Sunday, 30 September 2007

The TANA Street Party

Well. It fell as flat as the Yorkshire puddings I cooked for lunch. Why can't I get them to rise? Anyway, the first ever TANA Street Party is going to the the last ever TANA Street Party. From the enthusiastic responses on Tuesday of this week, we had absolutely no takers on the day. Suddenly, everyone was "busy". The Scary Bloke with Rottweiler had a migraine. Ruby Over the Road suddenly discovered that "it looked like a good episode of Casualty tonight". Jane Opposite disappeared mid afternoon - Bill Opposite read from a scrawled note when I knocked to ask if she'd done the salads "gone to the spa with Bethany and Letitia. If anyone asks, I'm in bed with the squits". Even Jack Next Door wasn't answering his door. The die was cast. I was running round like a headless chicken from 3pm until David asked, at ten past six on his return from football "Why are you bothering? No-one else is". True, but it was expected of me. And I had Frank's beady eye on me which is more than enough to keep me on the move.

The road diversion signs went up at 6pm and were promptly ignored - cars continued to swish down the road, their occupants gawping at the amount of bunting piled up on the pavement and the morose residents trying to get into the party spirit. For reasons best known to themselves, Frank and Marjorie dressed up as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, set themselves up on two winged chairs in their front garden and got into character almost immediately, with Frank bellowing regally and Marjorie simpering in what she obviously thought was a flirtatious way. I was wearing a square necked white T-shirt and long flowing black skirt - all I needed was an apron and mob cap and I'd have been a very convincing wench. Frank seemed quite keen for me to "update" him every five minutes.

So, as it turned out, the evening was as damp as the weather. By 7pm (the official start time) we had only a handful of guests, all looking bemused at the lack of chairs (six) and tables (two). Amy and Martin On The Corner arrived with 200 paper plates and cutlery in a wheelbarrow. Food on offer included six chickens, three Dundee cakes and some potato salad. Susan At Number 30 had sent Mike along to "enjoy himself" complete with an Ayres gateau. Alice Three Doors Down was looking equally wench-like in a frothy Broderie Anglaise dress and joined Frank and Marjorie in their front garden but kept fretting that she'll be "living on curry for the rest of the week" having cooked up several saucepans of the stuff. As I passed them on my final attempt to rouse the more unco-operative neighbours, I heard Marjorie say in a sad voice "When I think of the street parties we had in Mermaid Court, legendary they were". Frank patted her on the shoulder and adjusted her drooping ruff.

Naturally, I escaped. There was something extremely pathetic at the attempts to keep the party going - Frank kept walking up and down the road, exhorting his "subjects" to make merriment. Old Mrs Lazenby tried to get a conga going but they had to keep stopping to let cars through. I sat on the sofa cringing, watching Casualty, eating some of Alice's curry and trying to forget that the disaster outside was anything to do with me. In my defence, I had tried to tell the Stewarts that the residents of The Avenue were reticent and liked to keep themselves to themselves. Perhaps I didn't try hard enough.

This morning, on my way to take the dogs to the park, I fell over the bunting that hadn't been draped round trees and lamposts. All the curtains were still drawn in the Stewart household and I wondered just how battered their feelings were. I didn't have to wait long to find out. On my return, Frank was collecting his traffic cones (he's got a set of 24). He seemed remarkably upbeat about the disastrous evening and I tentatively asked how Marjorie was doing.

Frank beamed at me. "Oh, she's doing champion - she's drawing up plans for Halloween! do you feel about running the Bobbing for Apples stall?"

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Random acts of niceness

It's been a lovely day Chez Moi today - proof that the milk of human kindness is not only out there, but it's flowing and plentiful. It's a week now until our Street Party and things are, shall we say, a little fraught. I've not written much about the party on this blog because, quite frankly, I'm up to here (gestures to forehead level) with it all. Suffice to say we've got about fifty chickens being roasted and only one bowl of rice and a tray of roasties to go with it. A quiche is out the of the question and, although Marjorie is whipping up several Dundee cakes, a severe lack of desserts are in the offing.

But, all of a sudden, the offers of help are flowing in. Scary Bloke with Rottweiler has offered his services as "bouncer" and also "humping stuff around". Amy and Martin On the Corner borrowed their mum's Macro card and went shopping for all manner of disposable cutlery and plates. Tabitha from Flat A has offered her boyfriend as the DJ, complete with decks. It finally feels as if we're all pulling together. But will it last? And you watch it pee down!

