Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Birthday Girl

In all the excitement of planning The Wedding and Trips From Hell to Ibiza, I'd almost forgotten that it's my birthday on Friday. I do love a good birthday - even though my advancing years suggest I should know better. Charlie stopped celebrating her birthday once she hit 29 a few years back and Saskia, once she reached thirty, started going backwards. She's currently 26.

David has promised a special meal that he's cooking from scratch (this means no tins and no ready prepared sauces/packet mixes - he's said this about six times) and Mac has promised me "something special and lovely mummy".

I've always loved my birthday - not that I've done anything mega-special on any of them, I just like them very much! My 18th was memorable, probably because out of 90 guests I was the only sober one by the end of the night. My cousin had an erudite conversation with a rosebush, my dad led a conga line up the street and my aunt sat on a camping stool and it collapsed, propelling her to the floor. On my birthday video, I've got five minutes footage of Auntie Daisy clutching her bottom and moaning "oh me bleeding piles! My bleeding a**e". Such a nice momento for me.

It's not that I get overly fantastic presents either - although, don't get me wrong, I do get nice ones! My favourite birthday present ever was when I 9 - I got Kerplunk AND Connect 4. I was very excited and had to be put to bed early.

Following her visit today Janey (we've done The Seating Plan, I have writers cramp and a headache) left a gaily wrapped package and a shiny envelope. Judging from the look on her face and the lewd wink she gave me when she handed it over, I'd better not open it anywhere near Mackenzie. Whatever can it be?!?!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Total Wash Out

My weekend has not gone brilliantly well. I'm writing this wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a fleece hooded jacket and a jumper. My hands are frozen claws and my nose is as cold as a frozen chicken. All three dogs are piled up on the sofa in a heap but I haven't got the heart (or oomph) to turf them off. Mac is wrapped in his duvet waiting for the Championship Play-off game to start and David is having his blood pressure raised in the hallway. All will become clear.

On Saturday, we had a lovely few hours at the stables. Okay, so the wind was blowing rather wildly but Blue (be still my beating heart) handled it well, flattening his ears at the harder gusts and steering me through the woods like an old-fashioned gentleman. The love affair is deepening, he whickered joyfully as I approached and started snorting when I drew two carrots out of my pocket. It was freezing though, I was quite glad to be back in the warmth of the office as we block booked a month's worth of lessons. We spent the rest of Saturday pottering and went to the Harvester's for dinner.

On Sunday, Lydia, Bea and I went to Lakeside Shopping Centre - me to buy some summer things for The Hen Weekend, Lydia to buy new underwear and Bea to see if she could cope with Burberry-wearing men and women in a confined space. You think I'm joking! She drove us there, cursing at other drivers, one of whom cut us up as he was in danger of missing the Lakeside turn-off and shot across all three lanes. She called him a very rude word that had Lydia in hysterics in the back. Bea relaxed once we were in House of Fraser and disappeared into the handbag section. Eventually she returned to us and we headed off for lunch. Bea was a bit concerned about hitting the Food Court "Darling - Burger King?" she said with horror in her eyes. Both Lydia and I could have murdered a jacket potato (me with chilli, her with cheese) but Bea wasn't impressed. "Fat Jackets? Is that a wise name choice for a restaurant?". We eventually got her sitting down and stuck into a salad. Lydia got her new knickers, I got a tankini, some shorts, pedal pushers and some T-shirts and Bea decided that, as long as she had some lavender smelling salts and a decent Dick Francis, she could cope with the rigours of an economy flight.

Bea dropped me home where I found my husband, child and three dogs sitting mournfully on the stairs. "The heating is dead mummy" said Mac, pulling his denim jacket closer round himself. "I've asked Jack Next Door to lend us his heater, so we've got some warmth in at least one room, he's looking it out now." David added, greeting me with a kiss. It was unbelievably cold - it was warmer in the fridge. The plumber David rang was "busy until mid June", the bloke that Jack Next Door recommended is "away until next Friday" but John, his details found on a card in the papershop window, would be round "first thing mate".

No heat, and no hot water either. Wouldn't you know it on the coldest May Bank Holiday in, well, ages. Mac was given a tiny bath last night (four kettles worth and a load of cold water). We slept, all six of us, in our bedroom with the heater on full pelt and the door closed. I woke up at half past two when I felt all three dogs trying to get on the bed with us. I gave up wrestling at twenty to three and left them to it - they were nice and cosy on my feet.

"First thing" came and went. We got to mid morning (it's amazing how much you miss hot water out of a tap until you haven't got it) and still no sign of John. His mobile, whilst this morning was ringing no reply was now going to voicemail. We rang another plumber, Tony, who was in "Chiswick, be with you in an hour or so". This was at 11.30. Would it surprise you if I tell you that we're still waiting?

David eventually found yet another plumber, Alf. Alf is a "bit tied up now, can get to you temorah". Having extracted assurances that he would in fact turn up on our doorstep tomorrow ("on pain of death, do you promise" I thought I heard David say, along with "I've got your address"), David is now ringing John and Tony to tell them to "eff off and don't bother showing your faces".

Still, Oceans Eleven is on tonight - thoughts of George Clooney will keep me warm until the dogs get on the bed again.
Post script, 2 hours since post: Tony the Plumber arrived twenty minutes after David got off the phone from Alf - we told him we'd told him not to darken our doorstep. Tony listened to David's message on his brick of a mobile - "eff off and don't bother showing your face" - while he stood in our hallway. "If that's your attitude mate, I will" he huffed and hoiked himself out of the door. I was all for chasing after him but, apparently, it's the principle of the thing. Half an hour after that, John arrived. Apparently "the wife was ill, she's been up since half one this morning, in the lav" which explains his non appearance bright and early this morning. I shot David a look as John peered into the boiler bit of the house. David bit his lip and rang Alf back to grovel, apologise and tell him we'd got it sorted out.
John told us all we needed was a "scarlet flappergange with a left whitted waddockthumper" - well that's what it sounded like to me. John left to go to "the yard", was back within in half an hour and is now crashing and bashing about upstairs. Apparently, we're "ten minutes from having heat love". David has tentatively asked about the cost (it being a Bank Holiday and all that) and I think he's upstairs lying down.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Booked!

The flight is booked – Janey has booked for herself, me, her mum Ivy, Darren’s mum Lou, Bea, Charlie, Darren’s cousin Sue and Janey’s “best best best friend in the whole world” Toria and we’re all on the same flight leaving Stansted at sparrow’s cough on the Thursday morning. We’re going the weekend before Darren’s trip because, as Janey said “the bride and groom can’t both be in Spain at the same time, it’ll be unlucky.” The others in our party – Melissa, Jackie, Lucy, Maria, Lisa, Serena and Lizzie – will be making their own way there. Although, as Janey told me with a sneer, Serena might not be able to make it – she goes to Weight Watchers on a Friday and, as she’s got two stone to lose before the wedding, it’s apparently a crucial time for her.

Bea is in a panic – she’s never been on a budget airline before and is worrying that she’ll have to load her own cases on and off the plane and whether they serve decent champagne. Having told her that she’ll be lucky if she gets a warm cup of Fanta in the two and half hours it’ll take us to get there she went very quiet..........but has bought a new bikini and a sun hat “because I need them anyway”. Charlie is having everything waxed the day before we fly. Auntie Ivy is packing Sun Factor 150 (“one whiff of sun and I burn!”) and Lou is having a quick rehab session beforehand so she’ll be “right as ninepence” for the trip. Jackie, Lucy and Maria have booked emergency sun bed sessions beforehand and Melissa, Lisa and Lizzie are bulk buying condoms.

And me? Well, I’m filling up the freezer this weekend so my husband and child don’t starve – David’s planning on a Boys Weekend with lots of “boy” stuff. This is worrying – he’s recently bought the Sopranos on DVD. Oh, and I’m worrying that my swimsuit will be mistaken for the pool cover. Because we haven’t got Amelia this Bank Holiday (tralalala and a big yippeeeee), David has suggested that I go shopping on Sunday for some holiday clothes. Lydia is lending me her suitcase – the only suitcases we own are for packing a family of three. She brought it over to me this morning along with a gateau from Ayres which I daren’t eat. Charlie is urging me to buy a bikini but Hell would have to freeze over before I wore a bikini in public. Telling me that I could get a tankini instead did little to appease me – it was as if she were agreeing with me that a bikini was out of the question.

David’s changing my money into the correct currency (“Leave it to you and you’ll end up with Rands or something”) and Mac is covertly making me a “happy holiday” card. I’m a bit miffed actually at the almost blasĂ© way they’re both waving me off for four days and three nights. “Never mind” said Lydia “by Friday lunchtime David will be ripping his hair out, Mac won’t sleep until you’re home to read him a bedtime story and the dogs will all be pining for you”

Well, that helped.

Lydia is coming with me on Sunday, she needs some new underwear - her relationship with Matthew is gathering pace but she’s worried about getting “into the frying pan straight out of the fire”. Mike has apparently been ringing her constantly to see if she’s seen her solicitor yet. All this pressure, she said, is making her want to do the complete opposite. Susan has been showing her face in The Avenue a lot more of late. No longer does she skulk in and out of the house, scurrying up to Nunhead Lane and back again. Nor does she try veiled attempts to talk to the neighbours now – her approaches are far more forceful and vocal. It seems that she thinks she’ll be Queen Bee now that Lydia is in Beckenham. Several of us have disabused her of that notion already but she’s got a hide like a rhino.

