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Friday, 14 November 2008

less is more

“As long as we’re alright for cheesy footballs, Ian, we can do without Twiglets.” A stout and purposeful arm, clanking with gold bracelets, which poked from a raggedy purple cardigan, stretched forward and toppled 3 tubes of cheesy footballs from the shelf into the basket on her knee, crushing a bumper pack of Wotsits already nestled in the bottom. There was a serious cheese-food-type-stuff deal going on here. This was a woman who knew what was what and was happy to speak her mind. “No-one goes a bundle on twiglets. Not these days. So that’s a no, Ian. Cherryade.”

I longed to linger, and feigned an alibi of interest in the wholesome biscuits on the dull side of the aisle, the one which no-one in our Tesco’s bothers with much.
Mr Wheelchair pusher, Ian, was about to enter the fray. It looked like he wasn’t ready for cherryade yet, indeed that he had a thing or two to say about Twiglets, and their place at the modern party; that, frankly, he was fed up with the whole Empowerment thing. Push your own chair, witch.

But I’ve noticed I’m not so good as I think I used to be at loitering unobtrusively. I’m afraid I stare, slack-jawed in fascination now. That fantastic certainty. It’s only a matter of time before I bring my own chair, or am actually squatting there, begging for the low-down, chipping in my tuppence-worth. My dark glasses are only so good as a disguise, they’re not quite the invisibility cloak I fondly imagine.

While I was down that end of the store, reluctant as I was to tear myself away, I thought I might as well get a present for T12’s friend, whose party it is tomorrow.
Ever the dilemma: to spend absolutely as little as possible while making it appear generous. To this end, I have tempting tussles with unsuitable items which attract but merely fulfil the cheap bit: Teach Yourself Typing DVD, anyone? or, venturing further afield, what’s more appealing than a bumper pack of sellotape for a pound, or value toner for the printer (dented packaging), or who can resist 3-for-2 on ankle socks? So what if they're pink; get over it. Surprising gifties perhaps for today's 12 year old boy, but, hey, I don’t know him. That's secondary school for you. All I do know is that I can’t mention it to Mrs NP since her boy’s not invited (the pressure, the potential for tears) and that this party represents 30 of the 90 miles E and I have to drive to and from Gloucester tomorrow. Rugby take. Rugby collect. Party. Hang around and wait. Sigh. I lament the good old days when all they cared about was the wrapping paper. Tears and tantrums and torn tissue.

It takes hours saving money, steering a path through the dross, but at least I can park. Although now I sound like my grandfather. If he wasn’t showing a touching interest in where we’d slung the motor, he was desperate to know when we were leaving; the two topics segueing into each other at close quarters, clashing clumsily like dodgems, leaving not much time in the middle to validate ones arrival. If we were feeling very cruel, we’d say, “Car? Can’t remember.” His sense of panic was palpable.

The football coach had trapped us at the school gate this morning, banging on about time management. Too late to get away, hampered by politeness, never quite sharp enough to turn a pause in the conversation into a gap big enough to leave in, I stood trying not to catch anyone’s eye. Manners are a pain in the neck.

“Only 168 hours in the week,” he announced, rocking on his heels. “Richard Branson doesn’t get any more. Never has. Doesn’t waste time on the EIRM, the Electronic Income Reducing Machine in the corner, see. The television,” he added, sensing our failure to get with the program. “40 hours a week the average person spends watching TV.”
“Well I do watch ‘Spooks’ AND ‘Top Gear’ on a Sunday,” the kind, dim mother offered anxiously.
He’d been on a course. The coach, not Richard Branson, or, God Forbid, DumbMum. Time Management. Loved it. He must be the only person in Britain happy on courses.

Nice but dim mother was frowning over the 168 hours bit.
“7 days x 24 hours,” I hissed helpfully.
Her frown deepened. “When?” she said.

“It’s all about HPOAs,” he said, warming to his theme.
We all looked blank.
“High Pay-Off Activities,” he explained. “Rather than,” he counted on his fingers, “LPOAs.”
We could all guess that one. Well, apart from the really dim mother, who cocked her head like Lolly.
Lolly was struggling with all this, too, mainly our inability to grasp bollocks when we could be out striding through horse shit, swapping one load of excrement for another. She could spot a Low Pay Off Activity before her nose, see time slipping through her paws. I feared she might start humping me, her idea of time well spent. Since being spayed, she has gender realignment issues. The carpenter suffered greatly yesterday.

“Basically you’ve got to delegate. Sort your goals, and delegate.“
There’s not much delegation goes on when you’re bottom of the food chain, where ‘goals’ boils down to Buy Oranges and Hang Up Washing. It’s chaps what go on courses and who learn to add up that get to grasp the right end of the delegation'n' goals stick. Still, a girl can try.
I mocked a handing over of Lolly’s lead to him, Sassy Welsh Mother from the PTA did the same with her bag of gubbins: 95,000,000 Pudseys to be cut out for Fun Activities this afternoon.
“Can’t hang around here chatting,” he said, demonstrating most admirably both closure and the refusal to be delegated himself.

I settled on a boxset of 3 DVDs for £6. Vaguely Boysy and one of which, ‘Happyness,’ was being sold separately for £8. Bargain. £2 saved, and just the 20 minutes wasted. That’s an episode of The Simpsons when it was on the BBC part of the EIRM.
I stood in the queue near enough to peer over at Ian and Mrs Purple Cardi. Cheesy footballs were spinning on the conveyor belt, jostling with hulking bottles of Cherryade. Despite the triumph of the passable DVD, I was made inexpressibly sad to see that no twiglets had made it.
The Maund is Dite means, of course, The Basket is Ready. Full of cheesy footballs and primed to party.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

the maund is dite

Me and the fat bag of fur have been out walking.

She is dim, and slow to equate lusty jumping in the stream with the concomitant horrors of the hose when we get home. It is a brutal business requiring a bought-in dedication to the task of cleanliness, and leaving us both soaked and harrowed and nursing resentment one against the other.
Once thoroughly wet, Lolly is in a better position to absorb sawdust. Oh good.
For finally, expensively, desperately we are on the last leg of our house improvements, namely the hurling of banisters and an inner wall thing into the skip and resurrection of much the same, only hopefully nicer and involving scary cheques. The carpenter has just been quoted £1000 for root canal work, and I fear for our Extras bill.
But soon we will be civilised again.
Damn, the downside is that I'll have to start hoovering on a serious basis. And me with an A in Greek ‘O’ Level. That it’s come to this.

Only 2 of us took it, Greek, schooled by a vicious old trout who had been a vicious old trout when she'd taught my mother Latin 20 years before. And when I say only 2 of us took it, really it was only me, since the other girl was plagued by convenient migraines. Particularly on double Greek day. Even now, because of this, the name Felicity is sullied somewhat. Lightweight. Migraine, my arse.
I would stare, wretchedly, at the happy souls sauntering into mere Greek Civ, the easy one, with stories, in English. And with a heavy heart trudge solo to rendezvous with the old trout, who was slow to smile, quick to criticise and found tiresome the little things I would do to cause merry diversion. Just call me Bunty.
Never did she chortle at the chalk tin, poised precariously on the flap of the raised desk, ready to fall and reverberate when her tread went upon the step scattering dusty chalk and clanging tin, and not once did she see the wit in trapping the cat in the desk and playing Hunt The Miaow. Even now, both memories cause happy sighs. We had to find our fun where we could in those days, remember; no daytime TV, no internet. Time could drag in a quite extraordinary fashion.

Luckily my mother (clever) had taken Greek O Level a couple of years earlier. It was the same course and all. Handy. She'd got an A. She was one to watch, and copy.
I consulted her exercise books, tiptoeing into the room where they lay, avoiding creaking floor boards. Initially it was purely under the guise of 'checking my work' but pretty soon I learnt to bypass the whole “ὁ ἡ το, τον την το” do-it-myself process, and just copied the lot before sidling off to watch Banana Splits, a fine piece of programming my mother and I never quite agreed on. Her critical thinking involved the off button, mine the aggrieved squawk.

The old trout was resentfully impressed by my homework, and had to give me ticks which must have hurt. But things became trickier when the curriculum split, the trout selected different texts and thus we reached The Maund is Dite stage. This refers to Loeb, translations bound in green (or red for Latin) and useful primarily for amusement value (amusement value of a most relative kind, it must be stressed, for, really, Loeb / Banana Splits? Loeb / Grange Hill? Decisions decisions). In Loeb, not only were tricky, nasty things like homosexuality consigned to the footnotes but, to fit syntactically, the translators dipped heavily into arcanity, pursuing scansion over sense and making the English frequently more difficult than the Greek. But still one read on, fuelled by a compulsion to cheat, to grab the easy route rather than struggle girlfully, to grapple with The Text. And in one such, we were informed that the maund is dite. I think it was about then that I gave up on my brief affair with Loeb. Sometimes it really is just easier to do the work than avoid doing it.

What exactly is a maund and what does is diteness mean? I could get existential and ask what does anything mean. Instead, I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Meanwhile I want to be here again:

Want sun. Bored of cold weather by now. And dark mornings. And the sound of hammering. (And why does the formatting change on Blogger without you telling it to?)
So to this end I have been disturbing myself with looking through photos on the computer. It’s that or fret about Laura being voted out of The X Factor.

This is one of a series in which the boys decided to marry each other, in and out of an old top I'd glittered up when one of them was a fairy in the school play. Sometimes the past can snap round and bite you on the nose and it's painful. Those days have slipped through my fingers like the cat from the desk.

Otherwise, my hands are cold and I'm a bit bored: there's lots I want to blog about, but can't. Self censorship means that although my head is teeming with neighbours and friends, sisters-in-law and the man at the post office, they have to remain mere fine phrases buzzing, going nowhere, confined by sense and manners, 2 things I struggle with.
The fear of being stumbled upon is great so there's too much one cannot say, but dare not risk going further than the whispers of, "Bits. Of me teeth. Dropping off me. Like from a glacier. I'm on medication." Nor can I mention the ducks in his bath, ("The feathers! You wouldn't believe!") That's the man in the post office. The waste of him is painful. I gnash my own super dooper gnashers in frustration.