Jack Next Door took in a parcel for me this morning whilst I was out with the dogs - David's surprise just-because-I-saw-it-and-thought-you'd-like-it present arrived from QVC - a mini circular saw. Don't ask. He wants to get back to his "carpentry" and is going to build all manner of furniture items over the winter and fell in love with this gadget during a recent Sunday morning viewing of "DIY at 10". Bea has requested a pine spice rack. Anyway, I've unwrapped the parcel and left it on his armchair for him to discover when he gets home. Just imagining his glee is leaving me with a glow and making me want to do a little dance. Then, thinking that Mac might be a bit put out if daddy has a present and he doesn't, I went into WH Smith and bought him that DVD that he's been asking for. An I-know-you-want-this-so-thought-I'd-surprise-you present which is now sitting on his bed waiting for him to discover when he gets home from his tea at Ben's. Then, on my way back, I popped into Pets At Home to get goodies for the dogs, the rabbit and the goldfish. They had theirs straight away, all three dogs can smell a rawhide bone at twenty paces. I feel as light as a feather and keep hugging myself with smug glee!

It's true what they say: Tis better to give than to receive.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


Have you ever had a good idea that has spiralled out of control? I think I had one this morning. It all started at half past 11 this morning when I saw Lydia and Matthew smooching in Bexley Town Centre. They looked so sweet and cuddly and, despite the fact that Matt is technically my step-son and I should have been slightly miffed that he was being molested in public, extremely good together. I'm pleased that Lyds has got over her recent doom and gloom about Susan at Number 30 and the baby. So I invited them to dinner this evening "just a buffet type thing but you're more than welcome". Ten minutes laterI answered a call from Saskia while Mac and I were in M&S looking at that gorgeous dessert they advertise on the telly. Just looking you understand. Poor old Blue is carrying some extra weight. Mine.

Anyway, Saskia is feeling extremely unloved and all alone as she has finally got round to dumping her incredibly boring boyfriend. "It's not that I miss him" she said moodily "I just miss having someone to be seen out with". So I invited her for dinner too. She perked up at this and said she'd ring Charlie to see if she wants to come. Twenty minutes later Charlie rang to say that she was going out with Rich Boyfriend Jonathan tonight but would "pop over later". See what I mean? A good idea spiralling.

"How many people is that mummy?" Mac asked as we headed for the supermarket. "Five plus us" I said through clenched teeth, crunching gears. I went round Sainsbury's like a woman possessed. Buffet dinner for 8 shoved in the trolley, I headed towards the checkout and spotted Enormous Au Pair sniffing the muffins in Starbucks. Bea was not far behind her "Leave it!" she barked, sounding not unlike me when the dogs are sniffing something unsavoury in the park. Casting an expert eye over my shopping trolley she enquired what was going on. Mac filled her in. Her face lit up. "I'd love to come too, leave Stephen in charge of EAP for once. It's quite tiring policing the fridge and I broke a nail yesterday wrenching the nutcrackers out of her hands". Nine for dinner, I added another quiche and more potato salad. Now to tell my darling "hate-all-these-dinner-party-type-things" husband.

The only available parking space was ten doors along - a battered Volvo sat behind David's newly washed and buffed Meriva taking up "my" parking space. I started clenching my jaw again as we headed into the house. All three dogs were in Super Hyper Out of Control mood and nearly knocked us flying as we stood in the hallway weighed down with shopping bags. The reason for their behaviour was sitting on the sofa wearing a tweed suit with legs akimbo and whiffing of aniseed. "Auntie Ginny!" Mac screeched and started gabbling at 90 miles an hour - roughly the speed at which Junior Dog was haring round the kitchen, claws scrabbling on the laminate flooring. "Ginny's here!" David said with a big beam on his chops. He adores his big sister and was wearing a tweed flat cap that she'd obviously brought with her.

That's ten for dinner then.

David was remarkably calm about the amount of people that were descending for dinner and even said that he was going to see if Matt wanted to come anyway. He even agreed to help me "peel things and whatever". I relaxed as Ginny filled us in on the latest developments, including her burgeoning romance with Colonel Hugh Ruffington-Smythe. "Silly bugger keeps sending me orchids. Think it's his way of being subtle. Well, he says they look like - y'know - don't they? And he wants to get me in the sack." My mind was reeling and trying to picture the orchid I've got on my window sill. Mac was agog at Ginny's feet sucking on an aniseed ball with all three dogs drooling over his legs. The doorbell interrupted us - Marjorie had forced her way past David clutching a flowered cake tin which she thrust into my arms. "I've made you a Dundee!" she squawked, eyeing Ginny with interest. Introductions were made and Marjorie plumped down on the sofa and looked set to stay for the rest of the afternoon. "Under no circumstances mention tonight" I hissed at David as I headed kitchen-wards.