As will I if I don’t start my moisturising regime, like, yesterday. The base of a good tan is well moisturised skin – well, that’s what it says on the back of my £29.99 body lotion bought in a fit of panic this morning. I shall start my shopping list now…..Ambre Solaire, flattering swimsuit, ear plugs……

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Hen Pecked

Janey visited last Friday in a state of high dudgeon – Darren has booked a stag weekend in Tenerife the weekend before The Wedding. “I told him!” She said shrilly as she barged past me into the house “He’s got to cancel it. I’m not having him getting up to all sorts in Tenerife with that bunch of morons he calls his friends”. Janey had clearly been on the sun-bed or at the fake tan – she was a nice shade of orange that clashed with my laminate flooring. She was practically glowing like a beacon. “And do you know what he said?” she went on, slithering onto the sofa. “He said no, he’s going! Can you believe that?” “Well. I’ve sorted something out for me too!” she added smugly.

“I spoke to Charlie!” she said triumphantly, switching the television channel to MTV Base and nodding her head in time to the music. Charlie who, I enquired. She looked at me as if I was a bit simple. “Your friend Charlie of course. The one with the new massively rich boyfriend!” Janey rates people according to how much money they or their partners have. Have I mentioned that she’s shallower than a shallow paddling pool? “I bumped into her in The Glades last night, we had a coffee and I told her all about bloody Darren and she rang her rich boyfriend and he’s offered us his villa in Ibiza for the whole weekend for nothing! All we’ve got to do is pay for flights and stuff!” She did a little jiggle in time to Beyonce.

The villa has its own pool, spacious terrace complete with barbecue and sleeps 15 in various permutations in the eight bedrooms. It’s got six bathrooms, air-con, dishwasher, washing machine, surround sound CD player and maid service. It’s ten minutes drive away from Ibiza Town and 3 miles from the nearest beach. “You’ll love it” she said ominously.

Me? “Well, you’ve worked so hard getting all this together” she said, the first time she’s mentioned my Herculean efforts in a non-derogatory sense. The guest list includes the bride, the brides mother, the grooms mother, The Wedding Planner, Charlie, Bea (as mother of bridesmaid), Darren’s cousin Sue (as mother of two bridesmaids) and 8 of Janey’s closest friends – although Tracey Benedict is not getting an invitation because she said the wedding dress made Janey look fat. Janey was now bouncing around on the sofa “We can go from Stansted, it’ll be great, first thing Thursday until late Sunday. Come on, it’ll be a laugh!”


David thinks I should go – he’s taking the Thursday and Friday off to be in charge at home and spent most of the time since Googling “Ibiza” to see what’s on offer. Amazingly, Bea thinks I should go because “I’d quite like some sun and the pool looks heavenly and I’m not going without you”. Charlie has told me I’m coming “It’ll do you good to get away and I can’t cope with your family on my own”. Mac thinks I should go as long as I bring him back a present and “something Spanish”.

It seems I’m going to Ibiza!!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

My Sister

I love my sister, Beatrice Matilda St John-Sykes, very much. In the Lottery of Life she is very definitely the bonus ball: bouncy, vibrant and her arrival is always eagerly anticipated.She makes me laugh – not always intentionally – and we share a love for lemon poppy seed muffins, Starbucks coffee and Ray Winstone. She rang me on Friday and we had a jolly chat (before I was summoned to the door by Janey, but that’s a whole other post). I told her all about my impending riding lesson and she asked me if I remember her horse riding career of about ten years ago. I do, vividly. For three years she went riding every weekend and got very good at it. “Do you remember that I could jump very well? So could the horse!” She laughs like a bubbling brook and it’s very infectious.

She’s a Very Important Person in her office but I’m not entirely sure what she does. I know she has an expense account, a big desk and a PA. She is of course married to the wonderful Stephen and has two adorable children, Ian and Caitlin,and an Exotic Au-Pair. She shops in the very best shops, dines in the very best restaurants and thinks nothing of popping into Harrods for a “wander”. We’re as different as two people can be, but yet so alike. She’s Titian of hair, porcelain of complexion and slim of build. She also has very exciting shoes. I’m mousey haired (with occasional blonde bits thanks to Amanda at Shear Class), rosy of complexion and not so slim of build. The only exciting pair of shoes I own are posted as my profile pic.

When I first met David he said I looked like “Kate Winslet when she was in Titanic”. God love him. But to this day I’m not sure if he meant “sweet and innocent but with spirit” or “irritating, whingy and in need of drowning”. When I recounted this to Bea she didn’t hoot with laughter as my then best friend did. Not only did my (now ex) best friend hoot with laughter, she asked me what David fed his guide dog on. Are you there Alison Pritchard? Bea merely grasped my hand, her eyes filling with tears and said “But sweetie, that’s wonderful, you must snap him up immediately and point him in the direction of Boodles

She was right. I snapped him up (not with the same velocity as she herself snapped Stephen up – the poor man had whiplash for a month) and pointed him in the direction of Boodles. Bless him, he got lost and ended up at Ernest Jones but the end result was the same. A rock on my finger (Bea was satisfied that he’d spent the expected amount on it) and a wedding to be planned. Bea was at my side from day one, steering me away from a dress that simply didn’t flatter me “darling, you’re not pregnant are you?” to shoes that didn’t make me look like “I needed an urgent appointment with a chiropodist”. On the day itself, despite the fact we were outside a Registry Office in the height of winter she was dressed not entirely warmly in a floating rose pink chiffon outfit and the most gorgeous Philip Treacy confection on her head. She looked beautiful and was not at all fazed when an elderly aunt congratulated on her on her wedding day. “Not me Aunt Rozzy, my sweet dear sister is getting married today” she said, primping and preening me and instructing the photographer to hurry up.

During my pregnancy she was on hand with sage advice “eat ginger biscuits for sickness darling and, if it becomes too unbearable, have a look through the Boden catalogue to take your mind off it” and was the first person (aside from David) to see baby Mackenzie. I had been in labour for 17 hours, had had 12 stitches and was sporting a split lip because I’d shoved the gas and air nozzle in my mouth so quickly I’d mis-aimed the move. She arrived at my bedside with half a florist shop of flowers, a bottle of champagne, a teddy for the new arrival and a Starbucks wet latte with a shot. Which she then drank (hospital coffee is disgusting and I was gagging for a decent cup) because she’d “had a quite dreadful morning darling, my PA is off sick and I broke a nail."

David isn’t quite sure, even now, how to take her. At worse, she sounds -and behaves - like a terrible snob. At best, she’s so witty and pithy but always in a nice way. I’ve never heard her say anything bad about anyone and she gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. Before we both had husbands and babies, we were travelling home on the train after a night out on champagne cocktails and a gentleman opposite us was rather enthusiastically jiggling his hand in his pocket. By the time we got up to get off at our stop, it became apparent that either the zip on his trousers was broken or he chose to wander around public transport at night with his bits hanging out. I was horrified, disgusted and then hysterical as I recounted the tale to Bea’s rather cool and elegant flat-mate. Elegant Flat-Mate rolled her eyes and changed channels on the television to something intelligent. Bea was adamant that “the poor man probably didn’t know, perhaps we should have told him”.

We sometimes fall out, as sisters do and that is not nice at all. She’s more open than me, I prefer to dwell and stew whereas Bea gets it all out in the open, says her piece and then all is back to normal and I’m forced to stop dwelling and stewing because we’re off once again on our usual merry-go-round of fun and frivolity. She has the most wicked sense of humour and always cheers me up. She emails me from her office to tell me all about the “gorgeous biscuits” she’s nibbling or the “wonderful lunch she’s had, four courses darling!” or to let me know that she’s seen “the most wonderful thing on the internet for sweet Mackenzie” and that she’s ordered it, paid for it and it will be delivered forthwith.
Sisterly advice ranges from “always pay extra for postage and packing when buying on-line darling, it comes in a van the next day not with a sweaty postman when he feels like it” to “never drive a brand new BMW in heels, you can’t get reverse” to “don’t allow David to watch Channel 5, you’ll never get a moment’s rest in the boudoir”.

Such a wise and thoughtful lady, my sister!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Tears and Sugar Lumps

We’re not buying either end of Jezebel. David was adamant that we should not“go along with Ginny’s crackpot scheme”. Ginny herself, after leaving Mac and I in Blackheath Village after our lunch, had rung David and suggested it in an oh-so-casual manner. David said he had nearly rear-ended a Jag. He was on his Bluetooth, clearly. “What were you thinking?” he asked as he rushed into the house, no doubt eager to check that I hadn’t already signed anything. I was quite relieved to be honest – Ginny does tend to sweep you along with her ideas. David doesn’t often put his foot down but he does know how to curb my wilderexcesses.

Our first riding lesson this morning went well, ironically at the same place that Jezabel is stabled. She’s quite a gorgeous horse, very ladylike but shy, she hung out of her open door and watched proceedings with interest as we strutted and posed around the yard, Mac and I in brand new riding boots. David came along – he’s clearly still worried that I’m going to sign something. Mac looked adorable in his tiny little hard hat and had, what the instructor Anna called, “a natural seat”. His pony was called Boomerang “because she always comes back” Anna hooted, slapping her jodhpured thigh. This didn’t fill me with confidence but soon Mac was walking round the yard like a mini John Wayne telling me “this is lovely mummy!”. In his getting to know Frisby session, he had cupped her nose in his hands and gave her a big kiss. This endeared him, not only to Frisby, but to the watching stable hands and Anna.

