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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

brmm brmm

Phut. Came a noise and the car went dark, as the electrics went kaput. Suddenly bereft of any chance of aimless fiddling, the only things I wanted to do were play the radio, light a fag and fiddle with the electric mirrors. None of these fine pastimes were to be mine.

True loss, however, came in driving around. I no longer knew what time it was (lost Swatch), and, more importantly, I no longer knew where I was because Tom-Tom didn’t work. The fag lighter is used just for Tom-Tom (so don’t get your wig wet, father) and here I was, stranded wherever I was which, sadly, was Gloucester. Gloucester for those lucky enough not to know, is twinned in motoring spirit with Swindon (home of the mini-roundabout). It majors in proud provision of characterless dual carriageways and big scary roundabouts. The kind to have traffic lights on them so that you can’t slide round to the third exit; instead you have to do it in staggered jumps to reach the right lane each time. Really rather scary.

I made it to a Halfords, like the Jews to the promised land, thinking, like my idol the little red hen, that I would do fix it all by myself. Fool. Halfords got ready to laugh. They paved the way with signs saying they could fit bulbs and things. At a charge.
I strolled busily to the fuse section and stared, like the dog at a Latin primer at the stuff on offer. All so confusing. A book on fixing a Cortina circa 1983? no probs. A plethora of air fresheners in a range of designs? Be my guest. A fuse for a vaguely modern car? No way, sucker.

So I went to find a man. There were none; and then there were 2, demonstrating baffling teamwork with a roll of tape where none seemed needed. I smiled as if at two Teletubbies, and started my explanation.
“Can’t help you, ‘fraid,” one smirked, “We’re work experience.” The ‘sorry’ came as an afterthought, delivered with a tone close to mirth. Pissed off customer? Job well done. The lad clutched his roll of tape importantly. My smile stiffened into something sickly and not entirely pleasant.

I found the desk.
Two lads were chatting by the till.
"Don’t let me interrupt you,” I said eventually, nice with a little ice. I launched back into my explanation.
“Oh we can’t help you,” one said.
“God forbid,” I said, “Silly me.” The boldness conferred upon a middle aged woman denied access to her Tom-Tom via a teeny tiny fuse and a bored jobsworth.
“I mean, we can. But we have to charge you.”
But of course.

So I strode from the shop in a WTF way, scuttled homewards, bowed to the inevitable, and called in on the dealership. DIY proving yet again to be a waste of bloody time.

The dealership has been taken over by a smarter car-breed since last time and accessing it off the, yup, dual carriageway called for lots of swearing, missed stabs at the slipway and dangerous u-turns. In I went to this vaulted glass palace with its marble floors and maple coffee tables, its playstations and spreads of magazines – Lexusland or MercCity or whatever it is – feeling scruffy and out of place. A sentiment possibly echoed by the Service Manager who bustled over swishily as if about to invite me to dance while at the same time doing his damnedest to steer me into a dark corner. I nearly curtsied.

“What seems to be the problem?” he purred.
I told him. I said that there was no ‘seemed’ about it, but that a fuse had blown and could I buy a new one, please.

He sashayed off to consult his screen, peering with due importance over half moon specs and tapping at the keyboard with a manicured mitt.
“Gavin?” he trilled. Gavin fetched Mike. They muttered.
Mike lent Shakespearean sorrow to the proceedings. He knew his place and maybe didn’t mingle much with such as the Service Manager. He bent mournfully over an oily rag which he fed from hand to hand and said that it would be an hour before they’d have a chance even to look at the car; only he didn’t call it a look, he called it Undertaking A Diagnostic Survey. Which would take at least an hour.

Dancing Service Manager let me hear all this and then said it again, since we all know that monkeys with rags don’t impart useful information to customers, even if they are plebs, only Service Managers do this.
“I don’t think it needs one of those,” I said, “it’s a fuse.”
“We’re not ruling a fuse out,” he said, glancing at Mike in an urgent, important, manly, way for corroboration, “But we’ll need to Undertake A ...”
“A Diagnostic Survey,” I finished.
“Yes,” he said.
“Which will take at least an hour?” I said.
“Yes,” they both said.
“So, we’re looking at how much?” I asked
“What’s it likely to cost?”
“Hard to say at this stage. It depends on the Diagnostic Survey, which is at least an hour and then … would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Forget it,” I said slightly tersely, springing into my WTF stride again and thrilling myself by managing the big glass doors without weeping or trapping my hand.

I vowed to get used to no Tom-Tom, no fiddling with mirrors, no clock, no CD, but it was hard going and the journey home was a long ten minutes.

I called in, on spec, at the local garage. It’s a bit of a mess, with no work experience, no entrance hall, no tea and coffee, no magazines. But, lo, a man in a shirt and tie bounded out helpfully from the portacabin hut.

What strange set up was this? No being avoided, ignored, patronised or passed down the line. Weird.
“Let’s take a look,” he said. See! A look. All I wanted was a look.

I played hand maiden to his He-Man and we fiddled with the glove compartment and located the fuse box hidden high above it, and he prised it out and stared it and then said, “Give me a minute.”
Then he ran back to me, like a chap in an advert and inserted the fuse and smiled and said, “Start her up then.”
So I did and all the lights and the mirrors and the clocks and the radio came beaming into life and I smiled the smile of the easily pleased and sighed a happy sigh.

“Thank you so much!” I gushed.
He looked a little surprised at my pleasure.
“It’s been a long afternoon,” I said. “Let me know what I owe you?”
“For a fuse?” he said, puzzled. “Nothing at all.”

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


If a turd had to be anywhere indoors then it’s best that it was on the coir matting and relatively intact. Important to start the day with a good omen. Lolly gave me a “yeah? What of it?” look, smacked her chops, stretched until her paws skidded on the floor, and squeak-yawned. I can’t begin to describe what an irritating combination that is, and her favourite trio of moves. Then she shook, and I closed my eyes with a hunched shudder to the invisible splatter hurtling towards clean walls. She stood, thoroughly pleased with herself.

Having fallen foul (ho) of dog turds the other day, I am raw with recent faecal experience. I had weeded the driveway, then tottered down the side of the house towards the compost bin, carefully keeping a wary eye out for turds blending cunningly with the gravel since, God, can that dog ever create! Another cause to ponder, just what’s in it for me?
It’s got to be 2 or 3 a day she squeezes out, the product of the toxic plops from a tin I ladle faintly into her bowl. The things for which my degree comes in handy.

My mother does it bigger and better. Not only is their dog the size of an old-fashioned caravan, but she’s reached her incontinent phase (dog, not mother; we’re talking seas of wee) and she has to be fed by hand. Tripe, or chicken breasts, and mars bars. What with the hamsters (yes, now plural) turning their tiny pampered snouts up at anything less than Waitrose tenderstem broccoli, their pets cost more to feed than they do.

“Yes,” my mother said, “I picked up some good reduced things from Waitrose today, though.”
Every penny helps when you’re haemorrhaging cash having the extension knocked down.
“I feel a bit guilty,” she said. “It’s your inheritance.”
“I rather think you have first call on it,” I said, “Spend away. Anyway, what were your bargains?”
“A Thai chicken curry for your father, 95p and a, well this doesn’t sound actually very nice but it will do two meals, a parsnip and carrot mash for 65p for me.”
Unpleasant, but with the added benefit of stretching to 2 meals. Who can resist?
“The dog can always have it,” I said.
Her silence suggested that it wouldn’t be good enough for the dog.

I trod shy of the landmines of fresh turds and slung the weeds at the compost bin. At which point, something fast and dark and, gulp, rat-shaped, heat-missiled itself out of the bin, through the hole at the back and on to where it belongs, which is next door.
I stepped back … into a turd. Nice shoes, too.

I discussed it with my mother. We decided it was a mouse. Possibly a big mouse. The R word is not used. But, where is the justice in any of that? A good deed cruelly repaid. Shit on the shoes taking 20 mins to clean off. Yum. A similar smack around the face by fate’s careless hand occurred when I bent down, once inside, to do some unnecessary sweeping and a cupboard door swung open from nowhere to smash into my head. The conspiracy of inanimate objects to piss you off.

Out on the walk, the talk is of the 800 new houses planned to link 2 villages: neither of which wants linking. They will go in nearby fields which “flood once in a thousand years” (environmental agency). Surface water gathering after a 20 minute shower doesn’t count; that it is more or less a flood area doesn’t count. The wretched crew of that irritating Blears woman rubber-stamped half of it on a whistle stop tour (the image of her in her leathers on a bike floats unbidden to mind).
Last week, we went to an interface session or whatever they called it at the village hall. E was too angry to stay. I spoke to a nervous young sacrificial lamb booted and suited and wheeled out from the PR company to deal with us enraged villagers, all of us quick to snarl and jealously guard. He hovered near flipcharts which detailed the proposed rape of our countryside.

“What about all the extra cars?” I said. “Come 20 to 8 in the morning the roads are already all clogged; there’s no employment here, everyone has to travel to get to work as it is.”
“Ah,” he said, Pleased That I Had Asked; he bounced a finger in the air to show so. “We’ve established that, at outwards time, point three of a vehicular unit per dwelling will be added to the flow.”
What?” I said (so much to enrage here). “Please. Say car, not vehicular unit.”
Outwards time? Point fucking three. Flow! “800 houses means 1600 cars,” I said, “and if they’re not driving to work, they’re driving to the schools – which are already full – where does point three of a car come into it?”
“We’ve consulted a survey,” he beamed.
“Commissioned by the End User?” I asked, nastily slipping into bollocks-speak.
“By an industry standard, as it goes, a company called TRICS,” he said, proudly.
Tricks? Nuff said. I filled in a form, blackening it with the dire poetry of my upset.

“No one wants it! Mr Lovely suggests setting up barriers, guns, a sort of passport control,” confessed Mrs Lovely. “I suppose we’re not allowed to think that sort of thing.”
“Your daughters could man it,” I suggested.
“Don’t! I want them put into Care,” she said. “We’re quite nice; and the children just aren’t.”

Mrs Very Rich’s 2 are at one of the smartest schools in the country. “They eat like pigs,” she said. “Pasta by hand!”
”Curry by hand!” trumps Mrs Lovely.
“Soup by hand?” I asked, really rather pleased with it all. My father is Table Manners Taliban and is shocked by our two’s manners. But at least they, generally, use knives and forks and sit facing the table.
“Soup?” Mrs Lovely gave me a look. Don’t be silly, Milla.
It’s almost worse when they do use cutlery,” Mrs VR said of her 17 year old. “Grabs the fork with her fist and shovels, chin to the plate. Talks with her mouth full, the lot. Disgusting.”
We laugh.

Mrs Gossip sidled up, torn between wanting to slag off her children and store up ammunition against the rest of us. She settled for both, “Oh, you’re so lucky, having just boys, Milla,” she said dismissively. “Sounds like yours are a handful?” she wheedled hopefully, turning a face towards the others.