Five minutes later David joined me "Too late, Ginny's invited her. And Frank." Trying not to headbutt the fridge, I sent David out for more cooked chicken, another quiche, more olives and another cheesecake. He came back an hour later with almost the entire contents of the hot and cold deli counters. "I've bought extra cheese, to go with the Vacherin." I suppose it was a tad greedy to want the whole thing all to myself. I started on the salad as Marjorie left to "get tarted up" - she added a slow wink to this comment and shimmied out the door.

That was an hour ago. I swear I can smell Franks Old Spice wafting over the gardens, fighting for air space with Marjorie's Poison. Ginny's been on the Jack Daniels since ten to four, Bea has phoned with the promise of champagne amid telling Enormous Au Pair "no, you can't come with me" in a tense voice and Saskia has just arrived with a face like a wet weekend in Cleethorpes.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, 21 September 2007


Fish and chips for tea!!!!

Salt, vinegar, gherkins, pickled onions and ketchup. Must go to wipe the drool off my keyboard......

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

A nice cup of tea

Susan at Number 30 gave birth to 8 pound two ounce Thomas Samuel Michael Robinson-Hoult at 6.3oam this morning. I know this because Lydia appeared, a sodden mess and surgically attached to a jumbo packet of mixed biscuits, on my doorstep at twenty past nine this morning. Lydia knew this because the jubilant father, Lydia's soon-to-be-ex-husband, rang Lydia at 8.30 to give her the happy news. Given that Susan is the woman he abandoned Lydia for, you can imagine Lydia didn't take the news in the spirit in which it was meant. "I couldn't think where else to go!" she sobbed as she threw herself at me. I half carried her into the living room, deposited her on the sofa and headed towards the kitchen to make a "nice cup of tea".

It's funny how tea is used to treat all ailments, worries, distressing news and, well, everything. And it always has to be a "nice" cup of tea, not just "oh, I'll make a cup of tea". During my mum's funeral (at which I thought I coped rather admirably) I would have drowned if I'd accepted all of the offers of "a nice cup of tea". My Auntie Ivy, after her first sip, always says "ooh, such a lovely cup of tea". She did that once when we were at BhS in Bromley. I sipped at mine again and wondered why it tasted like washing up water.

Having said that, I do like a "nice cup of tea". I have mine strong, with very little milk and no sugar. Builders Tea David calls it. He likes his "as it comes" and - depending on where he is - that could mean literally anything. Bea has hers with lemon "very weak, just swirl the bag round once" Charlie has gallons of milk in hers, Saskia hates tea in all shapes and forms but will tolerate a green tea every now and again.

I used to love tea time when I was at work. Always 3.30pm, we'd stop whatever we were doing (I worked at a hospital on the admin side of things) and head for the kettle. It was like a ritual across the whole building. Can't get through on the phone? They're making tea. Queueing at the desk to register for your appointment? They're making tea. Wondering where the hell everyone is? They're in the kitchen. Making tea.

Anyway, Lydia had her tea. She dunked some biscuits and drank the teapot dry. She said she felt better for it. A five minute break of normality (and a discussion about bunting for the Street Party) and then she was off again "I'm never going to have a baby am I? Am I? I'm going to end up all alone in the world with just a cat for company." she wailed, sobbing into the sofa cushions and grabbing for the bourbon creams.

I went out to make a nice cup of tea to go with them.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Coconut Chili Chicken

About six chicken breasts, whole
1 red onion
garlic cloves to taste!
2 stalks fresh lemon grass
as many green chillis (seeded) as you can cope with! (also some to marinate with)
Handful fresh coriander
Handful fresh parsley
2 cups of coconut milk
1/3 cup of vegetable oil

Pour coconut milk into a shallow dish and finely chop a few chillis and two of the garlic cloves and add to milk. Marinate chicken breasts for about an hour beforehand. Preheat the oven to gas mark 5. Peel the red onion and chop. Peel and lightly crush the other two garlic cloves. Trim the lemon grass, get rid of outer leaves, and roughly chop the stems. Put the red onion, garlic, lemon grass, coriander, parsley and half the oil in a food processor and puree. Put the rest of the oil in a pan or shallow flameproof casserole - it should be large enough to hold all the chicken pieces touching the bottom so they cook evenly, covered in the sauce.

