Monday, 31 March 2008

Did you pack this bag yourself?

Saskia, who has not featured in this blog for a while due to the fact that she seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, not returning calls, ignoring texts and even, when Charlie turned up on her doorstep, not answering the door even though her car was outside and Heart radio booming out of her open upstairs window, is back. With a vengeance.

We suspected a new man on the scene and one that was either so devastatingly handsome that she didn’t want to share him even with her oldest and most loyal of friends or so damn ugly that she’s been hiding away for fear of ridicule.

It turns out it was neither. Having spent the best of part of, ooh, a year, wallowing in the fact that she was no longer enjoying her job as head buyer at a well known posh store, taking ridiculous personality tests and visiting head hunters and life coaches galore she bit the bullet and applied for a job with a very well known airline and got it. As of next week she will be part of the Passenger Handling team and will get to walk round with one of those walkie-talkie things and a clipboard.

Come on, we’ve all watched at least one episode of Airline – the lives and traumas of airport staff based in Luton, Stansted and Liverpool. It’s compulsive viewing. My favourite bits usually revolve around arrogant man/whining woman who are x amount of minutes late and are unable to board their flight, who know they are x amount of minutes late and are unable to board their flight but still manage to argue, postulate, threaten and generally act up because there’s a camera crew filming their every expletive.

Now, I’m not a vindictive person (hah!) but I would LOVE to stand there and tell said arrogant man/whining woman that there is more chance of hell freezing over or of Jamie Oliver cooking and eating a turkey twizzler than there is of them getting on their flight. It must be wonderful. There was one episode where a man was late for his flight because he was holed up in the bar on his mobile phone. Numerous calls had been put out for him but the flight left without him as it couldn’t delay any longer. He strolled up to the check in desk, found it closed and bellowed like a wounded animal. It took three check in clerks and a supervisor to calm him down. His excuse? He wasn’t aware that they’d merely boom out his name, flight number and flight information on a tannoy system across the whole airport – he thought someone would come and get him.

Of course, there are some travellers that you feel sorry for. The woman, for instance, whose baby wasn’t on her passport, only her husbands – her husband was staying at home, she was flying to Geneva to show off said baby to proud first time grandparents. Or the woman who missed her flight to Barcelona and was interviewing 20-odd teachers, some of whom could only get there on that day. She squeaked and cried like a chipmunk as the valiant supervisor explained that she could be transferred onto a later flight and I sat there cringing at her voice and wondering where she got her travel bag from.

I suspect that Saskia will be very good at her new job – she certainly doesn’t suffer fools gladly (and you get quite a lot of those at airports I should imagine) and takes great delight in being in the right. I can just see her standing there with a “Check-in closed” sign just as late passengers approach the desk. I can also envisage the arguments that will undoubtedly follow.

I wonder when the television crews will be back....

Saturday, 29 March 2008


My Sort of Step Son Matthew rang yesterday morning at twenty to eleven and asked "Have you got Mac with you?" I looked towards my pride and my boy who was painting at the kitchen table dressed in an old pillow case. "Yes" I answered. "Are you doing the moment?" Matt continued. "No" I said, looking towards my nearly empty cup of tea wistfully. "Good, can you do me a favour and go to that plumbing place you have near you and get me a length of copper piping?"

That's not the strangest request I've ever received on a Friday morning but it was up there with the best of them.

It appeared that Matt was laying laminate flooring in Lydia's kitchen (Lydia having "inherited" the house from her housemate Julia who loves her new job in York so much she's decided to stay there) and, whilst ripping up the old lino, "nicked" the water pipe with his screwdriver. He was currently holding a "wodge of tea towels" onto the offending hole whilst waiting for the pipes to drain down. "Does Lydia know about this?" I asked suspiciously, already planning the quickest route to Beckenham. "She knows about the laminate flooring, but not about the pipe" said Matt. Somewhat soggily.

The place near me was shut, so I drove off and hoped I happened upon a plumbers merchant before I reached Beckenham. Fifteen minutes later I was being leered at by Bearded Man in the Plumbing Shop as I arrived at his grubby and cracked counter with Mac in tow. Thoughts of Mya's recent post ran through my mind as I took in the busty blonde (Miss March) on the calendar over by the box of bath plugs. She was holding a U-bend and grinning inanely wearing a wet look gold bikini. Mac took off to inspect the toilet bowls stacked over by the door. I asked for copper piping. Bearded Man shouted through to "Kev" in the back room. "How long do you want it?" Bearded Man asked me as he investigated the contents of his nose with his left forefinger. "For as long as my friend has the kitchen" I said imperiously.

I rang Matt and barked "How long do you want this pipe?" at him, hopefully giving the impression that I did this sort of thing every day. "They'll only sell it in feet, one'll do" came the reply, along with a complaint that "the sodding system isn't draining down". "Just a foot" I said snootily as Kev appeared from the back room. "Lady wants 12 inches" Bearded Man leered with a throaty laugh.

