Thursday, 29 November 2007

Present and correct

I’ve finally sat down to make my list. It makes worrying reading.

David: not sure yet, he hasn’t dropped any hints and I’ve been ever so careful and attentive in case he does because this time last year he kept hinting that he was “almost out of aftershave” and I remember thinking “why is he telling me?”

Mackenzie: the list is horrific – he’s taken to cutting out pictures from catalogues and those handy Toys R Us flyers and leaving them in a great pile beside my bed. If I buy everything on the list would have to move to bigger house to accommodate.

Dad: something for his DIY obsession. B&Q vouchers?

Bea: already got hers. Not saying anything cos she reads this blog.

Charlie: already got hers. See above.

Stephen: David in charge of this

Caitlin and Ian: bought the budding artists some canvases and oil paints – I shall have an original on my wall!

Saskia: something from Neal’s Yard or Lush. Although, we bought each other the same Lush giftset last year so might go back to basics and trawl through Boots.

Amelia: last year left gift choice to David. He got her a new set of saucepans and I got the blame. This year am thinking getting vouchers to send her and Junie Ellison (her Best Friend) off to a spa for the day. When I mentioned to David he admitted that he didn’t know that Spar did vouchers. But he’s not well so I’ll let him off.

Ginny: David’s decision, he scored massive brownie points last year with his eccentric sister by buying her a deerstalker hat. Seriously.

Lydia: something ingenious, she does love a good gadget does Lyds.

Matthew: He’s already asked David and his gran for money this year rather than present but money isn’t very festive is it? Will get him a joke present.

Janey and Darren: erm……

Dogs: a doggy stocking each and some turkey flavoured dinner

Random presents to get for random people/neighbours/droppers-in: boxes of chocolates, bottles of wine (red and white), York Fruit things, bottle of Baileys for Auntie Ivy, After Eight mints, mince pies (handy for carollers) and festive toys from Tescos…….

I haven’t done that well have I? And I’m sure I’ve missed some people off my list and I won’t remember them until 6pm on Christmas Eve and my Random Presents won’t be suitable and then Marjorie will waltz in with super duper present and……then…..and then……..look, I’m getting hysterical.

Just like last year.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Santa Express

I had failed to remember that I had invited Amelia next weekend - so relieved was I to hear that "Giles has got me another bird" that I'd blocked out exactly what I had to do to appropriate said fowl. I was reminded by the lady herself during our phone conversation earlier. I had planned to take us all to Santa's Grotto at Selfridges and was getting rather excited about it. My son is remarkably cool about the whole thing and is more enthralled with "getting on a bus mummy". Something which happens less often than Santa's yearly visit I have to admit.

Anyway, the tickets were booked and all was well. When I mentioned our trip to Bea she spent the next three minutes hooting with laughter and remembering our one and only visit to Santa's Grotto - I was three, she was seven and had to be restrained from telling me that "he doesn't really exist y'know, it's just a fat man in a red suit" by both parents and maternal grandparents all the way there.

It was torture. For me. And, I guess everyone else in the general vicinity. My collywobbles started when a man dressed in green and red lycra with a pointed hat on took me and Bea away from our parents and made us join a queue! Alone! Deserted! Bea took it like the pro she was (is) whilst I started whimpering. I could just see my parents salivating over a nice cup of coffee and a slice of cake in the adjacent cafe when the queue started moving closer to the ominous looking room where Santa resided. "I'll go first, I'm oldest" Bea informed me importantly as we reached the door and a rather sinister looking fairy took our names. In Bea went and I slipped under the bingo-winged fairy arm and shot in with her. Big sisters are supposed to protect you aren't they?

Bea proceeded to list her Christmas requirements while I was held back by yet another red and green lycra'd woman who told me "to wait your turn". Poor Santa was bewildered by Bea's list and obviously regretted asking her what she wanted for Christmas. She didn't look very impressed.

Then it was my turn. "Ho, ho, ho little girl" said the ruddy cheeked Santa. "Wail, scream, bellow" went yours truly. Bingo-winged fairy stuck her head through the door and said "do you want the parents?". Bea was quicker than all of them - she was clutching her unwrapped dolly (with change of outfit and bottle) and booming "Muuuum!" whilst dragging me away from my nightmare.

I had vowed that no child of mine would grow up with a Santa aversion. Mac was nine months old when he first had his picture taken with the Man Himself. He slept all the way through. The second time he visited he revealed Santa to be beardless with a rather fake looking beard by yanking the whole thing off. Last year he loudly castigated Santa for "not bringing me my bike!". What's best? A frightened child or a precocious one? Answers on a postcard please.

When I advised Amelia of our plans she went quiet. Which is unusual for her. "We will be back by about five won't we?" she queried sharply. I assured her we would be (our Santa train trip is booked for mid morning) and she exhaled noisily "Only, Jack's booked the table for 7pm you see and I want to shower and change."

Jack? As in Jack Next Door? Amelia's coy giggle answered my query and I hung up feeling rather lightheaded. I informed David of his mothers date with Nunhead's answer to Alan Titchmarsh and he dropped his hob nob in his tea.

I don't even want to think about what Amelia is going to ask Santa for this year.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Ping!

Strictly I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Come Dancing! What a show that would make! 12 celebrities find themselves in a jungle dressed in all manner of lycra and sequins, undertaking Bush Tucker Trials to different kinds of music, having to learn dance routines around a camp fire. Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly will report on their cha-cha-cha's and waltzes from the dunny whilst Ant and Dec quiz the professional dancers down at the Bush Tucker Trial Clearing. To earn meals for camp the dancers would have to perform different dances whilst tripping over logs and their own beds and having spiders, eels, maggots and rats descend on them. Rehearsals would be tense because they'd have to keep stopping their routines to go and fetch wood and get fresh water and go off to get the Celebrity Chest.

I can see it now! Celebrities would be queuing up to take part......it's ground breaking television (where else are you going to see an orchestra and four singers in the middle of the jungle?)

And of course, the whole thing would be presided over by the judges: a wallaby, a scorpion, a kangeroo and a snake!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The greatest story ever told....


Tyred and emotional

No, not a spelling mistake. I’m a wreck of the nervous variety and am currently clinging onto a cup of strong coffee and have jaffa cakes in easy reach. I’m also whimpering slightly and feel the need to cry just a little bit. The reason for my total collapse is because of a flat tyre I experienced yesterday. I'm still in shock for it was not just a flat tyre, but a flat tyre with a bloody great nail in it. Shall I start at the beginning?

I had taken my pride and joy to nursery and decided to whisk off to Lewisham to start buying some presents. Yes! Mid November! This, for me, is early. Purchases purchased and muffin and latte consumed, I headed back to the car park. I’m not sure if you know the Lewisham Shopping Centre at all but you get such a buzz when you manage to get into the lift with life and limbs present that you almost forget to validate your car park pass thingy at the pay station. But today, I remembered. Feeling so full of myself (presents for Janey, Saskia and Charlie purchased AND I’d remembered to pay for my parking) I skipped merrily to my car. “Got a flat there” said a passing woman with a buggy. “A flat what?” I asked innocently as I put my bags in the boot. “Tyre” she said over her shoulder as she strolled shop-wards. It was true. I had a flat-as-a-pancake passenger rear tyre with a socking great nail sticking out of it.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when faced with a scenario like this, a million things flit through my brain all at once – from the sublime to the ridiculous. In the split second it took for me to register the fact that I had a flat tyre I’d thought that I: a) could drive it home s-l-o-w-l-y, ignoring all helpful comments of “you’ve got a flat tyre” from other road users and wait for David to come home and change it for me, b) could ring Green Flag and give them all a laugh, c) could ring a man, any man, of my acquaintance and ask them to drop everything and come and rescue me or d) cry.