Nor can I expand on what’s behind snatches of conversation, like
"She said, 'I've bought her a shrug,'" E said, and then asked me, "What's a shrug?"
"An inefficient cardigan," I said.
"Christ," he said, "starts half way up the back? What's she thinking of, it's in December."
And that’s a shame, too. The full story's funny.

No wonder I'm dogged off, bogged off, blogged off.
If I could, I’d skew 'em all slightly and turn them into a novel. But I'm moronically faithful to a tee, my imagination is stuck in mud and I can't do it: these characters, my family and friends and shopkeepers, are so perfect as they are that to tweak them, to give my sister in the law the rotting teeth rather than a penchant for purchasing strange knitwear, just wouldn't work at all. And to contemplate post office man edging his meaty shoulders into a shrug is just de trop. My maund is dite, overflowing even (now there’s a clue) and I can't use it.

I’m left with the dog, and God knows that’s not something I would wish on anyone, even the old trout.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

scared? yup. and found wanting

The devil was kind last night and left me alone. I was growing fearful of going to bed so this was good.
It happened on Friday. Hallowe’en if you believe in that kind of thing - and I never have before - when I was woken, presumably by a child, and lay there crossly knowing that that was that. It was 4 am. I consoled myself with the normal guff that it didn’t matter, I was resting, it was good Thinking Time, etc etc, but the truth was that I was cross; a dream had been lost and I like a good dream.
The room was quite hot thanks to our defunct heating system. Being brand new and efficient, it doesn’t work reliably. Before going to bed, I busily turn off the timer and down the thermostats, to about ten, just to labour the point. Come 2 in the morning the radiators are fit to fry eggs on. Another thing to fume about. So I did, creating angry letters in my head.

And then I felt it. A truly malign presence just to my right rustled out of nowhere. Just hovering there. I did not need to look to know it was the devil. And I did not look because I was frightened beyond any normal sense of fear, worse than when I was attacked in a locked underground carpark. Worse than half way through childbirth, half out, half in. Bleak, soul-destroying, defeated fear, a capitulation with any sense of self denied.
I could sense but not see dark red and black.
I lay pole-axed in terror, thinking that if I barely breathed he would go, that I would be spared from having to deal with it, that I could evade it. I like evasion. Seconds spent in denial are seconds I don’t have to act.
But he didn’t, he stayed there, very still, and I did not know what to do. So I set up a rapid account with God and crossed myself busily and endlessly, muttering like a possessed loon in a film from the ‘70s. I was feeling by now a quite enormous pressure on my torso which I visualised for no good reason as large tubes of air woven haphazardly, strewn casually by the devil and constituting a killing pile. I felt myself sinking and mashed and helpless. Unable to breathe. I continued to cross myself. And all this time I was awake.

Time passed, maybe half a minute. Don’t laugh. Think back, that’s a long time in a chemistry lesson, or being crushed by the devil. Then it passed. The devil evaporated and I could go to sleep again. He was there and then he was gone, and the fear went, too, although I continued to lie very still.

Bold stuff appears in quotes – oh, yes, I’ve been on-line – about the devil. Confident lies where the boastful claim of despatching him or shaming him, of the routing of him by fair means. Shakespeare reckons the devil is seen by the poet, the lover and the lunatic. A cheering thought when you know which prong of the triangle you’ve been left.
My inner Cowardly Lion would like to re-write events, to say that I saw him off. But we both know that that ain’t true. So instead I ticker-taped through my recent history trying to establish what I might have done to deserve this. Or was it the product of an accrual of unpleasantnesses, mean thoughts, glowers at Lolly, small irritations resulting in this visitation? Had Lolly herself had a paw in it? Anything's possible, the rules seem to have changed and it would be just like her having a hotline to hot places.
I’m more of a carrot girl, as a rule (praise is us), than one who responds to a stick but I felt cowed and chastened and don’t like it much.

The next night I placed my mobile phone by the alarm clock. E is stern about things like mobile phones and unnecessary use thereof. Texters had always had a special place in hell reserved for them. Such imagery no longer amuses.
“It’s in case the devil comes,” I said. “I might need to call someone.”
It sounds stupid, but it was about all I could think of. T12 would understand. He’s a child to derive comfort and security (and too many renditions of Scouting For Girls) from tawdry plastic.
I would offer, naturally, Lolly as some sort of sacrifice, should that be the devil’s bag. I can see her on an altar, fulfilling a greater purpose. But he didn’t ask and she meanwhile seems to suffer no such visitations. Is this fair? Indeed, just now, ha, how much self control can one person exercise? I had to walk past her. She was asleep in her basket, splayed, steeped in that familiar stench of satisfied eau de dead badger following a ninety minute romp with her friend near the race course (gratitude sent my way? none). I was carrying a spade through the hall. As you do. The sweet juxtaposition never realised: fetid beast, sharp blade, a marriage made in heaven divorced before the banns were published.
Ah me.
Who would know? The devil would know. Foul thoughts scare me now. I must go and charge my phone. That and lock in the shed the temptation of a shiny spade.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

ring ring

“Right! What are we? We’re winners, OK? Say it then. Shout it!”
“Winners,” mumbled the boys, their minds more on the fair sharing of the biscuits than motivational chanting. Their hair is long, it’s curly, they have names like Harry and Luke. We play against teams with shaven heads, Deans and Shanes.
Junior football is a strange land I've occupied for decades, which makes me wonder why I look forward to Saturdays.
“Can’t hear you?” The coach mocked a panto hand to his ear. “And again!”

Us parents cringed with embarrassment, bent double in disassociation.
The parents of the other team looked on with frank amusement. Pit bulls strained at short leads. A touching scene of snarling and merriment, a long way from home.

WINNERS!” The coach hurled his flat cap in the air.

A fine gesture, wrecked only by the small technicality of our losing so very dramatically. More rugby the score than football. The first game had gone to 11-0.
“NO!” shouted F9, “We got 2!”
“Own goals,” I muttered, “Stop going on about it.”
A pink faced lad burst into tears.

(My phone kept going. Funky Town bursting into the field as back at home, far from the footie shift, E prepared for T12's rugby, increasingly frantic as it transpired T12 could not find his proper rugby shorts... then his gum shield ... then his boots … )

“Good luck, darling!” us mothers trilled and, “Oh well done, chicken!” as lambs to the slaughter they embarked on match 2, a game F9 and I were lucky enough to have to leave early, when poised at a crucial will-we /won’t-we stage (ie: merely on 3-0).
The coach rang me at the end to say that we had lost 12-0. After a scant four matches we flounder at the bottom of the league table. Goals for? 0; goals against? 34.

What could I say but, “Oh.”
In the background of the call, I could hear unconvinced warbles of “Winners!”

A heartbreaking e-mail emerged later from the coach. He is still chipper, but fearful that he has let the boys down. He blames himself. His responsible disappointment left me feeling mean for laughing at his flat cap and shying from his too wet lips.
I then felt cross for having to feel mean.

Meanwhile we defected to T12’s rugby trials, given his need for boots. Both he and his friend W12 are sure that a space in the A team is theirs, despite neither of them being much cop at rugby, nor even liking the playing of it much, preferring to chat.
W12’s mother, M, and I are puzzled. Being anxious and destroyed by uncertainty ourselves, we cannot source our children’s sense of entitlement in the face of negligible talent. M was still smarting over a run in with her mother about her hair, "You can't go to London looking like that, dear."

T12 slithered into F9’s football boots. F9 took T12’s trainers and looked like an orphan, trailing round the ground, muttering. His football strip out-Stanley Matthews Stanley Matthews. The coach had delivered it the night before, neatly wrapped in bronze Christmas paper. The shorts are mid-shin, the dress floating just below his knees. I was almost sick laughing. I needed mirth.

My father had phoned.
“Stop blogging about the bloody children,” he said. “Move on.”
Not much love in that, I thought.
“Put something nasty in, make it sinister. You’re quite good.”
“Darling,” my mother chipped in on the extension, “you need a job. Not an Avon lady, I don’t think, but you could become a Weight Watchers’ Team Leader.”

Where Had That Come From.

I didn’t like to think.
A very long, chilling, silence followed. The sort of silence from which great damage could emerge if the wrong thing was said. Naturally “she” saying the wrong thing would be me.
“You’d be very good,” she continued gamely, “you’re kind, and would get them going.”
I was utterly, totally horrified.

The statement had been offensive in so many ways. No fattypuff in crisis should ever have to put their faith in me, but there were clearly Other Issues at play here. In the end, I bowed to the inevitable, like a badger thinking ‘Sod it’ and lying down ready in the middle of the road. Bring on the lorry.

“I imagine you’d have to go to Weight Watchers first, mother,” I said, with the tiniest bit of bold ice in my voice, a squeak of despair valiantly repressed by the shards of my dignity.
“You’d feel marvellous,“ she breezed, “get a nice big belt and pull it tight. It’s opportunities, you see, you have to be awake to them.”

She was off to Ypres at the weekend again. Graves and war, who can resist?
“I love it,” she says.
I was tempted to tip the driver a tenner to knock her in, plonk up a white cross all of her very own. One amongst so many. Who was to know? What? Poor Mum Dead?

She phoned me before she left.
“Now, you’ll need to phone your father each morning when I’m gone, to check he’s not died in the night.”
“Why?” I said.
“The dog [blight of our collective lives, surely, this one being a borderline incontinent Newfoundland, in severe need of Weight Watching] surges past one on the stairs so. She could send him flying and of course no-one would pass, no one would know.”

She sent me fierce texts from the coach. Buoyed by distance, I tartly reminded her she was meant to think gin, not drink gin.
She claimed, like Sairey Gamp, “not a drop has touched my lip in days but leave the teapot on the mantelpiece and I will put my lips to it when I am so dispoged…”
For a senior, she’s quite dapper with the texting. Sort of Team Leader savvy. I must tell her. She could make a career of it.