If it wasn't for the fact that I had visions of Matt drowning in Lydia's kitchen and could see Lydia's horrified face when she came home from a hard day of organising events to find an indoor paddling pool, Bearded Man would have needed a highly skilled medical team to remove the copper piping from the orifice I had in mind.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Chilli the Nunhead Mum of One way


2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1kg/2¼lb lean minced beef
2 glasses red wine
2x400g cans chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato purée
3-4 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 stick cinnamon
good shake of Worcestershire sauce
1 beef stock cube
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2x400g can red kidney beans, drained (I leave these out as none of us like them!)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and fry the onion and garlic until softened. Increase the heat and add the mince, cooking quickly until browned and breaking down any chunks of meat with a wooden spoon.

Pour in the red wine and boil for 2-3 minutes. While waiting, pour a glass for yourself and drink down in one go, especially if you had the kind of morning I had.

Stir in the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, chilli flakes, cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, and Worcestershire sauce and crumble in the stock cube. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally until the mixture is rich and thickened.

Burn hand on saucepan and curse loudly. Hold hand under cold tap and turn tap on full. Cover self with cold water as water hits hand and rebounds onto "clean on" T-shirt.

Add the kidney beans (eurgh!) and fresh coriander.
Cook for a further 10 minutes, uncovered, before removing from the heat, adding any extra seasoning if necessary.

Leave to cool, ready to heat up for dinner when child returns from nursery and husband returns from London Bridge.

This is lovely served with rice, crusty bread or jacket potatoes, guacamole, sour cream and a big green salad to accompany.

Look in cupboard and find no rice. Look in fridge and find sprouting potatoes. Look in fruit bowl to find lemons but no limes. Look at shopping list stuck on fridge with Tower of London magnet and add out of stock items. Ring husband and ask him to bring rice home.

When ready to heat through: skim off any fat and gently heat before serving. Take call from husband who says he's in Sainsburys: what rice should he get. Advise to get the "2 minute in microwave" one.

When the family has gathered for dinner, stir chilli and check piping hot. Pick up saucepan and take to table to ascertain that family get the exact amount they want.

Drop saucepan on floor, spatter (thankfully) be-jeaned legs with piping hot mince and curse loudly. Scream at dogs not to eat piping hot mince. Try not to cry as culinary masterpiece is smeared all over laminated flooring by frantically gobbling dogs.

Send husband out for fish and chips and accept beloved sons cuddles and kisses on sofa while watching Emmerdale.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Des res

You sometimes have to wonder if estate agents live on the same planet as the rest of us. We see a shack in need of demolition, they see a top class property and wonder why they're not fighting off expectant buyers. We headed to Rye on Saturday sans Mac and the dogs as Matt and Lydia promised to take them all out “for a run” and soon found ourselves standing outside an estate agents in Cinque Ports Street. There were three gentlemen inside who were all but beckoning us in – I think business must have been slow that day. Within minutes David and I both had a steaming cup of tea in front of us and were in the hands of Michael, the senior agent while the other two skulked over by the filing cabinets.

David stressed our criteria which is a house: big enough for a family of three and three boisterous dogs, close enough to the harbour/river/sea so we don’t have to climb in the car to get wet, in need of some “serious” doing up. Michael’s glasses gleamed with excitement as he turned to his less spotty colleague “Pass me the details on the Henderson house.”

The picture was ambiguous: all you could see was the front door and some trailing ivy. “Three bedrooms, excellent position, close to the beach with all amenities close by, structurally sound, wonderful garden, vendors are taking offers…..” Michael said as he slid the specifications across the desk to us. Just as we both huddled over them they were removed from our vision. “I tell you what, it’s a property that’s best viewed” Michael continued as he scooped up a set of keys from his drawer and bustled us out into the street again. As we followed his Lexus along the road I turned to David and asked him what the hell had happened. His glazed look told me that he had no idea either.


The front door was beautiful, pea green with brass numbers, letter box and knocker. The bedrooms (master bedroom no bigger than our bathroom, box room and an even smaller room that would give Junior Dog claustrophobia) were, erm, there. The “excellent position” meant that the front door didn’t open up onto the gravel car park of the pub next door. The “beach” was in fact close by but was more of a mudflat and full of bikes. And yes, “all amenities” were close by – a hair salon straight out of the 50s, the aforementioned pub that David said (in a whisper) looked like it was patronised by Hells Angels, a Happy Shopper and, right slap bang opposite, a holiday park – you know the ones, the caravans are right on top of each other and lined up in serried ranks that was already full of yelling families and revving motorbikes. In March. The structure was sound, if you ignored the fact that the bathroom had no roof (and a mustard yellow bathroom suite) and I can only say I was pleased it wasn’t raining as we spent an inordinate amount of time in there as we were shown the “stunning view” from the (cracked) window. I know we only want a little house, an escape from London but come on! You couldn't escape from anything in there, certainly not the woodworm.

