d see a tree this side of Valentine’s Day. On the third attempt, when it was yet again pouring with rain and blowing a hoolie; when the skies where pitch dark and most normal people were in front of the fire, Mags and her husband opened our front door and, dripping wet, lugged two, vast , comedy trees through our house.
“Oh. My. God”, I said. The girls squealed, the dog went mental, the cats hissed and Hubby went pale.
“Two Christmas trees, duly delivered”. There were pine needles sticking in Mag’s usually sleek coiffure, her cheeks were red and her hands filthy, her husband’s glasses needed miniature windscreen wipers, his nose was dripping as was his scarf and Barbour.
When your friends go out in a storm for you to make you and your kids happy, whether you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or Diwali it matters not a jot; what does matter stood shivering in our hallway. “ To our best friends”, toasted Hubby. Hear, hear.


The excitement was without bounds on the 1st of December . Five children, two small, one sixteen year old and two, in the eyes of the law at least, if no-one else’s, officially adults - impatient to undo the little perforated windows and dig out a chocolate behind the flaps of their advent calendars.
“Mummy, I’ve got three advent calendars to open” said the Red-Head.
“So have I”, screeched the nine year old.
“I’ve only got one”, said the 16 year old in dismay.
“Me too”, said the 19 year old.
“Me too”, said the 18 year old. I was beginning to empathise with The Little Red Hen.
“You big kids only have one because I bought you all one each -with your names iced on them. Rellies have sent one each to the girls and a benevolent God-mother has given one to your youngest sister, her God-child and, as the other one is only nine, I felt it incumbent to fill the wooden advent calendar with choccies so that she wouldn’t feel left out.”.
“But we feel left out?”, they refrained.
“Deal with it”, was my rather abrupt reply.
“Don’t you have an advent calendar Mummy?”, asked the Red-Head, chocolate already coating the outside of her mouth.
“Yes”, said my son, “It’s called Citalopram. It’s how she counts off the days”. I sighed heavily. So my anti-depressants are now a family joke. Cheers kids.
“Hilarious”, I replied, grimly, “As a matter of fact I don’t need a daily chocolate to remind me of how many days there are left until Christmas, I can feel it”. I left it at that, I wasn’t going to explain to them what I meant. I wasn’t going to explain that the sense of hysteria as the 25th of December approaches is palpable in my shop. There are queues as far as the eye can see and in it are all and sundry. Dear old souls who have a couple of bars of soap and some bath salts to buy for an equally elderly neighbour; a woman hell bent on buying something gorgeous for herself having been ‘left’ on Valentine’s day last year and indulgent grannies buying coats and party frocks for their grand-daughters but mainly, the line is made up of frazzled women.
Hundreds and hundreds of women in all shapes, sizes and ages queuing for ages in yet another shop to provide the family with the wow factor. By the time they snake around to my till, I am all for providing them with a stiff sherry, so knackered are they. The purchases from other shops dangling heavily from their wrists, cutting through the skin – so much for retail therapy, retail suicide more like.
Every now and again a lone male pops up. Smug. Pleased as punch with himself that he’s queued with the rest of the throng. Thing is, he’s only buying a couple of things, a gift for his wife and another for his mother. Usually it’s the same thing if indeed a different colour. I find it hard not to scowl at these men. One man bought ‘the wife’ a pair of slippers.
“Do you have these in a size 5?”. We did not. “Give them to me anyway. At least it gives her something to open on Christmas Day”. What I wanted to do with the infernal slippers cannot be printed here.
Other men just feel so proud of being ‘out there’, shopping. “It earns me brownie points” say, rather depressingly, more than one or two men, “and we need to acquire as many brownie points as we can”. This statement is, more often than not, is followed by a hearty laugh.
Some men, those whose brownie points must already be either banked or indeed are now being totted up again, traipse after their wives, the Christmas pack horse, carrying the goods as ‘the wife’ pauses every few feet to sniff a soap or spray a perfume.
“This’ll be alright for Glenda won’t it?” ask the wives. The husbands merely nod, not giving a toot if Glenda gets a fragrance gift set or a tin of shortbread biscuits or indeed bugger all. Don’t you see, dear women, they don’t give a damn. We want them to; oh boy do we want them to. We want them to share the load and not just physically, but mentally too, all the infernal list making and Christmas card writing and wrapping and cooking and planning and posting and, not to put too fine a point on it, the magic making. We want them to help decorate the tree with as much smiling benevolence and loving tender glances as Bing Bloody Crosby; we want them to peel the sprouts with us in the kitchen on Christmas morning in harmonious companionship whilst from the wireless, the angelic voices of the choir boys from Kings’ College wafts in the air, blending with the scent of a roasting free range turkey. We want them to grasp our hands from time to time and every now and then catch our eye as if to say, ‘my darling, this wouldn’t be possible without you’ whilst, in another room, a parallel fantasy room, our darling children in crisp white nightgowns read their new books or play with their dollies.