I had seen Mrs Anxious earlier on, waving, bleakly at the backs of her two sons receding into the distance, trudging up to school. “Not allowed to walk up with them,” she explained.
F10’s slippery little hand had clutched mine the harder. We always walk up together. T13 always happily kisses us goodbye when dropped off at his bus. I thought of that now, smug before a fall maybe.

“Oh,” said Mrs Lovely, “Lulu! In town, I’m not allowed to acknowledge her, or her friends. Can't say hello. No. I have to turn the radio off as we draw up to school. Wind the windows up, everything. Not allowed to exist.”
Mrs Gossip nodded happily.
“It’s probably something or other to do with what they’d call identity and separation and stuff,” I said wisely, a long evening with a psychobabble friend still in the memory. “They’ll be back, they’ll be great later. Don’t you worry.”

The dogs, known – we like to think affectionately – as the hooligans, were munching on a fat old crow (dead). Tossed feathers fluttered in the air. The dogs hawked and chomped and sneezed. Everyone shrieked and attempted fat lady runs up the hill, inept scaredogs in inefficient motion. By some miracle of miracles it was Mrs Gossip’s foot which landed in the cow pat.

Friday, 11 September 2009


Mr and Mrs Very Rich were knocking back the wine, and chortling, so presumably it was in pleasure rather than mere search of oblivion.
I was still giving thanks that, on their arrival, I hadn’t bobbed a curtsey and mumbled, “welcome to my ‘umble abode, sirr.” Nor had I snatched, too greedily, the stunningly beautiful and enormous bunch of flowers and the 2 bottles of wine which aren’t the stuff of 3 for a tenner.

For, in a moment of temporary weakness (other alcoholic beverages are available), I had seen my hand straying towards the mobile and from there texting Mrs VR asking if they’d like to come to supper and, be careful what you wish for, with obscene haste, they were saying YES. Just like that, in full-on, shouty CAPS. Finally I understood Victorian ladies and their propensity for fits of the vapours.

“What should we bring?” she asked.
I understood; they weren’t used to consorting with proles and needed a clue to our primitive little ways. Or, God, perhaps she thought I needed help, that I needed courses bringing.
“At the risk of sounding like an Alcoholic Annie, just yourselves and a bottle of wine,” I said.

Round about now 2 more ‘yes’s pinged into my phone. Bugger. T12 (T13 since yesterday) was having little mates for a sleepover that night, too. I felt like the Buckeroo donkey with a couple of extra pans on my back.

Mr and Mrs V Rich's house is the one with 2 downstairs lavatories, both featuring fireplaces; with a laundry room; an ironing room; a food room; a boot room; a utility room; a room for the children; a 70’ kitchen; 3? 4? 5? receps; a conservatory – but not as we know it. 3 staircases. I've not been up any of them.
If they’re not just off to South Africa on holiday, it’s because they’re on their way to Australia. Or France, or Canada, or Switzerland, or Cyprus, or the Caribbean or Tunisia. And that’s just in the last year. They are delightful, but there is something about such disparity of wealth which unnerves. They wouldn’t see themselves as rich at all. The pecking order totters upwards ever unto Midas.

We’ve been shovelling friends through, you see, those to whom we owe dinner. Ten at a time for weeks. We’d let it slip. Never again, not in such industrial quantities. (Despite any gross churlishness exhibited here, let it be understood that I am extremely fond of my friends. I just wish cheese sandwiches was all it took. I doubt, please? that I'm alone in this.)

Since there was the requisite vegetarian due, I was settling for dinky little canapés (of which I am pathetically proud), then a fish curry and a prawn curry, followed by pavlova, and a chocolate/coffee/cardamom thing that I made up by chance which sounds disgusting but isn’t.
The idea being that the lot tastes really quite good, but looks effortless. In order to look effortless I had had to start deveining prawns at lunchtime, a grim task which makes my legs itch. But all in the name of looking just knocked up.
Just knocked up had gone on the week before, too, or rather it hadn’t.

Another 10 had shuffled through the portals. A celiac one of the crew that time, along with that weekend’s vegetarian. This always makes me fret – is wheat in rice? I find myself asking, in eggs? Will she be dead by midnight and us kept up late waiting for the ambulance.
All was going well until doling up time when Mr Veg sidled up and said, “You do realise that Mrs Veg is a vegetarian?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, waving a patronising and boastful paw over my old friend the fish and prawn curries.
“No,” he said, and, friends, never has a No been invested with such lashings of pity, scorn and embarrassment, a small word which can burst at the seams with meaning. “No,” he said with studied patience, “A vegetarian. Not a [mere] pescatarian.”
“Oh,” I said, hushed, “a real vegetarian?”
“Yes,” he said. “I should have said. I saw you ladling meat [meat??!] in and should have said.” Then, “I thought you knew? You’ve always got it right before.”
Got it right.

FUCK! What I thought I knew, from a summer’s long experience, was that all vegetarians ate fish these days, besides not being above a spot of bacon or even chicken if the mood or vino took them. But no, I’d found a purist; serendipity explaining away past success. Buggeration and bollocks to it all.
“Can you just knock up a risotto?” he asked.
I love that ‘just.’
“I’ve just ‘knocked up’ this,” I said, “No!” (Believe me, it takes something approaching skill to insert italics AND 'quote marks' and bold into one short sentence.)

Knocked up, my arse. But fortune, or rather my earlier ineptitude, forsook its smirk and momentarily smiled on me. I spotted the little pile of vegetables I’d prepared for the curries, and then duly forgotten to sling in, and chucked them hasty into a pan, and swirled them round with a spoon.
“A bit of garlic?” he suggested. “Some bouillon?”

Some bad-tempered garlic was produced. I pretended to study the label of something or other in a bottle to eliminate the evils of a stray percentage of anchovy, claw or hoof and then shook some of that, whatever it was, in as well, and tipped the lot onto the rice.

“Milla,” hailed Mrs Veg, oblivious to my panic and waving a pleased fork rather wildly, “this is lovely.”
'Lovely' clearly means different things in vegetarian-land. It means serviceable, functionable, edible. All the ‘-ble’s. Just no bull. Ho.

Spooling forward, the day following Mr and Mrs Very Rich’s dining experience chez nous, I bumped into her, out with the dogs.
“Thank you so much!” she trilled, grasping my wrist. “We had a marvellous time!”
I preened everso slightly and might have gone a little pink. It had gone well, tank feck and God knows one thing I am alive to is nuance of disaster. An over-cooked prawn can give me conniptions for weeks, living on cruelly in that grim tease, my memory.
In the distance, Mrs Gossip loomed near. I dreaded her knowing that she’d been left out of something. Well you would, with a name like that.

“Shh,” I hissed, edging my head in explanation. What a waste, I was in need of a wallow, some basking in praise, some run-throughs of how wonderful I was.
She swept on. “But I just must say, I had no idea Mr VR was so very drunk! He nearly fell in the stream on the way home.”
I laughed. It was funny. A pitch black field, a stile, a stream, a bottle suddenly regretted, a slither of an expensive loafer. Besides which I had barely being able to lift the clanking recycling box that morning.

“You couldn’t tell,” I said. “He seemed fine.”She took this for proof that I, too, had but a hazy recollection of the night before. Wrong. Fear sharpens the senses.
(Mrs Gossip was all but upon us.)

“Well,” she said, collapsing her hands with a slap on her thighs, “that’s a relief, because he was SO embarrassed at talking about … you know … money!”
“It was fine,” I said – it had been one hell of an eye-opener. Fascinating.
She looked appalled: I had remembered! Oh, yes. Someone else’s turn to don the hair jacket of The Night Before.
“Very interesting,” I said, but what does it matter? “I’ve never been so close to all those millions. So many noughts, and none of them mine.”
Mrs Gossip beamed the face of one alive to a nugget, a scrap of a story. Mrs VR just goldfish popped her mouth, widened her eyes in a silent scream, and smiled the tight smile of one exposed.

"What are you 2 chatting about?" asked Mrs Gossip, with a caring syrup I have grown to dread.
"Nothing," we both said. A little too loudly.

Friday, 17 July 2009

pie in the sky

He’s been and gone, the Skyman, not a chap to be defined by his absence since the extent of his personality was revealed in but a sequence of grunts and flunked eye catching. Still, he wasn’t there to be my best friend, he was thereto arm himself in a surprising amount of clothing to scale a ladder, rising 4 or 5 giddy rungs to install a, sssshh, a dish. The shame. But prior to that,

“You’ve had Sky before,” he said accusingly.
We’d ticked a box saying we hadn’t. We’d also cleared a room to allow what’s called Easy Access to the phone line. He’d told me brusquely that we needn’t have bothered, which left me facing an hour of bashed shins to anticipate in shunting it all back.
“No,” I said, hasty to declare our Sky virginity, “We haven’t, it’s just for the Ashes, nothing more.”
“You have,” he said, totally uninterested. “Look. The marks on the wall.”
“Well, maybe the woman before, but I don’t remember seeing a dish.”
“It was here,” he said, “you’ve had it before.”
Clearly his ‘you’ was not my ‘you’ so I let it go.

I asked a run of idiotic questions. The terseness of his answers suggested he’d considered murder as an option to replying. He used words like ‘scart’ and ‘input’ and 'AV2' to spoil it for me. “It’s all in the manual,” he said.
“You get to an age when you can’t face the manual,” I said.
“Better press on,” he said.

On went the steel-capped boots and the hard hat, out came the ladder. Doubtless a Certificate of Competence in ladder management, awarded following a 2 day course, lay in the glove compartment (I say "glove" but does anyone keep gloves in this compartment, or a hideous miscellany of tat: scratched sunglasses and rumpled A-Zs shy the relevant pages?)
3 people from school, teachers and, what are called I always find rather alarmingly, ‘support staff’ – I imagine them there, poised beneath open windows, ready to catch flying infants, or braced against a wall, shouldering it into submission – took such a course, in stepladder use. 2 people are always to be present, it seems, when grappling with steps: hence the need for 3 when, inevitably, one of them is off on long-term sick leave.
Amusingly, the 3 plucked for this noble task were the fatties. I pause to smile at the images of all 3 getting the Christmas decorations out of the loft, happy days, drenched in tinsel; tempers just this close from fraying; tight, short laughs; trapped fingers and panic and blame; plenty of tepid tea.

And just yesterday, the waterman came.
“Come to read the meter,” he said.
Since it had been tipping down, I winced and said, “Oh, your feet ...” Beige carpet, you see, relatively new after three years of squalor and grime.
“Gotta keep ‘em on,” he said, “health and safety.”
“The meter’s just here, under the stairs,” I said. “It’s quite safe.”
“Gotta wear these boots,” he said. “Sorry. I used to keep a pair of protectors, in the van, for nice people such as yourself, but I got reported. Not allowed to wear ‘em.”
“Can I read it?” I asked.
“You can,” he said in terms of well, I’ve heard some crazy things. “It’ll have to go down as a customer reading though. One of these days, you’ll have to let one of us do it. Mental, I know. Sorry about the mud.”
The mad mad world of meter reading.