I can actually change a tyre. I’ve done it, ooh, about six or seven times in my lifetime. But always with back up. Always with someone to tell me that my nuts aren’t tight enough or “don’t put the jack there, it’ll go through the floor you silly cow”. Never solo. Never alone. As I was now. I seriously considered plumping for option d) when I heard my name being called. I looked up and there he was, Tom the Caretaker from Work, coming towards me clutching an M&S shopping bag.

I reverted immediately into Hysterical Woman mode. Forgetting social niceties such as “hello Tom, how are you and how is your wife?” I screeched “I’ve got a flat tyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyre!” and slumped against my incapacitated car. “What do you want me to do about it?” he queried laughingly. “Help meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” I wailed, already wrenching open the boot and tipping out the shopping bags.

Bless him, he did. He didn’t actually say I was a useless female who shouldn’t be allowed on the road but I could tell he was thinking it. He was in charge of the situation so I felt calmer and turned into Helpless Female, simpering at him as I handed him the jack. I even said “I wonder why they call it a jack”. Again, bless him. He ignored me and got on with the job in hand.

I passed him the spanner thing and watched him as he tried to loosen off the nuts. See, I know how to change a tyre. Sadly, it seems I can’t tell the difference between a socket spanner and a hoover attachment. “Your nuts are rollocksed” (please note Delicate Reader that the last word actually began with a “b”) he said, handing me back the failed spanner. It was at that point that it registered it was made of plastic and was the missing part of my Dyson. More simpering, self depreciation and shamefaced hanging of head. Once he had the correct spanner we were off.

As was the tyre, within minutes. Shoppers were passing us and watching the free floor show as I attempted to engage Tom in friendly conversation to show that I was actually an intelligent woman and that I could have changed the tyre myself, but it was just so lucky that he was there at the time. “So, what do you think about property prices?”. He shot me a withering look as he held out his hand for the spare.

I was still in Helpless Female mode and did that thing that ALL women do when we handle something dirty and greasy – I slapped my hands together, grimaced and said “euw, yuck” as I rolled the spare tyre to him. Why do they get so greasy and grubby? They’re just sitting there in the boot. Tom tightened the nuts for me, lowered my car to the ground and shoved everything into the boot. “Thank you soooooooooooo much!” I cooed, slamming my boot shut and pretending that the past ten minutes or so hadn’t happened. “Where are you off to now?” I continued cheerily, leaving Helpless Female mode behind and going for the Woman in Control look. “To wash my hands” he said slowly. “Shall I……look, do you want me to…….where are you parked?” I burbled but he was off, M&S bag under his arm, dirty mitts held out, having to go back into the shopping centre to find a handwashing facility. “Thank you Tom, I’ll see you at work next Monday!” I called to his departing figure. I don’t think he heard me.

Out on the road it occurred to me that I’d better have the tyre mended because if I didn’t, David and my dad would form a chorus of disapproval. Dad has impressed upon me the need to have water, spare tyre and torch in my boot at all times and David thinks I should be more independent. So I went to Grays on the A20 feeling, once again, everso pleased that I was looking after my own car (albeit with help) and was being proactive etc and blah, blah, blah. I won’t take my car anywhere other than Grays – I once took my trusty Golf to a large tyre and exhaust place that I won’t name for fear of being sued/beaten about the head with a pressure gauge but, suffice to say, they have branches everywhere and a rather jaunty jingle.

Anyway, I took my Golf into this place and was told that I needed “four new tyres love” instead of just the one I’d thought (honestly, it was smooth in places). Feeling slightly wrongfooted (and loathe to part with nearly a hundred quid without getting a second opinion) I rang Dad and told him. “I told you to take it to Grays” he said the minute he heard my news. I thanked the kindly gentleman (who was already preparing my car for the ramp despite the fact that I hadn’t said “yes, please replace all four tyres immediately and forthwith”) and drove off towards the A20. Man at Grays had a quick look at all four tyres after I’d relayed my tale of woe and said “nah, just need a new offside rear”, did the dirty deed in 15 minutes, pumped up the other three and only charged me £35. I have since recommended Grays to all of my friends. Even if they didn’t want me to.

I pulled into their car park and went for the World Weary Woman look with a hint of “I know exactly what’s wrong with my tyre and think nothing of taking it to be fixed without a man present” as I sashayed into the office. I showed a Grease Covered Youth the offending item and he bounced it into the back of the workroom while pointing me in the direction of the waiting area. Patio furniture and a Pepsi machine but it’s nice. There are magazines and a TV, which was blaring out Sky Sports News. I perched on a seat and tried to look as if I do this sort of thing every day. If I had any gum, I’d be chewing it nonchantly at this stage.

“Can you bring it in and drive it up to the red line?” came the voice of Grease Covered Youth five minutes later who was carrying my tyre as if it were as light as a feather. My car was parked outside in the car park area and I told him so. “No, I need it in here to put the tyre back” GCY said wearily. I gave a giggle and wondered how on earth he thought I’d got it here without a tyre. “I’ve got the spare on!” I said, rolling my eyes. “Yes, but if you keep the spare on, you’ll get done. Give us yer keys, I’ll do it.” he said patiently, catching the eye of the Bloke Behind The Counter.

Instantly, I went back into Helpless Female form as I watched my beloved car be driven in, jacked up and attacked from behind. I stood simpering behind GCY and, yes, even asked “I wonder why they call it a jack” again. The response was the same. Nothing. Now that I could see the two tyres alongside each other, yes, the spare one is inches thinner and has a big “NOT TO BE USED EXCESSIVELY” sticker printed on it.

I paid my money, overtipped GCY and shot out of there – ironically enough with my tyres squealing.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Crash, bang, wallop.....

You know they say that bad things happen in threes? Like, for example, you hear of someone breaking a leg and then you hear of someone breaking their toe and then maybe a few days later you hear that Great Aunt Alice has broken her hip?

Well, fortunately there are no broken bones in this sorry saga but plenty of broken appliances.

It started on Sunday when Mac wanted to watch a video – such antiquities in our house. We’d connected our old video to the television in our room when we got our DVD player and so Mac settled on our bed for a pleasant afternoon of watching Scooby Doo Chases Some Badly Faked Ghosts (or whatever it was called) and I left him to it. Bea, if you’re reading this, stop now. I don’t often use the TV as a babysitter but sometimes I just really, really need to.

Anyway, I was pottering about in the kitchen, creating another gastronomic masterpiece with which to dazzle my husband and child when I heard a plaintive yell from upstairs that sounded not unlike “Mummmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeee”. I leapt up the stairs, imagining all manner of bad things to have befallen my boy to find him sitting on the floor by the video in a pile of celluloid. “It made a loud cracking noise and then went all snowy and then ‘jected my video” Mac looked crushed – it was his favourite Scooby Doo adventure. He’d pulled the tape out, thinking he was rescuing it when all he’d done was pull out the tape and entangle it further. “We will get a new video mummy won’t we?” he implored, no doubt thinking of the shelf in his room full of classics in VHS format. I started a list of “things to buy before Christmas”.

On Tuesday, I’d dropped my lovely boy off at nursery (successfully avoiding any more reference to the Winter Fayre/Nursery Nativity shenanigans) and came home to put some washing in the machine. I was distracted mid load by a phone call from a double glazing salesman who would not take no for an answer. He hung up pretty sharply after I blew my whistle (handily kept for that very purpose) down the receiver and I went back to my loading.