“There’s been a lot of interest” Michael preened as he flapped with the papers he’d bought with him. David did his best to look enthusiastic – as he whispered to me while we were in the grubby kitchen “he’s brought us all the way over here” but couldn’t resist asking “what, in this house?” with an incredulous look on his face as he leant on the wall in the hallway. And knocked the plaster off.

Needless to say, we didn’t put an offer in. Michael looked horrified at this news and said “Well, I wouldn’t think about it for too long, we’ve got at least three definite offers, erm, in the offing”. David assured him that we would try very hard not to think about it at all and we headed off to the nearest pub. And not the one next door.

Friday, 21 March 2008


It's Good Friday, David is lying on the sofa clutching his head and groaning having arrived home at 1am this morning following "a few drinks with Neil and Marcus from the office", Mac is in Super Hyper Mad mode and is demanding constant attention, an activity of some sort and the chance to watch Happy Feet on "Sky mummy please, later". To fulfil the first two obligations we are making lots of chocolatey things for Sunday when we have the family descending for Easter tea. David has requested "a nice lemony tart thing like you made at Christmas", Bea has asked for "something with white chocolate" and Lydia doesn't care what we make as long as it's chocolate and there's lots of it. My antennae is twitching at this - I first knew I was pregnant when I ate three Mars Bars in quick succession - I hate Mars Bars. I'm making a tarte au citron for David to soften the blow - if he's going to be told he's going to be a granddad he'll need something to fall back on.

The kitchen looks like a bomb has hit it but smells lovely - I have to do it all today as tomorrow we're going to Rye to look at property. Only a little place by the sea for weekends (and David has stipulated that it must need "doing up" and "we're not going to rush into anything" and I'm not to get "too carried away") but still, all very exciting!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


This is very good.........enjoy! This is a prank on a grand scale. Over 200 people gathered at Grand Central Station in New York to pull off a 'frozen in place' act. The on looking travellers who weren't part of the act were mystified as to what was going the guy on the walkie talkie!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Wednesday: Kensington Palace

I hate public transport – it’s official. And on Don and Lorna’s last day in Blighty and on their very last outing it conspired to drive us absolutely loopy, round the bend and off our heads. Lorna was gulping down Migraleve as we sat in a tunnel with Amelia announcing (rather pointlessly as we were underground) “It’d be quicker to walk!” every two minutes. I’m very dodgy on the tubes anyway and only agreed to use them because it really was the quickest (hah!!) way to get the Kensington Palace. I was counting backwards from fifty to one and trying not to panic when the bored sounding tube driver announced “Sorry for the delay ladeezngennelmen, there is a delayontheline”. “It’s a dead body” Lydia hissed which caused a bit of alarm amongst the passengers.

Still, we arrived at KP, a mere two and a half hours after we’d left home and headed straight for the Diana exhibition. “She was such a lovely lady” Amelia said reverently whilst Lydia and I drooled over her dresses. We visited the Kings Staircase and I had another “moment” but it could have been the thought of going home by tube. While we had a reviving cup of tea in The Orangery, Lydia researched alternative routes home. I was all for ringing David or, failing that, Georges, Bea’s chauffeur. Princess Margaret’s apartments are amazing and we had a lovely walk around the grounds, standing there and looking at the main gates you could almost smell the flowers that were left in tribute to Diana following her death. Another emotional visit, this time for all concerned.

And then, hometime. There were major histrionics (mine) when Amelia suggested that I pull myself together and “just get on the tube”. Lydia had found alternative routes for buses and overland trains but quite simply the quickest was the Circle Line to Blackfriars and then an overland train straight into Nunhead. I bit the bullet and tried not to cry when, after five minutes, we stopped in yet another tunnel for about ten minutes. Even Amelia began to look worried as I went “paler and paler” – it was only focussing on the fact that she’d be getting the thin edge of the steak for dinner that night that kept me going.

Guilt presents: A sword letter opener for David, London In a Bag for Mac and nothing for the dogs.

Tuesday: Harrods and Selfridges

Bea was in charge today and I was more than happy to relinquish the reins to her. Plus it meant that I could lie in an almost alcoholic-like stupor in the back of the ridiculously large limo that my dear sister had “borrowed from work” for the day. It also had the added advantage of rendering Amelia speechless. It took us just over an hour to traverse across London, Bea’s Blackberry ringing almost incessantly until she turned it off. “Gee, you’re certainly in demand!” Lorna exclaimed as we clambered out of the vehicle outside the fantastically large department store. The car slid effortlessly back into the traffic as we all stood around outside like country bumpkins.

Still, we shopped, Amelia reeling at the prices – “I thought someone had left their phone number on the label!” she gasped as she manhandled some “party frocks” while Lorna tried on shoes. Charlie kept her eyes peeled for the Rich and Famous and almost hyperventilated when she saw Graham Norton. But it turned out to be just another short gentleman wearing a lurid green suit and matching shoes.