Meanwhile, I made F10 some breakfast. There was very little milk.
“Is that it?” he asked in great outrage, he grabbed Catty by the scruff of its exhausted neck as witness to my slack housekeeping.
“It is. You’ll both have to have water, I’ll get some more later.” Both! What am I saying. This cat is stuffed.
“Is there no back up milk?”
“What would back up milk be?”
He rolled his eyes, “For when the normal milk runs out.”
“It’d go off,” I said.
“No it wouldn’t,” he said, “I’d drink it. And Catty would drink it.”
“I’ll go and buy some now,” I said, resisting the lure of the cat-led circular conversation.
“And don’t forget to get back up milk too.”
What that boy and his cat, his ambitions and expectations, needs is an office and secretaries. I feel sorry for them having to settle for me.

I bought a thing of big milk instead, and a lemon and some garlic. Not very breakfasty but I like to do my bit with regard to unnecessary purchases to help keep the shop afloat. The price they charge meant they could close by lunchtime and still make a profit on the day. Empty of purse but bursting with milk, back up or otherwise, I trotted back.

“He wanted you,” F10 said, “the man who doesn’t like his job.”
“Did he say that?” I asked eagerly.
“No. You can just tell.”
“How?” I said, loving glimpses into his thought processes.
“You just can,” he said warningly, “end of conversation.”

I took him to school, he miaowed and purred and talked about Catty who, little does either of them know, is doomed to a morning spinning round in the washing machine.
More end of an era stuff up at the gates, with the current Year 6 lining up for the last time. Brings tears to your eyes, or it did to mine; the crop of mothers there looked stolid and unresponsive, and you have to hope that nostalgia, at the very least, is playing out somewhere in the depths of their flinty hearts: I’m expecting great use of hankies at pick-up time and not just by me.

Somehow, next year, my random F10 will be in the big boy line. He gave me a wonky smile and faked a miaow at me through the bars. We’ll have to do something to quell his inner cat before year 6. That and watch a lot of cricket, if I can be bothered to read the manual.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


Mrs Lovely was later to say that her husband had been 'well appalled.' He might not much like their dog Pompom (a husband thing, I understand: although in our family and those of many of my chums, a wife thing, too) but if anyone is to say so it is he, and not the big tummed ex-police inspector.

Big Tum patrols the dog field daily with Florian, a tiny dog dangling from his wrist: so often the way, a case of dog not resembling owner at all, at least not in ways that are immediately obvious. It is a sedate perambulation theirs, and each has a frown for human and dog accordingly. For some reason, however, their walk is always timed to coincide with ours; although I know he’s the rising at dawn sort. Never trouble trouble I want to say.
He has an infinite store of rectitude to draw on, and a boundless capacity for passing on a wise word; a finger-wagging man, one of that enviable breed who is always in the right. Long after the event, does he feel the need to remind me from time to time, just when I’m relaxing into the hope of his having forgotten, of the occasion when Lolly, a mere puppy, had leapt through their sitting room window in search of Florian, trailing in her eager wake the newly planted window box.
“Yes, a lot of mud,” his nervous wife will echo, “Goodness, a lot.”
What can you say? The chance to offer to hoover is past by many moons.
And then last week, it all went a bit wrong when it was his dog who leapt with extraordinary and unprecedent vigour onto the back of Lolly and gave it his all to shag her senseless into the ground.

“Florian!” squeaked Big Tum’s nervous wife, her squeal reaching unto the stars.
“FLORIAN!” bellowed Big Tum, bypassing pink and going straight to purple.
Florian, conveniently deaf, clasped his paws the tighter round Lolly and rutted away. His penis, friends, was glistening.
I’m afraid I laughed which did little to appease their mood.

The next day I was late into the field and encountered Big Tum on his way out. “The hooligans are already down there,” he boomed, sweeping on past, giving me a bit of a look.
I strolled through, met my dog-walking friends, and told them what he said.
Mrs Lovely was slow to react. She glanced around the field and then her head snapped back and she whimpered, “Us! He means us! That’s Florian’s Daddy said that?”
“Yes,” I said, “Big Tum.”
“Oh, is that his name, I always call him Florian’s Daddy.”
“I think he was a Chief Inspector,” I said.
“Well. My. And he called us all hooligans?”
“Not us, so much as you,” I said. I thought back, “Yes, he definitely said, “the hooligans” and not “the other hooligans”.”
“Well I don’t know if we like that very much, do we, Pompom?” said Mrs Lovely carefully.

Mrs Rich, who inhabits one of the smartest houses in the county, looked stunned. Even her lavatories have fireplaces, they have cornices and take a stride to cross. Rife with Tena Lady potential for the slow to plan. There are three staircases from ground to first and the kitchen is 70’ long. Not one to breed a yob. She glanced around for her hooligan, Lacey, who boasts a Cath Kidston bed (chewed) in her custom-built crate (“Yes, we kitted it out in advance beautifully. Such a shame, really, when the dog herself turned up, you know, when we brought her home and it spoiled things so”) and a raised day bed from Oka (£150+. Also chewed). We'd bought Lolly a new bed in the week. £15 grudgingly spent, already not the fragrant thing it was. Lacey was to be found face-deep in a pile of horse manure, someone else’s play stick held firm under her paw.
"But they have such fun," she said. "No harm's done. It's personality, isn't it? Only playing."

There was a lusty splashing in the river. It’s not a river, it’s as if someone left a tap on for ten minutes and made a bit of a puddle, but we call it the river. Pompom came crashing through, soaked and muddy, a beady look in his eye. In the distance a speck of fur had revealed itself. It was the JewishPrincessFootStool dog. An elderly cavalier spaniel of generous proportions and little retaliation. In a trice, Pompom had made it up the hill and was on JPFS’s back.
Mrs Lovely set off at a cumbersome lick, cooing hopelessly, “Pompom! Pompom!” She rattled a little bag of scraps enticingly.
Pompom, more Errol Flynn than cuddly toy, despite his rampant curls and wild fluff, was not going to be lured by some rubbishy old chicken in a bag, not when the JewishPrincessFootStool dog was at paw.
Within seconds he had mounted her and was rocking away in true happy hooligan style.

“Pompom!” Mrs Lovely wailed, “Don’t!”

The stout and tardy figure of JPFS’s owner lurched into view. A woman upholstered like a sofa, clad all in chintz; presumed a long-term virgin. She looked on somewhat enviously, as Pompom had his wild way with her dog. Dreaming of her very own gentleman callers, a Cuthbert perhaps, or Ron, she gazed wistfully, lost in vicarious daydream.
The JewishPrincessFootStool dog is always available for Pompom. She splays her legs and lowers her rear quarters, “C’mon, Pompom, do your worst.”

Mrs Lovely was red in the face with shame.
Pompom!” she hissed, “How could you!”
Quite easily, thought Pompom gripping harder and pumping wildly – if ineffectively since he’s been ‘done.’

The owner licked her lips. Her dog, her daughter, the beauty of the family, albeit slightly dim, like an obedient but simple girl, easy of virtue and guilelessly taking off her knickers and doing as 'he' wants. The slut. The lucky, lucky slut.
“Think nothing of it,” she trilled, her voice slightly higher than might originally have been planned.

We went our merry ways. Mothers of hooligans.
“First the twins, now the dog,” wailed Mrs Lovely, her frisky children brought to mind, "It's not what I thought it was going to be, any of it."
“You must have been very, very bad in your previous life,” I said.
“I do hope so,” said she. "Really, I do."

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Thursday, 18 June 2009

trouble in paradise (scones and sniping)

The gentle thrum of middlesummer rain assaults my ears, but rests my hayfever. Without my eyes to scratch out I’m at a bit of a loose end. I tell myself I would be weeding were I able to be. Silver linings in strange places.

The day before, Mrs Northern Posh had cleverly arranged for the sun to shine while 8 sundry ladies took tea in her most pleasant garden. We twittered over the geraniums, the roses, the pergola – a lovely Farrow and Ball blue – matching cushions were admired, as was the vine snaking up the house: incipient grapes perfect in miniature.
F10 wants us to grow a vine. I nearly bought one recently. He got quite cross with me. “NO! From a seed,” he said, “It’s got to be. Otherwise it’s cheating and what’s the point.“ He never cheats, of course. Mrs NP was silent on her own vine’s cultivation or quite how it looked so gaudy and good.

The Sexy Nurse kicked off, patting her cleavage, her clothes more off than on as is her wont. Since no men were present she had to import one conversationally and was soon in cheerful flow discussing her rather young gardener.
“But, tell me, Milla,” she said, “foxgloves ARE biennial, yes?”
“Yes-ish,” I said. “Yes in that they are, but they tend to come back every year. At least mine do.”
“And mine!” inserted Mrs NP swiftly, vying for the biggest gardening show-off spot. An authoritative arm waved towards the corner.
“Bugger,” said the Sexy Nurse. “Bloody gardener doesn’t know what he’s doing after all. He’s only gone and pulled the whole bloody lot out. I’ll have to speak to him!” She wriggled happily at the prospect and closed her eyes, slipping into a pleasure zone. Then, “The Post Office is having an Open Day, did you know?” she said suddenly, “Did you get your invites?”

Since the bizarre opening hours of the Post Office occasion us unfathomable hours of amusement, the fact that it was opting to have an Open Day was funnier than it could possibly seem to anyone else.

“What could they possibly do?” asked Mrs Northern Posh with a sinking heart, the enterprise doomed from afar, “Say, here’s the washing powder … bread over there … queue for a stamp here? It’ll be just like any other day.”
“Apart from that the Post Office bit will definitely be shut because it’s on a Sunday,” I said, “not merely probably be shut. Or just shut the minute you walk in. Anyway, no-one will go. It’ll be a disaster. Tragic.”

We discussed an Oldster in the village who nicks inserts from the Sunday papers from the Post Office. How low can you go? Down to the bottom shelf it seems. He slides them into his tartan trolley (a speciality of our village: I think it breeds them, spawning them and leaving them by immaculate gooseberry bushes) but is yet to be caught absolutely red handed.
It transpired that only the Sexy Nurse had actually received an invitation. “I’ll go!” she said, “It’ll be an outing. I’ll bring my own baps,” she chortled, slapping her cleavage again.

Mrs Sensible rummaged in her capacious bag for some sun block. Without a child there to boss about, she picked on one of us, “Mrs Gossip, you’re so fair, do you think you ought to borrow my hat?”
Mrs Gossip assured her that she never burnt, as it happened; she was lucky enough to have lovely skin which went straight to beautiful brown. Or words to that effect. She, too, closed her eyes and beamed at the sun.

It seemed that whatever people said warranted an eye shutting and closed-eyed session staring at the sun. I was quite tempted myself, but feared I would never wake up, that death would take me, and I’d have to be manhandled through the little back door and down the bumpy path at the front and stuffed all unseemly into the Sexy Nurse’s boot. God knows what my corpse would find there. Handcuffs and things. PVC.