Twenty minutes later, there was a distinctive smell of hot TCP in the air. TCP is pretty repellent as far as I’m concerned so I was gagging and opening windows. All was well. I was sorting out my salad crisper drawer, Heart FM was pouring jolly tunes out of the stereo, Middle and Senior Dog had embraced the radiator in the hallway and Junior Dog was mid nibble of a Bonio when the smell of hot TCP was joined by the smell of burning. Before I had time to say “what’s that burning smell?”, Heart FM fell silent and a large “BANG” emanated from the utility room. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’d blown up the washing machine and had tripped a number of fuses. I counted 27 garments (including two pairs of jeans) in the machine – all sopping wet and dripping soapy water everywhere. I’d overloaded the damn thing.

Another item to add to my list. David was brave in the face of two failed pieces of equipment – one necessary and the other essential.

He and Mac went late night shopping to Comet last night while I was at the hairdressers. I returned with a head full of blonde, glossy, shiny, bouncing locks and decided to get on with the hoovering that I’d started before I left. I’d completely forgotten that I’d booked in for “colour, cut and blowdry” at 4pm – poor Mac was halfway through his tea when he was hoiked out of the house and found himself sitting on the squishy sofa of Shear Class still clutching his pitta bread and humous. He still looked shell shocked when David arrived at ten to six.

Anyway, I pushed the “on” button and nothing happened. I walked over to the plug and checked that it was in fact still plugged in. It was. I went back and pushed the button again. Still nothing. Now, I’m not technically minded but I realised that something was wrong.

I didn’t dare ring David at Comet and tell him I needed a new Dyson so I shoved it back in the cupboard, vowing to look blank and act surprised when it fails to work the next time I go all domesticated.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tables and Turkeys

Christmas is very much on my mind just lately and there’s still six weeks to go. I’ve been conscripted to help out with the nursery Winter Fayre (post to follow), my refusal to participate in the behind-the-scenes activities at the nursery Nativity have been wholeheartedly ignored and David has already started looking for his present. And I haven’t got a clue what to buy him this year.

Still. The cake is looking (and smelling) heavenly. I have to resist the urge to have a sneaky peak (and sniff) every time I go into the utility room. David has now taken to hiding his brandy and has promised to buy me a “cheap one to pour into the cake”. Honestly, it’s one tablespoon twice a week, I’m not emptying the bottle into a funnel in the side. Mind you, the brandy is almost as old as I am so I can understand his reticence. I don’t like the sound of “cheap brandy” though.

The list for Christmas dinner is growing almost daily. Janey had promised that she would cook her first ever Christmas dinner for her, Darren, Ivy and Jim. Darren’s parents are “going a'Spain” for the festive season. But she’s hit a problem. Her pregnancy has reached the stage where the mere thought of cooking with raw ingredients makes her want to vomit – “I’m pretty sure I’ll still feel like this on Christmas Day” she whined down the phone to me yesterday. I understand how she feels – for two months I couldn’t look or touch anything raw. The thought of touching a raw chicken literally made me stick my head down the toilet. I noted the barely hidden plea in her whine and mentally made two more spaces at the (small) dining table. I then added another two after Janey informed me that Ivy had been thrown in a panic at Janey’s inability to now feed her on Christmas Day and that she screeched “I haven’t got time to get everything ready now for you to come here and your father has already said we’re not getting a tree this year.” If Ivy cooks the Christmas Day meal she starts her preparations in mid October and decorates the house to look like Santa’s grotto.

If I’m neurotic it’s because it’s hereditary.

I rang David. “We need another table and chairs” I informed him the minute I heard his dulcet tones. “Why darling?” said he, no doubt envisaging the total collapse of our current one. “We’ve got 15 people coming for dinner on Christmas Day and our table only seats 6” I continued. Silence at the other end. “Erm, 16 for dinner” he amended. “I’ve just got off the phone from Ginny who feels that faced with a choice of spending Christmas with mother or the Colonel, she’d rather face mother.”

So that’s two additional tables needed then. IKEA beckons.

The turkey has got to feed 16 people on Christmas Day and roughly the same amount of people (albeit in smaller portions) for Boxing Day and if I’m going to attempt to make my mum’s famous soup I need at least a couple of slices. I then did something that I never thought I’d do.

I rang Amelia.

After the usual niceties (I do try, honest) I asked her how big the turkey Giles has reserved for me will be when, gulp, its time comes to die. “About 15 pounds Giles reckons” she said, chewing on a Danish pastry. I told her my predicament and, to my relief, she started panicking almost as much as I was at that present time. “All recipes call for about a pound or a pound and a half of turkey per person so you’re looking at a 16 pounder at least. And that’s if you plan to be stingy.” Her tone suggested that I would indeed be stingy with the fowl. After a discussion about whether to abandon the reserved bird (it’s got my name on a tag round its neck) and get a bigger one or to reserve another similarly sized bird, Amelia promised to ring Giles and panic buy another one. Two turkeys with my name on them. Great. She sounded so inordinately pleased and amazed that I’d rung her for advice that I thawed everso slightly and asked her over the first weekend in December thus securing Amelia-free weekends for the rest of November.

Hah!

Jack Next Door has taken to popping over to see me daily since his dalliance on our sofa with Amelia a couple of weekends ago. I feel slightly uncomfortable that he’s got the “hots” for my mother-in-law and try to stick to safe subjects. Like soil erosion and wilting perennials. Not that I know anything about that but, quite frankly, it’s any port in a storm.

The discussions yesterday and today (he came round to watch Jeremy Kyle with me yesterday and today popped in with an Ayres jam doughnut) centred around the lack of tables and chairs and our impending trip to IKEA. He’s offered to bring his “laminated oak and four chairs” with him……”I’ve also got two stools if you need them?” which will make a nice change from crystallised orange slices and a poinsettia.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Driving me crazy

Auntie Ivy struck terror into my heart and bowels this morning “I’m going to start driving lessons again!” she chirruped happily as she slopped hot water all over my work surface as she attempted to direct the kettle into the cafetiere. “I was watching that programme last night with that woman from the Royle Family who kept failing her test but then that nice Dr Who started teaching her and she passed!”

She meant of course the BBC comedy drama starring Jessica Hynes and David Tennent that was on last night – she has a habit of mixing up her programmes and never gets actors names right. We once bumped into Eastenders' Laila Morse in Sainsburys New Cross and she kept calling her Big Mo which did not go down too well.

“If she can do it, I can!” she continued as she whisked the milk. I remember well her attempts at learning to drive. She became a champion for learner drivers everywhere and, quite simply, knew all there was to know about driving, especially as she got 99% in her written test. All of us experienced drivers didn’t know what we were talking about and got everything wrong. When she failed her test it was such a shock to her system – she’d failed on just about everything. Predictably though, after a few days, it all became the driving instructors fault and whenever we were out in the car she would pour scorn on the other road users. Things came to a head when I was driving her and my mum somewhere and the two of them were gassing about something – I tended to turn off when the two of them got going. Anyway, Ivy stopped mid sentence and said “Why have you stopped here?”. I looked from her to my mother and said “Because the red lights tell me to”. Sure enough, there were two red lights halting my progress along Peckham High Street. “Oh.” said Ivy “how long have they been there?”

The remainder of the journey was spent with both mum and Ivy giggling their little socks off at not being aware of a set of traffic lights that had been there for a very, very long time. Quite worrying when you think about it. But she found Mr Rush “in the paper” early last year and he tended her and nurtured her, right up to and including when she failed her second driving test in March of this year because she was “doing 50 in a 20 mile per hour zone”. Outside a school. Her only comment was “well, it was half past ten in the morning, the kids should have all been in their classrooms!”