Heat oil. Add the chicken pieces, skin-side down, and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes, turning once or twice. Pour in the coconut milk and puree mix and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and cook in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the chicken pieces are tender. Once cooked, season and serve with steamed spinach leaves, green beans and crushed new potatoes.

Eat, as I did, with large glass of Aqua Libra and three dogs dribbling all over my feet.

Friday, 14 September 2007

What a tangled web

Marjorie Stewart reminded me that David and I were invited to “drinks and nibbles” on Saturday night as she collected the weekly Lottery money. I had been practising all day a carefully deliberated response of “I don’t think we can make it actually, we’re seeing some old friends”. It sounded cool and not at all made up when I was practising in the kitchen whilst marinating several chicken limbs in coconut and chilli milk. I’d even managed to add in a theatrical roll of the eyes as if to suggest we’d much rather be at the Stewarts than conversing with old chums. I was quite proud of myself. Naturally, when it actually came to the crucial moment, I buggered it up. Well, what else would you expect me to do?

Marjorie jangled her bag of pound coins and uttered the fateful words. I blushed, dropped my purse and mumbled something about not being around. “Seeing, erm, friends. Old ones, you know, ones we’ve known for ages. On Saturday night. Well late afternoon on really.” If she thought I was lying she didn’t pick me up on it. She suggested that I bring them over. “Oh, going to them, not coming here. David arranged it, didn’t tell me. They live in, erm, north London so will be back far too late to pop in. Sorry” I gave a sickly grin and half shut the door on her “Oh well, another night then perhaps?” “Okay, yes, let me know!” I squealed, shut the door fully and slid down the wall where Junior and Middle Dog joined me. I was still there when David got home.

I explained the problem and solutions as breezily as I could as I made the tea. “Let me get this straight” he said darkly, opening a packet of digestives “on Saturday, late afternoon, we’ve got to go out and to be seen to go out, all dressed up, to see some friends in North London and not get back until very late, whilst making sure that everyone knows we’re back very late. Have I got that right? And do we know anyone in North London?”

I must admit it did sound rather stupid - and no, we don't. “Why can’t we just stay in and bugger the Stewarts?” he said, dunking a digestive rather vigorously. My eyes watered at that suggestion but a little light bulb was pinging over my head. “What, just pretend we’re going out you mean? Brilliant! We can move the car to the next street in case they check, keep the dogs out of the garden and only walk them when the Stewarts have gone to bed!” I was clapping my hands with glee. My husband was watching me rather cautiously. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” he queried.

I outlined my concerns about the Stewarts (amazingly, he hasn’t picked up on any of this) and the fact that they got very excited when he mentioned swinging at the TANA meeting and that I thought that they thought we were up for a little bit of “their” kind of fun. I also mentioned what Cheeky Window Cleaner had witnessed.

He thinks I'm being ridiculous but I did at least stop him from going to the Stewarts to accept their kind invitation and explain all about the mix up about "seeing old friends". He says that I watch far too much daytime television and - with a very pointed look at the book on the counter - am reading far too many Jilly Cooper novels.


Wednesday, 12 September 2007


I feel like I'm living in a Carry On film. I'm Barbara Windsor and David is Kenneth Williams, Marjorie Stewart is Hattie Jacques and her husband Frank is Sid James. We had double entendres, saucy comments, a few utterances of "ooh, Matron!" and an assorted cast which included Ruby Over the Road playing the Joan Sims role.

David and I both attended The Avenue Tenants Association meeting tonight thanks to Saskia's insistence that she wanted to be out of the house because her incredibly dull boyfriend kept ringing her and she didn't have the heart not to answer the phone and she'd keep an ear out for Mac in between ogling England footballers. David had been playing golf today and was complaining of a sore shoulder "due to all the swinging I've been doing today". Frank choked on a mini sausage and Marjorie came over all unnecessary and insisted on hearing more. David dug himself in deeper, despite my shushing him. "It was really hard, I kept going up and down and my arms were aching so I got one of the boys over to carry it for me."

Of course, he was talking about the rather hilly golf course that he and Matthew found in Surrey and he had to ask one of the gofers at the club to carry his golf bag.

Frank and Marjorie didn't know that and were appraising me thoughtfully. And they've invited us to "drinks and nibbles" on Saturday night. On the way out of the house, Jane Opposite thoughtfully offered to babysit Mac as long as I came straight over afterwards to tell her what happened.