It is hardly surprising then that Christmas, after all the build up and the choosing and the spending and the sheer unrelenting hard work of it all, it is such a crushing disappointment for so many, and dare I say it, the many will mostly be women. If, from what I’ve witnessed it is true that women have planned everything from the food to the cards and gifts, then Christmas morning for their men is going to be a lovely surprise both in terms of presents and what they are going to put in their bellies.
Comfort and Joy? Not for the poor bloody cow whose slippers aren’t going to fit her.

Filty weather, fishy hors d'ouevres.

“I’ll pick you up at 6pm. On the dot?”, said Hubby earlier in the morning. A few hours later after I’d finished my shift, Hubby was true to his word and was waiting for me, engine running.
“Did you remember my clothes?” I asked him, suddenly anxious that I’d have to attend this swanky bash in my polyester uniform.
“Damn, I forgot to leave my make-up out for you to bring”.
“No worries, I remembered that as well”. And he’d fed our five children, I was impressed.
“What did you cook them?”
The windscreen wipers were going like the clappers. It was a filthy night. Hubby indicated right.
“Eggs and ham”, he said absently, concentrating on negotiating the roundabout by the bombed out church. Hubby hasn’t driven through Plymouth in months, let alone in the dark and, let further alone, in the dark and rain.
“Just eggs and ham?, I asked
“Mmmm”, he answered.
“Sounds like a supper Dr Seuss would cook up”. I thought that was a quite a witty retort and I harrumphed.
“Where the hell is this road going to?” he asked out loud.
“It’s a new one”, I sighed, “Recently built”.
“Bloody hell, they could have told me. Honest to God, Plymouth is going to the dogs”. I wanted to point out that a new road, whilst causing chaos initially, was surely for the better in terms of congestion and his discombobulation was scarcely a reason to class Plymouth as a city going to the dogs, but it hardly seemed the appropriate juncture. Hubby was frowning intently and a little tic had developed in his cheek.
“Take the next right”, I instructed, “Then around the roundabout. First exit”.
Hubby eventually reached the Barbican without any further ado.
“Why are we here?” I asked.
“A friend lent me the key to their apartment so that you can get changed, or did you want to strip off in a public lavatory somewhere?” What friend? Hubby parked on the wet cobbles and I gathered my stuff from the boot, the rain dripping down my neck.
“Where do I go?”, I shouted through the driver’s window. Hubby wound the window down, ever so slightly. He evidently didn’t want to get his midnight blue, velvet jacket, even ever so slightly damp.
“See that gate?”, he asked. I peered through the rain, then nodded.
“Use this code…” and he handed me a Post-It note, “Then take the lift to the third floor, apartment number 36.” I was astonished. There is nothing that Hubby likes more, than nosing around other people’s houses, especially a posh one. Had he been here before? Oh my God. Is this where he comes for some clandestine tryst?
“Don’t be bIoody daft Alice” replied Hubby wearily, “Look you are getting wet, but FYI, I would love to come with you, however, there is no-where to bloody park and we have to be at the venue in five minutes, now get a wiggle on”. I smiled, turned on my heels and attempted a wiggle a la Marilyn Monroe, unfortunately I tripped over one of the cobbles, which put paid to any efforts of me trying to imitate an iconic Hollywood starlet. Not of course, that I’ve seen that many 46 year old starlets in a big and baggy shop assistants uniform, clinging to one nonetheless due to the nature of the fabric and thus its static-causing tendencies.
I let myself into the flat but didn’t even have time to have a look around as I could hear Hubby hooting his horn at me. I threw my ‘going out’ clothes on, scrabbled my other clothes together, let myself out again and jumped in the car.
We pulled into the Royal William Yard a few minutes later after I’d giving Hubby explicit instructions on how to get there. He was astounded.
“Good God”, he said, looking around at the old buildings, “I can remember getting stores from here when it was still a victualing yard. See that building over there..” But this wasn’t the time and the place for salty, sea dog reminiscences of days of yore; I needed a drink and a very posh nibble or two.
We weren’t disappointed, The River Cottage Canteen did us proud; the Cambodian Wedding Dip I could have eaten all to myself with a spoon and was most miffed with having to share it with everybody else and my, oh my, who that everybody else was! All the movers and shakers of Plymouth, gathered under one roof and hosted extremely well by Destination Plymouth, Plymouth University and the National Marine Aquarium.
“Remind me why we are here?” I asked Hubby chewing on a slice of crab and chilli pizza, “I feel we’re gate crashing”.
“My boss couldn’t make it”, he replied. I thought as much. We were last minute stand ins. Oh well, I may as well make the most of it and helped myself to another flute of elderflower champagne.
Then came the speeches. No such thing as a free hors d’oeuvres. I braced myself. I needn’t have. The news is that Plymouth 2012 is going to be genuinely exciting; marine city festival along the waterfront, art, culture, boat shows, Olympic flame, food, the list goes on. Even the university is to be awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of its world class marine and maritime research, teaching and training. It’s come a long way from being Plymouth Poly.