I rang my father.
“Not dead yet, then?” I asked. We were at Prescott Hill Climb – I had won tickets, winning things in raffles being quite a reliable second income, for some reason. Cars roared by endlessly. The air was dense with petrol and burnt rubber, and the sensation of fielding an imminent insult; rarely a long wait, I find.
I told him about the football.
“Christ,” he groaned, “Modern bloody parents, you’re mad. You’d have died if I’d come along to any of your hockey matches.”
“It wasn't hockey,” I said, I had to shout over the roaring cars, I probably sounded mad, desperate. “It was netball.”
Then, “You’ve never appreciated me,” he said munching heartlessly on what sounded like a parsnip, “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead. I could be so dull. You’re so lucky. You have no idea.”

An image of an apocalyptic blot on my horizon, things on the road ahead I dread: my parents’ death. A landmine first strewn in youth when long, long ago, when I was fifteen, I sat next to him at a James Bond film. I don’t remember which one, since it was spent silent and wretched in tears, for he had just told me cheerily how he’d read in The Times that the 40s were a perilous decade for men, rife with heart attacks and strokes and, for men blind in one eye, the chances of making 50 were slim. It goes without saying that he is blind in one eye. And now 73.

I was plunged into a familiar despair: that of being misjudged.
I pictured the killer instinct of black fur bustling down in urgent need of a wee, the misplaced slippered foot, the glasses flung out of reach, the hope of reaching the phone all spent. The 2-for-1 pile up at the bottom of the stairs for my mother to encounter, all teapotted up, on her return.

“You haven’t got a bloody clue,” I said.

It has become necessary to add that the Prescott Hill Climb is nothing, but nothing, to do with the MP, although trotting up dat hill may do wonders for his tum, Lord, don't tell my mother. It's a car thing, bugattis and formula something, and converted jalopies and swish porsches all roaring up Against The Clock. Lots of old duffers and young lads taking notes and endless photographs. As I say, we won tickets.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

mrs hope

“Oh, Mummy, you’re just like Anne, never happier than when you’ve got a needle and thread in your hands,” sighed F9 with dubious contentment. “Yes, you make a house a home.”
He placed his sun-glasses firmly upside down on his nose and went outside to talk to the grass.
(Anne, for those not on first name terms, was last seen on the steps of a caravan letting Timmy lick the plates clean while Dick, Julian and George sorted out some filthy gypo. And since F9’s own haven of choice, his filth-packet bedroom, is a place a troll would hesitate to enter, his idea of domestic perfection is possibly insulting.)

Still, it’s true that I’ve had my fill of needle and thread recently, in sewing a million labels onto rugby tops and navy shorts, to the point of grinding a hole in my finger. Something the Victorian novelist Mrs Oliphant did for real, to more lasting effect in that her books will be read rather longer than my labels will, though not for want of strong stitches.

For T11 became T12 last week which means Secondary School.
F9 expressed his wishes for a good day in typical bizarre fashion.

T12 already looks two years older than he did a fortnight ago by dint of donning a different school uniform. [photo removed] Nylon blazers, slippery ties, oh yes, the lad is growing up: he has 73 new songs on his mobile phone to prove it. Pray God you’ll never have to hear them. We do. 2 bars of a tinny Funky Town at 6.45 in the morning tests parental love to limits the NCT kept quiet about.
A step up the school ladder is a big stride for us too.

For starters, there’s the continuous flushing of cash: not merely the usual wild splurging on Extras but endless new uniform and then £86.50 (horribly specific, as if they added it up and everything), on a bonding trip. A bonding what? one is eager to splutter. £330 went on an end of primary school jolly and now one gets stung for a beginning of term one.
Then we got a sharpish letter reminding us that we haven’t put in for Ball tickets. At £40 a pop, no, we haven’t, love. My eyes are quite giddy with rolling. We endured death by Speech Night last Friday, am I really ready to bop in a big frock, jostling with strangers and pay £40 for the pleasure?

Then there’s the unGodly hour. We have to get up as if we’re about to catch a plane, at 6.30, to ensure T12 catches his bus, a grimy soup of ring tones and tossed plaits and who fancies whom, and representing another £740 flying from the account.

Home schooling was never contemplated, thank you, but a frown did flicker at glancing at a map he’d filled in, and spotting that his confident placing of Gloucester (his school town) firmly in Wales, a shifting down and to the left by a couple of crucial centimetres that threatens Cardiff’s free run at the south coast. There was no busy, red correction from the teacher. My fingers itched, but my attempts to re-establish the relative locating of Cheltenham, Bristol, Gloucester and Cardiff were met with the disdain of one who
a) knows my reliance on sat nav to get out of the drive in one go
b) being 12, knows it all anyway.

Still, education, eh, marvellous thing.
It’s paid for, moreover, in long, long days, days where breakfast takes place in the dark and 11ses feels like lunch time.
It is easier, the hellish rising, than I had feared, but it underlines why I am a night-person. By night you can be with those whom you choose, those you love. Come the drilling of the alarm clock and we are fractured, dispatched via endless mini-roundabouts and roadworks, by an obligation to earn money or sit in a classroom.
Well some of us are, some of us stay behind and hang things crossly on the washing line and wish we’d thought of being a doctor, pound signs zinging in our greedy, lazy eyes. Until the realities of the mouth ulcers of strangers, gummy teeth and furry tongues ping in and I am content instead to take comfort in serene contemplation of two more rooms being all but finished: the house becomes a home indeed.
An ex-garage has been converted into a room housing most of our books and 2 sofas you could swim on

and we have a sitting room, (with normal sofas)

No curtains yet, nor are all the pictures up but to wander about at will without crashing into motley furniture or piles of boxes is so pleasing as to make one weep.

Consolation for being torn apart again following the lovely long holidays, for being left with the dog for company. [photo removed]

Although, when wearing her bomb, her obedience collar, she’s almost pleasant to be with. Words I never thought I’d say.

Today, we went picking blackberries. (Oh God, "we" is me and the dog, shudder.) I filled a bag full and then leant – very Aesop – towards the only plump cluster I had seen so far, just out of reach, only to plunge down a rabbit hole – very Alice. My foot was clutched by roots, my hands steeped in nettles, the bag split, the blackberries scarpered and I swore. Not very Anne.

I stood there, suddenly knee high, fearing moles and bats permeating my boots, feeling strange, feeling like Mrs Hope. She who knew that Help Was Coming. A clumsy pensioner with a propensity for living on the edge who, in a range of press ads in the ‘80s, frequently found herself poleaxed on the floor: stumbling on the stairs, stiff across the lino, prone against the back door. Was there an ill-advised attempt to take on the attic ladder? I think there was. She never learnt. Anyway, a twit on her pins, Mrs Hope cannily clung to her zapper and could ping for Help. The tools of my rescue were merely the detonator for Lolly’s bomb and my mobile phone which at that point swarmed into life with a lusty toot of Funky Town (courtesy of T12). I glanced at my hands and arms, resembling those of a self-harmer and discussed lesson dates with the piano teacher at the other end of the line. I whispered, fearful of being come upon in a hole and shouting.

Then I clambered out of the hole, undignified and rather foolish. The crumble will be slim on blackberries, and still it's not yet time for lunch.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

c ya

One of the more interesting things about having children is, no, not catching glimpses of what they might become (though for the terminally bored, F9’s going for world domination, unless prison claims him first; while at some stage in his future T11 will be spotted leaving the country, hopping along in one sock and doing his tie as he runs, a hundred weeping women in his immediate past and a clutch of irate fathers and husbands and sisters in hot pursuit, Rrrraaouuuooh!), not that – yawn – not them, but what they show you of yourself.
For, let’s bring it happily back to ME: oneself is always far more interesting.

So, E and I both hurl the hot potato of F9’s more troublesome traits back and forth.
“Straight down the distaff,” E will say in a ‘that’s that’ sort of way when F9 is to be seen maundering round the garden singing tunelessly and talking to the grass.
“Pure spear,” I’ll shriek when F9, fierce and proud upon the floor, roars his little face red. No doubting paternity there, methinks.

Over the years, E has had to own up to a certain genetic baton passing made gloriously apparent with regard to the strange trouser choice replicated in F9.
Not E’s fault, perhaps, that Leisure Pants are thus dubbed, an item which have become, entre nous, A Leisure Pant or, if bold, A Golfing Slack.
My, how we laugh.
No trip to M&S is complete without a collapse section up against the cargo pants. (It's one thing, Kitty B, lamenting A knicker, involving a mere scrap of over-priced material, but for one thing, when did pants as trousers slide across the Atlantic unannounced, and for another, something that size should warrant the plural.)
F9 favours bizarre black slippery things of a sporting nature. Truly hideous, particularly peeking beneath the swish of a fetching dressing gown, where they are designed to upset, and inherited from someone or other in a bag of mixed stuff – someone who clearly doesn’t like us much.

And sadly, though I choke to do so, I will admit that I do find it the tiniest bit hard to say sorry. As does F9.
The difference being, however, that I have so little to practise on.
For I am simply rarely wrong. Else I would say it, natch, the S-word. Of course I would. While F9, being so much more like his father, resides in Wrong Land for a hefty proportion of his waking hours, but still he will not assay it.
“Suh,” I say, “Try it, Suh-ohh-reee.”
His lips purse and his eyes gleam.
He would argue that blue is pink long after the cows have sauntered home. And God knows, sometimes I find myself convinced. His sense of permanent utter rectitude is exhausting.
Pure spear.

T11 apologises all the time, a rolling alibi to stuff he has done / might be doing / has up his sleeve to do. A child to get away with murder, but with a smile.

Other than that, my only flaw is not liking soup, although I am dutiful at dinner parties and conceal my distaste in a clatter of busy spoon-work. Therefore, I decided to grasp the nettle of this particular failing by making some myself. For lunch, then, we have eaten recently (to the point of over-dose, actually) abso-bloody-lutely the most delicious Gazpacho ever. Delicate, but punchy, it could – and does – make one squeal with excitement, and is rivalled only by the memory of one on a dusty hill in Spain. And that’s probably only fond recall.
I am now, officially fault-free; although wary of looking another tomato in the eye.

