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.

Limpid Pools

There was a time long ago and I mean long ago, when the process of preparing to get ready for bed was a seductive affair, and if not seductive, then it was, at the very least, brief – brush of teeth, clothes off, under the duvet. Job done. Nowadays, once I’ve gone through the rigmarole of my nightly routine I find that, once I’ve done my ablutions, I am utterly exhausted by the time my head hits the pillow.
For instance my teeth, which once only needed a quick brush with a dab of Colgate to make them sparkle like pearls, were done in seconds so eager was I and, for decency’s sake I’ll say it was Hubby, to get into bed. It was an intimate and sexy little peppermint hors d’oeuvres that we liked to do together, in our smalls, like you see in the adverts. We were young; our sexuality shone as brightly our teeth.
Times have changed. Nowadays I brush my teeth with a locked bathroom door. What happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom. I no longer look like an advertisement for a ring of confidence. My gums have receded a little so that bits of food get stuck between my teeth in a most unsightly fashion. Once brushed, I open the bathroom cabinet, get out those tiny little interdental brush things that have to be poked between one’s teeth and, if that weren’t enough to scatter the plaque, I twist a length of floss around my index fingers, stand on my tip-toes and, opening my mouth as wide as a Muppet puppet, attack what is left of the plaque. As a final straw, I knock back a lid-ful of Listerine, gargle and swizzle it around until I want to cry, then spit it out and rinse and rinse with water until the inside of my cheeks and tongue no longer burn.
The next step is make-up removal. Years ago I never bothered. Men liked the morning- after- smudged- under- the eyes look, it made one look wanton I suppose. Not any more. The other morning as I sat drinking a coffee and reading the papers, a rare ray of sun shone on me. Once, to bask in sunshine made one look gorgeous, it complimented one’s skin tone, now, alas, it is spiteful. Hubby stared at me.
“God you look rough Alice”. Rough? That’s all I needed to hear having spent a further fifteen minutes the previous night not only brushing, flossing, gargling and stripping make-up from my face, but cleansing, toning and moisturising my skin, using the extra-special eye moisturiser to attack and smooth out my creeping crow’s feet.
I go to bed shiny. Not from a youthful dewy glow as was, but because there is a slick of oleaginous face cream clinging to my cheekbones for all its forty quid’s worth. I take my clothes off slowly and then, far from snuggling under the covers a la Marilyn Monroe i.e in Chanel No5 and bugger all else, I switch the electric blanket on and pull on my nightie. You’d think that was it; you’d be wrong. My nightly, nostril ritual has yet to be addressed, where I have to snort steroid, allergy relief up each one before swigging down an anti-histamine. This is all very well as long as I have remembered to refill my tumbler with fresh water as there is often little left of it in the morning as the cat creeps in at night and helps himself to it. So, very often I have to get out of bed again and go to the bathroom to top it up. I return to my duvet only to pick up my book and groan. My glasses are in my handbag. Damn and bloody blast. Up I get again, walk downstairs, rummage through impossibly messy handbag, find my glasses, before eventually getting into bed for the third and final time. By the time I’ve put the glasses on my nose, my interest in my book has waned and it’s all I can do to muster the energy to extinguish the light. This is what habitually happens most nights, unless a bottle of wine has featured in the run up to bedtime by which time I throw caution to the wind and fall into bed recklessly ignoring my routine waking like Heath Ledger’s fateful Joker. I wasn’t best pleased therefore to be breakfasting with Hubby after my routine had been religiously adhered to only for him to compare me with something akin to the Bride of Dracula.
I tried to ignore him and concentrate on the obituaries but my glasses didn’t seem to be working. I exhaled onto the lenses, polished them and put them back on. To no avail. I still found it hard to make out how old Betty Pengelly had been when she’d died.
I rang Specsavers. They had an appointment at 11.35. The eye test was very thorough, I rested my chin hither and yon, stared into the distance, pressed buttons and, to add to the experience, had the added novelty of having the inside of my eyeball photographed, and all this before I even met with an optician. When I finally did it was an enlightening experience. I’d never seen the inside of my eye before. It looked as though it had a tumour in it. “What the hell is that black mass?” I asked, my breath suspended with anxiety.
“And those veins and that artery? And hell, is that my optic nerve? My retina? Do I have glaucoma? Mascular degeneration? My God! I’m going blind!”.
“Mrs Band”, he said patiently, “There is nothing wrong with your eyes. You have beautiful eyes”. Ok, so he may have been talking about the insides of my eyes and not the limpid, green pools of my irises, but still it was the nicest thing that anyone’s ever said to me. For an awfully long time.