Mrs Dull said “no” to a chocolate brownie. Her “no,” accompanied by the steady hand of a traffic policeman held in mid air, suggested that excess calories were the joy of the devil; it was an “oh no!” She further annoyed Mrs NP by wanting only half a slice of lemon drizzle cake. To have more would be very gross. While the rest of us greedily licked our fingers and slurped at things, Mrs NP had to upsticks from the wobbly chair a hostess must occupy to fetch a knife to halve a slice.

Meanwhile Mrs ExecutiveMum (normally found running a small country but on day release from the shackles of her desk), set to lamenting that she had discovered, by foolishly fiddling around on Excel (one could have guessed it would end in tears, never trouble trouble …), that they (by which she means she) had spent £8,000 on presents last year. Again. Problems, problems. Déjà vu was unpleasant for she thought she’d cleaned up her spending habit. Seems not. Either that or she’s really crap at Excel and had done all that work only to bring up last year’s figures again. Possible. I could have suggested it; I also toyed with mentioning that scooping up 4 iPods at the airport as “stocking fillers” for her daughters and godchildren might be one area to trim in the coming months. But I stilled my busy mouth, a bit because I couldn’t be bothered, a bit because I probably know less about Excel than even her but mainly because I’m trying to curb myself from leaping in with pointless solutions or dangerous prattle: step away from a failing dialogue or awkward silence, it is not your responsibility, quit digging, stop lying; keep your mouth shut.

“You’re quiet, Milla,” Mrs Gossip said, her hopes of a little interjection of disbelief at £8K on presents! dashed.
“Just happy listening to everyone else,” I said, spoiling things further.
“T12 not picked for the cricket on Sunday?” she asked.
“Bad ankle,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, disappointed.

Mrs ExecutiveMum tried to re-gain ground with the poverty stricken proles with whom she was stuck for the afternoon by confessing that all her clothes (that day) were from Tesco. Of all places!
“Nice,” everyone said, nodding.
“Yes, their shoes are horrid, though,” said Mrs Gossip.
“My shoes are from there, too!”
We all laughed. Kindly, of course. The iPods, latent guests, slipped into the past. Mrs EM relaxed: so this was what all this At Home Mom stuff was about. Weird.

Everyone moved their chairs about, metal scraping on the terrace, to avoid the very sun we had all been so very ardent to park ourselves in. Mrs Sensible fetched the parasol and I don’t know who screamed the loudest, her or the emerging-with-a-knife Mrs Northern Posh (who favours control freakery with regard to things like manhandling defunct garden equipment) when the thing cracked open and a million woodlice tumbled free. She all but went arse over tit over the badminton net guy ropelet thing which we had all been warned to avoid on our way through, occasioning a desperate squeal audible unto heaven.

Half a piece of lemon drizzle cake was off the agenda, a side order of woodlice not appealing to Mrs Dull. “Protein?” I thought but didn't say.
The Sexy Nurse had another fumble with her cleavage, this time with an excuse and a shriek.
I sneezed one of a million sneezes that afternoon.
Greenflies died floating deaths in our glasses of warming water.
Bloody summer.
It was a lovely couple of hours.
“This is nice,” I said, and meant it. Mrs NP looked a little ragged round the edges.

The news on TV featured piracy in Somalia. The camera scanned an exquisite beach. The voiceover breathily assured us that the ship in the distance, which actually looked quite nice, was a pirate ship. Very beautiful people swarmed in a sort of prison, the bars a distressed blue, of which Mrs NP would whole-heartedly have approved. All the clothes looked so lovely, so clean: random wild patterns matching in saturated colour. We were told that a rather lovely looking chap in a fetching pink top was a pirate. No Pugwash he, rather he resembled an escapee from some urban fashion shot.
The setting was very brochure; but not of somewhere you should consider going. Not if you wanted to come back.
Clearly always some sort of trouble in paradise. Here, there and everywhere. Just a different scale of pest.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

in which an awful lot of brackets are used. (but i don’t bladdy care)

Back when I was a grown up, and not a mere dishrag of a person sporting light wounds (thorny bushes … stranded tennis balls), I coulda been a contender, I coulda been someone. (Well, so could anyone, I’m reminded by The Pogues).
I “worked with” (by which I mean lunched, drank, bobbed around in the background) names. You know, people you might have heard of, from Michael Caine to Ken Livingstone to Bob Flowerdew. Being a lip curling iconoclast, I naturally saw through the lot of them. Well, not Anthony Hopkins, what a sweetie, sigh.
Now I am reduced to boy-handling, dog-handling and glaring at the hoover – not much love lost there: it’s sullen, claiming under-use; I’m sullen, claiming the opposite.

I seem also to have accrued quite an impressive crop of enemies, from the already mentioned Mrs Playmobil and Nasty Troll Goat Woman to, in a quick shuffle around, the biggest of them all, the games teacher at F10’s school.
Here I can but quote the mad old Nan in Catherine Tate. What a bladdy cow. Fack me.

My own PE teacher was a terrible old bag – my mother had her, too. Two generations of non-optimum sports people occluded by the same sneer, scared rigid by sturdy thighs ‘neath a flapping skirt. Cold indifference and a belief in their legs must be something they learn at PE college.

Now, you know me, moderate and easy-going to a fault. And I would really rather my children were never picked for anything sporting, since being selected lands you as parent in a particularly nasty nest of anxiety – need I but say “goalkeeper” to any other mother out there? But F10 was selected, for the rounders, and was thrilled.

Normally the after school conversation goes something like this:

Me: Howdy, F10. Good day?

F10: Yeah, well, no.

Me: Oh, anything happen? (my maternal antennae casually a-frisk for Moments of which I Need be made Aware)

F10: No. Well, I scored.

Me: At lunchtime? Great!

F10: Yeah, it was nearly a hat trick actually.

Me: So you scored twice?

F10: No. Once.

With the day despatched, there’s then the happy trudge home through the field, a small paw slotted into mine, Lolly stuffing her snout into dubious damp patches of long grass. But this time there was the joyous news from F10 that he had been picked to play, and the cry of glee when he told me, his reliving the experience three, four times, all but broke that shrivelled little walnut I’m stuck with calling a heart.

So we go to the tournament and there I’m not best pleased to see that it’s presided over by Vile Bag Cow Teacher. What a slappery trout that creature is, unfit to be in charge of dogs (though I wouldn’t quibble if she insisted I hand over the lead). She hates me. My chum Mrs Northern Posh, whose child was treated badly by her last year, asked me to go to the headteacher with her, in protest. She knows me to be brutal (she kindly calls it articulate) and anti-bullying of any sort, and felt too wobbly to go it alone. In assisting a friend, I got my own card marked.

During the first match F10 and his classmate C10 are both subbed. Someone has to be, this is fine: 11 kiddies, 9 places; I’m mellow with this and it gets it over and done with. Although, it goes without saying, that if our team has to lose, it’s quite pleasing that they lose heavily. Bad luck everyone! Well played! Better luck next time!

Actually, I’m wrong, apparently they come second. “That’s silver,” the father behind me says. I shoot him a look.

F10 plays match 2. They lose again, though – can I be the only one to notice? – by a narrower margin than the first match.
We all remark on how enormous the children are from the other schools. The boys have beards, the girls maternity bras. F10 stands a head shorter than everyone there. He flicks me the thumbs up, his enthusiasm already the stuff of nostalgia, and readies himself with confidence for match 3, cavorting with the others.

But which foul creature is this with her clipboard? Why, it’s VBCT. Yippy-doo. She consults her notes. God? Aren’t the few facts already seared onto her small rabbit dropping of a brain? Seemingly not. She confers with her Sour Sidekick who nods the nod of the executioner. At one with the pain she causes.
F10 totters my way, his face a riot of suppressed tears. C10’s lower lip trembles. Subbed again.
The other children jump around heartlessly, fit with the confidence which the permanently selected find their due.

Hope then comes in the unlikely form of a stout lass, bearing another school’s colours, staggering over, “Not playing 4 girls,” she splutters.
F10 is reprieved.
2 girls are plucked from the squad and told to sit out. Yes, shifting arcane ruling dictates that while some games demand a patronising quorum of 4 girls, in others they can be kicked to the kerb. They sit and make daisy chains and talk about horses.
We win the game. Small stirrings of that odd emotion ‘triumph’ stir in my unimpressive bosom.

The final game, game 4 beckons. VBCT is surprisingly on the ball, attributable to the fact that there are no male PE teachers with whom she can flex her dismal flirting techniques (believe me, not a pretty sight). Her stumpy finger follows the little list of names, her lips moving as she struggles to read.
“Right, year 5, same team as game one,” she says.

She throws me a look, rife with fat spite. “Just rotating everyone,” she says. Although this is exactly what she is not doing. F10 crumples. C10 looks like he might give up and die on the spot. He clutches his asthma inhaler as alibi to his exclusion.
In the long run, it doesn’t matter, it’s petty. But if they’ve been selected, they should have a go, and a fair go. Otherwise resentment breeds (lessons given here). It’s not a nice thing to see, this ritual process whereby one or two children are always singled out despite being of much the same standard as the others. It is divisive and humiliating. For the parents as much as the child. At secondary school, one thing. Not at primary.

Had the tournament meant anything I would have understood. Had it been a Cup match, ditto. Had the other kids not dropped endless catches, botched throws, cocked up on making it to second, I wouldn’t have said a word. But, hand on heart, though he wasn’t the best player and he might not be a Rounders Ronaldo, F10 sure as anything wasn’t the worst. Bang slap in the middle. C10 was one of the best. VBCT must really hate his parents.

What’s a mild mother to do but go and concoct a wax doll? If it’s stuffed into a short skirt, possibly clutching a clipboard and smirking, would anyone really judge me as it burst into glorious flames?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

where's my small ... boy?

F10 went missing last night. The classic props were all there – the open gate onto the back … the chain and padlock dangling from the hasp … a cricket bat tossed aside suggesting the stepping stone in the journey from garden to field to off, off and beyond.
The front gate was open too. This was wrong. It is always to be kept shut to keep the ghastly dog in, although it’s time I questioned the wisdom of this. Off you go love, the big road’s that way. Most poignant of all were a pair of scruffy little socks left scattered on the grass, clues to his final moments.

Which way to go? With panic building, I scanned the field, then faux-sauntered out of the front. The saunter was necessary to convince me that all was still normal. I strolled down to the right. And then back and to the left. A trot became a bit of a sprint (all terms are relative).
Given the recent shenanigans, various endings were playing out in my head. Had I given him a decent last half hour, a decent life being too much to claim. Yes, I told myself, we’d had a nice walk with the dog. We’d taken a cricket bat (he has rounders today, I thought that some practise might help), I had been throwing it at him, he’d been thwacking it. We had played catch. I had been kind and encouraging. I had said things like “oh, good throw” and “my fault, too high.” Angels were busy in heaven with my brownie points. Even when we had to tussle with the dog to let slip half a shagged-out blackbird it had all been quite pleasant. Relative terms, remember.