Saturday, 8 September 2007


Not such a bad day today. Amelia wants a new "three piece suite" so we spent the morning trailing round DFS and Furniture Village insulting all that they had to offer. Amelia did the insulting, Mac and I did the trying-every-seat-in-the-place thing whilst David pretended not to know any of us. I fell in love with a leather corner sofa that was so deep my feet didn't touch the floor. Mac wanted the wooden giraffe ornament from Furniture Village and was building up into a good old tantrum because I said no when Amelia pronounced all of the suites on offer as "uncomfortable, like sitting on yours" with a pointed look at me. As I am inordinately proud of my sofa and wonderfully marshmallow like armchairs I huffed off to the burger van parked outside and ordered a bacon baguette. Annoying Amelia ("is she happy eating things from vans when she has no idea if they have a toilet and handwashing facilities") and a bacon sarnie - my Saturday wasn't going too badly so far.

Bea rang just as we were heading home - she'd wanted to know if i would book Enormous Au Pair a riding lesson (Bea has enrolled EAP on Weight Watchers, booked five weeks of aqua aerobics and bought a stairmaster - more to follow) to see if the horse could "gallop some of the weight off her". I advised Bea that the stables were closed today as they were all at a horsey event in Gloucestershire but that I'd do it on Monday. Bea seemed quite miffed at this "but what am I going to do with her, she's eaten four crumpets and half a pound of butter for breakfast". I left my sister gnashing her perfect teeth in leafy Dulwich and tuned into the conversation that Mac and Amelia were having behind me. "Granny has never seen Titanic mummy!". I expressed minor disbelief at this. "She hasn't seen Finding Nemo either mummy!" he added but this time with a hopeful note in his voice. Amelia, slightly miffed that her role as film buff was being attacked, retreated into a sulky huff.

"After dinner mummy, can we watch Finding Meno (my baby still gets that wrong sometimes) and then Tanic (sometimes that too)?" After a glance at David, I agreed we could. Mac then proceeded to summarise both films : "Meno gets lost and meets a shark and big fish called Doris (it's actually Dory) and a lady and man kiss - yuck - and it sinks". Amelia said she was looking forward to them both and would buy the popcorn. I made David stop at Sainsburys before she could change her mind.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Sushi and kippers

Amelia rang yesterday evening to invite herself over for the weekend. She caught me off guard, I hesitated for just a few seconds and – bang! She was in. “I’ll get the train first thing and so will be with you just before nine thirty.” she said, live and exclusive from Sevenoaks, asking me what that funny noise was. That funny noise was me choking. There was very little I could do, it has been a while since she were here so I couldn’t even trot out my usual line of “why don’t you leave it a few weeks so that Mac has even more to tell you?”. Mac was itching to tell Granny all about his holiday and immediately went upstairs to get all of his mementos together to show her. The dogs, picking up on my mood, skulked out to sunbathe on the patio. David was resigned to his fate and promised to keep her occupied. His hangdog expression matched that of Middle Dog. My weekend fate was sealed

Imagine then, my horror when the doorbell rang at twenty five to ten this morning and Amelia was standing on the doorstep. She did not look in a good mood. “Erm, I thought we said Saturday” I said weakly as I took her (rather heavy) suitcase. Apparently I don’t listen to a word she said, she specifically said Friday and why I am being so awkward? There was very little I could say to that so I put the kettle on. She had issues with every single person she had met that morning – but especially the businessman on the train that held a long and loud conversation on his mobile. Mobile phones, according to Amelia, are the devils own work. Yorkshire tea bags were taken from her hand bag “I can’t stomach that stuff you drink, it gives me heartburn”. Just as I had settled her into her favourite armchair, tea and custard creams by her side and a nice nature programme on the television, David rang.

“No!” he said when I informed him that Amelia had arrived through clenched teeth and fake smile (I was in the same room as her). “Yes!” I said firmly. There was a sound like David was slapping himself on the forehead and he promised to be home as soon as he could. I felt the need to rally the troops – there really is safety in numbers. Calls to Charlie and Saskia were fruitless – Charlie’s too far away to pop in for lunch and Saskia has a job interview this afternoon. Lydia openly laughed at my fate and said she’d try and come over but that she’s really busy at work. Bea offered to send Enormous Au Pair. I could have rung Katie but I wasn’t that desperate (she’s only ringing twice a day now, mid morning to discuss Jeremy Kyle’s programme and about 8.30pm cos she’s been stuck into the vodka since six and is crying). I went for broke and rang Janey. She and her five month old bump would be with my by “half one, I’ll bring a stun gun”.