So, as you can imagine, I was filled with trepidation as Ivy outlined her plan for the next few weeks: a couple of refresher lessons and then I’ll put in for my test. “I’m going back to Mr Rush, he’s so very patient and never shouts at me when I make a little mistake”. Honestly, I’d hate to have her nerve in my tooth. The “little mistake” she made was when she panicked on a roundabout and ended up sitting on top of the lovingly planted pansies. The Council Parks Department worker had fled for his life when he saw the white Peugeot from “Pass and Go” mount the pavement. Quite what Mr Rush was thinking when he put her forward for her last driving test is anyone’s guess. I should imagine he’ll be rooted to his seat in terror when he hears Auntie Ivy chirrup “Hello, I’d like to book some more driving lessons please”.

“I’ll be able to take Little Un out for drives and be able to go to Morrison’s without waiting for Jim to be bothered. A nice little run around, that’s all I’ll need” she was getting quite dreamy on the sofa, clutching her coffee mug as she saw herself pootling along, headscarf covering her silver curls, whipping in and out of parking spaces effortlessly.

Before you start to think that I’m being incredibly derogatory about my aunt and her ability to drive because I am such a perfect driver – I’m not. I passed my test on my fifth attempt and found the whole experience a dreadful one. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of independence that being able to drive would give me. My instructor John said that I alternately drove to fast/too slow, was too hesitant/too carefree, drove to close to parked cars/hogged the middle of the road and was very kind to pigeons. I used to slow down when I saw them in the road.

I failed my first test because I showed no regard for other road users, my second because I was too hesitant and slow, my third because I had an argument (and lost) with a bus and my fourth because I drove a little too fast. What did these people want from me? My fifth instructor was the one who took me for my first test which threw me completely. I’ve since told other people who are stressing over their tests to just go with the flow and do the best you can. Easy to say, harder to do. I swear that I only got through my fifth test because of an enormous sense of “oh, I don’t care any more” and 2 Kalms. Sssh!

And I’ve had a few disasters in the past 16 years I’ve been driving – mainly to do with directions and getting lost. I went to Surrey Quays a few years back with my mum (there’s a theme developing here) and I took the wrong turning off St James’ Road and ended up going through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. I went round Leman Street police station three times and nearly ended up at City Airport twice. I then saw a sight that cheered me to my very core: the stone and blue turrets of Tower Bridge! I was in St Katherine’s Dock going over some cobbles at the time and joyously told mum that we were more or less home and dry. “We don’t want Tower Bridge though do we?” she said in a confused voice “We do if we’re going to cross the river!” I said, relief flooding my body. “What? Do you mean we’re north of the river?” she screeched. Being north of the river, for my mum, was like a Man United fan finding himself sitting in the middle of the stand at Man City’s stadium. She had to be put to bed with a large cup of tea and a copy of Gulliver’s Travels.

Sat Nav doesn’t help me either. I argue with it. Seriously. It tells me to go left and I go right. Which defeats the whole object really. And the first ever Sat Nav I had didn’t say “okay, right well you haven’t listened to a sodding word I’ve said and now you’ve gone wrong so just take the next sodding turning I tell you okay?” (or however they politely say it) – it got just as lost as I did until I laid my frazzled head on the steering wheel and it started babbling utter rubbish. So last Christmas I got a super duper Sat Nav that says “to correct your route, please take the next right” whenever I go wrong. Which is frequently, because I still argue with it. I think it’s even started to anticipate where I’m about to go wrong because the second I take a different turning to the one it told me to take (because it’s never right, let’s face it) I can hear it give a deep and weary sigh. One of these days it’s going to give me such a rollicking, I can feel it in my bones.

But who can blame Auntie Ivy for wanting to try again? I am so pleased that I persevered and didn’t “sell out” and swap from manual lessons to automatic ones.

Naturally, I’ve asked her to tell me the dates and times of her lessons so I can keep out of the way.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

We will remember them

They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Saturday, 10 November 2007

A is for 'Arrods

I've started (thank you Silvana) the Christmas cake - there's a bowl of sultanas, raisins, cherries and peel steeping in brandy in the kitchen and David has marked the brandy bottle in case I "borrow" any more. Hm! The kitchen smells heavenly and Junior Dog is drooling all over the kitchen floor.

My guest list for Christmas dinner has grown to include Jack Next Door who mournfully told Amelia during their telephone conversation of last night (!!!!!!) that he would be all alone on Christmas Day as his only daughter will be in Chile categorising rock samples. "I told him he could join us for the day" my mother in law informed David when she rang this morning to report on the progress of our turkey. Apparently it's going to be a whopper. Good job really. I need more cutlery and a bigger table.

Frank and Marjorie went out first thing this morning and got back at about four making such a racket that I was forced to go and investigate. They were laden down with Harrods bags and letting everyone know that they'd been shopping "for Christmas decorations, none of this Pound Shop crap for us". Frank's voice could wake the dead when he gets going. The cab driver could be seen mouthing the words "effing lunatics" as he drove off.

The trip to Harrods was fuelled by Marjorie's visit to Joyce at Number 2's house yesterday on the pretext of collecting for her OAP hampers. The Stewarts have identified four OAPs in the immediate vicinity of The Avenue that "live alone and need an eye keeping on them over the winter". They're rallying the rest of the neighbours to donate to their food collection. At least one of the OAPs is chuntering about being treated "like a bleeding charity, if I want other peoples store cupboard leavings I'll ask for 'em!"

"It's awful in there" Marjorie had boomed yesterday on the doorstep as she collected my own contribution (four tins of soup, four packets of shortbread and four packets of tea). "Where?" I asked politely. "Joyce at Number 2! All manky tinsel, fake tree and Chinese lanterns. That kind of foil decoration went out in the 90s and as for those dreadful paper chains......eurgh!" It was then that she revealed her plan for Saturday. "We're going to 'Arrods to add to our collection - it's a very superior shop" she said, as if I didn't know. Bea pops in and out of Harrods for "bits and pieces" as I do in Sainsburys. And they've got an East Dulwich Deli - my dear sister hyperventilates whenever she mentions it. I wasn't that impressed with my Christmas visit to the Rich Peoples Store a couple of years back, I have to admit. The most exciting part of the day was seeing Dennis Bergkamp in Planet Harrods......he had a burger by the way.

As they lugged their famous green and gold bags in (with Frank booming "watch the goods woman!") Jane Opposite appeared in her doorway, eyeing up the shenanigans and dumping a rubbish bag in the bin. We exchanged glances as Frank reappeared to take in a box with the words "DELUXE NATIVITY SET" stamped on it. "Tis the season to be jolly eh ladies?" he said with a wink that seemed to encompass the entire Avenue. "Not with you it ain't mate" Jane said, flinging a couple of empty wine bottles in her recycling box. Undeterred, Frank continued with what he thought was some saucy badinage "You must come and check out my elaborate hangings" he said, turning to me and straightening up. Jane Opposite had disappeared behind her front door in a flurry of swear words.

"All top class stuff, none of this Woolies mass produced stuff" he went on. "And just wait until you see my lovely big shiny balls!"

Perish the thought!

Friday, 9 November 2007

8 into 8 into 8.......

Yes thank you Kelly, I do love being tagged! And I hope you the answers interesting! My "8 things......" list goes something like this..........

8 things I'm passionate about:

1. My family - each and every one of them
2. My friends - I'd be nowhere and nothing without them.
3. Me time - it sounds extremely selfish but sometimes I like it when everyone leaves me alone.
4. Chocolate - a bit worrying but I panic if I haven't got any in the house.
5. Laughter - I love laughing and making people laugh.
6. Doggy cuddles - there's nothing like the unconditional love that woofers give you.
7. History - as I get older, I've got an urge to learn more and find out more.
8. Blogging - it makes me smile.

8 things to do before I die:

1. Finish my book.
2. Get it published!
3. Go to Australia and cuddle a koala (won't be the same at London Zoo)
4. Visit the Trevi fountain.
5. Win the Lottery.
6. Own a Mercedes convertible.
7. Invent something useful that the modern world simply cannot live without.
8. Keep smiling.