Georges the Chauffeur, a very handsome Frenchman barely kept us waiting between shops and, even though he didn’t quite doff his cap as I got out of the car, he bowed his head respectfully. I could get used to this! A very “spaced out” day for me I have to admit – I wasn’t really with it – I think I had over relaxed having let Bea take over. I enjoyed the Food Hall and far preferred Selfridges to Harrods and I found those chocolates! I bought some for Easter but I can hear them calling to me even as I type……as are the doughnuts I bought from Harrods.

Guilt presents: England cap for David from souvenir stall, toy for Mac from Children’s Department, food mats for the dogs, printed “Harrods”

Monday: Tower of London

Scrap my original claim that Hampton Court is my favourite tourist attraction – the Tower has usurped it. Having been to both venues in the space of a week I can honestly say that the Tower just shades it. The haunting view of it peeking past Tower Bridge, the view of it from across the river with the Gherkin in the background. So much history brought bang up to date with some handily placed buildings on the skyline. Fabulous.

We were a merry band that crossed the Bridge: myself, Don (in stunning egg yolk yellow shirt and matching trousers), Lorna (convinced that she was going to see Anne Boleyn thanks to Charlie filling her in on my “spiritual goings on”), Charlie herself dressed to kill in all manner of cashmere and Amelia bringing up the rear, chuntering about pigeons. Two rather handsome German gentlemen stopped us and asked me to take a picture of them under one of the arches. With true devil may care attitude they stepped out into the traffic to pose and were nearly squished by a BT van. I remained on the pavement and snapped them quickly – there was a bus coming. Because Amelia was a late addition to the team we had to queue to get her ticket. Well, I had to queue to get her ticket – the others were already running riot around the shop which aggrieved me far more than it should – show me a shop and I’m usually the first one inside.

Straight in to the Tower and the rest of my party decided to get those little walkman things that tell you all you need to know about every aspect of the Tower. Charlie and I spent the rest of the day screeching at them to get their attention, amid Amelia grumbling that the ear pieces “hurt my ears”.

We walked past Traitors Gate, visited the Salt Tower, the Fusiliers Museum and the Crown Jewels Exhibition and the Jewel House shop (replicas of all the Royal jewellery and tiaras and crowns and…..oh, it’s amazing) where I fell in love with a pair of earrings (fleur de lis style) and rang David to see if I could buy them from him as an Easter present/early birthday present as they cost almost as much as our monthly mortgage payment. The choking noises filling my ear told me the answer was in the negative.

Lunch in the Armouries tea place where the biggest shock of the day occurred. Charlie and I had queued and fought ravenous Japanese tourists for the last of the pasta for Lorna. We had made several trips back to the table where the others were seated because there was no carrot cake left for Amelia and I wanted to know exactly what she wanted me to substitute it with – if I’d have turned up with a treacle tart and she wanted the chocolate cake then all hell would have broken loose. I felt like a waitress and fought the urge to yell “one sos, one beans, one tea, table 6” as I made my third journey back to nab a scone, jam and clotted cream.

As Charlie and I sat down and distributed the food, Lorna said to Amelia “She’s an absolute treasure”, gesturing at me. “She is.” Amelia said as she thoughtfully stirred her tea and smiled warmly at me. My food might well have been wonderful but I didn’t taste any of it – I was in shock.

After lunch we went to the Beauchamp Tower, passing the Executioners spot on Tower Green – a sculpture has replaced the metal plate I remember from my last visit – and we all stood for a while reading the inscriptions. “Just think” Lorna breathed “One early morning, a Queen of England stood on this spot where we’re standing right now and had her head chopped off”. It ruined the mood somewhat.

The Beauchamp Tower housed many prisoners, royal and otherwise. The Kray Twins were held here when they went AWOL from National Service. To get to the Tower, you had to climb a long winding staircase. As I neared the top I started to feel sick and tearful which is, as I’ve already explained, a sure sign of something spiritual happening around me. The others were oblivious and were in awe at the graffiti surrounding the walls, all done by prisoners awaiting their fate. I sat by a window feeling sick and dizzy and having my hair stroked and being breathed on. Not by anything you could see you understand. It’s hard to explain what happens because everyone’s experience is different. With me, I get all of the above mentioned symptoms and a feeling of unreality – I feel as if I’m being pulled in many different directions but am stock still. My heart flutters and my breathing shortens – in fact Don thought I was having a panic attack and all but dragged me out into the fresh air.

I still felt wobbly as we went round the Bloody Tower but I think I was still dealing with whatever was in the Beauchamp Tower – our visit around the medieval section (complete with juggling jester) will always be remembered by me because I was being guided round by invisible hands that prevented me stumbling up the worn stone steps. I literally felt my knees go but remained upright. Charlie was not so lucky and then couldn’t get the dust out of her cashmere.