One of my many wise moves is refusing to resort to txt-spk. Up with which I will not put. It confuses spell checks and it’s just not nice. Full sentences R Me, and Churchill would approve.
I made adhering to this a condition of T11’s mobile phone ownership: the pitiful pissing in the wind of one desperate to cling to an idea of authority, and I thought - fool - that his obedience was secured, by the evidence of his texts to me. Commas, apostrophes et al. But in a swift scuffle over his bill, I had an outraged rummage through his outbox and found it appallingly full of “l8rs” and “c u at da park 4 tnnis” and and “g2g brb.”
You can just imagine what a painful falling of the scales that was. How hard I had to sit down, gasping. By night I have been catching up on “The Wire” locking into new and random crib-talk (where ya'r'at, bro, yo? most def) and bracing myself against floodgates of swearing, such as render my own attempts mimsy. And now, by day, g2g!
A friend said that when her son texts “dear Mother,” it is mere prelude to demands for cash.

The children might well want to spend all da time at da park, but this is not the stuff from which interesting diaries are built so, it being the holidays, we have had a few days out to places like the Cotswold Farm Park, the sort of place I panic that they have grown out of, clinging embarrassingly to their tender years, but where, once there, all of the children can run off for hours and we mothers can sit and chat.

A few of us agreed to meet at Mrs Northern Posh’s immaculate country cottage and travel in convey, re-distributed to save a car. On this particular day, either I was early (unlikely), or I had got the time wrong (spot on), but I walked up Mrs NP’s pristine front garden (last encountered here) to find a window open and her in full shout at her children. I tipped my head sideways for a good listen.
“Get the fuck off the fucking sofa,” she was yelling. “Shoes on. Now! F’fucks’ sake!”

Ah, how it does a soul good to encounter another so fully out of control, and rapidly approaching meltdown.
I rang the doorbell immediately, thinking it only kind to let her know that I had heard, rather than make her fret either way. Or, worse, hope, that perhaps I hadn’t.
“Problems, love?” I asked. Then, “That sofa’s a bit of a mess.”
We laughed.
Her face was not slippery with the rage I had heard, but its normal smiling self despite that her woeful offspring had dared to bounce on newly-plumped up furniture. Well really. Does it get much worse than that?
Mrs NP wishing to return to a pristine house (something that remains in the realms of impossibility for me) because her parents (fuss-pot, thin-lipped variety) were coming to stay had been idiot enough to try to effect just that. This is not my world, not with half a fireplace and several random buckets on the floor of the sitting room it’s not, but I nodded nicely and felt her pain.

We bumbled in, out, up and down the perfect path, packhorses bearing picnics and rugs and cool-boxes of grub, suntan lotion and fleeces, plasters and wipes. We were, after all, travelling a good ten miles and might be away til four.
“Is that everything?” she asked, her mind not what it was.
“Fucking children?” I reminded her.
“Shit,” she said.

Our other friends were waiting. Chatting at the end of the drive. Car doors open to cool the interior, and irritate passing motorists. I frowned.
Just – what – was – going – on!
As expected, one of our number was impossibly, easily, glam, but the other one had morphed most terribly into a sudden enigma. The capacity to surprise is important, but – the but is big. Heavens I’m not judgemental, but no friend of mine wears that!
For S had turned up in the oddest of garbs. No make up, for starters, and trussed into a strange pinnie-type frock (wholesome), fashioned, moreover, from gingham (gingham!), and bringing horribly to mind Mother Burrr.
Looking for all the world like a well-plumped up sofa, the sort on which no children had carelessly frolicked (tending as she does, towards the traditional build, despite the constant dieting, bless). Moreover, being enviably rich, that apron pocket would be full, and she would dip her paw in ceaselessly all afternoon, a fruit machine of pound coins doled out in obedience to her son’s eternal desires for cokes and ice-creams, toys and sweets, desires to which the rest of us are deaf.
Nothing like a mother who doesn’t know the rules and is clinging to the youth of her third child.

(Although that afternoon I did weaken and bought F9 a squadgy cat. He was being so very sweet. There’s something about a terrible child with skew-whiff hair and fistfuls of fur that softens my heart.
“What are you calling it, sweetums?” I asked, a fiver the poorer, my purse mewling in sorrow.
He replied.
I misheard.
“Oh! Toffee! How sweet,” I trilled.
“NO. Toughie,” he growled. He pinged ToffeeToughie’s nose with peremptory masterfulness: a man in control of his charges; I could learn a thing or two, sharpen up my pinging. “I need bullets,” he said, “For my gun.” He slung the cat in his pocket.)

She normally works full-time all suited and booted does S, and clearly harbours barking thoughts as to what constitutes At Home Mom wear when out on crazy days with our children.
J should be in Vogue, Mrs NP scrubs up fine when she puts down the F word and forgets her sofas, and I was in what I am sadly proud to call my groovy gear. Since this consists of 4-year old Capri pants from M&S you may form your own opinion just how Down With Trinny and Susannah I might be. I fear that Hot Chick is not inscribed through me like a stick of rock. But it sure as hell ain’t there, S, in Mother Burr, so think again, dear girl.
I took a step back, fearful of contamination. (Mother Burr for the temporarily bewildered and enviably unaware, is mother to Li’l Burr, forever wise and calm and tidying up.)
It raised serious questions: it’s not just what it is but what it might be – just what else is in that wardrobe of hers, what shocks lie ahead? A headscarf? A tartan-lined Mac? Slacks? A slack?

“Are we ready to go?” S asked sensibly.
Sartorially misguided thus, like a trucker from Leeds taking the piss, and beautifully in charge, S suddenly resembled a TV version of our joint mother ushering three unlikely siblings, the glamorous J, me and the swearing Mrs NP.

Which of her own parents, I wondered, claimed that particular hot potato, their anxious faces pressed against a window pane, aghast, while studying a sturdy S frolicking on the lawn.
“No, no, not gingham, darling, gingham’s on your side of the family.”
Pure spear.
Most def.

Soz (see! I can say it! teehee) gtg 2 Spain. L8rs.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

i no longer know why I’m surprised, really

Lo, who is this crone who wanders near, leprous among the shadows, bleary and distressed and best to be avoided? Fresh from a Dickens slum, a look of bleak bewilderment crossing her smudged brow – lately blown in from the coal face. People whisper and point and shield their children. A deranged poor soul is she, in search of but a shawl, a basket of heather to unsettle the superstitious and perhaps extort a few quid in the doing (kerching!).
The sort of look to haunt the early hours, to wake from sweating, clutching the reality of sheets in hot grateful fists; but a glance in the mirror confirms the grim truth. This was no dream but me, following an unsuccessful session with DIY hair dye. Some rough old bit of grim mac is what I now call hair.
I mean, I hardly expected to morph into the simpering lovely on the box, not in 25 minutes, and luckily my fringe does conceal dark crimes against my hair line, but the Mind The Gap discrepancy between expectation and brutal reality is hard.
Hard, but cheap.
I think this particular box of disappointing lies set me back a fiver, whereas at a salon it can run to eighty pounds.
I sound like my father. That’s 1600 shillings. Sheesh.
It’s also a question of terms, some vocab-cocky copywriter’s “natural medium brown” is my “Crow Black: fit to scare the kiddies.” The children flinch, they flee from me that sometime did me seek…
Two weeks and it'll be brassy again, three and I'm back on the box, fiddling with the gloves, living in hope.

But meanwhile face the world I must, to walk the dog, a creature who is no longer the random flash of impetuous fur that has tortured our life for what seems like decades.
Instead, she stands mute and obedient.
When I open the door she waits, all but saying, “After you, love.” She does not barge between my legs, prompting an unseemly scuffle, where the lead whips across my skin, a domino effect of pain and rage and tears ensuing, laced with the adrenaline of failure. And once out, she is calm, not deranged, not displaying truly disproportionate joy in what is, let’s face it, a pretty dull walk round a field, and an unlikely trigger for such hysteria. No more is the walk a time of deep stress and unhappiness, my control freakery sent into freefall by Lolly’s jolly sociable ways, outstaying her welcome wherever she went.

For if the dog is the worst thing I have ever bought, then the zapper (aka obedience collar) is the best. Particularly when half price on eBay. And, whereas I’d love to lay claim to efficient training schemes, I must confess that this seismic shift in her behaviour is due purely to the detonator in my feverish sticky paw. My new best friend.

One session, lasting about 10 mins, and Lolly is TRANSFORMED. Say it loud, and it’s almost like thunder. Finally, I am the owner of a Good Dog and can pat her with a hearty laugh and say “marvellous” as if I mean it when talking about her.

The collar arrived, and seldom has a package been opened with more anticipatory thrill. No cross dresser on receiving his nipple tassels could have torn at the jiffy so eagerly. I fumbled with the strap, the box, the remote control with obscene joy. I all but used my teeth.
My busy hands were necessarily stilled for the 24 molar-gnashing hours it took to charge, time I used to attempt the instruction booklet, the bit of the process I’d rather busk normally. Or get E to read.
Page one tends to be fine in these things, then there’s a confusing set of diagrams where they try to convince you of 19 myriad functions, 17 of which you never tie down and, then, when the page is turned, all hell is let loose, all sense of sense obliterated while the words ‘input’ and ‘mode’ and ‘function’ and ‘interface’ make worryingly frequent appearances.
So normally I don’t bother but, better and better, since this kit has 3 buttons, just 3, one of which you don’t even need, then even I was able to read through to the end, read and digest: one for bleep and one for zap. Yo.

The next day, I rubbed my hands with glee, and got me started.
I tested the zapper and found that level ‘one’ gave but a mild thrill, a bit like a TENS machine. This was marginally disappointing, since I’d hoped for something more industrial; but not disappointing enough to risk testing ‘eight’ on myself. Ho ho, no. Stupid I am not. Eight could wait for dark days with Lolly. There would be plenty.
I strapped her into her kit, very Hannibal Lecter Wears Bomb. A most pleasing sight, a physical embodiment of ME being in charge. Me, Lolly, not you.