Then we'd returned home. While he stayed outside to play at bowling, I had felt I deserved a glass of wine. Some might like to pause here to ponder, with an admiring moue, on the late hour, 8.30, of the first glass of the day. We can forget the small but necessary gin at 7, too tiny to mention.
And here the reflections, all taking place in seconds, morphed into the imminent police investigation. If the road continued not to proffer up my son, I’d have to be on the blower, 999. The sirens, the heavy shut of the door, the swagger of the policeman hoicking up his trews, the belt loaded with cuffs and phones.
“So, Milla, you were drinking wine and you checked on your child .. when?”
“5 to 9,” I mumble in my mind.
The sarcasm is heavy. “A whole 25 minutes elapses, how extremely good of you, Milla, to remember him at all. Let me top up your glass.”
The sergeant and the constable exchange glances, sigh heavily. Lips are pursed. The At Risk register will be consulted, and amended.

My sprint intensified, which means that speed would possibly be detectable by an alert passer-by, an Old seized by a need to vacuum the car.
Up ahead a blur of blue. Some tuneless whistling reaches me. F10 strolling back.
“Oh, hi, mum,” he burbled huskily.
I scooped him to me.
“Where were you!?!” I said, my face buried in his ledge wig.
“Oh, you know, I was looking for my barbecue man.”

His barbecue man is, what? 3cm tall. He is from a Lego barbecue kit (featuring lights, a parasol and a leg of chicken, all eminently losable, naturally) and occupies a domain of joy shared with a ring, a rabbit …. He has developed a huge back-story and doles out chicken to all and sundry with impressive regularity. We’re all rather sick of it to be honest. Mmmm, more chicken. Yum. It had fallen out, he assumed, while off on the walk so he had gone back, in the gathering dusk, to search through long grass in three fields for his Lego man.

His childhood has been littered with such hunts. “Where’s my pirate’s foot … where’s my small mazagine” being perennial and plaintive cries from his early years. When a pirate’s foot belongs to a Playmobil man and the small mazagine is the instructions to the Playmobil man, no, we never knew where they were, but we measured out our hours in looking for them. The sticky possession of important items vital to his being. Sometimes the memory of them would echo in my head, lulling me to sleep. It’s become a catch phrase for anything misplaced nowadays.
“You know not to go anywhere without telling us!” I said.
“But my man …!”
Some things transcend rules.

Lego man was found among the socks. Thrilled he was. He squeaked. Then put it down. “And where’s the barbecue?” he said, heading towards the gate.
Give me strength.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

hell is other people's mothers

There’s a frigid woman at school, startling white jeans, Playmobil hair and crossed arms clamped firmly across her chest. She is one of my arch enemies. I doubt she even knows my name. Why should she? I have merely driven her 2 hooligans from an after school class for a year without recognition, let alone reciprocation. It’s not that which I hate her for, and let’s not think hate’s too strong a word here, but that her nasty little son is one of 2 tormenters of F10. She's bred a brute, doesn't know it, doesn't care. As long as her Merc keeps going, life is sweet.

F10 is a complex beast. He does beautiful, intricate drawings, he is fascinated by nature, his mental arithmetic is startling. He dresses up in a suit, an Indiana Jones hat and my Jasper Conran elbow length gloves to watch ‘Poirot.’ Eccentric is the word, random. He can also be maddening, argumentative and with a wearing sense of his own rectitude. He aint your average 10 year old and is a quandary too far for many of his classmates. It’s not a good mix.
Mercifully many of T12’s friends love him; for them he is “The Ledge.”
“F10’s hair is ledge,” said W12 yesterday wistfully, ruffling his own black mess, “that’s what I aspire to.”
“What?” I said, “a crazy wig in need of a radical re-think?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s ledge.”

Meanwhile white-jeans Mum (the original ice maiden who, when once she tried a smile had to spend a week in recovery), has spawned a toxic pram toy of a boy who squeaks malevolently and is chief toad in opposition to my F10. What he does not get he seeks to destroy.
His co-general is a squat lout with a plasticky quiff and the cold pale eyes of a killer fish, 4th child of a troll-goat (down to the purple hair and stumpy legs). The family have a genetic misfortune to look as if they have been thumped on the head with a hammer. I’m trying to work it into conversation.

Last week, for whatever misguided reason, F10 took to school with him his precious ring. Had I but known, I would have wrestled it from him, I would have undergone wounds from cross claws to keep it safe and out of sight.
I can only imagine that he had a very different outcome in mind when sliding it into his pocket. In his mind’s eye, he would have revealed the ring, expecting an admiring intake of breath. The ring would glow bright, drawing all near. Perhaps one boy would have dared to ask if he could touch it. F10 might graciously have conceded. An eager audience would have gathered, each craning for a glimpse of The Ring. It would be the talk of the playground.
He was wrong.

The scenario unfolded in a very different way.
Out came the ring. F10 nursed it tenderly, shyly.
“It’s crap,” squeaked Toxic Pram Toy.
“Yeah,” mocked Plastic Quiff Troll, “Crap.”
A round of laughter at the heady wit.
“I bought it from the museum,” F10 said, rallying with the wrong rally.
“Should be in a bin.”
“It’s trash, rubbish.”
“Stupid, ugly ring, crap.”

They all joined in, thoughtless safety in the pack, careless power in numbers; it went on for some time.

For in addition to the leaders, as powerful as Roman Emperors within their fiefdoms – although as yet without the authority to confer senatorship on their gerbils – there are the hapless bystanders. A depressing lot, happy to gather in the skirts of the great, anxiety to be in with the core group bleeding from every desperate pore. One, an erstwhile friend of F10’s, is the Brutus of the piece. Brutus, but in smaller shoes. Another fond mother to avoid.
I'm not saying he must be cossetted. There will always be pushing and shoving, one cannot micro-manage. They have to learn to deal with the pack. The other kids don't have to like the wretched ring. But, six of them, against one? Again.

Gollum’s intensity of fervour would have wavered beneath this jeering attack. F10 clutched his ring the tighter, and said nothing.
The story leaked in bits and pieces over the weekend. He sobbed.
“Why didn’t you Tell?” I said.
“I couldn’t,” he said.
“Was Mr J not there?” I asked, meaning the headmaster, who always wants to know when there is a fresh “incident.”
“It’s not that,” he said.

What it is is the humiliation. He cannot, could not and will not Tell because to articulate the episode would force a new reality. If it hasn’t been said by him, he can convince himself it didn’t happen and keep safe his dreams. He has already developed what the school would call Coping Strategies which are far too sophisticated for a ten year old. Those of disembodiment, of effectively writing off his time there against when things start properly at his secondary school. But whenever we suggest moving him elsewhere he is distraught. It would smack of failure, of having been driven out, of the triumph of PQT and TPT.
His teacher is fantastic, and when she telephoned me to discuss it I detected a whisper of the warpath.

I do not believe for an instance in the innocence of children. ‘Lord of the Flies’ reinforces that. Sassy and wanton, vessels of corrupted morals, shot through with deep rooted unkindness and a huge sense of their own entitlement, yes. Or so my jaded condition convinces me now.
I am not alone. A sad father spills his own story when we’re out dog walking. Many of the girls in F10’s class seem as bad, with bitchy shifting sands of allegiance. Loyalty dumped for a sleepover. Promises abandoned in return for a fiddle with a mobile phone. Do they learn it from television? I don’t know. Too much too soon and none of it nice.

I don’t think I’m blind to my own children’s faults: I could list them here and it would take some time. I am not unrealistic. They complain that we are far too strict with them. We are hot on manners, harsh on dereliction of duty. I wonder what the parents of Toxic Pram Toy and Plastic Quiff Troll are told, why aren’t they on these boys like a ton of bricks? Is it just me left feeling the anguish, suffering the night thoughts, driven to fond fantasies of tragic road accidents: an ice maiden cut short in her white jeaned prime, a troll found squashed beneath the tyres of a friendly truck.

Chatting to other children’s parents brings a warped view. For many their children seem to be gadgets, accessories, objects of great wonder who can do no wrong. Perhaps they don’t see them enough. I’d be happy to fill them in. Until that joyful day, the day of great reckoning, they are free to chuckle indulgently at feral acts and enjoy the inflated sense of their kiddies’ dubious worth. They roll their eyes, “what can one do?!”
You are supposed to collude, to bill and coo. Kids, eh. I don’t. I avoid the school gates at the moment, sullen at the thought of encountering what Sir Alan Sugar would call the whole bladdy lot of them. Anger brings eloquence and I fear what I might say.

“Don’t take your rabbit in,” (Bunsy being up there with the ring), I said to F10 when tackling his wig this morning, chasing the curls with a busy hairbrush.
“I won’t,” he promised, ruffling them up again.
The ring I’ve not seen since.

Monday, 18 May 2009

be careful what you wish for

The pub is under new management again. This is the fourth set of owners we’ve encountered in the 3 years we’ve lived here. Each pair bringing a fresh surge of hope, both theirs and ours, to be dashed all round within months. Still, one never quite learns that hope is over-rated.
We’d all chattered about the mooted takeover with the avidity of the easily-pleased, lamenting the fact that such a nice village continued to lack a successful pub. It was on the market for months with nary a tickle of interest. Until then, once the then-current landlord was carted off by the police for the third and final time and an injunction served, there it was, bought (presumably at a knockdown price) by Turn’Em Round Tone, a snapper-up of failing pubs, magic at his fingertips when it comes to restoring Hook Norton to the menu and flashing the welcoming smile. Something which had been in short supply for so long; smiles having been limited to the anxious-desperate and the surly snarl, depending on which you encountered, her or him.

There was a launch at the weekend, with a free pig roast and a disco. The usual barmaid, Lucy, (knocking 40, 3 kids: it shows) was phoned at 2 and told not to bother coming in.
We arrived at about 8 and could barely slide in sideways. It all but induced a panic attack in E and I wasn’t far behind in wishing I was anywhere but. Just anywhere. It brought back the horrors of nightclubs in my youth. When Boy George had designs on my boyfriend. I might love a party but I hate crowds, the squash of people, the noise, the fear frankly of mankind in pursuit of a good time.
However, we struggled bravely to the bar to be confronted by Lucy’s replacements. Sluts, basically. A baying, jeering gang of youths had materialised, lured by hormones to slaver at the pillowy soft tissue on bold display. The lads stood in the area previously designated a No Stand area: it seemed so brave, but the habitual proliferation of signs (don’t stand here, don’t park here, dogs here but not there, no footballs, no kids, keep your children by you, keep back) had all been whisked away. A solid barman was all that was thought necessary for the laydees. No Adonis for us. Tone’s marketing was at the men. The villagers tutted slightly, grumbled. We like a good tut and eye roll.

Upstairs, slowly dancing round her mobile phone’s tinny pulsing of “I Will Survive,” was Mel, the fourth gin of the day doing its stuff. Beaten wife and afforded an extension on get orf my land by Tone to give her time to move on, her defeat was made plain by blatant comparison. That night saw as many customers in one shift as they saw in their entire year stretched out. Somewhere the prescribed 100 miles away, her ex-husband, Pete, could possibly hear the ker-ching of the till, the beat of the disco, could all but see the car park chock full, the success that could have been his, and without plentiful signage. He wailed, nursing his bloodied fists.
OK, so I made this paragraph up.