The East Wall Walk next and another stunning view of the Thames and the Bridge – I think I took more pictures at the Tower than I did anywhere else. I will post them all somewhere, I promise. Scaffolding ruined my favourite view of the White Tower but I managed to get a nice shot from the other side.

I was fine all the way home but experienced strange things all evening – tuneful whistling that only I could hear (certainly the dogs didn’t react and they usually go mental at the merest hint of a pursed lip), my hair being stroked and whispers and girlish giggles. My experiences had either encouraged Gladys and/or Mum to put in an appearance or I’d come home with someone other than my mother in law who spent the whole evening moaning about her feet.

Guilt presents: pen, keyring and whiskey marmalade for David, a stuffed toy raven, singlet and sword for Mac and more from the secret stash for the dogs

Saturday, 15 March 2008


It had to happen, of course. No-one can cram that much activity into so short a time without coming a cropper somewhere along the line. Unless you're Don and Lorna it seems who, on their return to Vancouver, played 18 holes of golf, after just six hours sleep. Anyway. Since the Canadians left (and Amelia went home to Sevenoaks via Bluewater) I have been as sick as a parrot, as chunderous as Queen Chunder of the Chunderous People and, quite frankly, no use to man or beast. My body, obviously reacting violently to being schlepped around Central London, decided to wave the white flag of defeat. In short, Dear Reader, I have spent the past....ooooh, roughly.....58 hours alternately pummelling my aching limbs in the power shower, lying down (with and without bucket), weeping gently because I felt so pathetic - and in my role as Chief Hypochondriac - leafing through the Medical Dictionary and groaning "I think I've got that".

I can feel (I hope) my delicate and fragile state coming to an end as tonight, at dinner, I ate something other than Galaxy chocolate (defeated, white flag waving carcasses need sugar) and didn't burst into tears when David asked me if I wanted normal tea or herbal. I even felt strong enough to read Paddington Bear to Mac without breaking into a cold sweat.

Of course I'm over egging the pudding, acting the Drama Queen and generally, as Charlie put it earlier, "getting on lots of tits" but, please....indulge me a little. I've written all about Monday at the Tower in Word and am just, in my minds eye, wandering around Harrods Food Hall with Bea hissing "do you see that Japanese woman, I've got a bag like hers but in green with longer handles and different buckles" and will post these shortly. After I've had another little snoo.....zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

They've all gone....

Don and Lorna are currently at the airport......Jack Next Door has taken Amelia "out for the day and then home"..........and I'm gradually getting my life back! I've enjoyed the past week or so immensely (more posts on outings to follow) but can I just say this........


Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Sunday: The London Eye and Tea at Bea's

“Look ma, I’m on top of the world!” – Don certainly enjoyed his trip on the London Eye but completely ruined the group photograph at the end by jostling Lorna so much that a pillar obliterated her completely. I also seemed to have hands growing out of my head. When we disembarked we gratefully hailed a cab to Bea’s house. Amelia had joined us for the day and had completely charmed Lorna – I am extremely wary of her when she’s nice so spent the whole day edging round her, waiting for the axe to fall. Not that she noticed, she was too busy chattering.

Still, Bea did us proud. Alfonso managed to keep a lid on his histrionics and I got to grill my sister about Enormous Au Pair’s parents. We hadn’t really had the chance to update each other but EAP was a changed person Bea was happy to report - “she only had four pancakes for breakfast” - and had agreed that perhaps her eating habits had got a little out of hand.

“Darling, it was just awful!” my dear sister said as she waved guests regally into the Dining Room. Bea lowered her voice at this point, even though Juan and Claudia had returned to Argentina days ago “I was expecting ranch hands, you know, because EAP keeps telling me how hard they work on the estancia – they own the estancia! Juan owns hundreds of horses and is a millionaire! He’s something big in the polo world!”

It transpired that Bea had sent a white stretch limo to the airport to collect them, thinking that she’ll immediately have them on the back foot only to hear Claudia say “At home we have thees as a’three foot longair wiz the window teents” when she unfolded herself from the depths on Bea’s drive. “Nice leetle house” Claudia continued as she walked round Bea’s six bedroomed house (with room for a swimming pool in the grounds) and perched delicately on the very edge of the silk damask covered chaise longue. Juan was extremely tanned and “very debonair darling, he showed me his jacket which was made in his polo colours” and, on his departure five days after their arrival, offered to fly Bea and Stephen out for a forthcoming polo tournament. “You weel stay weeth us I theek, we ‘ave the sisteen bedrooms in our leetle house” Claudia said as she removed herself from her hysterical daughter with a torrent of what sounded like abuse.

“I did have so much fun with them darling – especially when I suggested to Claudia that she have her moustache and beard removed by my wonderful beautician Estoria. She was absolutely livid!” Bea shot off at this point – she had seen Don rifling through her drinks cupboard looking for “some of the damn bourbon Stephen just promised me”.