Look at her now, an unwitting (naturally, hello? she’s a dog AND she’s blonde) suicide bomber. She’s still unaccountably pleased with herself but I let it go, despite regretting the long chat which we’ll never have, when I could put her straight on that particular little myth.
If dogs spoke English life,would be a good deal easier, “Lolly, you are very, very dim,” I could say, “there is nothing to be proud of in your helter-skelter ways...”
Instead, I take comfort where I can. Well, you've got to.
So the flashing box is tied tight beneath her chin, tight as an old bag’s head scarf.
It works.
It works so well I could weep.
The thought that it might malfunction, to boot, and blow the dog sky high in wonderful random bits is the stuff of giddy dreams; greedy maybe, but it sure does lighten the step. There’s nothing like a bomb at a dog’s throat to cheer one up.

So I have been feeling sort of benign towards her, and sort of smug with myself for having sorted things out (albeit employing vast expense and electrocution) which was a damnfule thing to do and shows me how one never learns and should certainly never think that things are going well.
Oh no.
For the doorbell has only just this minute gone, as I was typing this, skewing the balance of my blog and making it too long, for it was the chap from the local shop.
I had thought that my newly surprised hair was the main arrow in the quiver of current cock-ups: I was wrong.

I half shut the door in his face, not able to bear a renewed session of chat about his teeth (“Dropping. Like bits from a glacier. Six of them. I’m on medication”) when I noticed a loathsomely familiar beast at his legs, grinning away with misplaced confidence, half bouncing on stiff woolly legs. “Hoiiii!”
“In!” I hissed, using my best steel-capped slippers as a means to guiding the hound sharpish with speed, holding the door firm meanwhile to keep shop man well and truly out.
The “In” will never apply to him: the last thing I need is a man on medication missing half his teeth.
“So sorry,” I muttered, which loosely translates as Bloody Hell I Hate That Dog.
“Peugeot nearly got her,” he said, rubbing it in.
Damn, I thought
“How nearly?” I said
He held up his hands to illustrate the gap – a few, cruel, fisherman’s centimetres – between us and a dog-free house. Life sucks sometimes.
There’s always next time, I thought, dredging up optimism from deep despair, such is habit.
“Oh well,” I said, “Lucky, huh.” When you live round here you have to pretend to care.
“She was on the mother-in-law’s bed yesterday. In the bedroom.”
“What? Upstairs?” I squeaked, thinking: little soft paws on grimy gritty sheets, yuk!
Upstairs,” he confirmed, in a way that can only be described as threatening.

My second fear was more real – sod the paws, she can lick ‘em clean – that this uninvited entrée, this furry surge, to Upstairs, somehow suggested that I might have to pay him something. Compensation, say.
I wanted to thwack into touch the gleam of dry cleaning bills lurking hungry in his eye.
Surely I make more than my fair share of unnecessary purchases from the shop to assuage my guilt at Lolly’s horrid interest in the white mice and sherbet puffs? When you’ve seen where that face has been the last thing you want is to buy sweets for your children seconds after she’s been rummaging, giving them the lusty once over. Just the thought is enough to regret not having installed a chair in the porch for recuperative purposes.
Lolly may have misjudged the mother-in-law for me - the ancient being does even better crone than I do, being the real thing. I smoothed a hand through my fearsome locks.
Shop man took flight, and backed away down the path, as if noticing the hair for the first time.
Five pounds well spent.

What that dog really needs now is manacles. Something desperately hard-core. Dog drugs maybe.
I was hopelessly naïve to trust in a mere collar alone.
But are they legal? Will I be arrested for simply typing in “incarceration methods” to eBay – dare I risk “inquisition techniques”? Is there a cyber keystroke police out there?
How much more, oh Lord, must we suffer with this dread dog, this greasy bag of fur? How very bad must I have been in a former life.
And if it’s not Shop Man, it’s Grim Duo from next door, ferrying Lolly back on an ostentatious lead bought for this purpose alone muttering about boundaries.

No wonder my mantra is Think Gin.
Meanwhile, what I can do, I will do, which is to wear a hat and turn the zapper wheel up to 8. We must take our pleasures where we can. Revenge is a dish best eaten whenever possible.
See who’s laughing then, dog. Mwah ha ha.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

busy busy busy

I have been tagged twice recently by the wonderful and clearly very sensible Ernest de Cugnac and DJ Kirby.
Because it’s sort of the same kind of thing, one of those memes where you just select absolutely the best blog you can think of ever in the whole wide world (or words to that intent), I’m going to merge them and select my new top five.
I have an old five, my favourite bloggers whom I’ve been reading, and who’ve been reading me, for over a year now. You know who you are. You know I love you. But life's cruel, and I'm ditching you lot for this one and moving on, although I will just thank Jane for getting me into blogging, consider yourself awarded something or other. Oh, the graciousness.

In spreading the net wider rather, will just point you in the direction of:

First, obviously Rottie, a most under-visited blogger, fierce but fair and with a worrisomely good grip on grammar, vocab and current affairs. I don’t always agree with him, I do always feel a bit dim reading him. Imagine what it’s like being married to him.

Then, in no particular order:
memsahibwordpress who writes like a dream and makes me feel gauche and awkward in comparison.
Mud in the City because I can live vicariously through those long-ago years of Will He? Won’t He? Very Jane Austen's texted for a date.
Eve, because I love child #4. For comparative purposes.
Karen, because she’s always very good, darn her.
the lovely NuttyCow who is far too young for me and I was scared to mention her first time round, but having just gone and read her estate agent one, I realise how very necessary it is that she is listed. Plus there's an ancient one about manners which is well worth a read.

In addition (blessikins) I’ve been swamped rather with a little rush of awards recently (Jane, MOB, Meanie, Elizabeth, Mud, fine people all). How very pleasant, astutely judged and thoroughly well deserved. Although .... the dusting opportunity! My shelf swelleth over.
Am generally rubbish at acknowledging these here, since I tend to snatch them up greedily, and just shuffle over to the giver’s site where I gush my thanks there, but thank you very much to all award-givers, and to all who’ve ever bestowed, and to anyone who reads this, feel free to nick one, but tell me which one and why! Anyone meme'd can take two. The generosity.

Finally Blossom tagged me wanting to know six random things.
Since I’ve already done seven (which includes this, too), and eight, my mind's gone blank. A depressingly frequent state of affairs.
I got as far as 1 and then stopped.
Over the days I've sneaked in from time to time and upped this to 4. By Monday, who knows, I might have creaked out the full 7.

1. I was born with a hole in my heart
2. I used to garden for a criminal. He would try to put his tongue down my throat and tottered, fat and oily, dapper and suited, across the grass, with glasses of champagne for me. This sort of softened the blow, but really, even I have standards. I saw too much.
3. I was asked to be a graveyard judge once. Said no. Vaguely regret it now.
4. I studied Greek at school. My mother had done it a couple of years before me, so I could cheat and copy her homework. My vicious trout of a Greek teacher said that I'd fail my 'O' Level. I got an A. Yah Boo to her.
5. ah, there was a five, and then the phone went, a person from Porlock, and I forgot it
and so then ... I ran out of steam.

So, Blossom, forgive me for having nothing of interest left in the pot.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

eye of newt

“Couldn’t you make me sound caring?” my mother said.
Ever a slave to the truth, I was bound to pause.
“Well, there is the stuff about the hamster,” I said, floundering, as if in an interview when asked to discuss my achievements and finding that particular folder marked empty. “And the bird.”
The pause sounded sad this time.
“It just doesn’t sound quite enough,” she said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I said, dizzy with the unaccustomed sensation of being granted the upper hand. as rare for me as an unsupervised go on the TV remote control.
I put down the phone (firm but fair) leaving my poor mother to totter to her kitchen and mash her destroyed gnashers on an omelette. For the last 30 years she has battled with her teeth. A serious design flaw, we have decided, that bridging bit between body and inside. And now her sine qua non is root canal. If she’s not going to the dentist forking out £200 a time, she has just been or is going tomorrow. There are operations and in between there are check ups where her regular dentist peers and winces and pats her shoulder. Big money exchanges hands: one way as usual. Leaving my mother the choice of soup, yoghurt or soup. Or yoghurt. Or if she’s feeling defiant, an omelette.
But she’s very caring. Very very caring.
Have I said that she is very caring?
And while I’m in penance land, I should point out that the Daisy Loves a Chicken type of books my brother was buying for his 7 year old are to help her in her third language, English. She’s doing Sartre in the original back home in Paris, and saves her native Dante for bedtime. Who can deny her kung fu unicorns in the face of that expertise? Not even me, though God knows it hurts to say so.
Meanwhile, when not momentarily alert to my duty of playing fair by my family, I have been busy multi-tasking. Not a concept I embrace naturally, finding deadly onerous the notion of chewing gum AND walking simultaneously. Heaven forbid.
No, my multi-tasking is of the maternal kind where I don’t actually have to do anything but react.

At one polar end is T11, newly endowed recipient of about 85 Grade 5s at SATS and fine Bottom of this parish who has just acted his mismatched little socks off in the school version of Midsummer’s Night Dream. An abridgement fashioned predominantly around the mechanicals thereby rendering his part the most important.
Oh yes.
And all those lines! None of which you can fudge (being the real thing, not kiddyfied), nor sort of make up on the hoof, not with all the “ousel cock so black of hue” and “O dainty duck, O dear, thy mantle good ..” and “stolen hence” etc. No, he had to learn them all. And did. And made them charming. Jack Sparrow does Bottom.
Now, normally, I am not one to enjoy Species Child Actor, finding it a stiff and stilted little breed in urgent need of a slap and, normally, moreover, I am a fierce judge of my own children, wishing to protect them from a wider criticism by being the first to notice it myself. But, as Bottom, dear T11 found his zenith.
"Of course," my mother said, "He's far too pretty to play Bottom."
I contemplated in peeved silence how the role of Titania should indeed have been his, flowing robes and lots of lace, rather than ass's ears and a colander on his head.
We went in with scant expectation – and who would have thought it, a Shakespearean comedy which was actually highly amusing? The audience chortled and clapped and I was all but mobbed at the end by admiring parents.
Friends, I wafted, Cloud 9 was mine and on this happy day, my inner Mrs Clooney rose magnificently to the challenge as I kindly nodded modest acceptance of his fine turn. (Incidentally, quite why the mothers of stars don’t have more of an on-going role escapes me. Surely people are more than interested in hearing what Johnny Depp’s mother might have to say on any given subject? I certainly have respect for the fine woman given now that we have more in common.) while gracious enough to boom, very Margot Ledbetter, how Simply Marvellous all the children had been. Smiles all round. I fumbled discretely for a pen ready to favour one or two grateful random souls with an autograph, should they be so lucky. Goodness I could warm to some Lady Mayoress type role. I am wasted on housework.