I made sure he was settled and happy before I was introduced to my horse Blue. A gorgeous black, almost purple, horse with a shock of white running down his nose, he responded well to my ministrations and the sugar lumps I bribed him with. Anna listened with interest as I told her about being thrown from Bandit and assured me that Blue was a “docile lump”. He certainly was. Five attempts to hoik myself up into the saddle and he barely moved an inch. You could almost hear him saying “oh, for gawd’s sake, get a move on”. If he’d worn a watch, he’d have checked it whilst sighing. I eventually found “my seat” and gently moved off – one whiff of a “walk on” and Blue was off. All the horses at the stables were clearly well looked after – they seemed almost human and you could almost imagine them sitting round together after lights out having chats. Or is that just the way my mind works? Anyway. They certainly looked at home, one horse was having a wash and stood quite placidlyas he had his tail shampooed. David was wandering round as I left the yard, in his “lord of the manner” walk he affects from time to time. He certainly looked at home talking to the horses. Perhaps I could still convince him…….?

Mac and I met up at the gate that led to woods – the plan was to hack along for a while to see how we got on. Mac was clearly confident, he was steering and everything with a confidence I once had, and once he even turned round to look at me without wobbling once. My experience with Bandit shook me badly, the throw was quite a bad one and I was bruised for weeks afterwards - and not just my ego. But on Blue I felt safe, not quite “as one” as Mac was obviously feeling but a lot more relaxed than I thought I would be. I even relaxed the reins enough to run my hand up and down his mane. He really is a beautiful horse – I got quite emotional as we wandered along. After about half an hour of this gentle stroll, Jim, the guide with us, halted us at the end of the path and asked if we were okay. Mac responded positively, as did the other people with us, I could only nod my head and wobble a “yes”. I was overcome with gratitude that Blue hadn’t throw me yet nor was spooked by that fox that shot out of the woods. During that half an hour stroll past trees, whilst the birds tweeted, on that undulating path,something awoke inside me – even Blue seemed to twig something magical was happening, he kept snorting and trying to look over his shoulder at me.

Heading back, Blue was even more of a gentleman. My eyes were blurred with tears that I was self consciously wiping from my eyes. One of the other riders,a kindly looking woman in well worn riding gear, asked me if I was okay. I wobbled another “yes” and dear old Blue stopped to allow me to regain my composure. We then brought up the rear, his stroll even more gentle as he looked after the blubbing wreck on his back. David was waiting for us when we returned to the yard and he practically caught me as I dismounted. “What on earth happened?” he asked in horror as he saw my mascara covered face. “Nothing, it was beautiful!” I sobbed as I hung round Blue’s neck, kissing his beautiful face and diving down my pockets for more sugar lumps. David looked quite concerned – as well he might, his wife was practically snogging a stunning stallion’s neck while he breathed softly in my ear. All we needed was a cheesy sound track. Mac was seemingly unperturbed by his mothers emotions and immediately demanded that I go into the office and book more lessons. David deposited me in the front seat of the car with a packet of wine gums before returning to the office to do just that.

Non-horsey people – and I classed myself as that only yesterday - may question my sanity. David certainly did and kept asking me why I was crying when I was so happy. I had put my trust in Blue and he’d repaid me a thousand times by being so gentle, because he sensed my fear. I’d got my confidence back and can’t wait to get back to the stables. I’ve spent the day drifting around dreamily, shoving popcorn down my neck, Mac watched the Cup Final wearing my colander on his head and “riding” the arm of the sofa.

However, the wind has been knocked from my sails somewhat: I've just rung Ginny to report back. I filled her in on how emotional it was and all she could say was “Darling! You were so lucky! You could have transmitted your fear to the bloody horse and he’d have ended up carting you to Bexley Town Centre! What a hoot that would have been!”

Come on you...erm.....

.....who to support in this afternoon's FA Cup Final? Chelsea or Man U? Neither team fill me with enthusiasm but I suppose I'm more well disposed towards Chelsea than the Red Devils. Not just because they beat us when we met them at the Millenium Stadium in good old Cardiff (let's face it, we were expecting to be beaten) but then Chelsea aren't in my good books for "buying" their way to trophies over years.

I remember my day out at the Cup Final with Millwall in 2004 with a fair amount of emotion. There they were, my boys, my brave Lions, giving it their all for us and we the fans giving our all back to them. Zampa the Lion, our mascot, was running around the pitch like a thing possessed as the players took their wander round the pitch. Before, during and after the game, we made more noise in the stadium than Man U (so used to winning trophies their fans seemed almost bored) and more noise outside on the way back to the coaches. We had lost in the Final but we were cheerier than the winners. Wave after wave of miserable Man U fans mooched around Cardiff - one of our number felt it imperative to say "Erm, you do know that you've won don't you?". The response was a shrug as they continued to skulk their way back to London/Reading/Guildford/Brighton/Plymouth. Rumour has it that there were actually some people from Manchester at the game. Well I never!

Dear me, if Millwall had won the FA Cup I'd still be banging on about it.

Still, I'll be watching this afternoon (David has the Pringles and Mac has got some popcorn), not really caring about who wins but enjoying the occasion. I may have to turn off for Abide With Me as the mere tune makes me cry - listening to the words literally makes me sob. When we were all standing shoulder to shoulder at Cardiff and some opera singer was warbling away on the pitch, I was the one sobbing into my friend Emma's shoulder. She still remembers it vividly.

Good Luck to the Red Devils and the Blues from a Millwall fan!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Avenue Neighbourhood Association

We held our first Residents Association meeting at The Stewart’s house last night. It was very professionally done. We all got an agenda through our door yesterday mid morning and were asked to bring pads and pencils. I feel like I’m being conscripted. Frank has made himself Chair with Marjorie as his Secretary. According to the Agenda “other positions will be decided upon at the meeting”. David waved me off quite cheerily as he settled down in front of Coronation Street.

The first thing that struck me were the amount of people stuffed into the admittedly spacious through lounge. Neighbours I hadn’t seen for weeks were leaning on the wall, lounging on the floor or perched on little stools clearly provided for the occasion. Jill with The Purple Door was there, as was Jane Opposite, Ruby Over the Road, Jack Next Door and Alice Three Doors Down. The Woman With The Hat was munching on a digestive and had her notepad balanced on her American Tanned knee, as did Timid Tina. Girly swots, both of them. Susan and Mike were there too but I had been warned about this. Marjorie had called round earlier to tell me that she had invited them and they had accepted. “I can’t not invite them, they are residents and well, I haven’t got any axe to grind with them. I speak as I find” she said as she disappeared down the path to “dig out me teapots”. Both ignored me which was fine with me.

The first item on the agenda was a change of name and focus. We are now The Avenue Neighbourhood Association. Residents Association, Frank felt, sounded like we had a namby pamby approach “as if all you do is eat biscuits and gossip”. Ruby and I exchanged looks. Neighbourhood Watch, it was felt, “gave people carte blanch to snoop and pry – and we don’t want that” Frank said. Mary Three Doors Down looked quite annoyed at this. Frank dearly loves the sound of his own voice. He felt that The Avenue Neighbourhood Association struck the right balance. We all agreed. And so TANA was born.

The second item was thugs and yobbos. It was, of course, made to sound nicer but it’s basically what it meant. Frank then went on to paint a charming picture of what the neighbourhood would be like if it ever fell foul to yobs and thugs. “Graffiti, empty cans of lager and verbal abuse” he said chillingly. Old Mrs Lazenby raised a tentative hand. “But we don’t have any yobs or thugs in the area, all the youngsters are so nice, they help me with my shopping” she quavered. Frank raised an eyebrow as if to suggest she was living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. “You won’t say that when Nunhead Green is strewn with empty cider cans by the summer” Frank admonished.

Item three was “Resident Patrols”. Nothing too strenuous, Frank assured us. “I’m not asking you to join up for anything, or ask you Mrs Lazenby to patrol the street with your little Percy, but for us all to be vigilant! We must keep an eye on our little community!” “In case a family of yobs and thugs move in up the road” Ruby murmured to me on the pretext of leaning forward for a jammy dodger.

Item four was the appointment of other officers. We needed a Treasurer and a Deputy Community Activity Organiser apparently. Frank was already listed as Community Activity Organiser. Mike Robinson put himself forward for Treasurer and was seconded by Jill With The Purple Door. The Lydia Supporters raised a collective eyebrow at this blatant attempt to ingratiate himself with his neighbours. “What about you lovey?” Marjorie patted my head as she passed me “You could be the DCAO, I hear you’re arranging your cousin’s wedding!” Ruby looked bashful at this, I suspect she’s been gassing. Frank eyed me appreciatively “Well, well, well, hiding your light under a bushel! Anyone to second?” Before I could speak, Jane Opposite stuck her hand up. Great.

Item five was promotional literature. Frank has contacts (at this he winked and tapped his nose – why do people do that?) at a printing firm who could print us some stickers for our front doors to display the fact that TANA was active in the area. “Don’t they make incontinence knickers?” Jane Opposite asked, wrinkling her nose as several versions of the suggested sticker (run up by Frank on his Apple) were circulated. We chose a version fairly quickly – quite frankly, anything to get out of there.

Item six was community policing, Frank had arranged for our local Community Officer to attend the next meeting (suggested for 13 June). Marjorie got quite skittish at this “oooh, I love a man in uniform!”. Frank winked at her in apparent slow motion. Jane caught the exchange and shuddered.