8 things I say often:

1. "Uh, what time is it?" Every day without fail.
2. “Er, what exactly are you doing mister?" To the dog(s), not David obviously.
3. “Clearly!" my favourite catchphrase.
4. “Er, hello?" my other favourite catchphrase
5. “I love you", to random people in my life
6. “Charlotte Ann Edwards" - Charlie and I use each others full names in conversation rather a lot
7. “Oh God, noooooooo!" - whenever anything goes wrong. Which is frequently.
8. “Thank you for another day" - am not religious but I tend to say this as I drop off to sleep. I've got a lot to be thankful for when you think about it.

8 books I've read recently:

1. From Here to Maternity by Mel Giedroyc
2. The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous by Jilly Cooper
3. Savages by Shirley Conran
4. Does my Bum Look Big in This by Annabel (?) Weir
5. Two Women by Martina Cole
6. My Life on a Plate by India Knight
7. Turn Right at the Spotted Dog by Jilly Cooper
8. Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

8 songs I could listen to over and over:

1. Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler
2. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You the Rod Stewart version
3. Something Inside So Strong by Labi Sifre
4. Doncha by Pussy Cat Dolls
5. Love is In the Air by John Paul Young
6. Viva Forever by the Spice Girls
7. I Bruise Easily by Natasha Bedingfield
8. Don't Stop Me Now by Queen

8 qualities I look for in a best friend:

1. Loyalty
2. Honesty
3. A sense of humour
4. A level of randomness!
5. Patience
6. Loving me for who I am
7. Acceptance
8. The ability to make me a better person just by knowing them

8 people I'm passing this on to:

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Decoration decorum

Joyce at Number 2 has put her Christmas decorations up already. As usual, she waits for the day after Bonfire Night and then goes tinsel crazy. The paper chains are up on the ceiling, the star shaped Christmas light is in the master bedroom window with a flashing Santa in the spare bedroom one. The Christmas tree is up and this year she's gone for a snowflake theme.....the door wreath is bigger than the door itself and foliage keeps getting shut in the hinges - it's already attacked the postman.

Marjorie is very disappointed in this - I think she wanted to be the first Avenue resident to go festive. "No-one told me about Joyce at Number 2" she huffed at me when we met up in Ayres. "She's famous for it" I laughed, requesting an apple pie. "At Mermaid Court, we always had ours up by the first of December and we were always the first. There my Frank would be, with his cherubs and his tinsel - he loves doing the Christmas decorations." She seemed quite sad as she picked up her crusty cob and sniffed "I shall have to see when Frank wants to get his up. He won't want to be beaten on his decorations!" She rallied at this point and swept out of the shop, nearly tripping over old Mrs Mellish in her invalid carriage.

The War of the Christmas Decorations has begun.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A night out and the Nativity

“You’re coming to a party tonight” These were the opening words from Saskia when I picked up the phone to her this morning. I nearly answered “no I’m not, I plan to veg out on the sofa and watch Holby City” but I didn’t – she thinks I watch too much television. It appears that Saskia’s step-mother is holding a candle party at her abode ce soir and numbers aren’t what they should be. “Apparently, it’s very important, socially, for this party to be a sell-out – the people that run the company were dubious at descending on Forest Hill in the first place – if there’s not enough people then Susan will just die.” Saskia doesn’t get on with her step-mother – she calls her Cruella – so her sudden keenness to do her a good turn was a little out of the ordinary. “Oh, okay, it’s for Dad really, she’ll make his life a misery if tonight is a disaster”. Now that makes more sense.

I’ve reluctantly said I’d come along and have taken Saskia’s plea of “bring lots of people” literally. Marjorie said yes before I’d even told her what they were selling at this party, Lydia agreed to come, Bea said she’d “look in on the way back from Weight Watchers”, Jane Opposite “likes a good candle” and said she’d follow us there and agreed to bring Ruby Over the Road as well.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can turn my attention to the letter Mac came home with yesterday – apparently he’s landed the role of sheep in the forthcoming nursery Nativity play. I’ve reproduced the letter below because I didn’t like its tone and am simmering gently.

---------------------------

Dear Mrs Mitchell

I am pleased to advise you that we will once more be producing the Nativity play this year. This is planned for Thursday 13 December at 4pm - further details will be sent out separately, but you may also see posters on the Parent Noticeboard in Main Reception. I would like to reiterate that all photography (still and video) is FORBIDDEN. Official photographs will be taken for you to buy (£15 for any four), and the production will be available for you to purchase on DVD at the very reasonable price of £11.99. All profits will go towards the design, building and maintenance of our garden project.

Your child Mackenzie has been chosen to play the integral part of sheep one and will require a costume. Last year we felt that the amount of professionally hired costumes did not reflect the true meaning of the Nativity. Therefore, we are asking that all costumes are home-made. Miss Patterson, one of our playground helpers, is in charge of Costume and will be pleased to advise you on this matter. Parents/Guardians are reminded that the children should have some “artistic” input in the costume as we want to encourage their sense of ownership of the play.

Volunteers are also required to help out at the performance – we have a number of roles for those who are able to help us out. We note from our records that last year you helped out with seating the audience and we would be very grateful if you were able to do the same this year. We have made a note of this and will keep you on the list unless we hear differently.

Children will be required to attend rehearsals after school times, including one full dress rehearsal two days before the performance. Parents/Guardians are asked to ensure that children are provided with a light snack on these days, in a named box/bag. We are asking that no fast food, crisps, cakes and biscuits be provided and that parents ensure that all contributions are left with the class teacher on the morning of the rehearsal.

If you have any queries or concerns, please do let me know.

Monica Biddulph
Head Teacher
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I am simmering for a number of reasons.

The profit from the last Nativity play (when photos were four for £10) went towards the “design, building and maintenance of the garden project”. The garden project that is still a muddy, empty wasteground.

Mac was a donkey last year and was fortunate enough to be able to borrow Bottom’s head because Bea’s am-dram production of A Midsummer Nights Dream didn’t get off the ground (a lack of fairies apparently). That was nothing – Mary was dressed in a Next blue smock and baby Jesus was wrapped in a Harrods blanket. I suspect Ruby Over the Road will be called upon to make a sheep costume, unless I lash my IKEA sheepskin rug to the poor child.

Last year I was press-ganged into helping out with the audience by dint of the fact that I was not yet seated next to David when the mad rush started, with parents and grandparents risking life, limb and sanity to all get into the first row. I had to step in to prevent carnage. It was then, in my new role, that I was asked to relieve the parents of Archie Phillips of their camera equipment and was verbally abused in a very unfestive manner. I shall of course be advising Miss Biddulph that my only contribution on the night will be that of “member of audience”.

There were three rehearsals last year, including the dress rehearsal. Mac attended all of them but, as his first “named boxed snack” was stolen by a marauding hungry child who didn’t have one and his second was mistaken for Miss Percival’s own goodie box, I appeared like an avenging angel at the dress rehearsal with an M&S sandwich (he adores the simply chicken one), a packet of Ringos and a carton of ribena. Not so much a “named, boxed” snack as a personal bloody angry one. The staff kept shooting me looks and my name was mud in the staff room for the whole of January.

But still. Mac is very excited about playing a sheep and I’m excited for him. I appeared in a few Nativities when I was at school: I was an angel in my first one, a shepherd in the next and I was also a Mexican passerby in the year when we attempted the World Nativity. It was disastrous – we had representatives from every nation on that stage, all popping by to say hello to the baby Jesus. I remember that Mary got bored and fell asleep, the French peasant trod on one of the Italian goats who burst into tears and my mum found the whole thing hilarious rather than moving. I had borrowed my uncle’s sombrero for my part and, during the hymn singing when I was sitting in my class row, I obscured the view of half of the first year.