But I had three and a half hours to kill before then. So I did what I had planned to do today. I was going to be brave and stand up for myself. I was an adult in my own house. I was going to clean the house with Amelia standing judgement on me. I got a raspberry brulee cheesecake out of the freezer – if I was going over the top I needed something to fall back on. I tried to do it quietly and without letting her know. But she caught the whiff of lemon Cif and joined me in the kitchen where she sneered at my surfaces, mocked my microwave and openly slated my hob. Apparently, if I cleaned every day it “wouldn’t build up to the state it’s in now”. I wasn’t sure what aspect she was talking about so I took it to mean the whole house. I was right.

My hall carpet would come up much cleaner if I banned the dogs from the house and put some runners down. My paintwork wouldn’t look so dingy if I had paid for it to be painted properly instead of doing it myself. The bathroom wouldn’t smell so “damp” if I opened the window after each time it was used. Mac’s bedroom wouldn’t be “such a tip” if I encouraged him to help me tidy it instead of doing it myself. She nearly had a seizure in my bedroom.

Laminate flooring makes a room “cold”. The wardrobes were “far too flimsy, how do you not worry about them collapsing”. Voile curtain panels offered “no privacy” – here she gave me a Look to suggest that privacy was essential. David’s drawer space fell woefully short of “what he’s used to”. Oh, and flowers in a bedroom suggested “slatternly tendencies”. Coupled with my voile curtain panels, my bedroom was telling my mother-in-law I was a complete trollope. I sat down on the edge of the bed to get my head round the assault on my home. Amelia prodded the mattress and sniffed “you should get a coil sprung one”

By the time Janey arrived I was on my knees. My cousin was dressed in skinny jeans, skimpy white T-shirt and spindly heels, her bare baby bump proudly displayed along with several platters of sushi. Amelia later described her as “an angel dressed as a tart”. “I’m craving weird things” she said as she shovelled half of one platter down her neck. Junior Dog is partial to a bit of salmon skin roll and hung around hopefully. Amelia railed against raw fish and said you couldn’t beat a nice kipper. I took this to mean that she’s been rummaging around the fridge and had found the kippers I myself planned to have for lunch. While I cooked them for her (I had to give them to her, I’d never be able to forget it otherwise) Janey had a moan about her overprotective family – her mum Ivy is ringing her twice daily for updates - “I’ve started making stuff up now, just to get her off my back. Darren’s mum’s just as bad”. Lou, it seems is planning a tattoo in honour of her grandchild and is designing it herself. “Have you thought of names?” Amelia asked, as she upended a bottle of vinegar onto the poor kippers. All three dogs were salivating. “Cassia Scarlett James Anastasia, it’s a girl” Janey said. Amelia looked down her nose and burped delicately. “What are you having? A baby or a Z list celebrity?”

Things got worse. Janey wanted to abandon me and go and collect Mac from nursery. Amelia thought this was quite sweet but she wanted to go and collect Mac from nursery. I agreed that they were both very good ideas, bundled them both out of the door and attempted to get my breathing back to normal. They were back within five minutes having failed to find the nursery – Janey screeching “Remind me where it is again?” from the drivers seat of her new car. I clambered into the car with them and told her to go to the end of the road and turn round. “Nah, I’ll do a three point turn” she said, throwing her Focus here, there and everywhere. She hit the tree and didn’t even seem to notice. Mac was overjoyed to see his Granny and Cousin Janey and started to talk nineteen to the dozen to both of them, only stopping when Janey cut in front of a White Van Man and proceeded to yell abuse out of the window at him. “Can’t these people drive?” she asked me as she zoomed away from the lights with a squeal of brakes. We arrived home shaken and were deposited on the pavement before Janey zoomed off to have her nails done. It was at this point that I remembered I had no door keys with me.

I could describe the agony of ringing the doorbell of Jack Next Door, climbing over the fence, ripping my linen skirt on a rogue nail, opening up the back door only to be leapt on by several snarling hounds who thought I was a burglar, fighting them off and coming face to face with a disapproving Amelia who had been let in through the front door by my husband who had arrived to rescue me.

But I won’t.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Hot in the kitchen

Despite looking like a Rambo-follower in his bandanna and his sweaty hair and manky trainers, Marco Pierre White has entranced me and am addicted to Hell's Kitchen on ITV. I much preferred it when Jean Christophe Novelli strode around the place, smouldering and brooding. I also quite like their food too!