There being no other business – I could tell that Susan wanted to stick her oar in but I just wanted out of there so I withered her with a look – the meeting was closed. We all shuffled aimlessly for a bit – Jane, Ruby and I were dead keen on making a quick exit but Frank had us held prisoner in the through lounge as he asked Jack Next Door about his drooping fig tree. Jane got the giggles at this and was crying with laughter, especially when Marjorie pointed out that Frank “gets all upset when it starts drooping”. Ruby’s mouth was twitching and I’m a sucker for anyone giggling – I don’t even have to know the joke and I’m rolling around on the floor. I didn’t want it to get to that stage so I focused my attention on Mike as he prowled round his old garden with Susan in tow.

“And what are you three young ladies laughing about? Anything Uncle Frank needs to know?” Frank loomed up in front of us, managing somehow to embrace us all. We all leapt away as one and crashed into the groaning sideboard, knocking over photo frames and several knick knacks - including a large empty lead crystal bowl that rolled lazily round as we all watched it as if mesmerised. Marjorie was helping Old Mrs Lazenby out of her armchair but said “I’m arranging our first Evening In soon loveys, expect an invitation!”

Oh. My. God!

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

It's a dogs life

A trip to the vet this morning, for all three dogs have an appointment. As unlikely (and as stupid) as it sounds it’s easier to take all three dogs together. It’s not as mad as it seems. This way, while the vet is seeing to one, Kirsty the Pretty Nurse is attending to the other two. And I can stand there, relinquish control and get my purse out.

Senior Dog, a King Charles spaniel with knowing eyes, is due for worming and a check up on paw that swells up alarmingly at the first sign of a grass seed. He’s allergic to various strains of pollen and spends June to September dosed up on antihistamines. Middle Dog, a funky collie/cairn terrier cross, needs his claws clipped – he slides hilariously on the laminate flooring and his claws spark when he walks on concrete. Junior Dog, a hulking great Labrador, is due for his booster and a check up. I’ve taken out a second mortgage and am going for it.

No problems in getting them all into the car – car journeys equal fun and mud and peeing up lots of different trees. However, JD sensed something was up when I didn’t turn right at the roundabout and transmitted his fears to the other two. All three started squeaking. I made soothing noises as I headed down the Vet’s Road. JD was now trying to get out of the still moving car: he hates the vets with a passion. MD is fairly laid back about the whole thing and didn’t even get up when I parked. SD was trying to exhibit his usual air of insouciance but he refused to “jump down” and had to be hoiked out unceremoniously.

I let all three wander round getting their bearings (who’d live next door to a vet’s surgery? All that nervous peeing!) before they bravely allowed me to guide them through the door. The vet’s surgery is a comforting rambling building with a spacious waiting room and indulgent staff and, once the dogs are sitting down and waiting, they are generally okay about being here.

It’s not too busy: there’s a nervous looking lady with a cat basket on her lap, a couple sitting pet-less but clock watching and a man with an insipid looking poodle. As is my wont, I watch my beloved dogs idly, all three at my feet and between us taking up three seats. MD and JD seem to be having a conversation. MD is making strange woofing noises and JD is squeaking back at him. One look, however from SD, and they both fall silent. He’s definitely the boss.

“Are we ready?” says Kirsty as she comes out of the treatment room and holds out her hands. We take on our usual jobs: Kirsty follows MD through to the vet while dragging SD and I control JD who tries to make a break for the door on the opposite side of the room. Once in, all three dogs look as if they’re facing a firing squad, there’s a palpable sense of tension. Nigel the Nice Vet certainly knows his stuff, he’s obviously done a pet psychology course or two. He starts off by sitting, cross legged in front of my suspicious looking woofers. JD is usually first in line for any attention that’s being offered. Nigel cunningly uses this as an opportunity to give him the once over, a canine equivalent to “and cough please Mr Jones”. Peering into his eyes, Nigel calls him “handsome” and gets a tongue up his nose as a thank you. MD then becomes jealous and barges JD out of the way for his once over cunningly disguised as a bit of rough and tumble. “Who’s a big strong boy then?” Nigel says, massaging his middle roughly. SD is wiser, he’ll wait until he’s up on the table having his paw looked at. Nigel the Nice Vet gets to his feet covered in dog hair and dribble. The dogs clearly, not his own.

SD first and is lifted onto the table – this always takes him by surprise. To prevent him seeing anything untoward, he buries his head in my chest and snuffles becomingly. Kirsty distracts MD and JD by rooting round in the Treats Cupboard – both dogs are in there with her, tails wagging. Nigel proclaims that the paw is okay and prescribes his worming tablets and his antihistamines. A quick once over and SD is returned to the floor for a considered mooch around the Treat Cupboard. MD is next up, licking his lips after consuming a Bonio, JD is massacring something on the floor but I can’t see what as MD has to bury his face in mine during his stint on the table. I get a face full of drooling dog as Kirsty lectures JD on his manners. JD doesn’t listen and continues chomping. Nigel gets the clippers out and begins a conversation with Kirsty about “Midas” as he clips and trims. Midas is very obviously the dog that the couple outside are waiting for - “he’s had the snip!” Nigel exclaims cheerfully. MD is not breathing for fear of the clippers slipping. “And all four paws done!” Nigel says cheerfully. MD takes a flying leap off the table and lands on SD who has got a few milk biscuits to chew through. JD has finished massacring whatever it was and is pacing, anxious now to leave.

Because lifting JD (let’s face it, he’s a mini horse) is out of the question, Nigel kneels down once more. There’s a lot of crunching going on but JD isn’t having any of it. Kirsty tries to distract him with another dentastick but he’s not having any of that either. He looks at me with hang-dog eyes, beseeching me to release him from his torment. This "woe is me" look isn’t one he can carry off while drooling and covered in stray crumbs. The injection goes into the scruff of the neck before JD even realises what’s happening.

All three dogs are now keen to leave, JD keener than most. The Treat Cupboard has been closed and the fragrant Kirsty has wafted off to prepare my bill. Now is the time that Nigel chooses to question me about fleas. I am affronted actually. He keeps doing this, as if he assumes I live in a flea ridden house. “Do you give them their flea treatment regularly?” asks Nigel “No Nigel” responds the sulky teenager in me “I’ve spent 40 quid on it just to leave it in the cupboard. “Have you seen any evidence of fleas at the house?” continues Nigel, studying me closely just in case I’m lying. “Well Nigel” says the sulky teenager “if I had seen any evidence of fleas, I’d be here banging down the door and demanding my 40 quid back”. He laughed uproariously at this – the man thinks I’m joking.

But I nod and shake my head in the right places and make a concerted effort to move towards the door. Nigel is updating all three dogs records on the PC and suddenly decides to weigh MD who has, in the past, had a weight problem. This is tricky. Nigel is trying to tempt MD onto the flat scales but MD is reluctant to leave SD and JD in case they escape without him. Without the fragrant Kirsty to hand, I attempt to exert control over my usually well behaved dogs. “Go to Nigel” I instruct MD and hand Nigel his lead. MD digs his heels in and shoots me a look as if to say “in your dreams sweetheart”

Nigel bodily lifts MD onto the scales at which point JD decides he’s going to have a go on this too, as it looks like fun. Both dogs weigh, between them, 52kg. Nigel seriously enters this onto the computer and waves me farewell.

The exit is in sight, JD has the scent of freedom in his nostrils and is dragging me over to the door, MD wants to investigate a golden spaniel who is sitting minding her own business and SD just wants to go to sleep so lies down. Kirsty is playing a concerto on the till and presents me with the bill. I’d barely collected my card, worming tablets and antistamines before JD made a last desperate effort to escape. We shot out of that door, a Labrador in the lead, a collie/cairn terrier cross running backwards and a spaniel being dragged behind. I was in the middle of all this trying to put my purse away.

I’d like to be reincarnated as a dog if I could guarantee I’d get an owner as lovely and as caring as me – but knowing my luck I’d end up as a guard dog, out in all weathers and not a Bonio in sight.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Horse Trials

David’s sister Ginny has inherited half a horse from her dear departed Aunt Minnie who sadly passed away at Christmas. Probate, according to Ginny, is a bugger. Dear old Ginny headed off with glee in her eyes and visions of cash when she attended the reading of the will last Wednesday, only to be brought crashing back to earth with the words “and to my beloved niece Virginia Elizabeth Clementine, I bequeath my half share in Jezebel”. David had been left her vast collection of antique sherry glasses which he’s still puzzling over. “When did she ever see me drink sherry?” he keeps asking.

Jezebel is a six year old mare that Aunt Minnie for her daughter Rebecca when Rebecca’s marriage went up the swannee two years ago. Minnie “chipped in” with livery costs and so on and enjoyed visiting Jezebel every week to give her carrots and apples. Rebecca was present at the will reading and cornered Ginny afterwards as the rest of the family bolted to the Dog and Bucket (cousin Edward was peeved to find that he hadn’t been left the house apparently). Ginny was fully prepared to be asked if she would immediately sell her half of Jezebel – for a fair amount of cash she thought. Rebecca had other ideas and wanted to sell her half to Ginny. A dilemma.