So. I’d best get cracking on the costume. Actually, I think I could make the IKEA sheepskin rug idea work…….

Monday, 5 November 2007

Remember, remember.....

Bea’s Bonfire Bash was a success as was the remainder of our weekend with Amelia. It was like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’m not saying that she didn’t have the odd moan about things but it was a vast improvement on the usual whinge-fest we have to put up with. She went out with David to get the fish and chips leaving Mac and I stunned with her parting words “Don’t worry about setting the table, let’s eat it on our knees in front of the TV”. Mac looked at me and I looked at Mac. “Is Granny ok?” he asked. When Amelia is on the premises we have every meal at the table - even our elevenses (she has to eat at set times or she feels faint) are consumed in the kitchen “no elbows on table and sit up straight please”. And that’s just my instructions!

We were both at Bea’s at 4pm on Saturday but there was nothing for us to do. The caterers were doing their stuff in the kitchen, the pyrotechnic guys were setting up the fireworks and Enormous Au Pair was rearranging the dining room, single handed. “It’s amazing how, now she’s put on so much weight, she’s got so much strength. She was sweeping leaves this morning like a whirling dervish”. Bea wandered over to the French windows and peered out at the dusky leaf-free garden where a handful of white T-shirted youths were trampling around the enormous rolling space. “Whatever happened to the man of the house lighting a few fireworks? There’s surely no need to get a firm of people in to do it for you?” Amelia asked in a tone of voice I recognised so well. She had had 24 hours of not feeling able to hector me and so had a surplus of bile. Bea didn’t hear her, she had to run over to EAP as she manhandled her Meissen collection with “flagrant disregard as to the cost and age of the pieces”.

When we got home, Jack Next Door was already in situ on our sofa, salivating over our DVD collection. He hasn’t got a DVD player himself and so was receiving instructions from David on how to use it. When David got stuck on how to select from the menu, Mac intervened with a roll of his eyes. Jack didn’t mind “at all” that “this lovely lady would be spending the evening with me”. Jack either has a very short memory or he hasn’t spent enough time with my mother in law. We left them to back-to-back viewings of Flood, The Day After Tomorrow and Titanic. Amelia loves a good disaster movie and Jack was more than willing to go along with her plans. We left amid much winking and nudging and general adolescent giggles. From us, obviously.

The party was in full swing when we got there at half past 6 - kids ran around being chased by au pairs of every nationality whilst Yummy Mummies gossiped over glasses of wine and delicate canap├ęs and City Daddies stood in groups and discussed the FTSE and other stuff that I really don’t understand. David headed off to one of these groups while I headed over to find Auntie Ivy and Auntie Daisy. Both were tiddly, having been at the sherry since 5pm and kept going on about “the duck spring rolls, ooooh!” Enormous Au Pair was standing guard in the dining room as what seemed like a hundred children descended on the Coq au Vin and Mussels with Garlic and Parsley. A well spoken child held up a baguette dripping with butter and guffawed "Garlic bread?" in a derogatory manner. It was the best Peter Kay impression I'd seen in a long while - I was waiting for him to start in on the cheesecake.

“Everyone?” Bea tinkled sweetly on a crystal bell. “The firework display will begin at 8pm, please keep to this side of the barrier, we don’t want any impromptu trips to Kings do we?” Polite laughter from the Yummy Mummies, blank looks from the City Daddies. “I am actually at the end of my tether!” Bea hissed as she flounced up to our little group as we stood by the buffet table. We had been joined by Janey (who was worried that her baby would be frightened by the fireworks and would kick her in the kidneys) and Darren who still had his arm wrapped in bandages. “She’s hoarding food!” A whole platter of mini chicken fillets have disappeared, as has a pot of tandoori chicken. I found them in the sideboard!”. I took it that she meant EAP who I could see had started in on the newly arrived vol-au-vents, seemingly unaware that her game was up.

The Yummy Mummies were ignoring such culinary delights as chicken wings, the array of curries and bowls of heavenly smelling rice and pasta and were picking at the decorative garnishes instead. One Yummy Mummy (dressed entirely inappropriately in a white silk dress) shuddered in horror as her fingers grazed a Prawn in Tempura batter as she reached for a clump of lettuce. “Well, I suppose she is catering for the masses” she drawled as she air kissed a greeting to another Yummy Mummy who was wearing Ugg boots and loudly bellowing “It’s okay everyone, I’m here, sorry I’m late - I had to collect Portia from Latin”. Lots of Yummy Mummies descended on her in a tangle of stick thin limbs, air kisses and red lipstick. “It does look a bit church hall fayre doesn’t it?" Ugg Boots said as her Latin learning progeny grabbed a Langoustine and ran off with it. “Bea darling, such wonderful food, you clever girl!” White Silk Dress cooed as Bea rushed past. More air kisses were exchanged and, as my sister shot off into the hallway to greet yet more arrivals, Ugg Boots and White Silk Dress shot each other a smug smile and beat a hasty retreat from the food.

The children and au pairs had taken over the playroom and were having a whale of a time. Lots of exotic chatter pierced the excited screams of the children as Swedish, French, German, Danish and Italian au pairs discussed their employers unashamedly. “I ‘ave new car every year!” boasted one gorgeous French girl as she nibbled on a carrot stick. “I ‘ave the new car every year and the new handbag every season” added a rather austere looking German girl who managed to catch the trouser band of the upper class child who was last seen doing the Peter Kay impression as he ran past her, shirt tails trailing behind him. “Jago, what is it that I have already been saying to you about your shirt to be tucked into the trousers?”. Jago shot her a look and scooted past an ethereal looking Italian girl, her raven hair flowing down her back and almost reaching her waist.
“You hava the new car for the every year and the new-a handbag every season - I have all that and many presents and I hava the ‘usband in my bed nearly every nighta!” Ethereal Italian said triumphantly. Exotic jaws dropped at this revelation, including one not so exotic - mine. “So, which man is it?” Janey asked, jabbing the Italian beauty in her fleshless arm. Italian beauty gazed at Janey with heavy lidded eyes before smiling and melting away. “Bloody hell!” Janey breathed as she and the other au pairs stared after her. “Always she does this, she is on third family this year. It is the one with the belly and face like spots!” The German au pair looked even more austere at this news, even though she was demonstrating the hugeness of the ‘usband’s belly and copious amounts of spots.

Janey and I spent the half an hour before the display was due to start looking for a rather portly, spotty gentleman. There were a few contenders but we weren’t sure which one was THE one. I have to say, judging by the specimen’s we saw, I would hope it wasn’t any of them.
After the fireworks (excellent and provoking lots of “ooohs” and “aaaahs” and a “bloody hell Bea, that’s the conifers gone for a burton” from Stephen) some of the guests started to depart, claiming tired children, exhausted husbands (“Charles was up at five this morning using our new gym - have I told you how much it cost to completely refurbish it?”), and au pairs “going onto double time if I keep her out of the house later than 9pm”. Bea stood at the door, effortlessly smiling and kissing and hugging like a pro, all the while hissing asides to Stephen (“If I ever suggest doing anything like this again, please stop me” and “keep an eye on EAP, she’s already demolished the white chocolate mousse”).