Made glaringly apparent was the gap in expectation and reality, the brutal difference between what you want and what you get. Fuss, fuss, fuss, but no-one had liked the basic sullen resentment doled out by Pete or his permanent defiance of the rules of hospitality – he once had words for a friend when she said that her food was cold, “if you don’t like it, you can fuck off,” he said. Big mistake when your husband’s captain of the cricket, and the fingers of interlacing village gossip which spread like swine flu’s meant to, ensures that everybody’s heard by Tuesday, and passed on a distorted version.
But this?

A new landlord had brought the predictable new hope, so the village turned out in force, the Olds elbowing all others out of the way in pursuit of free pork. Doggy bags concealed in the folds of their blouson jackets, shamed not by the tell-tale spread of greasy spots. The music thudded. The bar was several deep. What could one do but stare wide-eyed in a sort of horror at the bestial scene.
My chum snagged me a bar stool which I clung to as if it were wreckage from the Titanic and my one chance of survival in a sea of alien bodies.
Lucy tipped up and bore it well, a glazed smile her brave understanding of her sudden redundancy in a world where youth trumps and old bags go home.

Outside in the garden, the relaxation of rules had led to a certain feral quality triumphing in all of the children. They were kicking balls again with hearty abandon, neighbours’ fences reverberated with the thwack of missed goals. The underage and the overage were stealing goes on the fort-playground (a strict and unenforceable age range had been the prior norm). New kids were there, too, drafted in from the rougher reaches and called Kyle. Squalid little tramps swung dead-eyed on the fronds of the weeping willow. My inner headteacher flinched. I longed for a whip, and handcuffs. This Boschian soup needed quelling.

We lasted barely an hour and crept off defeated.
“It’ll never last,” E said as we shuffled home.
“I do hope not,” I said.
Next night, driving past, it was comforting to see that the circus had packed up and crawled back to whichever part of the local Beirut from which they had scuttled. The carpark was pleasingly empty. Through the window one could make out the sluts, hugging themselves since no-one else was there to do so, cold in May with this much flesh on show.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


Hoorah, have recently been, truly, the most rightful recipient of two lovely awards; one last week,which I busily snaffled and shoved on the sidebar, but then ignored the etiquette of sharing. Oops. So, my blog is fucking fantastic and for once it’s not merely me saying it, but Potty Mummy, who is clearly a very wise woman.

Anyway, in order to warrant it, I have to list five fabulous addictions, being: reading, chatting,
my family (2 legged ones only, sorry Lolly, back in your basket), skiing (whimper) Sauvignon Blanc (yum)

Then I have to pass it on, obviously I want to give both of them to everyone, but the new 5 are:
Real life mates, Rottie and Exmoor Jane, nuff said in both cases
New find: The Cigarette Diaries
General good-eggery and as a Happy Anniversary: Carol and Chris
Disappearing trick: Ernest du Cugnac because he sent me a divine e-mail once but has since buggered off so he might not really deserve it. Hmmm.

Anyway, here’s what you have to do, Chaps: “1. Pass it on to five other fabulous blogs.2. List five of your fabulous addictions.3. Copy and paste the rules and the instructions below.Instructions: On your post of receiving this award, make sure you include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them. When you post your five winners, make sure you link to them as well. To add the award to your post, simply right-click, save image, then “add image” it in your post as a picture so your winners can save it as well. To add it to your sidebar, add the “picture” widget. Also, don’t forget to let your winners know they won an award from you by emailing them or leaving a comment on their blog. Easy peasey lemon squeezy.”

Right the other award, the Kreativ one (I know, I know, shocking spelling issues), came from Carol and Chris and, this time the stakes are upped to include SEVEN things and SEVEN creative bloggers, so:
The first five loves are up there, the next two are, er, weekends and fudge, decent fudge, neither granular, slippery or chemical. Actually Tesco’s is surprisingly good and they are welcome to send me some any time.

My new recipients (and anyone else can nick it if they want) are:
Little Brown Dog for being so very readable
KittyB for her blog being so pretty (she looks like the back of a bus herself, poor love, but makes up for it in cake production and hen talk)
Pipany for being so talented and having an über-magazine life
Potty Mummy for earning half a pair of sunglasses from writing
Elizabethm for all that gardening stuff
Welsh girl for wit and wailing at rotten blind dates
Fennie for elegant cleverness and lots of juicy facts slid in among the words (that's fact with a "c" and not a "r")

(*LATE FLASH* KittyB is stripped of her title for gross cheek. It passes instead to glorious Dave for services to knuckledusters)

So seven things each, 7 new bloggers, let me know, and by Christmas we’ll have spread out across the world.

And now for one or two catch up things:
My parents have returned safely from their mega jaunt so the cross’s ownership remains unquestioned and Clare will get her books back. The ancient dog is blooming. A new hamster is mooted. Can’t wait, naturally.
F10 has a bruise you can possibly see from there on his shin from the little shit. But his teeth are repairing. He is sanguine about both.
T12 still sees the need for serious limping, apart from at cricket practice when, happily, it recovers. This is clearly very good news.
The asparagus was delicious, we had it yesterday for we went with the nippers to the pub on the night, seated high in the hills staring at rolling greenery. England at its best. Plus the woman gave us a bottle of wine free which is just how pubs should be.
And off for a little collapse now, all those links have done me in.

Monday, 11 May 2009


Today E and I have been married for 19 years which must go to show that we mean it.

19 years has nothing of importance attached to it. The romantic listings on-line say firmly, in a Do Not Pass Go sort of way, that it has NO traditional materials or symbols or flowers attached to it. So that’s us told. But some more modern set-up, with an eye to a merchandising spin-off maybe, suggests Bronze, Topaz or Aquamarine. Perhaps these 3 sulked and got up a petition because they’re left out of the proper lists.
Whatever, I gave E a card I had knocking about, and he gave me one of a … cat we’d bought in readiness for F10’s Grade 1 piano exam. Think about it, how likely am I to be fond of cats? Exactly. He knows this; I know this; I feel mean for eye rolling; he feels worse for having lost the real card. I feel suddenly very mean indeed that there was a real card at all, lost or otherwise.
I’ll suggest that he keeps it, when found, for next year (but not in that fatal place, a safe place) for 20 years, the listings deign to admit, counts. China, apparently; dull, non? and not necessarily worth hanging around for.

Ever the romantic, my morning was spent in light chores: loos and basins and hoovering. Yum. Then, what next, what next? The washing? Oh, yes, pleasey. Up on the line it went, greedily snatched by a bossy wind, slapping a trouser leg in my face, the lot hopefully half way to Sweden by now. It recalled my wedding day when, with our slot booked at the Register Office for 2 pm, 1 pm found my father and I polishing the Jag. The caterers slouched by, “Looks like rain,” one said, thrilled, her tongue doing unspeakably smug things in her cheek.

Then, since the school is not allowed to administer that lethal narcotic, Calpol, I strolled up to dose F10 with it myself. We had to spend (say it quietly) £95 on an emergency dentist for him yesterday. The x-ray revealed an eye tooth jabbing at other roots. The bit where the inside, the skeleton, meets the outside, ie: teeth, freaks me out. It’s possibly been worse for poor F10 whose visceral screams of pain sanctioned the cheque writing. I'm horrid, but not that horrid.
The dentist furnished us with a bouncy blister pack of antibiotics, red and yellow, as jaunty as Willy Wonka sweeties. The blurb tells us sternly that the E-numbers can induce asthma, seemingly a legitimate by-product in pursuit of pill beauty. We’re also reminded that the capsules are not sweets, and must be kept from children. It’s all gone crazy.

I arrived in the playground just as F10’d been kicked hard on the shin by that nasty little sod who’s tormented him for years and years. They had to take it seriously with me hanging around although F10 growled gamely that it was an accident. Never in life, dear boy, deny the chance to bring a miscreant to book, fair or otherwise. The hooligan was scolded; I gave him a hard, blood-curdling glare, his sullen eyes meeting mine deadly from beneath his plasticky quiff. And then, joy of joys, on entering the office to “record the incident”, we found the headmaster lurking, so he had to say that he would have a word with the brute, too. An anniversary present indeed, quite to put the cat in the shade.

T12 was very surprised that F10 had planned to go into school at all. “Dead cert for a day off, that?” he thought. F10, being more of a studious bent, does not consider mere agony as obstacle to his learning.

Only lightly wounded himself, T12 had had last Thursday off, a day spent in deep hobble, with much gallant wincing, and then checking that all in a large radius had noted said wince and reacted accordingly. Preferably with chocolate, cushions, concern, and an earnest request that he run through the injury again, “Do tell, T12, and yes, please, start right at the very beginning.”

Brushes with medical authority are mercifully slim in our house and I hadn’t had to do a hospital run for 9 years. We arrived there at 8, a few minutes before it opened and despite being the only people there who weren’t staff, still had to endure an inexplicable wait while I overacted beneath the steady gaze of CCTV, a guilt-inducing beast if ever there was. The delay stemmed from malfunctioning equipment so in the end he couldn’t be x-rayed which was tantamount to tragedy.
Most displeased, T12 glanced around for hustle and bustle, admiring whispers; perhaps he might be made a case study of, for future generations to argue over. There was none of this. Just a sturdy lass, bolstered in stiff navy, who called me Mum and prodded and poked. Most miffed he was at being then despatched without much ceremony, having hoped openly for crutches, and silently for a wheelchair. He left his shoe at home (to increase limping opportunities and the need for Brave Faces) and, because it was raining at school on Friday, his poor classmates took it in turns to carry him. The saps.

It didn’t rain 19 years ago and it’s not raining now. Today’s triumph over the brute echoes my mother’s protectively sharp words with the caterers then. Time ticks on, the cast of characters morphs, but things remain largely the same. F10’s stoicism brings tears to my eyes; T12’s drama queenery, vying with his pout that the very limp he so adores meant that he was put in at no 11 in the cricket yesterday, makes me laugh like my father’s fantastic speech did way back then, cobbled together minutes before while he prowled the corridors in his socks, albeit not in search of crutches. 19 years might be mere bronze, topaz or aquamarine, it might have brought me but a photo of a bloody cat, but there’s asparagus and a bottle of bubbles in the fridge and things could be worse. Hoorah.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

so long

My father, who doesn’t type but seems to manage his iMac well enough to read my blog, e-mailed. It would be erroneous to condemn this for terseness since I can picture the flattering time taken in its creation, “I’m fed up with eBabe. Please arrange an uplifting piece mid-May for my return. With thanks.”
Who says the telegraph is dead.
I hastily inserted the mememememe below, just in case, to provide the necessary buffer. See? What a good girl.

Then I phoned them. But the planned big goodbye, prior to their trip away, dissolved into a predictable, “I’ll get your mother,” from my father, leaving me talking to myself. You have to entertain yourself in my life.
My mother bustled onto the line. I could hear the busy sashay across the seagrass and quaked slightly.