We don’t see Ginny very often but when we do, in her words, it’s a hoot! Ginny is very “jolly hockey sticks”, never married and is constantly telling “darling mummy” to be nicer to me. Amelia obviously never listens to her daughter. She favours country tweeds and drives a decrepit old banger and is more suited to walking across fields with Labradors at her heels so doesn’t come up from Windsor that often. She rang me and asked if myself “and the dear little lad” would be up for a spot of lunch? We assured her we would be (another teacher training day at nursery, don’t get me started) and met up at CafĂ© Rouge in Blackheath. Mac was overly excited about being in a proper restaurant and was on his best behaviour. “My treat!” she boomed as we sat at our table. Mac sat open mouthed. “Auntie Ginny” he began tentatively as she peered at the wine glasses for trace of lipstick. “Which half of the horse have you got?”

Ginny cackled with laughter and corralled a passing waiter to order wine before answering. “Well darling, I’ve either got the end that eats or the end that sh…” I coughed loudly to prevent her finishing that sentence. She’s never quite sure how to behave around children. At Christmas she bought him a very realistic gun and proceeded to show him how to shoot birds.

“But the bugger is, I don’t want a horse, or even half a horse. Too much of a bind and how the bloody hell can I ride it if I’m near the castle and the poor beast is in Bexley? Bexley, what a place, even for a horse” she continued loudly. The couple at the next table were agog as she started polishing cutlery. Ginny states often and loudly that she “lives near the castle”. She does in fact, from her bathroom window you can see several turrets. “Plus darling, I’m not even sure that I like horses. Dreadful smelly creatures” she added as she put in an order for soup of the day and lamb noisettes.

“Course, Becky wants to give her half the heave ho now that she’s bagged her consultant. Renal. He’s a Frog darling, can you credit it? Doesn’t want to ride the horse when she can ride her man what?!” I learnt, very early on, just to let Ginny ramble on, chipping in only where necessary. “So it’s either half a gee gee or a whole one. Dear God, can you imagine?”

Mac was still openmouthed as she continued “I say darling! Would you like it? For Little Lad here? Fantastic for a child to be able to ride, even in Bexley. It was apparently 9 grand new, and Rebecca is asking just 3 point 5 for her half”. Only Ginny could make a half a horse sound like a Ford Focus. “You’d like a horse wouldn’t you Little Lad? Nice gee gee to ride?” she boomed at Mac who was now looking at me with hope in his eyes. “I’d help you out with the upkeep of the beast obviously, be nice for me to drop into conversations actually, I part own a horse, keep all the local Colonels interested what?!” she barked with laughter and crashed a meaty hand down on the table. The couple at the next table were now openly watching us.

Mac’s hopeful expression was stronger now – he’d heard stories of my childhood and adolescence where I was never far from the stables. I rode right up until my 26th birthday when I went out for a ramble in Dorset and was spectacularly thrown from a horse (Bandit, I’ll never forget him) and, apart from riding him back to the stables, never got on a horse again. 9 years out of the saddle is a long time. But, just recently I’ve been tempted by the lure of manure and equine affection and was planning to take some lessons, spurred on of course by reading Mutterings and Meanderings. “Mummy, please ask Daddy if we can buy Jezalell” Mac said, clearly knowing where I stood in all major decisions in the family.

Actually, he’s right. If I went home and told David that I’d just bought half of the horse that his sister was left by Aunt Minnie without consultation and subsequent discussions, I might just find myself in the divorce courts.

Or worse, at another Reading of the Will.

Madeleine McCann


Sunday, 13 May 2007

The Stewart Era

The Stewarts are making their presence felt in The Avenue. Marjorie popped round yesterday morning with a clipboard and a Tupperware pot full of pound coins. “Join in the Avenue Lottery love?” she asked me, jangling her braceleted wrist in my direction. “Pound a go per person, choose a number and if it’s chosen as the bonus ball in the Lottery tonight, you win the kitty. Fifteen quid in so far! It was a great hit at Mermaid Court!”

It appears that a lot of things were at “hit” a Mermaid Court – either the residents of this little cul-de-sac on the South Coast are devastated that the Stewarts moved to London or they’re holding a “Thank God They’ve Gone Party” every night. They’re certainly very active and get really enthused about everything.

For example, the aforementioned Residents Association has been moved from the warm and scatty welcome of Ruby Over the Road to the highly organised (if far too chintzy) venue of the Stewarts new abode. The first meeting is on Wednesday of next week and has an agenda and everything. Gone are the days of a quick bitch over a packet of chocolate digestives at Ruby’s. Ruby herself doesn’t mind “It’s not as if we did anything constructive, it was more an opportunity for Mary Three Doors Down to gossip”. She’s looking forward to it. I’m not, but David thinks I should go. I suggested that he, as Man of The House, should take on the Residents Association responsibility and he laughed long and loud. Apparently, the Mermaids Court Residents Association had monthly meetings and held a bring-and-buy every summer to raise funds.

Frank is also looking into getting up a newsletter for The Avenue. Mermaid Court had “Mermaid Muses” which he produced on a quarterly basis detailing all the ins and outs of the area. “Where to find the best curry on a Friday night and so on” he boomed as he handed me a sheaf of back copies. The headline of the last ever copy was “Stewarts Take Their Leave Of Number 15” and was accompanied by a picture of them both looking glum.

That’s quite without the fact that he’s talked the local vicar into starting a football team for local lads. David is actually quite keen on this and has put himself forward as an advisor. Nothing too active you understand, but he rather fancies himself standing on the touchlines yelling encouragement. The local pub is also being rallied into getting up a darts team. Mike, the landlord, is quite keen on this and is going to approach the brewery for a new dart board. Mermaid Court’s local (the Fuzzy Pear) had a darts team that annihilated every other team in the area. Naturally.

Marjorie said that Frank has never been the same since he gave up work “Always on the go he was, I called him Road Runner!” she said as she shifted her Tupperware pot from one hand to the other. “Now I call him Martin Bryce!” she hooted as she headed for Jack Next Door waving her clipboard in farewell.

Ever Decreasing Circles!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Knickers!

My lovely husband returned home last evening with a lovely black glossy bag with rope handles and presented said bag to me with a glint in his eye. For within, it contained a stunningly gorgeous (and, it has to be said, downright saucy) emerald green bra and matching knickers. My thoughts rallied themselves and headed down this particular road a) guilt present – he’s been caught with his PA and this is to soften the blow before he or someone else tells me b) he bought them for his PA he was caught with but thinks I’ve seen them so has had to give them to me (if this is the case then amazingly she’s the same size as me and yes, he got it right) and finally c) he wants something and is trying to soften me up.

He hit me, right between the eyes, with d): “I had some time to spare between meetings and thought you deserved a treat” Oh!

Rather shamefully, this is now the only “proper matching” set that I own. This news is going to horrify my sister Bea. Of course, I own underwear but not proper sets. I favour bras that you can buy packs of two and knickers from Asda. No-one sees them do they? And for when they have to (doctors appointments and the like) I’ve got a fairly swish set but it’s rather worrying that a blue bra and a pair of slightly-different-shade-of-blue-knickers can be classed as my “best” set.

I’ve got about seven bras, some in interesting wash-day-disaster hues and a veritable drawer full of pants: white high leg, flowered Bridget Jones’, various coloured tangas, black lacy (itchy, big mistake), grey flannel for the winter and the all time worst pant ever – a thong or two. I only ever wear them on special occasions. But you don’t need to know that.

And another thing, what do you call your pants? Are they pants, undies, knickers, drawers, grundies, bottom warmers or smalls? Saskia calls her bras“boobie bags” but she’s not normal.

Bea only ever wears matching underwear. She has them all in special compartments in her drawer and she’d rather lose a limb than be seen wearing mismatched undercrackers (another good word!). She takes time to decided her mood before deciding on the pink rosebud set or the lemon lace set or the white silk set or the black see through set…….you get the picture. Saskia has the“dip your hand in the drawer and see what you come up with” philosophy. Charlie only ever wears bras and knickers in virginal white. What’s the point, she said the last time we were in Debenhams perusing the knicker aisles, in buying coloured stuff?

I’m a bit sensitive about underwear. I don’t mean that I wash and dry our undies under cover of darkness but it’s incredibly cringeworthy when Amelia decides to “help” with the laundry and takes an inordinate amount of time folding and sorting my pants. “Do these actually fit you?” she asked once, coming in from the utility room and waving a particularly skimpy tanga in the air just as Charlie sat down at the table. I always feel a bit strange (it’s my Catholic forebears) when I encounter a pair of David’s boxers entwined with a pair of my knickers in the washing machine. Surely it can’t just be me?

David urged me to try my new set on and do a sort of Dance of the Seven Veils for his benefit. As Mac was at his friend Tom’s for dinner and the Hungarian Goulash wasn't ready until half seven I readily obliged - to be fair, he deserved a treat too!

Friday, 11 May 2007

Chintz and Knick-Knacks

Our new neighbours, Frank and Marjorie Stewart, are what is known as “the life and soul”. They’ve already joined the Residents Association (such as it is, monthly meetings at Ruby’s house for a bitch about old Mrs Winnie and her arthritic Labrador Marty that leaves puddles and mess everywhere that she herself can’t pick up because of her back) and are urging us all to consider a summer street party. “It’s a piece of piddle to organise!” Frank boomed at me this morning as we both watched Marjorie struggle into her house with a nest of tables. “We did one every summer in Mermaid Court, police permission needed to shut off the road, council permission to make noise after 11pm, £30 from each household for food and booze, few willing helpers and bosh! One party!”

Frank is a very tall, very loud man given to wearing clashing clothing. Today he’s wearing green cords and a bright pink polo shirt. He’s constantly got a packet of Polo’s on the go and is always sporting some sort of facial hair. He’s got the beginnings of a moustache because somebody told him at Lydia’s do that he’d suit one. He calls his wife “wench” and has an alarming habit of stroking the arm of the person he’s talking to.