White Silk Dress, who wanted to “buttonhole Bea about a place on the Christmas Charity Ball Committee”, watched as Ethereal Au Pair buttoned her child into a sheepskin coat. “I’m staying for a while longer Liberty darling, Daddy and Elisabetta will take you home”. Liberty (one of Caitlin’s best chums at school according to Bea) had eaten nothing (“she’s on a special diet”), stayed inside for the fireworks (“she’s not a people person”) and didn’t look as if she’d enjoyed one single minute of her visit. Elisabetta (for it was she) swirled her hair from one petite shoulder to the other as “Daddy” appeared in the hallway. Brad Pitt, he aint. No amount of new cars, new bags and presents would be enough to induce me to go anywhere near that man, it’s true what they say: au pairs do work hard for their money. All three left and I swear I saw “Daddy” lick his lips as he bore them off down the driveway. White Silk Dress, freed from the shackles of her child, husband and au pair, went into Major Flirt Overdrive and practically chased Stephen around the dining room.

We got home at nearly 10pm to find Amelia skittish on wine and awash at Titanic, Jack handing her tissue after tissue. “Bless her, she’s been in tears since you left!” he said, giving my mother in law a fond look. Yes, a fond look! Amelia responded with a playful shove before she turned her attentions back to Leonardo Di Caprio losing his grip and sinking to his death. "She's actually very lovely your mother" Jack whispered as David sank down on the sofa next to him.
It was an evening for revelations.

Friday, 2 November 2007

One of those days

I’ve had a pig of a day. Seriously. A huge grizzly, oinking pig of a day. PMT has something to do with it, but not entirely. Saskia calls this particular mood swing OPMT - “Other People Mean Tension”. But it’s funny how something good can come out of something so awful. It all started this morning, as most days do, funnily enough.

I had Mac half dressed in the bathroom when the doorbell rang. I threw his trousers at him and said “right way round this time” and shot downstairs, falling over both Senior and Junior Dog who were woofing excitedly in the hall. I threw open the door only to see Royal Mail Delivery Driver getting back into his jaunty red van. As I was expecting a delivery (don’t you just love Lakeland?) I ran out down the path, waving my arms and yelling. Royal Mail Delivery Driver wound down window and asked me what I wanted “You’ve got a parcel for me, you rang at number 20!” I puffed, suddenly wondering if I was appropriately dressed to greet strangers. I was * but do you ever get that feeling that you’re not properly attired when you should be? No? Oh, just me then.

Anyway, Royal Mail Deliver Driver shrugged his shoulders expressively and said “Too late, taking it back to the depot now, left you a card”. “But I’m here!” I shrieked, jumping up and down on the spot as if to prove it “Not six foot away from you!”. He shrugged again “Too late love, sorry” he said before wheelspinning down the road. I called him a few choice names and stomped back up the path to find Junior Dog chewing on the card telling me where and when to arrange either collection or re-delivery of my item. The box marked “we tried to deliver, you were out” was ticked.

Mac appeared, trousers on the right way round but no T-shirt under his checked shirt. I sent him back upstairs and rang the depot. After listening to appalling tinny music for two minutes, Cheerful South Londoner answered and listened to my plight. He was sympathetic, I’ll give him that. “He’s aht on his rahnds love, can’t do a fing abaht it until he gets back.”. I clenched my jaw and told him that I’d shown myself up in front of the neighbours pleading with him to deliver my sodding parcel. “Ah, he should’ve delivered it love” he commiserated. I asked, quite pleasantly I thought, if he could bring it back to me today. “Ah, no love y’see, it’s policy see? We tried to deliver and you weren’t there”. I inhaled deeply “But I’ve just told you I was, he saw me, we had a conversation, he just didn’t want to get off his bottom (I didn’t say “bottom”) and get the bloody parcel out of the back of the bloody van! Too much of a bloody hurry to get back for his full English I should imagine.”

This clearly angered Cheerful South Londoner who went very frosty on me, informing me that I could either have it re-delivered on Monday or could come and collect it tomorrow. He also reminded me that all calls “to this depot are recorded for security an’ training purposes”. “Good” I hissed “perhaps when your supervisors hear this particular call they’ll realise what bloody idiots they employ!”. Cheerful South Londonder remained frosty and asked me what option I was going for, re-delivery or collection. As I wasn’t given the option of casting Cheerful South Londoner and Royal Mail Delivery Driver adrift on a desert island, I went for collection on Saturday. Jabbing at the off button and muttering about “if you want something done properly, do it yourself” I was faced with yet more proof by my son who had put his T-shirt on over his checked shirt.

Child suitably attired, we set off for nursery. I’d planned to walk but, of course, was running late so we clambered into Marissa and drove off. I tend to use the Meriva rather than my own car whenever I can. One of these days, I’ll learn. Nunhead Lane gets very busy first thing during week day mornings * shops have deliveries, the P12s seem to run every two minutes (unless I want one, then you don’t see them for love nor money) and I was stuck behind said P12 and hindered by one coming the other way. And there we sat for five minutes, the bus in front of me unable to move thanks to the gigantic lorry delivering to the sweet shop, the bus coming the other way was at a funny angle and couldn’t get past. There was lots of hooting.

Mac has inherited my fear of being late. I’d rather be an hour early than five minutes late for anything. “Mummy, will I miss biscuits?” came the querulous voice behind me. The dashboard clock was showing 8.50am. To attempt a three point turn I need a lot of space but sod it, I was in a mood. Sticking on the hazards, I petrified the bloke behind me in a brand new BMW and the bus driver who had just started to inch his way forward. “After me you’re first!” I snarled as I threw (David’s) car into a five point turn and shot off, turning left, right and bouncing over the speed bumps.

We reached the nursery at two minutes to nine. The playground was empty as Mac and I sprinted towards his classroom * luckily I managed to deposit him on the end of the stragglers and prayed it looked like he’d been there all along. “Bye my biscuit baby.” I said as I watched my boy rush over to the refreshment table. Mac has also inherited my love of digestives.

I slouched out of the school and back over to the car. Putting on my seat belt and trying to breathe normally I looked in the passenger side wing mirror only to find it wasn’t there. The casing was but the reflective bit, the bit I actually need, was nowhere to be found. It was amongst the leaves on the floor, with a plastic case. Terrific. I found myself asking “can this day get any worse?”

I should know by now not to tempt fate.

The light on the answer phone was twinkling brightly on my return, I set it to play while I looked more closely at the (cracked) mirror and plastic casing, trying to sort it out before David finds out I have violated his precious car. “You. Have. One. Message” said the disembodied electronic voice. “It’s Amelia. You know I don’t like these things. Where are you? Anyway. Mrs Casey’s son is picking her up at 9am to take her to his house for the weekend. He lives in Blackheath. So I’m coming with them and will be with you by at 11am. I want to make sure that you’re all okay after, shall we say, recent events.”

The dogs joined me on the floor.

Still on the deck, I rang David to ‘fess up about the wing mirror and to tell him his mother was descending to see that a) we weren’t living on a diet of saturated fat and salt and b) we hadn’t gone over to the dark side. I told him about the wing mirror and I heard his teeth begin to gnash. But my cunning plan worked. Once I’d told him about Amelia, all thoughts of wing mirrors went from his mind. Plan A was put into place “I’ll be home as soon as I can” he promised me, the standard plan when his mother descends when I’m alone in the house.

She arrived at half past eleven, chuntering about road rage, traffic jams and “inconsiderate London drivers”. “Where’s the boy?” she said, looking round the room as if I were hiding him in a cupboard. All three dogs had scooted upstairs, no doubt to sit on her (unmade) bed, the minute she crossed the threshold with her ginormous case. I resisted the urge to ask her long she were staying, but only just. “Nursery!” she huffed when I told her where her precious grandson was. “David and Virginia didn’t go to nursery, they spent time at home with me, their mother. The time comes soon enough when they have to be apart from you, when they go to school.” She pooh-poohed my protestations that it’s good for Mac to be at nursery, it’s where he learns most of his social skills and I pointed out that he’s a very good mixer and extremely popular. “Like his mother” she sniffed “talks to anyone and anything.” She didn’t make it sound as if this were a good skill to have.