“Well, I stand corrected” said Hubby, to some chap in a tie that meant something significant “This is most definitely not a city going to the dogs. Plymouth is at last, on the up. I’m left eating my words”. He may well have been eating his words, personally I was eating a mackerel bap. Locally sourced and, 'respecting their seasonality’, of course.


I am in a perpetual state of jet lag. Not, of course, because I have been jet setting around the world’s time zones but more because of the hours I am keeping. Waking up at 5.15 every morning, sitting shivering on the ferry at 6am and locking the car in an eerie, subterranean car-park, whose only other life forms at that time of the morning are urinating drunkards, mass murderers and minimum wage maintenance staff is a timely reminder that I have been protected for years from the harsh reality of what life is life for the marginalised, although I hasten to add, that I am not comparing alkies and murderers with the poorly paid. As I zip up my fleece and snuggle into my snood, I am struck by the lonely figure of a middle aged woman, bent over her broom, deep in thought, seemingly a million miles away from this dirty, hostile car-park. She is black. Time seems to have stood still. I am shocked to see such a stereotypical figure. In 2011, are menial jobs still being doled out to people of colour? Is this Mississippi or Plymouth? I want to acknowledge her as a human being, to make her feel valued and not invisible, so I wish her a chirpy, “Good morning”. She barely looks up. I am embarrassed. Perhaps she thought I was patronizing her. Was I patronizing her? Oh my God. I hurry to work, telling myself that she is probably earning a little extra cash, either to pay for college or like me, for Christmas. It cannot be surely because this is the only job available to her. Can it?
I enter my secret code for the door and enter the shop. At this time of the morning, much like the car-park, but with fewer drunkards, it is very quiet. I grab a coffee before my shift starts. There is no-one around, I look into my plastic cup and yawn. I haven’t felt this out of sorts since I was breast feeding every two hours throughout the night. My diet isn’t helping me either because I’m eating at irregular hours, as one might when flying long haul where you eat in the middle of the night when you shouldn’t, then extra snacks at peculiar times so that your body clock has no idea what on earth is happening to it. Because I leave the house so early, I am eating an extra meal a day that my waist line could well do without.
Words cannot describe therefore, when looking at my diary after I’d risen, showered, dried my hair, applied my body butter and my make-up, eaten some toast and had a cup of tea, and saw, to my immense distress, that I needn’t be in work until 10am. It felt like the reverse of being late for something, only worse, much, much worse. Instead of losing a bus, I’d lost sleep, a far more precious commodity. I raced around the kitchen, desperately trying to work out what to do and acutely aware that my prevarication was, as every second ticked by, depriving me of any more stolen sleep.
Just as I was turning out all the lights and about to fling my uniform off and dive under the covers, Hubby got up.
“Hiya”, he yawned, not giving a fig that my dressing gown that he was wearing wasn’t covering him adequately. A fig leaf, would in fact have been most expedient at this particular juncture, “You still here Alice?”
“No, I am a figment of you imagination”. Stop it with the fig motif Alice, I said aloud.
“Huh?” he asked.
“I was just saying that I’d got my hours mixed up. I thought I was starting work at six thirty. Turns out, it’s later than that, much, much later”.
“Plonker”, he said softly. Not.
“Oh well”, he added, “saves a bit on the school breakfast club for the girls and you can take them to school as well. Result”. I tried to slink away from him and ease myself quietly up the stairs.
“Alice, as you’re up, do me a favour and iron a shirt for me will you please love?” I must have looked stricken because he quickly added, “Oh, don’t worry, not if you’re going back to bed. It’s just that I have to drive to Dartmouth in the next half hour and an ironed shirt would be really useful. No worries. I ‘ll do it once I’ve had a shower and walked the dog”.
What’s a girl to do? Wearily and with much sighing, I opened the ironing board and switched on the iron. I boiled the kettle again whilst I waited for the iron to heat up. I looked at the clock. It was almost 7am. If I quickly ironed this shirt, I’d still have an hour’s kip before the youngest girls woke up. As I smoothed the last bit of the left arm and thought longingly of my feather pillow, my teenage daughter walked into the kitchen.
“Mum! I never see you in the morning anymore! Great, a parent to make me breakfast like they used to in the old days. I’ll have a marmite bagel and a cup of tea…” and just as I was about to protest she added, “Please, please mummy darling. I’ll just go and get my art folder and then we can bond”. Bond? I think we achieved that after sixteen seconds, let alone sixteen years.
No sooner had I made her bagel and handed Hubby his shirt than the little ones woke up. I sighed. Breakfast. Round three.
“As you’re at home, can you be an angel and whip the dog around the block before you leave?” asked Hubby.
Jeeze, it might be exhausting, but it’s easier and more peaceful to go to work at the crack of dawn than to look after this family. Perhaps that’s what the black, car-park cleaner thinks too. Perhaps.