Marjorie is very round and jolly – she looks like a Beryl Cook lady, all bubble perm and red lipstick. She refers to Frank as “master” and giggles like a loon at everything he says. Saskia, at Lydia’s do last Friday, asked me if I thought they had a full sex life. I was very nearly sick over Bea’s citronella candles.

Lydia has told them that they could do what they liked with the garden but asked them not to decorate. Frank has already expressed his displeasure at Lydia’s choice of interior design. “Everything’s white, looks like a bleeding operating theatre” he said as Marjorie puffed past with an ashtray stand. “Still, once we’ve got it sorted out, you must come in for a coffee”. That’s the curse of the stay-at-home mum – everyone thinks you’re available for coffee/last minute child minding/dog walking/random distractions.

Marjorie rang for me just as I was finishing off confirming the latest batch of sponsors for The Wedding. Unbelievably, we’ve got press interest. Well, the church magazine is sending a reporter and photographer. Janey is beside herself and is now thinking about writing to Heat and OK to see if they’d be interested as well. No, she’s serious.

The house is certainly unusual. Lydia’s sleek and clutter free kitchen has been covered in bits and pieces. A ancient ginormous food processor dominates the granite butchers block and the serving hatch is open and has a dried flower arrangement in it. It’s all very…..dated. Lots of brown and green and cream stuff. And what my mother would call “knick knacks” dotted on every available surface. Lydia’s IKEA sofa and chairs have been replaced by a giant leather sofa (green) and two (brown) recliner chairs. A fluffy rug is laid in front of the cutting edge fire place and the blinds have been replaced by floral, lined curtains that clash with the pictures on the wall. The bedroom is no longer Lydia’s favoured black, white and green but extremely chintzy with teddies wearing jumpers saying “I heart you” sitting on the bed. Doillies abound everywhere, antimacassars lurk on the back of every bit of furniture, the bathroom floor has been covered in various mats all in clashing colours “Frank doesn’t like cold feet when he’s having a pee” Marjorie informed me as she whisked me downstairs for a coffee.

Frank is a retired policeman and proudly stated that he never “rose above the rank of ordinary Bobby. I pounded that beat until I could pound it no more.” Marjorie has never worked “Married at 17, up the duff at 18!” she giggled as she heaped sugar into her coffee. Frank winked at her and turned to the many photographs of their children on the wall. Michael is the eldest and the only child living in London. The two girls are “back in Sussex, breaking hearts and in no danger of settling down!” Michael looks like a younger version of Frank and Fiona and Evie look exactly like their mother. “Evie’s one of them lesbians” Marjorie reported as she dunked a bourbon in her coffee. “Fair took me a while to get used to it all” said Frank “Couldn’t get it out of my head – what do two women actually do?”

I brazened this out by feigning an interest in a pile of photograph albums. I opened the first one and was confronted by a near naked Marjorie on a beach with two equally near naked ladies either side of her, all three grinning at the camera. “Oh yes, Lloret De Mar last summer that was” Marjorie sighed wistfully. “Hardly had any clothes on that week I tell you!” she giggled and bowed her head at Frank. What the hell had I stumbled into? Frank was licking his lips lasciviously while Marjorie simpered and flapped her hands in front of her face. “Not now, we’ve got a visitor!” she stage whispered.

I suddenly had an urge to be elsewhere – I bid a grateful farewell to the Stewarts as they climbed the stairs to their love nest and shot back to my blameless house.

Whatever will the neighbours say?!

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Ex Excess

Janey just rang in a foul temper – The Wedding is going a little too smoothly for my liking so it’s about time we have a disaster. Cynical? Moi? Apparently, whilst trawling through the list of RSVPs with Auntie Ivy at lunchtime (we’re doing the table plan soon, I’ve set a whole day aside), Janey spotted an erroneous name. “He’s only bleeping invited his bleeping ex bleeping girlfriend, the bleep” she growled. Following this discovery, a Discussion was held at which Auntie Ivy suggested a number of options available to her daughter. She took the only one available to her. “Well, I rang him and told him” Janey continued, practically savaging the receiver. “Your bleeping ex bleeping girlfriend is NOT bleeping darkening the door of the bleeping, parping church” Honestly, she was incandescent with rage.

And with little wonder. Whatever possessed Darren (a man not admittedly blessed with an abundance of brain cells) to invite his incredibly recent ex girlfriend Melanie to his wedding? Some sort of misplaced loyalty? An opportunity to gloat? Whatever it was, she’s been struck off the list and banished to the dark side of the moon. “If she turns up, I’ll rip her bleeping, parping head off” Janey promised. Darren has until tomorrow evening to break the news to Melanie. Lucky him.

I’d feel the same, I must admit. There was a time, during the run-up to my very own nuptials, that I thought that David might start considering inviting his ex-wife Kate to join the shin-dig. Their divorce, whilst not entirely amicable, at least allowed them to be on speaking terms and, although Matthew was 20 at the time, they remained civil for his sake. In fact, David admitted a few months after our wedding, he thought it would have been “nice” to ask her along, just for the reception. I’m not sure I would have been happy about that. I’ve only met Kate twice – the first time was by accident as I left David’s flat, six months into our relationship when Kate arrived with some post for him and the last time was at our second Christmas as husband and wife when we were all at their Godson’s school play. She sent an “It’s a boy!” card when Mac was born but nothing other than that. Of course, Amelia still sees her and tells us all about it whenever she does. At length.

Kate is very refined, elegant and has a whole tree full of plums in her mouth. Amelia was therefore distraught to learn that David had “taken up” with me: someone who is loud, clumsy and sometimes drops my aitches when tired or merry. Distraught is not the word actually, she wore black to the wedding and had a face like she was chewing a wasp throughout the reception. I overheard her say to her husband, five minutes after the cake had been cut “How ever could he lower himself?”. That pretty much set the scene for our future relationship – she thinks I’m below her family and I think she’s a malicious old bag.

Anyway, I’m sure that now I could cope with meeting Kate. I may have to. Matthew is making brave stabs at getting Lydia to hold a housewarming party – her housemate is out of the country until the end of May – to which he promises he’d invite “mum to meet you”. David assures me after every time Amelia mentions Saint Kate that we’d get on together but I notice him raise his eyes to heaven each time he says it.

Weekend Woe

What a weekend, I’m exhausted. Friday evening was excellent and a fitting farewell to Lydia. The guest list was selective and the ambience chilled. Matt was excellent as our barman and we gave up sticking to the bog standard cocktail recipes at about half nine and started making them up ourselves. We created a Lovely Lydia (vodka, apple juice, gin and America Dry over crushed ice) and all got very drunk on it. Mac appeared at quarter past eleven in his PJs complaining about the noise. Nothing like being told off by a stroppy three year old is there? Chastened, we kept shushing each other which made us hysterical with laughter. Charlie disappeared out into the garden with the dogs (all three were not very impressed either) and we found her, ten minutes later, having an earnest conversation with Junior Dog and Jessica Rabbit about the meaning of life and whether or not wearing stomach control pants are good for you. Frank and Marjorie bonded well with all the neighbours, even if they did refer to each other as wench and master after a few bevvies. A pretty good evening if I say so myself.

The rest of the weekend, on the home front, didn’t go so well. While I was out and about shifting boxes and moving furniture, David was transported right back to his childhood. “Cheapest cuts of meat, frozen veg and stodge” was his summing up of his Saturday shopping trip. Mac was allowed to run riot in the sweet and crisp aisle and, free from my restraint, threw all manner of E numbers into the trolley. David tried and failed to assert his fatherly control but Amelia countermanded him with the words “leave the boy, it never did you any harm”. The rest of the day was spent in front of the telly, Mac for the first time resisting all moves to go the park or to generally go out with daddy. Why go out with daddy when he could sit on the sofa next to his adoring granny shoving Haribo and Monster Munch in his mouth? Sunday was the same, with less crap food (thanks to my Saturday night intervention – I threw the lot in the bin). Until they got to Sunday lunch. Scraggy roast beef, frozen veg, watery gravy and the gooiest meringue for lunch. Pure sugar. Sunday afternoon was spent watching DVDs and groaning.

When I returned home on both evenings, I found my husband slouched in his arm chair looking bugeyed because of all the television viewing and my son on the ceiling because of the sugar. Amelia was smug throughout. She insisted that “a bit of sugar never hurt anyone” and “you’re far too strict on him, he’ll be a crack addict by his 18th”. I turned into an avenging angel on both days: on Saturday, after I threw the sweets and crisps into the bin, I sat simmering on the sofa, ignoring her and forcing her to watch Casualty. On Sunday I returned home, exhausted but determined that my son would run off some of the calories he’d consumed. We all went to Dulwich Park – Amelia stayed behind to bone the pilchards in tomato sauce. David wore the look I imagined he wore through most of his childhood. “It was awful” he moaned as Mac clambered over the climbing frame. “She’s so…..” he tailed off. There were a few words I could have chosen but bit my lip so hard I’ve still got the indent of my teeth on it.