“Now, darling,” she said, “I’m in the middle of doing your father’s lunch.” This is code for Make it Snappy, honey, you’re last in line.
But she was sad because they were just back from depositing big black dog in dog-hotel, dog being very much on her last legs so my mother felt guilty and wretched and was raw from an epic farewell, and I was up for playing Mrs Nice because I’m kind like that.
Tears bring briskness. I understand that. They’re meant to pop the coil at ten years old, not hang on, however beloved, until gone 15. Newfoundlands that is, not mothers. Or, wise up, Newfies, with the requisite capital N (which my spellcheck quite rightly queries), to those in the know. Which by association I am, although I assert my right to protest that I am but a parvenu, and only elevated thus far by dint of the Newfie before last, Rupert, being drafted onto me by my fond mama (fond of Rupert you understand, more than me) as my bridesmaid. Really. A red ribbon and all. And you wonder why I have a dog thing?

“Have you packed? Ready to go?” I tried to inject a little eagerness into proceedings, a little briskness of my own of the Encouraging and Moving Swiftly On variety.
“Yes, well, almost, just one or two last minute things, which might call for a trip out to the Mall.” Ahhh, yes, happy panicking moments dithering over sun-factor 30? Or 40? at Boots out at Cribbs Causeway. We’ve all been there: no holiday complete without, and often the highlight, although way back factor 30 didn’t exist and the idea of 40 would have been thought "silly."
“But, if we die while we’re away, the books on the hall table are Clare’s.”
“First things first,” I said, the brake on the sardonic: the holiday’s meant to be fun, yes, not a call to last rites. My mission had been to wish them well on their jaunt round Petra, Libya, Sinai and co and, if anything, I guessed she might remind me in which books she hides the tenners.
“She’ll want them back.”
I promised to make it a priority. To be honest, I wasted time nursing a foolish fantasy, should death-talk kick in, that she might say something gruff, something rough and ready like, “You’re not a hamster and God knows you’ll never be a Newfie” (splutter), “but, if we die, you’re, well, you’re not too bad. You’ll do.”
Instead, I muttered my new mantra, ‘hall books, Clare; hall books, Clare’ a couple of times to give it a chance of staying in my memory.

There was more.
“And the cross, by the bed, large Indian thing.”
“Yes?” I said, for me, for me, to guard against the devil
“That’s for Andrew and Sarah, it’s written on the back so you won’t go wrong.”
“Fine, well, great, OK. Consider it done. Really, you mustn’t worry. Yes. Now make sure you have a fantastic time.” Half of me wondered which one of us would notice first that I was speaking as if to a 90 year old.

My brother rang. No 90 year old nonsense here. I asked him if he’d managed to speak to our parents before they went away.
“Yeah,” he said, “load of stuff about what’s ear-marked for Janet.” Janet being the cleaner.
“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t get Janet, I got Clare. Did you get Clare?”
“No,” he said, “Who’s Clare? Clare can fuck right off.”
“They’re Clare’s books.”
A telephonic Gallic shrug. “Et?”
“Did she say she loved you?” I asked, buoyed by the distance between Gloucestershire and Paris to venture bravely into intimacy land.
“No?” he said, surprised. This surprised me, him being ole wonder boy. “But she wouldn’t, not unless they actually did think they were going to die, that’s when you say that sort of thing. Afraid you’ve a long wait, old love, dream on.”

“Oh,” I said. “OK, there seems to be this cross.”
“Yeah, he said, “Andrew and Sarah…”
“Yes,” I said, remembering my semi-fervent promise, that which had fought with a need to remind my mother of Eliza Doolittle, the drunken aunt and the hat pin (My Fair Lady for the shaky of reference-getters) and been overcome. “What did you say.”
“I said I’d bear it in mind,” he said. “Best I could do.”
Quite why he remains her favourite baffles me.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


the last to be asked, sob, but here it is:

What are my current obsessions?
finishing off making curtains, as have done the fun bit of creating sort of circles and have the dull bit left of sewing the circles on to material and then making the curtains themselves, all the tiresome stuff of measuring and dealing with 24’ of material. Hopefully it will be better than the frankly ghastly-sounding thing I’ve made it out to be. It resides partly still in fantasy land which is just how I like it. Reality makes me anxious.

Which item of clothing am I wearing most?
hate shopping, but a long black top bought in the Animal sale last year. God, it’s had some wear. Whenever I get a new best thing to wear, I can never work out what I used to use.

What’s for dinner?
ah, well, here I come into my own. Pasta (home made, sigh), with some sort of wholesome sauce and little brown rolls and then a couple of salads, tomato and seeds and rocket. Angels will weep.

Last thing I bought?
plants. Don’t tell Edward

What am I listening to?
the self-important huffing and puffing of the computer. Be quiet. We’ve all heard you.

What would I say to the person who inspired me to do this post?
don’t let the bugger get you down

Favourite holiday destination?
skiing. Waves imaginary pole crossly at the sky: why is it so expensive!!!

Anywhere I would like to visit before I die?
India. Not merely for the grub, though my little paw will drift to yummy platters as and when.

Reading right now?
God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin. Have just finished it and it’s great. A first novel which convinces. Toxic, short, witty, lots of white spaces and full of lovely words. Will probably follow it up with some embarrassingly trashy thriller. Me, that is, not him.

Guilty pleasure?
buying books and plants. Smuggling both in. Far-away expression on face, Oh, that’s been there for ages. That sort of thing.
And reading trashy thrillers.
And, best of all, the fantasy with the dog ... the lorry ... the slipped lead. (Had promised self not to mention the dog, and she is the only "copy" I have so should show her some respect, but who can resist??)

Best thing I ate or drank lately?
I blush to say that it was the most delicious little canapé things made by, er, me for a chum’s party. An asparagus, pea and parmesan thing on little rounds of bread and an aubergine, chilli, garlic and prawn one ditto. With a glass of warm champagne in the other mitt. Yumtastic.

Care to share some wisdom?
how long have you got?
If being sensible, and perhaps a little bit American (sorry, Frances!), I suppose I’ll go for don’t tell lies and that includes being true to yourself, too.

Is there a television programme that I enjoy at the moment?
does ‘The Wire’ count? It’s on DVD as the BBC has only just started showing it.

Thing most looking forward to?
Holidays, always holidays, although what from, please don't question. But to be off with the ones I love, free from the tyranny of routine, can't wait!

Everyone else has done this one (small, bitter moue of the mouth), but for any other unloved souls out there who are kind enough to call, consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Unless you were shouting at your own children at the time, you quite possibly heard me roar “EIGHTEEN POUNDS!!!” last night, loud enough to bring tears to the ears of all in the vicinity.
Through some fuckwittery, where I had left the eBay account open while trying, unsuccessfully, to find a dog basket of all things (such cruel reward for attention to that hell-hound), F10 had scuttled on to the computer. While I was washing up, he, in his own words, had “got carried away.” With the consequence that we were the lucky winners (the term sticks in the craw) of a Match Attax card of some tosser of a football player. Cristiano Ronaldo possibly.

I’d gone upstairs to review dog basket options and so the first I knew of the other arm of our eBay activity was the cheery ping in the inbox and the enthusiastic announcement, “Congratulations, You are the current highest bidder …” At that innocent point, the bid sat at £12 which was enough to cause major freak-out. I'd look back on that halcyon amount with fond envy.

I thwacked off a panicky e-mail to the seller, trying to retract the bid.

Ping! Went the inbox. “Congratulations, You are the current highest bidder …” and the chilling climb to £14.50.
What all this was telling me, my frazzled brain worked out, was that some other dozy sod out there was actually bidding against me – aaargh, what am I saying, against me? against him!! Salvation lay in his desire edging crazily higher even than “ours.” The seconds were counting down in that way that thrills when the wondrous thing might just be yours and that horrifies when, well, when the wondrous thing might just be yours. Needless to say, Salvation failed to give a toss.

Every cheque we write seems to be for the children as it is without factoring in frenzied sessions on the computer. Shoes, piano lessons, piano exams (£43 for T12’s Grade 4, an exercise in stress I’m too near to to relate but will settle for reporting that it was All Alright On The Hour and a bad dress rehearsal need not mean curtains). Then there's ju jitsu, ju jitsu grading, karate, karate grading, clarinet lessons, residential trips, Robin the Bloody Storyteller coming to school for a bloody Workshop, football, rugby. A cheque for next year’s school bus sits on the side not quite written – well, at £740, would you? And then there are the cars, March bringing longer evenings but also both lots of insurance, tax, MOTs and services.
Somehow this eBay money held the full weight of the current financial crisis. Crisis and impotence in a demonic marriage. Cash in one way freeflow. The builders may have gone, but another set of gannets flocks in, hovering for scraps. The demands are endless.

I rang eBay, my fingers skittering like fat sausages over the tiny keys. The menu option enraged, as you can imagine, until I was put through to someone with the requisite scant English who insisted on reading the full Welcome guff. We tussled through the conversation, my half being frantic to convey “retract! retract! retract!” his centring tiresomely on “username” and “postcode” and “first line of address”. Somewhere around here, E had to be dug out to “give permission” (God, I hate data protection) for me to speak to eBay which was an irritating irony and nothing but a time-spinner. For somewhere else around here, the bidding closed and we were merrily informed by eBay that the closing amount was £18. Plus 99p post and packing. Congratulations!
I flipped.

The seller woke up, now that it was all too late, and sent a barely literate response to mine littered with meaningless "...."s. Are these indicating thinking time, surely not; who knows:

“i have no right to remove it, this system is contorlled by ebay. i will ask bidder 2 whether he wants it. if he do not want it....you may be have to pay or you can contact ebay...because i have to pay the final value fee to ebay, i do not want to lose money....”

Yeah, right, lose money. Bless. Needless to say my reply featured more syllables, relentlessly middle-class to the end, Full Sentences R Us. Fighting an urge to scream, “lose money, you greedy bag! You’re getting £18.99 for an outlay of 40p, a stamp and an envelope, all because I was stupid enough to think the dog needed a new bed.” I sounded instead contrite and grateful for whatever help she could give me.

F10 was on the floor. He had rummaged in his money box and prised out a Christmas twenty which he forced on me.
He sobbed.
“I got carried away,” he said again, “I feel so ashamed.”
What can you do to a response like that but say, “It doesn’t matter. It’s only money.”
It’d better be a shit-hot card though.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


My mother phoned. Death was in her voice. Such sorrow could mean only one of two passings: dog or hamster.

The dog is a 14 stone (guessing here) Newfoundland, whose tail sends tellies rocking and who is currently keeping the vet in Porsches; the hamster’s a ping pong ball of fur. In Pixar or Disney, these two would be great chums off saving the world and learning heart-warming things about friendship. In reality, one hogs the raft of dreams (a dog bed bigger than most people’s sofas), but still retains superior rights to the sofa, kicking into touch those of peripherals like daughter and grandchildren; while the other scurries around with a feather duster keeping his glass palace spruce. The hamster’s pad could happily feature in Country Life sporting its keep fit area, lounging/relaxing zone and intellectual gym.