We left at around 6.30 - having first ensured that dad’s cousins had all left the premises – with plenty of time to take Amelia back to Sevenoaks. She had, however, wangled herself an invitation to join us at the Tower of London on Monday and was expecting bed and board Chez Moi. And then she said “And as I’m going to Harrods with you on Tuesday and then Kensington Palace on Wednesday, I might as well stay until Thursday” David nearly crashed Marisa.

Guilt presents: none but I did bring back a huuuuge Tarte Au Citron from Bea's

Monday, 10 March 2008

Saturday: Zoo and Barrier

Mac was beside himself with excitement about the impending visit to the zoo and woke us at 5am on Saturday by screeching “am all washed mummy” in my left ear. Whilst congratulating him for being a big boy and having washed himself, I drew attention to the fact that he should never have a bath on his own because he might actually drown. “I didn’t have a bath mummy, I had a showrer”. This was confirmed by David who, once woken needed the loo, sloshed his way to and from the bathroom. “Next time, close the shower door” he mumbled as he fell into deep slumbers once again. I wasn’t so lucky and had to talk through all the “aminals” we were going to see at the zoo. My child has clearly missed me because he said last night “I don’t mind you going out mummy but not for so long.” By the time 6 o’clock came around I was wide awake and Mac was asleep across my pillow like a human bolster. I did try to get back to sleep but failed miserably as a few worries ran through my brain.

The dogs, also sulking because of my continued and lengthy absences were absolute angels at the park, which led me into a false sense of security for, when we got back home, all three took off down the road after Marmalade Tom (the Catfather of The Avenue who taunts them by waving his plumy tail at them). By the time they’d come “to heel” I was hoarse of voice and short on air.

Still, a lovely family day out. David was in charge of Marisa once again and we drove to the Zoo, meeting Matt and Lydia there. Charlie agreed to meet us at the Thames Barrier after lunch and also promised not to have watched Flood the night before.

Don was wearing a fetching Hawaiian shirt that caused Matt to drop his phone when he first saw him bounding towards the entrance. “Oh my God!” he hissed to Lydia who nudged him so hard in the ribs he yelped in pain. “Are you okay honey?” Lorna asked before being dragged off to see the “grillas” by Mac. The tigers, lions, bears and hippos went down well with the assorted company but only the boys wanted to see the reptiles and the insects. Dad came out with cupped hands and threw “a spider” at us. Naturally, Lorna, Lydia and I screamed the place down and ran amok, much to amusement of a group of children and their Scandinavian au pairs. We met the monkeys too although Lydia stayed outside “watching the bags” as “anything that can hang by its tail frightens the crap out of me”. It’s billed as an “African safari in the middle of London” – the monkeys certainly do get a bit inquisitive.

I mooched around the penguins long enough to cause the others to moan about my obsession with our flippered friends. Can I help it if I find them too cute for words? One tiny penguin decided he quite liked me and went into a dance routine that had me making “aw!” noises. David led me away, patting my arm and murmuring “sssh, ssh” at me. My family tend to humour me a lot.

A quick bite to eat with Matthew querying what the hell we were doing eating at a zoo café which made Mac spit out his sandwich and refused to eat anything else in case it was made of “aminals mummy” – sometimes I could kill my Sort of Step Son.

The shop went down a bundle – Mac was given a two foot high stuffed giraffe by a very doting Don and Lorna and had to be dragged away from the puzzles. I dread to think what this trip has cost them – I haven’t paid for a thing. No, tell a lie, I bought a packet of Polos on Tuesday.

Dragging “Gordon the Drafft” back to the car we all squeezed in to begin our journey to the Thames Barrier – Lorna hanging out of the window taking “action shots” as we drove through the streets of London and Matthew wishing he’d joined Mac in throwing away his sandwich - “I do feel bilious”.

We arrived at the Barrier with just over an hour before it closed – Charlie had been there for half an hour and had already “pulled one of the security guards”.

It does such an important job and is so impressive – it’s quite frightening to think of what it will prevent. “Without the Barrier, in the event of a flood, Deptford and Lewisham would be under water” Charlie read from a noticeboard before confirming that the areas surrounding Deptford and Lewisham would also be under water with a fair amount of surprise in her voice. “Well, why didn’t they just say if it all goes tits up it’s Goodnight Vienna” she hissed.

Well, quite.

Guilt presents: none, they were all with me. And nobody got my dropped hints about buying me a stuffed penguin. And I dropped enough.

Friday: St Paul’s and the Globe

Although Lorna spent the whole day wearing dark wraparound sunglasses, she was surprisingly sprightly for someone who had spent the previous day “sleeping, chucking up, drinking some tea and chucking up some more”. Don, however, looked ever so slightly green around the gills after his binging on Ayres goodies. I felt everso virtuous as I whisked them into St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a truly amazing, breathtaking place. The last time I’d been there was when I was about 12, with my History class and Lorraine Wilson threw my packed lunch to the pigeons.