In the corner, something sawed away at my contentment. F9, indulging in his very own Gene Kelly: his penguin umbrella not being employed as Fit for Purpose but trespassing into dangerous weapon land as careless of its spokes he spun beneath its private glow oblivious to all around him.
My antennae bristled as shades of glory passeth onto the fog of despair. We scooped up the miscreant before true damage was done, and went home, only very slightly cross.

Today at breakfast, F9 growled, “Oi ‘ate B9.”
As do we all, I thought, a stranger to the idea of loving all children as mine own, particularly with regard to the odious B9.
“What’s happened now?” I asked, shrill, buttering the muffin with a little more desperation, the knife clutched tight (“Is this a dagger that I see before me…).
“He said to all the boys at lunchtime to put up their hands if they hated me. They all did. Apart from A9 and J9.”

Reader, hell hath no fury like a mother scorned, my blood boiled as pain and fury surged my arteries. Long have we suffered at the hands of this troll-like runt, this hateful little toad, this herder of pathetic sheep, larding our days with discontent. A brutal creature is he, hewn from sub-standard stone and laced with aggressive swagger. His nostrils flare disdainful, a Flashman for our days in idle search of a Tom Brown to plague. His Tom Brown, my F9, resists, but still B9 does not tire of his torment.
It does not help that his mother virtually lives at the school, forever "helping"and Queen of the PTA. They are the stuff of nightmares. The child sees himself as inviolable.
“He’s not,” the headmaster was quick to say.
For F9 to tell me about it meant that it hurt. He is a brave little soul, not easy, but brave. I said that, too.

Nothing comes of nothing, so I approached the headmaster at the gates.
“Still glowing with pride?” he asked.
“Yes, no, well, didn’t they all do marrrrvellously,” I heard Mrs Clooney purr, slipping easily into favoured character, touched by T11’s success. Then, frailty took hold of the vocals, part harridan, part insipid soul on the brink of tears, a lean and hungry look for justice on me. I burbled out the new discontent.
He looked concerned and promised to investigate. I think he thinks that he is a detective.

On my way from school I was accosted by J9’s mother. Worse was in store: she filled in more details of yesterday’s “incident” giving the brutal tale more flesh, none of it nice and most of it below the belt.
“I hope you don’t think I’m tittle-tattling,” she said, her tongue sliding out between her teeth.
I called back into school and blurted out the whole sorry story, apologetic but fretful. There was an onslaught of Inappropriates and Unacceptables and Procedures. Something is rotten in the state of the system but he still says, he’ll see what he can do.

Wish me luck. I’m about to sally forth for the update.
And tonight, my carrot of reward luring me through to sanity: one last bask at Bottom, where Mrs Clooney will film the entire MND, the final performance. Leaving me something to drool over when age has withered me. When I have but dim memories of painful times featuring penguin umbrellas, when the name B has lost its power to hurt, when I am old and grey and signifying nothing.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

them were t’days, and the price of everything

My mother, never shy of having the last word, fixed a scary eye on F9, jabbed at his brand new watercolour set and said,
“In your mother’s day, that would have been a Christmas present.”
“Yes!” I said, a schoolgirl again (grateful variety), “My Guide uniform was my birthday present!”
“Oh, but the belt was lovely,” said my mother, “not like now. Has he said 'thank you'?”

F9 sat, face forward, his lips imperceptibly pursed, acknowledgement of these interesting facts: nil. His hand curled a little tighter round the paint box.
It seemed that a further last word was needed.
My mother leant forward.
“And in my day, a second hand one of those would have been a Christmas present.”

We had been to Bristol, to the RWA,where my brother and father had photographs in the current exhibition.
I had bought F9 a little watercolour box since, in his day, we encourage any hint of interest in a wholesome activity. Indeed we pounce on it and throw in a pad, a pen, and a notebook, too. I forbore from mentioning that the paints only represented 3 bottles of wine and, quite frankly, the purchasing had also doubled up as mollification. Words had been exchanged representing Health and Safety on the till operative’s part and intense interest in climbing on the balcony rail on F9’s. If you can get out of anywhere these days only £20 the lighter, whether in bribes or unnecessary purchases, it has to be called a triumph.

But somewhere between my childhood and his, things have indeed changed. Further back in time, my grandfather famously had only three toys while growing up, and one of those might have been a wooden spoon. Clearly he didn’t know he was born.

In Borders, I came upon my brother wasting money on crappy books featuring unicorn detectives or puppies knitting jumpers. Pink, swirly glittery covers bearing phrases like, “dreams can come true” and “friendship saves the day.” The stuff to send your thoughts selachimorphal, anyway, (which is a big word to do with sharks).
Later, I asked him what he spends a week on his daughter, on what might be called “extras,” ballet, horses, crappy books.
“Only about £30,” he said.

Luckily, my mother was out of the room, possibly instructing her hamster in New Moves (the hamster is the only one left who can realistically fall under her instructional arc), for that would have surely called for a Sharp Intake of Breath, £30 representing what our private school fees worked out at a week. The signing of the school fees’ cheques was always a black day in our house, shrouded in tiptoeing and nervous smiles; my father’s magnificent signature a flourish of desperation on the small rectangle.
“I’m only as good as my last job,” was the phrase implying a circling of wolves at the door.
Councils were at it even then, social realignment. Because we merely lived a mile from the good local grammar, we had been allocated the other, a seamy sink with only 6 pupils (what would be called students today) in the combined sixth form. Childhoods were famously short there. My father was exhorted by the head to do anything, anything at all, rather than sacrifice his children to that school. So he sold his collection of miniatures and off to private school went we.
On Saturday, I was able to explain the reasoning behind his cryptic crossword clues (luckily merely the Telegraph and therefore easy) which I think went someway towards recompense. Finally, a sense of money having been well spent.
That I only know what a fly agaric is being down to Babar was something about which I kept quiet.

Back in those days, the days of uniform as presents, our idea of humour was to peel off the stickers from a large item, say dog biscuits, and laboriously re-position it on something like mustard.
Out would stretch my father’s innocent hand and a frown would develop as focussing brought terrible truth.
“£3.50!” he’d breathe, sick to the stomach. Then, quick as a flash, “That’s 70 shillings. 70 shillings!
“Life’s expensive,” we’d say.

“You look after those paints,” was said at lunch.
The price of things, and the age of things, all relative, all important.
“Don’t patronise me,” wheezed F9, “I’m 9th oldest in my class.”

My mother was tending the hamster. Apparently he was sorting out his bedding. Making a bloody mess I’d’ve been told, doing that to my duvet.
The irony of it is that the one creature in our midst who truly does not know he is born is that hamster. The ease of the thing’s life defies belief. My father dipped a paw into a tin and retrieved a rock cake. My mother makes daily batches, her interest re-kindled by a pigeon they rescued. Which they called Frances (or Francis). Apparently Frances (now dead) liked rock cakes.
The hamster is not treated to rock cakes but I was wise enough to resist asking why. Age confers some sense, wariness the rest: you’ve got to feel strong to take on my mother at the best of times, let alone over the thorny issue of the most expensive bundle of fur in the world. I would have been treated to an irritable frown, and a “no no no, hamsters can’t digest Anchor butter.”
What they can digest is broccoli, and not bog-standard broccoli, either, my sharp glance told me, but Waitrose tenderstem broccoli. Presumably flown from Kenya - I dread to contemplate that creature's carbon pawprint. And laid, what’s bloody more, very Michelin, in same directional stripes on a mini-saucer, very shiny.

The hamster had to go to the vet recently.
“The what!” I shrieked, thinking what’s wrong with the bin. “What did that cost you?”
“Only £30,” my mother said, “very reasonable, in the circumstances.”
I did not enquire after the circumstances. As far as I could see, £30 equalled fifteen hamsters, one and a half mollification sessions at the RWA, or 9 bottles of surprisingly nice cheap wine. Or, if you must, for we all have our standards, 6 ghastly books about do-gooding unicorns.
Moreover, the most indulged hamster in the world has more toys on each layer of his, get this, his glass palace, than my poor grandfather could even dream of. Not one of them a wooden spoon, but colour co-ordinated to keep boredom at bay and enhance his SATs' score.
Sensory-deprivation comes there none, hamster-wards, each bauble over a hundred shillings’ worth.
Perhaps that is the true reason she was eyeing the water colours so and, next time I visit, there will be an easel propped in the corner of the glass palace and the hamster crashing about in a beret.
It had better be bloody grateful is all I can say.

Friday, 20 June 2008

yum yum

For a long time now I have been basking in that Maternal Utopia, the land where I believe that I am teaching my children to cook for, God knows, the last thing the world needs is more useless males tumbling into it, come 18, unable to lift a finger.
I lie about it to other mothers and can imagine arguing the toss with St Peter come the day when I have to blag my way into heaven.
Meanwhile, happy in my falsehood, I can see Jamie Oliver giving me a toothy thumbs up and saying “Gotcha!” or “Sorted!” and Big Bad Gord ruffling my hair while growling, “Fuck Me! Nice one, Mil.”