I've vowed that this autumn I shall get busy in the kitchen and cook more adventurous food than my usual "safe" receipes. I've done it before (my January shopping budget went sky high!) and had a whale of a time. I've cooked recipes from White Heat and also Your Place or Mine. I've dipped into Nigella's Feast (oh, the Chocolate Malteser Cake!), Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy and Anthony Worrall Thompson's Weekend Cookbook and have just discovered The Saturday Kitchen Cookbook with my all time favourite TV chef....James Martin!

Do you have any favourite receipe books I should take a look at?

Monday, 3 September 2007

The Queen

I have just watched ITV's The Queen starring Helen Mirren and a scarily accurate Michael Sheen playing Tony Blair and have been compelled to post on it. As I've said before in this blog, I was never a "Diana supporter" but I was unbelievably touched by her death, the week leading up to her funeral and the funeral itself - even if I did feel on occasion that the whole outpouring of grief was a tad over the top. A girl at the firm I worked in at the time was signed off for a month by her GP due to "stress over Diana dying, like. I just can't stop crying, like". She seemed remarkably cheerful a week after the funeral when I saw her at the theatre but that's another story.

What struck me most about watching The Queen was that HRH really did not have an idea of the depth of feeling of the Great British Public - you could of course argue that she was out of touch with her subjects in her gilded cage or that her generation didn't know how to show their emotions. You could also say that she was fed up to the back teeth of Diana ruling the roost as the People's Princess and saw this as yet another (rather final and hardly planned) ploy by her ex daughter-in-law or, as Saskia has just said via text, "petrified that Wayne Sleep wanted to dance at the funeral".

However, what stood out for me was that the Queen seemed to be more upset about a merchant banker from a neighbouring estate killing a stag that her shooting party was stalking. She visited him soon enough, hanging upside down with his antlers off. The stag, not the merchant banker.

The scarily accurate portrayal of Tony Blair showing his frustration - torn between his Sovereign and the people that elected him. Mr B must have felt like giving the royal person a right good shaking but no doubt feared The Tower or at the very least a good mauling by the Royal Corgis.

On the whole though, a worthwhile two hours snuggled on the sofa with a bag of Minstrels and a snoring husband. The way that footage of Diana and of the mourning crowds interlinked with the actual film was magnificent - but two points. Firstly, HRH put two labradors into her 4x4 as she headed off into the bracken but three got out. Secondly, how fabulous would it have been if the television minion that advised his Queen that she was "going out live in one minute" as he bustled up to her before she had her face powder touched up had actually said "One minute Yer Madge, break a leg duckie!"

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Sun, sea and school reunions

The holiday in Hamble le Rice was lovely: David had de-stressed by Bank Holiday Monday, Mackenzie has gone from being a babe in arms to master at sea, Senior Dog discovered he quite liked all manner of shellfish and became a regular at the stall on the quay side, Middle Dog discovered rock pooling and eating seaweed and Junior Dog quite liked endangering the lives of several boatmen and his owner as he took daily flying leaps into the sea. A "proper" holiday.

We travelled into Southampton to revisit David's past and further afield Portsmouth to visit Southsea Castle and Brighton for a stroll along the promenade and time for me to indulge in the smell of the seaside: candy floss, donuts and chips covered in vinegar. I spent my time hoiking dogs out from the briney and stopping them from eating crabs, watching Mac and David sail past and reading, reading, reading, oh and eating the most gorgeous cakes, home made by the local shop owner.

As a result the dress I had decided to wear for the Class of 1987 school reunion was decidedly tight. Hm. No matter, I threw a pashmina around the worst bits and tottered out in my heels leaving David to unpack and start the washing. I felt almost glam as I strolled in through the front gates of my old school but was immediatly beseiged with the glum feeling that I always got as I passed through the wrought iron monstrosities: freedom curtailed, head down and get on with it.

The Assembly Hall (far grander than I remembered it) was bedecked in streamers and bunting and those chairs you only even seem to see in schools - wooden, chipped and destined to catch your tights/skirt/dress as you stood up. Trudy came screeching towards me and slapped a sticker onto my bosom that gave my name "as was", the name of my class (5L) and the name of my Head of Year (Mr Jarvis). Monica Travis (now Monica Travis-Hunt), she of the jumping out of window fame, peered at my bosom and we were off. Our fellow classmates were dissected "wonder what Tracy Baker's up to now, stuck up cow" and "I heard that Cheryl Clarke has had her whole body lifted".