However loud and boisterous you are outside (and believe me when I say Don is loud and boisterous) the second you step inside you are silenced, not only by the stunning architecture and attention to detail but the sheer spirituality of the place. I seem to have been on an emotional journey with nearly all of our visits, it’s very tiring! Into the nave and we could only visit one of the three chapels – there seemed to be some sort of service going on. Ironically enough it was All Souls chapel which pleased Don no end thanks to its connection to the First World War, as did the American Memorial Chapel. More carvings by Grinling Gibbons which had Lorna in ecstasies (but not enough to remove her glasses).

Not surprisingly, the Crypt had my spine tingling but I don’t think it was just because I knew I was in a crypt – I felt cold patches that Don couldn’t and whispery movement around me, combined with a sudden sick feeling and the need to burst into tears that heralds “something spiritual going on”. Standing by Nelson’s tomb I got an unexpected smell of brandy and checked to see if Don had done what he had threatened to do – fill dads hip flask to keep out the chill. The smell stayed with me as we stood by Sir Christopher Wren’s tomb and attempted to take a photo of Lorna. Of course, the camera wouldn’t work which is another pointer of spiritual activity. Don, however, insisted on changing the batteries in his camera which made no difference whatsoever. We retired to the Crypt Café for a quick cuppa and an early lunch before whizzing over to the Globe Theatre.

I have to admit that the works of Shakespeare have never interested me. Oh I read Romeo and Juliet at school and watched Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing but, no… real passion for the Bard. This shocked Lorna so much I thought she was going to have a relapse. “But I thought all you English were so up on all this?” she gasped, clutching the railings for support. Well, at least I’m honest, I pointed out and led us into the Globe itself. I think, however, my confession spoiled things for Lorna so I was overly enthusiastic about everything but I did genuinely enjoy trying on a ruff and got so much pleasure watching Don attempt to put on some armour. The exhibition was very interesting and I’d recommend it – even if you’re not a Bard buff.

Guilt presents:
Pencils and a keyring torch for David, book and pens for Mac, raid on secret stash for dogs

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Thursday: Camden cancelled

Lorna was woken at 2.30am this morning "by the night demons". I suspected that she'd somehow overdone the wine with dinner but Don assured me it was a migraine. "Yup, she gets them every now and again and nothing but pills and bed rest will shift it". Therefore, our trip to Camden was cancelled. Don doesn't "do" shopping and I must admit I was a tad relieved. I'm worn out. When I first mentioned the proposed trip to Bea she had wrinkled her nose and said "Camden Market?" in a tone of voice that I didn't much like the sound of. I wanted to be hip, trendy and more than a little cutting edge and provide a bit of urban excitement for our Canadian visitors. Bea pointed out that to stand on the terraces of White Heart Lane and suggest that all Arsenal fans are fantastically wonderful people would be safer. Charlie, when I rang and told her that we weren't going (and to complain about being landed with Don) expressed dismay "Oh, you've missed a great day out - far better than all the history crap you've landed them with so far" Mixed feelings there then. I often think that I would enjoy places more if I just arrived there without having to do all this travel malarky. Half an hour from home yesterday (not via Barnes thanks to my sat nav) I really, really wanted to close my eyes and lie down for a while. But that would have alarmed my passengers.

So, I was left with a free day with Don - "there's no point staying at your dads place, he's at work and Lorna is spark out". He loved Ayres and came back with a sausage roll, a bacon and cheese wrap AND a ham and cheese roll for lunch. He threw me a bit when he asked me what I normally do when I'm not a tour guide. I couldn't really answer him - what do I do? Clean the house? Cook? Worry about things? Watch Jeremy Kyle? Who, by the way, was "crap compared with Jerry." I bristled at this and went into a mood. What exactly do I do all day? I rang David to whinge while Don made more tea. "You make my life easier darling, that's what you do, you're gorgeous and loving and we all love you." David the Diplomat said. Cheered slightly, I rallied enough to suggest a long walk in Dulwich Park with the dogs who, incidentally, were delighted with my presence. I could almost hear Junior Dog say happily "It's half past eleven and she hasn't gone out yet!". They do have abandonment issues I will admit.

We had to come back via Ayres - Don was gasping for a gateau and "Lorna always craves cream when she gets over her migraine" Maybe, but does she crave hot cross buns and orange sponge too?

Friday, 7 March 2008

A frog goes into a bank....

A frog goes into a bank and approaches the teller. He can see from her nameplate that her name is Patricia Whack.

'Miss Whack, I'd like to get a £30,000 loan to take a holiday.'

Patty looks at the frog in disbelief and asks his name. The frog says his name is Kermit Jagger, his dad is Mick Jagger, and that it's okay, he knows the bank manager.

Patty explains that he will need to secure the loan with some collateral. The frog says, 'Sure. I have this,' and produces a tiny porcelain elephant, about an inch tall, bright pink and perfectly formed.