My plans for dinner were rubbished (“Chicken? Again? Can’t you cook anything else?”). She wasn’t happy that we were going out to Bea’s Bonfire Bash on Saturday (“What about me? I’m not staying here in the house on my own with the dogs and I don’t like fireworks, dreadful noisy things”). And she was so not impressed that the wing mirror was broken (“Honestly, you can’t be trusted with anything can you, I hope you’ve told him it was your fault.”)

David arrived at ten to three to find his mother worrying that we were going to be late to pick Mac up at half past three if we “didn’t get a move on and don’t expect me to be driven anywhere by you”, his wife with a trembling bottom lip and trying not to shout and swear and his three dogs lined up in the hallway looked extremely downcast. Within minutes she had laid open her concerns and doubts.

If I’ve ever felt that I’d been “told on” it was today. We were still in the hall as she raged about my unimaginative choices of meal, my selfishness and my inability to cope, and oh, “she’s broken your car”. David moved us into the kitchen and began mediation.

Chicken is fine for dinner, he said, we all like chicken but if you don’t want it then we’ll find something else for you to have but you must realise that you’re in our house and so can’t have everything your own way. Tomorrow night the dogs are being looked after by Jack Next Door, he continued, who would be perusing our DVD collection and would no doubt be delighted if she were to stay behind to watch television with him. He added that she invited herself this weekend and so could not expect us to change our plans. He wasn’t finished yet. “My car isn’t broken, these things happen and as for coping, well, she copes admirably with everything that is thrown at her. Including last minute guests.”.

I was, by now, awash with tears and felt something akin to hero worship as I stared at him. It wasn’t the first time he’d defended me to his mother (“stuck up for you” as Lydia once described it) but it was the first time he’d done it in front of me and with such eloquence.

Naturally, Amelia had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp but was remarkably sheepish and even managed a sort of apology. Needless to say I was more gobsmacked with that than anything else. By that time I was late for picking Mac up so I shot out of the house. We got back to find a cup of tea steaming on “my” table, and the promise of fish and chips (paid for by Amelia) for dinner and the offer of “anything I can do to help you and Bea out tomorrow, you only have to ask” ringing in my ears.

And they say that miracles don’t happen!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Halloween

We made the party a fancy dress one. Well, we had to really didn’t we. The guest list had grown beyond what Mac had in mind (not that he was overly concerned, he was far too busy “being in charge mummy”. Dressed in our finery, we were his minions for the night - much hilarity ensued when we heard him say to Matthew “You have to do what I say, you’re my mini onion!”. We’d created him a Throne in the living room - amazing what you can do with an armchair, several red throws and a couple of orange cushions (dug out from the cellar I hasten to add) isn’t it? The Hounds from Hell were all hiding upstairs with a selection of chews and toys - they disappeared once they’d caught sight of me in my hat and scary fingernails. I took it as a compliment.

We were all a bit self-conscious in our finery - apart from the kids who had a fine old time of it: Mac looked fab in the costume Ruby Over The Road had made for him Tom and Ben arrived as half unwrapped mummies, Luke an extremely convincing corpse (complete with jelly worms poking out of his dusty, musty suit. Ian was a believable werewolf whilst Caitlin’s only concession to Halloween was a white sheet with eye and nose holes. Underneath it she wore one of her glitzy party dresses and “a new pair of lovely shoes”. That child gets more like her mother every day. Bea was dressed entirely in black with her Titian hair tied back with a black ribbon - it wasn’t entirely clear what she had come as but David suggested Mrs Danvers the mad housekeeper from Rebecca as she kept telling everyone that Caitlin had “insisted that I cut up that sheet - it’s finest Egyptian cotton - I won’t even begin to tell you the thread count”.

Auntie Ivy and I were both witches (although I was sparklier), Janey’s bump was painted to look like a pumpkin (“I kept smudging it on the sodding steering wheel”) and we all congratulated Darren on his costume: he’d strapped his arm up at an awkward angle and kept making suitably spooky yowling noises. Well, how were we to know that it was strapped up because of an injury he’d got the previous night during a match? He’d added fake blood for that realistic gory look but the pain was real. Still, he was fine after three lagers, especially when Janey asked him when his next Panadol were due.

David and Stephen (both in costumes that were designed to ensure that everyone knew that they hadn’t planned anything in advance) were in charge of food and drink distribution and so became Ghostly Butlers. They fitted in well with Bea who kept asking me where I kept my napkins and doilies. Matthew arrived dressed as Frankenstein whilst Lydia was a Fallen Angel (wonky halo, smudged bright red lipstick, stilettos, skin tight red dress and cigarette permanently on standby).

Assorted other guests dropped in and out of the party dressed in all manner of costumes - Frank and Marjorie arrived during a lull in Trick or Treaters “We’ve had fifteen kids through the house, sampling our wares!” Marjorie trilled as she flitted over to partake in a Spooky Sandwich. She was dressed in a rather flimsy outfit and took to raising her arms and making “wooooh!” noises. Saskia (yet another witch - I was still sparklier) said that she “glimpsed an unrestrained boob” which put her off the Bloody Punch. Ruby Over the Road popped across, not to party, but to drop off a batch of bat shaped iced fancies.

It was very atmospheric to say the least - we had dry ice courtesy of a machine that Charlie had appropriated from somewhere random (she was dressed as a saucy devil in black pencil skirt and five inch heels), spooky sound effects from the CD that Matthew bought with him, pumpkins glowed with tea lights (as did the couple of orange peppers that Bea bought with her - Sainsbury’s had sold out so she panic bought) and a good time was had by all. The Bloody Punch went down well, as did Heaven’s Nectar (ice cold vodka) and the Drink from Hell (tomato juice and copious amounts of Worcester sauce).

But here’s the strange thing. Amelia’s threats of “talking to Father Thomas” about us heathen unbelievers caused a few titters - even David laughed at the thought of his mother reporting our party to the local Catholic church. We also realised that we’d made a boo-boo by not inviting Alex the Medium as he could have provided us with a few other-world guests. All very flippant and light hearted you might agree - until we decided to take some pictures.

We had our camera, so did Bea and Matthew, all digital and ours had new batteries. Ours didn’t work. It turned on and made the usual reassuring beeping noises but, when it came to actually taking a picture, the camera died. Matthew tried his - same thing. It turned on, but died when it came to taking a picture. Making jokes about our “inferior camera equipment”, Bea was snapping out in the garden (she got a lovely shot of Senior Dog peeing up my rose tree) but inside the house, when trying to take pictures of spooky revellers......it died.

Out we three went with our cameras and took random shots of the street. All three worked. Back inside, faced with an overly posed shot of Charlie, Saskia and Lydia, all three cameras refused point blank to do what cameras do. “Ah well” said David, whizzing past with a bottle of Speckled Hen, "we’ve got the camcorder”. Matthew wasn’t too worried and Bea was threatening to write to Panasonic about their shoddy goods. I went upstairs and had a quick word with Gladys.

I didn’t think that she minded us having a good time but was a bit concerned that she might think we were making fun of her, well, her dead status. I said my piece and waited to be struck down before returning to the party and trying not to worry too much.

This morning, once Mac was safely at nursery (armed with left over scary biscuits) I sat back and tried to remember how to play back the camcorder. Pushing buttons and cursing loudly, the screen suddenly flickered into life and I sat there peering at it. It was blank, save the odd sprinkle of static. Charlie came for lunch and she had a go. Same thing, no sound, no picture, nothing. We could see that we’d recorded nearly an hour of footage but nothing. “David left the lens cap on!” she giggled. She stopped giggling once I told her that we’d lost the lens cap last summer and hadn’t replaced it. Besides, you don’t need to take a lens cap off to record sound.

Oh. And both cameras work now by the way........

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.