Only it doesn’t really happen.
Because, simply and truly, they can’t be arsed.
It’s not for my wanting of trying, oh no, because it used to happen.
Sort of.
Once or twice a long time ago.
This is when I instituted the sadness that was Boy Wednesday when they were meant to turn up and show an interest in stirring the pot. I made it as fun as my inner control freak was able. Indeed there are even photos, witness to my moments of Merry Mom, of F9 (when F6) enshrined in clouds of flour. But when push comes to shove, they just couldn’t care less. Not when the option is going down the park instead, that is.
It goes without saying, however, that they are as capable as the next child of staring at the plate in dismay, and saying “What’s this?” Their sullen tones fit to chill the cook’s blood, but neither of them wants to peel an onion or get down and dirty trimming the beaks and knees from a slabby bit of chicken. And who can blame them, frankly? Not when there are staff, called Mother.

I’ve long mumbled – and please understand that I have NOT been to Afghanistan – that it doesn't get much worse than hearing a male voice, related to me by blood or marriage, asking “What’s for supper?”
My mother hated cooking and in retaliation I’ve kept up the pretence that I quite like it for far too long. I suppose I can fiddle with monkfish with the best of them, but the day to day stuff is the stuff of oppression. Very Little Red Hen am I, stomping round the kitchen doing it All By Myself while others lounge on sofas or play cricket. Miraculously, come 7 o’clock they all know to drift in just not when any chopping needs doing. Cake mix brings 'em running, too. Must be magic.
Moreover the treacherous children still maintain that their favourite meal is a certain chicken pie, their father’s signature dish, made maybe four times since time began and only once since 2005, (me doing the dull old pastry, unsung).
Quite why I bother in the face of failure to live up to such culinary riches, I have no idea.

Then last night I stumbled across F9’s “My Food Passport.” This hails from the short-lived days when F9 was the most reluctant Beaver in history (“Oi ‘ate beavers!”). Akela, a sturdy lass, had thought it would be Fun to introduce the Beavers to food from different countries, an admirable quest. The passport, a scruffy piece of much folded paper features a drawing of himself, the sort to muddle a fond parent since it bears a striking likeness to an orc from Lord of the Rings: fierce and with one hand more lobster than human, the other wrapped round an unspecified weapon.
Inside are 5 sections each marked Food, From, Marks out of 10 and Comment. I read on.
Greece fared well, I saw, with its Bread and Hummus. It scored an acceptable 10 out of 10 and was deemed to be “Just lovely” (for a moment I read it as “Just lonely” and felt sorry for it).
Leaping ahead, and finding favour was bread and brie, scoring an impressive 100,000,50 out of 10 for being “so nice and cheesy,” (go, France), but the AA Gill in him was less pleased with Japan’s offerings (Sushi) which scored a depressing 0 out of 10, and the stern comment, “It tasted like sick and it’s just papper” (sic, but of a different sort).

I showed it to him and it sparked a renewed interest in cooking. Something I embraced with off-putting enthusiasm. I suggested he prepare a menu. Which he did:

It’s got to be said, it’s a bit of a heartsinker.
It’s one to save for the grandparents methinks, sort the buggers out.
“Are you sure about that?” I said
“Yes,” he said puzzled, as he and Lolly so often are, at my deep stupidity. I swear those two share genes.
“Meat … and blackberry … in a pie?”

The chicken korma sandwich, toasted, with spinach, bacon, sauce and cheese, does not have me reaching for my apron either. But he loves his Indian food does F9 and back in the food passport his grading of pappadums and mango chutney shows his approval.
“So crunchy” he says, affording it an "Apprentice"-friendly 1250,000,0000000 out of 10. Poor Mexico, in comparison does not stand a chance. The Tortillas and salsa dip apparently “tasted like it had no life,” and gets a grim 2/10.

Meanwhile tomorrow I cook for 20. All on my own. 7 out of 10 will be fine. Sick, funnily enough, will not.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

gone but not quite forgotten

It being boiling hot, F9 has been drifting round in his dressing gown. Seems he needs no excuse to pop it on, but since this is the child who saw fit to wear 5 t-shirts and 13 pairs of shorts to a barbecue on the hottest day of July one year, despite a face like a tomato, I am no longer surprised.
“I want to be toasty!” he wailed, when I got a fit of the grapples and try to wrestle it off.
He makes you feel boiling just to look at him, and the pinkness of faces all round after the undressing fisticuffs is very princess.
“I need comfort,” he said.
I was sad, too. We all are.

For T11 has gone off on a week’s residential fun (archery to zip-wires) and we have been missing him terribly.
My missing peaked at about 2pm on Monday, which was crazy given that I wouldn’t normally even have picked him for another hour or so.
And we'd only been apart 90 minutes. I had spent the morning trying to make his MP3 player work before conceding that I was too old to continue and couldn't be bothered. I was staring, like Lolly, at bits of metal and plastic which I was never going to understand, and instead loaded all of his favourites onto my iPod Shuffle. It means that I will never be free of The Ping Pong Song but who cares.
So come 2 o'clock, I started mourning and panicking, imagining not gap-5 days, but gap years.
"Best thing for him," my mother said briskly. Try as I might, I cannot imagine her mourning my absence much.
“We have to let go, and at least we know they're all having a nice time; and that helps,” said wise, sensible, grown up friend, stating the bleeding obvious and making me feel foolish.
Something I compounded by clutching my hankie, my comfort rag, and whimpering, “I know all that, but I don’t care. I care about me.”
“You just need to relax,” she said in a way that made me appreciate F9’s need to carry a gun at all times. Just what IS Reasonable Force, I wondered, and what Provocation?

Meanwhile my aunt phoned to say that on Sunday evening, my cousin J had had her 4th baby (the others are 5, 4 and 2).
The house, friends, could not be smaller.
The car needs to be upgraded to a sort of bus.
The husband does not drive.
Even J now thinks that that enough was enough and she was only a day in.
Listening to myself wailing about being down to one, I pictured the nappies, the trailing round of 3 tinies and a baby. The laundry. If contemplating that lot doesn't exhaust you, you are no friend of mine. I glanced around and thought that things weren’t so bad.

I went outside and planted up some tubs for the front. No one came to ask for the computer password to be typed in or roll their eyes over my supper suggestion.

Lolly played football without any bossy child removing the ball from her busy jaws. For once, her game reached a natural conclusion. She collapsed, exhausted from actual toil, rather than it being the only option left to her, bewildered by the irritable re-ownership of the ball, uncertain, with the dim look of one suddenly bereft but of what, she's never sure, but stranded to contemplate instead taking up MP3 management. She snored on the ground, contented. (Her promotion to goldfish grade is pending: she's yet to prove her worth since she can't even swim in circles.)

Grabbing the optimistic end of the stick and things were suddenly all quite pleasant.
Oldest boy, whatever his name is, is missed, most indeedy. His luscious kissable skin for starters; the way his tiny freckles startle you and make you pleased because to see them means you are close to him, and he is so very beautiful that this is most gorgeous, flattering almost. And don't get me started on his eyelashes. My eyes brim...

Please don't tell me I'm relaxing, or I'll twitch for a weapon, but meal times are certainly calmer, there is no sly kicking, one of the other, under the table.
Internecine war does not exist with only one side available for duty, a side who has no need to unleash his inner pterodactyl and lapse into strange squawks (one of many tics to prompt a sad shake of the head from my mother, and a "he's not the ticket, you know") or shriek "T11 did it!" I am forced to wonder if, perhaps, indeed, F9 is right and T11 does do it, sometimes.
With no arguments to pacify, there has been no need for a soothing glass of wine. Really. All week. Easy sobriety.
F9 has no one to tell to shut up or to get lost or to be furious with for closing his tractor catalogue. Moreover F9 is into his 48th hour of speaking properly, without going into enraging loonytunes mode, although he does ask E with OCD frequency if he is contagious. Of what I dare not ask.
There is no peri-teenage ringtone nonsense.
At school, the granite features of two grim matrons fiddling with whiteboards lit up in happy memory of the day their children had left home.
“Sad, yes, for a bit,” said the grimmest, trying to look thoughtful and caring, “but the relief, too!” She and Not So Grim chortled.

It being Thursday I could afford for a teeny tiny chortle to stagger into life around my own lazy chops. After all, he's back tomorrow and the limbo waiting will be over. The nest will be full again and my bad temper can swarm back all content.

F9 looked up at me. "Toasty!" he said, in his best Northern accent.
"Toasty," I said.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Do You Want Any Help With That?

On Saturday, I was awoken at the ungodly hour of half past ten by a banging and a rasping sound.
E at play in the sitting room beneath, knocking off nasty coving.
His lack of consideration to my recovery needs following a friend’s 50th was really quite startling. No more Zzzzs for me.
I went downstairs to tell him so.
Finding him covered in dust and grim of mien, I thought better of it and pretended instead that I’d been Up For Hours and Doing Something, a line stolen from F9.
If he is not doing nuffin, he is doing sumfin’.
Either is as good as you'll ever get and possibly more than you need to know. If the door has been shut, the face red and there is the hasty slam of a drawer to boot, then the sense of foreboding is great. Whether it was Nuffin or Sumfin, it is as well to check the presence of credit cards in purse and fear for the knock on the door: Postie demanding a signature in exchange for an iPhone.

Instead, I went into the kitchen to meet the unpleasing sight of Lolly eating a spider.
I hate spiders, so this proclivity might be the one thin strand which that dog can use to tie herself to us, thereby avoiding a sticky end at the glue factory, but it’s not a thing you wish to see. Particularly when it’s a crunchy spider, or, actually, a bulbous, squadgy one, the kind to cling to a tooth and emit.
Indeed I’d go so far as not say that you haven’t lived if you've not been party to this particular gastro experience, which is preceded by a dim stare of intent, her muzzle mapping the ground as if drawn by a subterranean magnet, and finished with a busy pounce. And a rustle or a splodge, depending on type.

I snapped on her lead, too fragile to contemplate burst arachnid innards or bits of beast twitching in her mouth. She licked her lips lustily.
I walked and she bounced through buttercups and snarfed on horse shit.
On the way home, there was still the suspicion of spider about her chops – was it Lolly-whisker or spider-leg? Decisions, decisions. A girl needs a hobby: bored, she licked out strands of broken spider from between her teeth.
It reminded me of F9, when he was F2, glumly surveying a dead crackly tiny something in his hand. Possibly what had been happy to call itself a woodlouse in life. “Broken,” he’d said softly.