However, she saved the worse for Monday. Lydia said that she and Matt would finish off the move and I invited them to lunch. For the first time I can remember, David volunteered to come to Sainsbury’s with me, Mac came too, obviously expecting a repeat performance of Saturday. We left the Sugar and Crap Queen watching a programme on barge renovation. In just two days she’s turned my child into a whinging demanding creature and my husband into a shadow of the man he was on Friday. Mac threw a tantrum in the sweet aisle because I wouldn’t buy him “jelly cows and elephants like Granny”. David had some sort of relapse by the fresh meat counter and had to be wooed into the wine aisle to recover. When we got home, Amelia positioned herself in the kitchen to tut at the amount of shopping I’d bought. Fresh everything was shoved in the fridge as she told me sniffily “it wouldn’t keep past Wednesday”. As I unwrapped the organic corn fed chicken told me I was a “slave to advertising”. She removed herself from my reach just as she told me that “I was a dreadful mother for not allowing Mac sweets”.

Good job really, at that point I was revving up and heading for the Sabatier knives. When she left to catch the 17.11 train, it’s fair to say we celebrated rather joyously and Mac, when offered an after dinner mint by Lydia, clutched his stomach and shook his head. He’s going cold turkey.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Party Central

I’m exhausted and pretending to surf the net for some cocktail recipes. My kitchen is full of cocktail glasses and bottles of spirits. Matthew has gone to town on the ingredients for our Cocktail Evening. There are literally no surfaces to do anything on……..I’m chopping salad on the kitchen table and keep knocking the straws and tiny umbrella’s on the floor. “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” Matt informed me as he practiced his shake. He’s definitely his father’s son. The fact that he has no cocktail recipe book isn’t bothering him. “You just shove it all together with some ice and shake it don’t you?” he said. Definitely his father’s son.

Saskia has dropped off her entire CD collection. What’s she saying? That our paltry collection just won’t do? Admittedly, there’s a lot of “Best of….” albums and the obligatory double Lurve CDs that won’t be a lot of good tonight. Saskia has an amazing range - we go from Enya to salsa tunes taking in Frank Sinatra and the Arctic Monkeys on the way.

Lydia is trying to concentrate on making herself beautiful but the Stewarts have already started dropping stuff off to their “new” house and preventing her from getting on. She sent them along to help out with the barbecue. Frank is out in the garden now chuntering over the state of my grill. “Needs a wire brush on that” he pointed out. Marjorie is somehow under the impression that I have a 25 year old son. I quickly disabused her of this by loudly saying that the last time the barbecue was used was for my 34th birthday last June. “I did wonder!” she exclaimed, getting stuck into the wine “I mean, bit of an age gap between Matthew and Mackenzie!”. That thought hadn’t crossed my mind, I was more aggrieved at the fact that she thought I looked old enough to be Matt’s biological mother.

Jack Next Door is supplying the mint for the Pimms – Marjorie looked at the copious amount of leaves he handed Mac over the garden fence and asked if it was going to be “that kind of party”.

The meat marinade has gone wrong – there’s too much….stuff…..and not enough juice. Margaret suggested bunging in a slosh of wine and some lime juice. And then did just that. My delicately taste-balanced marinade is now going to taste of cheap Tesco plonk.

Amelia rang as I was straining it……shall she come tonight instead of in the morning? I screamed the word “No!” down the phone which has no doubt earned me a blacker than black mark. I can clearly see her lemon-sucking expression if I close my eyes. Oh god, I’m going to have to ring and pacify her.

Matt suggested he call her. I hear him in the hallway telling her that I’m a “bit stressed at the moment” and could he “borrow fifty quid?”

Mac was given the job of putting the peanuts into bowls. Marjorie screamed – she has a peanut allergy. She then talked my three year old son through her typical reaction to the merest whiff of peanuts “my glands go up and my tongue doubles in size and I go all blotchy”. Mac asked her to show him what she means and wafts a peanut dangerously close to her nose. She tinkled with laughter and patted his head a little too vigorously.

Then Bea arrived with her Exotic Au-Pair – just what I needed. Exotic Au-Pair mooched around the cocktail bottles and eyed up Matthew who shook his shaker even more vigorously. Bea is lending me her citronella candles and candle holders for the garden. I received a two minute lecture on the state of my nails. I can see her point. I promised to buff and polish them before the party. She gave me a stern look and told me I’d better. She headed off to collect the munchkins from school, almost forgetting Exotic Au-Pair. I ran out the house shoving Exotic Au-Pair in front of me like a battering ram. Matthew sulked.

David rang from the office. He’s not going to be able to get home before he goes out on his Office Jolly tonight. I grind my teeth as I watch Marjorie add more lime juice to the marinade. He asked what that noise was but had to go quickly as Barky Thompson-Pryce was on the other line.

Lydia rang – Mike has just called her with a load of abuse – he’s found out that she’s put most of the furniture in storage and “when was she going to tell him about the leaving party and her new man”. It’s taken him long enough to find out about Matthew. Seriously consider decking Mike. Lydia’s fragile ego can’t take much more of this. Despatch Matt to calm her down. Susan knocked on the door three minutes later and asked if she could borrow some rice. I left her on the doorstep, ran to the kitchen and practically threw a packet of basmati at her. She peered over my shoulder wistfully: Marjorie had put a salsa CD on and was dancing round with her bottle of wine.

I’ve just printed off a pile of cocktail recipes, Matt is lovingly setting up his bar, Marjorie is watching cartoons with Mac, Frank is on his hands and knees on the patio trying to plug in the speakers and Lydia is wringing her hands on the sofa muttering “No-one will come, no-one will come” pitifully.

Whose idea was this anyway?

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Sleepless in Nunhead

I couldn’t sleep last night. And in fact, didn’t. I’m not sure why I’ve suddenly developed insomnia. I’m usually asleep the minute my body realises it’s horizontal. Not so last night which is strange. I’d had my usual cup of camomile tea whilst watching the first half of the football and, by the time the closing credits of City Lights (don't you just love Robson Green?) appeared, I was up those stairs like a rocket. I’d been feeling tired all day, those little niggles of snooziness that sneak up on you: a succession of yawns whilst making dinner, the five minute “almost doze” in front of Coronation Street. David now recognises these signs – it means he’s taking the dogs out. So there I was, PJs on, squeaky clean from hurried shower (using special Sweet Dreams shower gel) and snuggling down under the duvet just as David entered the boudoir. A five minute smooch and then lights out.

And nothing. It was 10.30pm and David was snoring away like a stuck pig. I was wide awake and staring at the ceiling. Every sound was magnified. I could hear the dogs moving around downstairs (they’ve taken to moving their beds to wherever they fancy sleeping of a night – most mornings I go downstairs to find them all in heap in the utility room), I could hear Mac’s gentle snores as if he was in the same room as us. Jane and Bill Opposite were having a row. I couldn’t hear exact words but I could sense it was Row Factor 5. Somebody was relentlessly bibbing their car horn whilst listening to loud reggae music. Why wasn’t I asleep by now?