I held my breath.
The hamster it was who died.
I felt sad, not as sad as my mother, whose sorrow was painful, but sad still that this little scrap that could mean so much in its life was meaning so very much more in the losing of it.

For those who are new to the hamster, I’m going to insert at this point, a blog I did when my mother bought the thing which was 2 years or so ago:

my mother, her hamster and me

My mother confounded me by phoning to announce that she had just bought a hamster. If I had had to write a list of several thousand things which she might say to me, having bought a hamster would not be on it.
“Why?” I asked.
“He was very cheap,” she said.
“How cheap?” (visions of my inheritance were being sucked into a hamster cage and getting messed up with straw)
“£2.50.” (it still seemed a possible, crashing waste of money). “And very sweet.” (this last was said with feeling).

Luckily I had nothing else to do that hour, for I was all but having phone sex with the hamster come the end.
No slouch that hamster.
Very bright, but how could I have expected anything less?
Russian. I should have guessed. Nothing prosaic for my Ma. She wanted Russian names from me: Otto? Pushkin? Blini?

Since then, our conversations have been slightly more hamster-led than I would necessarily have chosen, but Ma is immersing herself fully in her new project. Every book on the subject has been bought and read. She will have written to the authors suggesting changes for the next edition, the print run of which she will oversee. She’s that sort, the last time she wrote to the Telegraph, someone contacted her, inviting her to go and stay in their castle in Scotland.

So she joined the Hamster Society.
“’Association,’” I said firmly, bringing her down a necessary peg. “Or ‘Club’. Hamsters don’t have Societies.”
The silence on the other end of the phone suggested that they might. In the near future.

Meanwhile, my father has wisely insisted that all her Hamster Literature be kept well away, in her study. That’s her various membership papers, rules of association, dates of hamster shows, entry forms and a ‘handsome’ (her term) turquoise and gold hamster badge.
“All this for a tenner,” she says proudly.

We saw the hamster.

It was very small, and I would question whether she got her full money’s worth. As a little girl, I wasn’t allowed a hamster – something about foxes getting them although, on reflection, memory tells me that few foxes trotted through our kitchen.
It means that I have been confusing hamsters and guinea pigs all my life. We only had a budgerigar, and that was merely for an afternoon, too. My mother returned it to the shop, lying, saying that it frightened me. I think it was a certain clattery quality, thrashing about in grit, something clearly quite absent in a hamster, that king of beasts.

The king of beasts was sweet enough, I suppose. But the betrayal incipient in that phrase makes me quiver with disloyalty. I will have to re-phrase: “astoundingly sweet, of a sweetness altering the dawns of days to come, to knock the world from its staid old path, to make laureates ditch young girls as muses and take up hamsters instead… That sort of sweetness.”

Possibly bright. I’ll have to take her word for it, as with so much.

Plans for its future? As gloves, perhaps, for a mouse. Something I quietly imagined, through to the patenting process on a pair of baby gloves fashioned from a hamster, while Ma waxed proudly about its bedding-dragging prowess.
I could do that, I squeaked internally, I could hang by a paw and hide in a corner, and flop on my back looking exhausted. But she was still admiring hamster-face and I rather think I was blocking the light.

Then she e-mailed yet more guff about hamsters. Really, I have come to dread the ping of the in-box and the trill of the phone.
My father had freaked her out by saying that if she died, she’d have to make arrangements for a next of kin for the hamster, since it wasn’t his bag. (if my genes are his genes then all is not lost.) I feared that future correspondence would inform me of my reluctant new status in her will as Hamster’s Sister, but when I mentioned this to her, she looked embarrassed and said that she had a little list of suitable friends lined up. Indeed, when they went on holiday one of these insane creatures was charged with looking after the thing and, get this, e-mailed photos to my mother on a daily basis. Truly.

It transpires, in further leakage of my inheritance, that she has bought a new home for Hammy, which she calls The Glass Palace, and which has the added advantage of being approved by that august body, The National Hamster Council. Or Club. She filled me in, as if she were an estate agent and I were interested. Seems it has a log cabin, which she calls his weekend cottage, a balcony and 3 platforms. All this, in pursuit of feeling like a Professional Hamster Owner. Which, it seems is necessary to the confused. I mean, my mother.

I rang her up.
“About this glass palace.”
“Yes, much more suitable. The other one” (slightly irritably, as if I had purchased it in the first place, not she) “was very small, far too small. Not enough for him. This one’s 36 foot.”
“Wow! That’s enormous.”
“Oh yes,” (airily, still the edge of irritation with me and my substandard Hamster Home ideas). “He needs it.”
“But that really is very big, where are you keeping it?”
“Where the old one was, on the drinks trolley.”
D’oh! “You mean 36 inches, Ma.”
“That’s what I said, you’re thinking of metres now, being that bit younger.”
“You might have meant 36 inches, you said 36 foot.” How swiftly a phone call can degenerate, but sometimes a point just has to be pursued.
“Of course I didn’t, darling.”
Darling is a word which is open to abuse. From my mother’s mouth it can chill the soul. Unless you’re a hamster when it’s said with love.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I think you’re mad.”

Yes, well, we all have our opinion on who should be in charge of that particular sentence.

And now he is dead. I’m really rather sad. Only don't tell Lolly. She'll get ideas above her station.
RIP Rudi.

Friday, 13 March 2009

that'll do nicely

The race-goers peppering the village are as recognisable to locals as plain clothes policemen are to TV low life. It’s a roundness of tum, a certain kind of tie, a slope of shoulder (similar to my avatar) indicative of too much time spent hunched over the Racing Post. That, and a proliferation of Bentleys, and the fact that the skies have been alive with the sound of … choppers. For this is Gold Cup week and despite fewer helicopters than of yore, the rich are still at play (no silly banks to go to, sigh). Today, even the Queen’s due to pop in, bless her.
Every denizen in the geographical fallout of Cheltenham Racecourse is out to fleece the racers somehow. Friends do B&B and count the cash. Cheltonians go on cruises for Christmas, or are half-way to China, on the proceeds. Driveways are dusted off and called car parks; limos fill lay-bys; opening hours are rapidly extended: normal old breakfasts at cafes are called Racing Breakfasts, and charged accordingly. Everything, temporarily, becomes Gold this or Racing That.
It might add a buzz, but if you’re not profitting from it, you’re buggered by it and traffic means that we are effectively marooned this side of Chelters. It’s not that I would normally want to go, but now that I can’t, I feel aggrieved: even a Country Liter has shopping needs to meet. So I went just now, fool that I am, to the Post Office, to stalk out a few creme eggs and get in some Match Attax (sic) cards. Don’t tell me my education’s been wasted.
A string of racegoers were aimlessly wandering around the shop – tum, porkpie hat, tie, debris of disgusting breakfast festering in the café corner (don’t ask).

Post Office Man was – his words – “made up.” “All that booze they buy!” he hissed confidentially, “Each night! We get more in.” He did that pursed lips kissing the window thing he favours when making a point.Such is the mighty power of his whisper, so much more audible than the normal ebb and flow of his disappointed speech, that every race goer’s head turned to eyeball him.

I gave a stiff dead smile, cringed, and turned my best, dim, Lolly-like attention to the chocolate stand.He shook his head at the giddy commerce of it all. The thrill of the till, clanging shut on crisp Irish twenties (not village 20ps grudgingly counted out); the unexpected extra visits to the Cash & Carry; the sheer enterprise represented. He nodded a reproving nod at me and bounced off to tidy his bafflingly large birthday card racks, as if now jostling for Richard Branson’s place on The Rich List.
Witness to POM’s idea of self as successful entrepreneur, not washed-up weirdo with a penchant for driving ducks to Spain was not something I wanted to be.

I prowled around the tatty bit normally frequented by 10 year olds, where the Match Attax cards should be … but weren’t. POM has no idea of supplying to meet a demand, hence his unfathomable interest in the wrong sorts of cards, endless birthday ones. Profits lie instead in the greedy, shifting, desires of 10 year olds (and their desperate parents, eager for behaviour/treat leverage). Greasy cards shuffled fervently in grubby little hands, mini book-makers in the making, every one of them. We are all fluent in Italian midfielders.

Having made the effort to trudge across the road, and risk the conversational ambush of an encounter with POM, to be then denied my reason for being there was just outrageous.
“Still not in, national shortage,” POM said with something approaching pleasure in his voice. He’s moved on from locals, he hobnobs with race-goers now. “’ve been up since four,” he purred at one in a trilby, “No time for sleeping. Not in this game.”

Mrs POM, a study in defeat, was kept busy, the long minutes I was in there, debating the minutiae of a paper bill with a pensioner whose gloved hand was determined to remain triumphantly clasped round coppers. The paperboy – “he always walks on the grass!” – was being ripped to shreds.

It is a fearful thing the village Stores’n’Post Office being held afloat so arbitrarily, and by one who never sleeps. Post Office work, with its stingy pay off per “swipe,” brings something like £2.50 an hour. The many many greetings cards remain unsold, testament to a plan gone sour.
The Match Attax cards meanwhile might retail at a mere 40p a pack, but they disappear under the locust swarm of small children’s hands. Blink and they’ve gone. At the moment, they’re gone. And, with the imminent defection of the racers, if the national shortage continues, married to that capricious whim of fickle children whose interest in the cards will melt like butter in the sun the day his mis-judged double order comes in, then it could be Bye Bye Post Office.
Not for nothing did my boss call me Cassandra. Doomed ever to tell the truth but never to be heeded.

It’s a bit like musical chairs. Round of cuts: remove a chair: close a branch; take the big utilities from the Post Office: profits fall; remove a chair: close a branch.
We’ve survived the random chair removal so far, and our little sub-branch is still here. Match Attax could be the only thing standing between him and disaster. Feeling suddenly mean for laughing at his dreams, his misguidedly heavy investment in greetings cards, and being Queen of the Unnecessary Purchase, I grabbed indiscriminately at some over-priced rice to buy pro tem and scarpered.
“They’re on order,” he added wistfully, as the door clanged to.

2 years ago, it was Dr Who cards, another tense time with fluctuating availability. Then we had to stump out £1.50 for a mere 9 cards. I'm sure POM has a job lot out the back from when the demand plummeted.
Times change, and there’s nothing you can tell me about value for money.
Lolly is back to full prance and, I’m glad to report, the bill was small, meaning that it’s worth having a stern word with vets. I almost tipped her in my gratitude. Almost. Silly to give her any ideas.
an 8 hour stay on the day of reckoning, including (shudder), shaving, draining, pus collection, leak-seepage management, keeping an eye on
a course of antibiotics
a new yellow squadgy lead
2 follow up appointments (admittedly brief, but one of them involving 2 vets)
I was charged ….… £35.08.
Even I couldn’t baulk at that.

Indeed I’ve been recommending them all week so their portals will soon be bursting with skinflints bearing maimed pets.