When I’d got in late the night before I’d kindly shared with E the details of my own gastro experience:
lots of champers
beef with foie gras
3 dainty puds, puddled on a plate, steeped in chocolat.
Servants, all dressed up and cooking in the birthday girl’s garage. I doubt that I could successfully open a packet of crisps in a garage, but these tux’d chaps not only did just that, but divvied it up to us whinnying old bags, and then took it all away again to wash up back at their gaff. Marvellous.
E was quite rude, however, somewhere around my fourth mention of “champagne” and “delicious,” and reminded me of the frozen Indian feast I’d hastily slapped in the oven for the 3 of them shortly before swanning off out.
“Never again,” he said. “Shit on a plate.”

The morning passed subject to various degrees of frost, with many things and various subjects (spiders, champagne, husbands, wives and dogs) being ignored or unmentionable.
Later, two old people having a bop.
I said as much to E.
We were listening to Moby’s fantastic new CD. E was making bread, I was making a meal out of opening a box of under-bed drawers. (Wrong size, too big, we discovered an hour into putting them together.)
“That’s a bit offensive,” he said. His turn to borrow from F9.
“OK,” I said, “One old person, and his wife, having a bop.”
For sho’.

With redundant storage taking up excess room (an inverse result of its supposed function), there was no actual room for F9 in his room.
He lay on the floor writing a poem about Lolly, that her heart was like an apple sewn together and then remembered that he had a project to do for school, a half term project, the details of which he scanned impatiently. He declared the work finished in about 30 seconds, most of which was spent waiting for the printer to heat up.

“That was quick,” I said, before skimming it and saying, “Ah, no. No copying and pasting it, it’s got to be your words.”
“Thomas did it like that,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said, “No, look, look here,” I dangled Mrs K’s bit of paper.
What she says goes, what I say is rubbish.
He went back upstairs.

After 40 minutes, I called to see if he needed any help. It was that or show interest in bashing off coving. Decisions, decisions.
“It’s just that I’m so slow at typing,” he said.
I went in. He was copy-typing all that he had previously printed out, word for word for word. Laborious. No gaps after full stops. What could one be but sad. Such industry, so pointless. Very drawers under the bed.
But sometimes I worry that he and Lolly share a brain. That they borrow it one from the other, wind it up and strap it tight, usually forgetting to switch it on.
“It said ‘… mywords…’,” he said, with elaborate explanation, stressing each word to aid dimwit mother’s comprehension. Being the reasonable interpretation of one who thought that that meant that he had to input the actual words himself, key by very slow key.

I explained what it did mean.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Like this,” I said.

I started copying and pasting and changing internet-speak, not to F9-speak, apples and hearts and offensive, but to normal 9-year-old speak:
“with the emergence of …. “ to “when”
and phrases involving rape, mutilation and beating to “they were horrible to their wives.”
It was fascinating.
I could tell you many things about the Yanomami:
the 9 species of poisonous vine used in fishing
that 40% of their men have killed another human being
how they live, up to 400, in a big round house
how there are only 32.000 of them, but 40,000 miners intent upon their gold, trashing their rivers with mercury

I typed on until a sense of silence dawned on me.
I saved the work, being only part way through, and went downstairs.
E was reading with his eyes shut on the sofa. The coving defeated and waiting for the tip.
“F9?!?” I called.
“Goin’ to the park,” he bellowed from the hall, said in tones of one whose shoes were on and whose work was done.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

(mad dogs and) 9 year olds go out in the half term rain

It being a wet half term, F9 has spent most of it drifting around in his dressing gown, over which is a garment of staggering vileness, that is, his new cagoule.
Very Noel Coward goes Train Spotting.
The dressing gown has half-inched brooches of mine decorating the lapels, and the pockets bulge with soft toys. From time to time he winks and blows on his gun.
The cagoule is merely nasty.
Armed with phrases from Calvin and Hobbes, he has been slowly driving us all mad. It is his USP, his sine qua non, this ability to force your blood pressure from normal to nasty in 3 or 4 seconds.

At any given point, T11 will be outside, red in the face and furious, meaning only one thing: that he has spent too long with F9, meaning that he has spent about 5 minutes with F9.

F9, careless and artless, will bustle in, clutching E’s binoculars and the splashproof box we keep (or kept) our Euros in. He has hazy notions of ownership, barring that all things useful, gadgetry and jewels gravitate to his magpie mitts. He points the other hand, accusingly, back at T11,
“Such a crosspatch, that boy,” he announces, “going into the future, kicking and screaming.”
“I want to kill him!” roars T11, hot pink tears spurting like a cartoon.
“I know,” I say, with maternal parity, “I know.”
“Tut, tut, tut,” advises F9, advancing unbidden past metaphorical Go, collecting several hundred pounds of other people’s money, “always do your homework.”

I’m meant to say here that I very much love my sons, but over-exposure can result in re-evaluating boarding schools. I’d even consider cashing in the dog if it meant a few quid, and you know how hard I’d take that.
“Be nice to me,” F9 warns, “pretty soon my tax dollars will be funding your prison cell.”
“It’s not even dollars,” sobs T11, “if anyone ever pays him anything, it will be pounds. I HATE HIM!”
Tut tut tut.

Beyond listening to tutting and sobbing and the interminable ring tone of T11’s brand new mobile phone, I seem to have done nothing recently but laundry and tidy, and still the house is the sort where you take your shoes off to go outside, rather than on the way in.

Strangely, F9 has not tried to monopolise, appropriate or otherwise spoil T11’s super dooper new phone, despite us all being a little too much in love with it. Very swish.
Possibly because he has actually managed to order himself an iPhone. My heart sinks to the grim inevitable. When not trying to prise him out of his inappropriate clothing, I am spending far too much time monitoring the iPhone situation. It is very stressful. He is obsessed by the things, fully confident of being an imminent owner of same, and scornful of my attempts to explain a thing or two about the ‘Til Hell Freezes Over likelihood of all this.
“But it’s only £169,” he says pitying my inability to rub my hands in glee at the bargain and order two.

Every now and again I nearly fall for it.
“What’s your mother’s maiden name?” he’ll call down from the study.
The name will be on my lips, “None of your business,” I remember in time.
Or, “What was your first car?”
Again, I am about to launch into a dull little exercise on my canny financing of this esteemed motor, until I recall that ‘first car’ is another security question on another site, and he is merely chasing my credit card details round the internet.
“A favourite place?”

Pursuit of blocking iPhone ownership for 9 year olds has also prevented those who should be in charge, but are frankly too weak and laden down with laundry to be so, namely me, to get near the computer. Possibly this is the most painful part of half term.
Meanwhile, I have but to turn round and I am confronted with another discarded little bundle of wet clothes seeping into the carpet, or being eyed by the dog, which the King of All Idleness cannot quite be arsed to stagger with to the washing machine.
Daily, we have little sessions where I point at the machine, explain its purpose while F9 blandly looks around for something to tamper with, steal or break.
“Can’t you at least try to put them in a pile in the right room?” I ask.
He looks at me with pain, like one who has crawled 3,000 miles through snow and has been asked to clear out the loft, not merely across the hall in mis-matched socks being reminded of light duties.

But mere irritation pales to nothing to recall the heart-stopping pain felt when the little bugger disappeared today.

We had been at a paint your own pottery place where I had agreed, with astonishing bad-temper, to join in with some friends in painting a bowl for one of our group to take all the way around the world. For she is emigrating and seems to need a present by which to remember us all.
Like she’ll want a bowl, I growled.
I saw it as something she would drop or laugh at and shove in a cupboard – she is not sentimental – and my resentment (cause unknown) had built with blush-worthy unpleasantness. I just did not want to go, did not want to participate, begrudged every second and every penny which I would have to pay. A true spoilsport.
I parked and we trudged.
T11 fiddling with his ring tones.
F9 skipping before me, lingering behind, not walking with.

In the end, inevitably, it was a fantastic morning. Five of us collectively painted the best bowl in the world
(unglazed version shown, c'mon, use your imagination). Our seven boys behaved like dreams; nothing broke; nothing got knocked over; there was no argy bargy over sharing the paint. In short, I was a very good little girl indeed. If this is what it is going to be like in the OAP home (paintbrushes and someone else clearing up), bring it on.

After this, I nipped to return some horrid shoes and somewhere between the door and the till, F9 disappeared.
But I didn’t realise.
I was trying to explain in patronising broken English, to the confused Polish employee, that I seemed to have lost my receipt, when my sixth sense picked up, perhaps because the shoe display rack was neither spinning nor rocking, perhaps because there was no howl of anguish or tut tut tutting, that something was very wrong.
I snatched my credit note, and scooped up T11 from his interminable texting (full spellings only, I insist, and no ROFLs). Then did one of those panicky adrenaline-fuelled things were you run through the whole shop, and take in upstairs without crying from thigh-pain, pray randomly and fool-hardily to God scattering rash promises while scanning the whole of Cheltenham from the corner vantage point clocking a thousand people as if I were armed with a James Bond face recognition kit. And came to the conclusion that He Was Not There.
I blamed myself for being mean about the pottery, for being careless and crap and slack and head in the clouds, and gulped desperate air, wondering if I were well enough to bawl.

Quite what the next stage is normally, I don’t know.
The shoe shop, who didn’t have security cameras, were ringing Primark, who did. The logic of this escaped me but it was Action.

I was part way through the mental policeman’s heavy, “Well Milla, you thought it more important to quibble about a pair of sandals than look after your son properly,” and my panic was only 2 minutes old.
In Ikea once it was 15, until F3 was found sitting inside a demo kitchen cupboard singing to a spoon.
I was imagining confronting the discarded dressing gown back home when my mobile thrummed, and it was Boots, “Gotcha li’l boy,” I was told.
Heaven in three words.
We ran.

His turn it was to be pink and teary and a little contrite, hanging around all incongruous by the hand cream. He winked at me anxiously, and I kissed his hot little cheeks.
We walked back to the car. Reduced, he is manageable and oh so scrummy.
His hand wriggled only slightly in mine. A little slippery fish of a hand.
Tut tut.