11pm Was I worried about anything? Lydia leaving? – not really, we’ve promised to meet up once a week at Sainsburys, can’t wait for the coffee bar to open again. Amelia arriving? – nope, can cope with that, will be helping Lydia move and David’s in charge of her this time.
11.30pm and still awake. Wide awake. I turn over and face David who is lying flat on his back, left arm across his chest, right arm by his side snoring blissfully. It was quite a gentle snore, not enough to wake me up (if I was asleep) but loud enough. His nose twitches when he’s asleep, never noticed that before.
12.20am Am nearly in tears at lack of sleep. Why aren’t I asleep by now? I decide to get up.
12.24am Mac fast asleep entwined in his duvet. I tried to straighten it out but he clutched onto it in his sleep and a determined look crossed his face as if he was fighting with demons in his sleep. I do feel pretty demonic actually.
12.45am Cup of tea, jaffa cakes and a flick through the Sky channels. If I was into soft porn, Starskey and Hutch, obscure comedians bellowing on and on about tampons, repeats of football matches or 24/7 news I’d be set for life. I flick through the music channels but only depressed myself by realising that the only songs I knew were ones sung by Atomic Kitten, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Ricky Martin. Junior Dog joined me on the sofa for a cuddle but was put off by Celine wittering about her heart going on and on. Eventually found a film called Open Water which scared the life out of me and put me off going on boat trips ever.
2.20am Have just realised that have been downstairs for two hours and David hasn’t come to find me. He’s probably still sleeping peacefully (so jealous) but even so. Seriously consider going up to wake him up. All three dogs have trooped in to the living room and are all trying to get on the sofa with me. Watch the rest of the film from underneath them. Glad of their company actually, quite scary. As is the content of late night viewing. I’ve mentioned the surplus of soft porn and Starskey and Hutch already. Now add to that endless South Park episodes, Tom Selleck as Magnum strutting about the screen baring his hairy chest and lots of adverts for premium rate numbers where lads and lasses sit around giggling into phones or texting complete strangers in the vain hope of a meaningful one night stand. All very depressing. But still not tired.
3am Back up to the bedroom after going to the loo and sticking my head round Mac’s door. My beloved child is now upside down in bed, his feet resting on his pillow. Similarly, David diagonal across the bed and immovable. I tried to roll his upper body but not strong enough. I grabbed hold of his legs but he panicked, kicked out but didn’t wake up. I called him a very rude word and made do with whatever mattress I had. All this is not a good prelude to me getting off to sleep I chunter as I cling for grim death to the edge of the mattress. Still slightly tearful in the dark.
3.50am Funny what you think about in the wee small hours. Panic gripped me about half an hour ago: the last time I had this level of insomnia was about a week before I found out I was baking a little bun in my oven. It was pretty similar to tonight except for the fact that I was in Devon in a hotel room with my husband of two years doing pretty much what he’s doing now, snoring his head off. I then spent 15 minutes mentally going through my diary, keeping an eye out for all those little red P’s. I then got a tingling sensation in my left arm. Heart attack was my immediate thought, especially as it moved up my arm and into my shoulder. As I was just lying there (nothing else to do after all) waiting for the crushing chest pain, David threw himself over to his side of the bed and grumbled something in his sleep. I then twigged that pins and needles due to the fact that I was lying on my arm because I didn’t have enough mattress to stop me falling to the floor.
4.20am the bloody birds have started tweeting. There’s one that lives in the tree directly outside the house who can mimic a telephone ringing and the beep-beep of a car alarm being set. It does it relentlessly on a loop. Feel, for the first time, like killing a poor defenceless creature.
4.45am one of the dogs are having a dream, I can hear yelping and growling. Suspect it’s Middle Dog by the tone. Senior Dog snaps and gives a warning muffled bark. All goes quiet. Boredom setting in now. Past the tearful stage, heading for Anger Central.
5am the central heating system kicks in. It’s very noisy. I’ve not noticed it that noisy before. Of course, I’m not usually wide awake at 5am. Gurgles, thumps, thwacks and hissing. Am convinced the boiler is about to come off the wall. Head to bathroom to check it out, feeling quite virtuous about protecting my family and indeed The Avenue from a boiler explosion.
5.05am nothing wrong with boiler as far as I could see. The normal lights are flashing and suspect that the big “fault” light would be flashing if there was indeed a fault. Go to the loo.
5.25am A yawn. A big one that nearly dislocates my jaw. Where the hell did that come from? Not that I’m surprised. Have been awake for nearly 23 hours. Have another mini panic about possible impending pregnancy but mind keeps wandering to girls names. Scarlett or maybe Daisy?
6am David’s alarm goes off. He swipes out an arm in the general direction and grunts something unintelligible. He turns over and peers at me. “Morning baby” he murmurs and pulls me over for a cuddle. Not really in the mood but think that it might just soothe me into sleep. Just relaxing into his chest when he gets up.
6.15am He’s so noisy in the bathroom! I’m not that noisy, surely! What the hell is he doing in there? Can hear him clanking bottles in the shower and the radio! He’s singing along now. His deodorant spray is so loud! How is Mac sleeping through this?
6.30am he’s now downstairs making his breakfast. I’ve heard the back door open for the dogs. I should get up but don’t want to. I should be asleep!
7am He’s back and getting clothes out of drawers and wardrobes. I’m usually just waking up at this point. Every morning, without fail, I wake up fully as he falls to the bed after trying to put a sock on while standing up. The hangers clank as he pulls his suit jacket off one. The runners on his pants drawer needs oiling or something.
7.10am can’t breathe for the usual fug of aftershave, usually so comforting as I re-enter the world from the Land of Nod. Today it’s just irritating. “Hello darling” he whispers as he sits next to me and strokes the hair from my face. “Hello” I say grumpily and thrash about a bit under the duvet. 20 minutes before I have to get up. Usually, this 20 minutes is spent dozing and re-waking blissfully. This morning, I want to rip someone’s head off. “I don’t know why” he continues as he straightens his tie “but I couldn’t sleep last night. Ah well, have a good day.” he goes on, kissing my forehead and creeping out the door. Resist the urge to throw something at him.
3.09pm have got at least three hours before David is home. Mac and I have set up camp on the sofa with duvets, pillows and three dogs. So tired my eyelashes ache. Mac "exhausted after nursery mummy". Sweet dreams x

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Love is.....

…..a new experience! Mac has a girlfriend. He was suspiciously keen to get to nursery today (he usually has to be cajoled out of the door) and was in fact waiting for me to join him at the door. I asked him what was so special about today. He wouldn’t look me in the eye and just said “come on Mummy!”. It all became clear when we reached the nursery. A pretty little young thing with blonde hair and blue eyes was kicking her heels just inside the gate, scuffing her sandaled feet. If she had been wearing a watch she would have been checking it continuously. Mac positively bounded through the gate. “Hello Helen” he said shyly. “Hello Mackenzie” she lisped. Both gazed at their feet in a moony fashion. A strikingly pretty woman held out her hand to me and introduced herself as, Judy, Helen’s mum. The bell rang, signalling that all stragglers should make their way to their class lines. Both Helen and Mac skipped off with barely a wave in our direction. Helen, said Judy, had done nothing but talk about Mac last night. “Young love” she sighed as she clambered into a shiny Mini. Young love indeed. I had sudden visions of Helen and Mac standing in front of a vicar, before moving suddenly to a maternity ward where Helen was holding out a bouncing baby………dear God. Where is the time going?

…….expensive! Janey and Darren have chosen their wedding rings – Janey emailed me a picture of them with the words “fab aren’t they! They’re almost quite similar to Posh and Becks’!” Fab. Hm. Gold and chunky with sparkling jewels. Vulgar is the word I’d choose. David came up with “ostentatious”. Charlie – when I forwarded Janey’s email onto her – came back with “dear me, they’ll need a crane to winch them on”. Bea recoiled in horror – “they didn’t get those monstrosities from Boodles!”

Because I didn’t respond immediately with gushing comments, Janey rang me. I couldn’t honestly tell her what I thought so I fudged it a bit by saying “mm, very sparkly”. She seemed happy with that and launched into the tale of her lovely romantic weekend with her husband to be. On Friday night they’d dined by the riverside at Butlers Wharf, toasting each other with sparkling rose wine. On Saturday Janey was woken – not by Aunt Ivy coughing her guts up after her first cigarette of the day as usual – but by Darren murmuring sweetly into her ear via mobile phone, telling her where to meet him and at what time. The rest of the day was spent on a pleasure cruise up the Thames to Hampton Court and back before he whisked her back to his empty house (his housemates having been told to b*gger off for the night) and proceeded to “woo her” (Janey can be very coy at times) in every room of the house and the garden. She said she woke up on Sunday morning “freezing her nawks off” (she can also be dead common) and being leered at by Pervy Peter the next door neighbour. The rest of the day was spent in Darren’s Queen-sized bed discussing honeymoon destinations and looking at house details.

Hm. Not much romance to my weekend. David was asleep before his head hit the pillow on Friday, Saturday night I was up with Middle Dog who had an alarming case of the trots – at both ends. Sunday night was vaguely romantic: I rewarded David for finding my lost book but, as I had allowed myself to get too carried away by the sheer pleasure of re-re-reading a Martina Cole classic, my mind was wandering during his best efforts.

…..painful when it’s over. Lydia has started packing. She’s borrowed three of our suitcases. She says she keeps having to stop to blow her nose and wipe her tears away. I’ve offered to help and will be transferring stuff to the tip tomorrow. She’s being amazingly brave – Mike is keeping his distance but I kept seeing Susan wandering up and down the road, peering into the house. I don’t think either of them saw the furniture go into storage yesterday but they’re obviously dead keen on finding out what’s going on. Susan hijacked me as I walked past her house on my way back from Ayres this morning and asked me in such a round-about, convoluted way what was happening “in my life and stuff”. I told her I was arranging my cousin’s wedding and arranging a little intimate gathering for Friday evening. I felt a bit mean actually – her face lit up (I suspect she doesn’t have many friends in The Avenue, if at all) but fell as I said “must dash, having coffee with Lydia” and strode off clutching my Danish pastries.

Lydia allowed herself a small smile when I told her and deliberated what to do with her wedding album. “Take it, give it to him, burn it or bin it?” she said before bursting into tears. We’ve agreed she should take it with her and then, if she felt suitably aggrieved in the future, she could burn it then. “All I wanted” she said as she shoved it at the bottom of a box and stuck a load of framed pictures on top “was to be married and have babies. He’s going to marry her you know, the minute the divorce comes through.” She cheered up when Matthew arrived with black sacks, Flash Liquid and two massive pizzas. We lolled around eating them and discussing Friday night which has now turned into a Cocktail Evening of epic proportions. Matt ruffled my hair, called me his evil stepmother because I wouldn’t lend him £20 and told me leave it all to him. “You do the food, I’ll do the booze” he said, winking at Lydia. Such a lovely boy, if Mac grows up like his big brother, I’ll be happy.

….what I’ve got. David arrived home tonight looking shattered – his boss is very demanding and is setting impossible targets so he came home to sulk. I felt bad for not being a very attentive wife (no dinner on, nothing even planned and I looked and felt a mess), for being sad at Lydia leaving and grumpy because his mother was coming and just sat morosely at the table as he made his own cup of tea. “Takeaway tonight?” he said as he sat opposite me, rubbing his eyes and passing me a custard cream to dunk in his tea. I cheered up: no cooking, no washing up and beef with mixed vegetables! “There’s a menu for that new place in the boot of the car – be a love and go and get it for me?” he said, sliding me his keys. Instantly grumpy again I slouched out to the BMW like a truculent teenager and zapped the boot open. The smell of roses and freesias hit me as I gazed down at the most gorgeous bouquet that took up most of the boot space. David and Mac were at the doorway, both grinning. “We love you!” they chorused.

All about me

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Nunhead, London, United Kingdom
I'm a mum of one, wife of one and owner to several dogs, a variety of breeds and sizes. I live in the up and coming area (or so they say) of Nunhead and have mad neighbours, strange friends and certifiable relatives. I shop locally, although I do defect to Sainsburys once a week - shoot me now local shopkeepers.