The unfortunate side-effect of having your names on your bosoms meant that we were leering at passing women quite unashamedly. "Lisa Morris!" Monica and I both shrieked at first sight of a tall, slim blonde. "No, Angie Taylor" said the blonde as the "real" Lisa Morris stepped out of the shadows - still tall but seemingly the same width as height with mousey hair and a sunburnt face. I felt almost Kate Moss-like and began some serious hair tossing action. Oh, and the memories. We fell into our old class groups almost immediatly, we were set to eat in our class groups which suited me fine. Twenty minutes surrounded by my old classmates and I was enjoying myself immensely.

5W were the Glamourpusses and had the likes of Becca White (now a catalogue model) and Caroline Wilkinson (Head Housekeeper at a Royal Palace) in their class. 5A were the Goody Goodies: Angie Taylor (who simpered "just a housewife and mother" all night) and Ann-Marie Anderson (accountant and knows of David). 5V were the Geniuses and everytime there was an award to win, someone from 5V won it - Lorraine Morrison is a member of MENSA and Maria Antyanlou owns and runs her own restaurant in Cyprus but "came back for tonight, wouldn't have missed it".
5R were the Worthies with Artie Devereaux the lead Do-Gooder. No surprise to learn that she's somebody high up in social services now. Tessa Simpson is a bona fide nun. Seriously. Complete with mini wimple. My own form, 5L were known as the Rabble which will surprise you not at all dear friends! Louise Fisher now runs her own tattoo parlour but is remarkedly ink free herself, Monica Travis-Hunt is a police officer in CO19 and me, well I go through life - as my fellow classmate Amelia Johnson put it - "like an unrestrained labrador, keen to do everything and anything, all at the same time". And last but not least, 5Y were known quite simply as the Yawnmakers. Boring to a fault they were. Roberta Rowlinson is another "just a housewive and mother" and didn't move from the door all night and Desdemona Hawkins is a vegan and railed against the "destruction of the ozone layer". Everyone was still giving 5Y a wide berth, 20 years on.

And the teachers - they looked so old! Miss Williams, forty one when she took us for music, is now a glamourous 62 year old, complete with LBD and cigarette holder, her once girlish voice now "ruined by gin and ciggies darlings" and married to a "gorgeous Italian man called Claudio". Her fourth husband. We all gathered round her and, despite 20 years and the fact that nearly all of us had changed names, she identified nearly all of us. "Louise Fisher - such a glorious singer" and "Amelia dear girl, such a talent for the piano". Amelia revealed that she herself now teaches music and Miss Williams wiped her eyes with a delicate lace handkerchief. Of me she said "Darling, what you didn't have in tune you more than made up for in style".

All of the forms were mingled up for lessons and Mr Pollard fondly remembers his Thursday afternoon art classes "double period, last lesson of the day". "I remember quite clearly the trauma of getting a class of either pre or post menstrual girls to sit down and do my life class" he said as he gave us all his haughty look. Caroline Jamieson and I exchanged glances at this - we were the main culprits in the tale he was about to recount. "The girls from 5W were more concerned that the male model would find them the most attractive, the 5A ladies were appalled that I had introduced a male model for the afternoon's activities, 5V were busy sharpening their pencils as were the one or two from 5R" Caroline and I tried to escape at this point but, as always, Mr Pollard's booming voice stopped us in our tracks. "The only two young ladies from 5L," he continued as all eyes turned to Caroline and I "were hysterical with laughter at something that would become quite clear whilst 5Y huddled behind their notepads in terror".

"And then it happened" Mr Pollard smiled. "The male model took up his position (let me just say at this point Dear Reader that he was in his early 60's and wearing a flesh colour pair of tight pants "to show muscle definition"), facing away from the multitude of giggling girls - it was at this point we all spotted the large mirror, propped up on the desk opposite him so that everyone in the class could see not only his back but his front as well." It took Caroline and I half an hour to get the mirror off the wall in the toilets and we got a week's worth of detention - but it was worth it!

For those that wanted it, there was a tour of the school but it didn't take in the bikesheds, the back of the English hut nor the alleyway alongside the canteen - they're the bits I remember most!

Our then headmistress, Miss Wilson, had sadly passed away (a tree had been planted in the main courtyard in her memory) but the current headmistress welcomed us back to the school that nurtured us, taught us, cossetted us, protected us and made us what we are today.

I left with a handful of phone numbers, promises of lunches and a tour of Scotland Yard for me and Mac. School reunions are just like school - you don't necessarily always want to go but you have a good time while you're there.

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.