Very confused, Patty explains that she'll have to consult with the bank manager and disappears into a back office. She finds the manager and says, 'There's a frog called Kermit Jagger out there who claims to know you and wants to borrow £30,000, and he wants to use this as collateral.' She holds up the tiny pink elephant. 'I mean, what in the world is this?'

The bank manager looks back at her and says...

'It's a knick-knack, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan, his old man's a Rolling Stone.'

Altogether now.........

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Wednesday: Hampton Court Palace

My favourite tourist attraction – I love Hampton Court and feel such an affinity with the place that I’m convinced that, if I undergo past life regression therapy, it will in fact be confirmed that I was this good lady in a previous life. David had let me borrow Marisa for the journey and spent time before he left for work instructing me how to drive his beloved car. I pointed out that I had in fact been driving since 1991 but he merely shot me a look and muttered darkly “Not my car you haven’t.” To show Marisa who was in charge I sped Mac to nursery and then round to Dad’s, not quite executing handbrake turns but near enough. Don and Lorna were standing outside the front gate – he wearing chinos and a deep purple checked shirt and she wearing lots of jewellery.

My sat nav system got us there with little or no problem – there was almost a blip when I started to put unleaded petrol in David’s diesel car but I don’t think anyone noticed. Marisa, however, bunnyhopped out of the garage as if she somehow knew she’d had a narrow escape.

We started off with a visit to the Tiltyard Café – Lorna has become addicted to what she calls “English tea” – and then went for a wander in the Privy Garden, up to the Great Hall, Anne Boleyn’s Courtyard and the chapel which is still used for services today. There is a “prayer box” there – you can fill out a form with your prayer and have it read at a forthcoming service. You could almost imagine Henry VIII sitting in the Royal Pew, or the very religious Katherine of Aragon kneeling on the parquet at the altar for hours on end. I certainly felt very content in there!

Lorna went off into raptures at the ornate wood carvings created by Grinling Gibbons and fell in love with the huge copper cooking pots in the kitchens “Gee honey, imagine how great the bouillabaisse would taste cooked in that!”. We spent time in the Haunted Gallery where Catherine Howard had run to the king to protest her innocence after being accused of adultery – she was dragged back, kicking and screaming by the guards and she is reputed to haunt the Gallery now. I must admit I didn’t feel anything untoward on the tingle front but Lorna went a bit pale and asked if we could move on. We stood outside in Clock Court for some fresh air and the chance to see some people dressed in Tudor costumes. “Please tell me that there’s a lady standing over there under the arch” Lorna hissed as she clutched my arm. I assured her there was but had to have another look – just to make sure.

My tingles did put in an appearance on the stairway back up to the Great Hall while we waited for Don to get the right camera angle to take a picture of the Courtyard. I was perched on the edge of one of the steps and felt the distinct impression that that was frowned upon. I wonder by whom?

We laid siege to the shops – Barrack Block for books and a present for Mac, the Base Court where Lorna bought enough a beautiful china cup and saucer and then onto the Tudor Kitchens shop where she bought a replica copper cooking pot which caused Don to worry about how “the hell we’re going to transport all this home honey”. As it’s not my worry, I encouraged her to buy some tea towels.

Guilt presents: a multitude of pens for David, a book and crown for Mac, Mead for Charlie and nothing for the dogs.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Tuesday: Up the Elephant and on the deck

Before I go any further I’d like to explain the over-emphasis, the almost obsession with the war - Don is infatuated with all things military (he has daily “ablutions” and would eat out of a billy-can if Lorna let him). I mention this purely because Charlie, on hearing that we were heading to the Imperial War Museum and HMS Belfast today, asked me if I were feeling a little maudlin. I’m wondering what she’ll say when she hears that we managed to slip in an ad-hoc visit to Churchill’s Bunker and the Cabinet War Room as well.

But anyway, Don was in his element at the Museum, back rigid he almost marched his way around the gigantic building. It was a shame - the bright red T-shirt he was sporting rather ruined the effect. We left him to it at one point and Lorna and I headed outside for some fresh air and some pollution. Photo opportunities weren’t plentiful - security guards eye you suspiciously if you so much as delved into your bag but I promise to put a selection of pics up here - or even on Flickr! If I can work it.....

Back to the war effort and onwards to Churchill’s War Rooms. I’m almost ashamed to admit that two visitors from Vancouver are more adept on getting us on the right buses than me, a London girl born and bred. It could have something to do with the fact that Don learns all the bus routes of an evening - dad said he completely ruined the football for him on Monday night by shaking his route map during the second half.

It was very eerie in the Cabinet War Room - the fact that so much went on under the streets of London (and still does) but you’d never know to look at it. Churchill famously said “This is the room from which I shall direct the war” and the rooms have been left the same as they were after VJ Day - they were closed down on 16 August 1945 and everything is as it was. The pins in the notices on the wall, maps, everything. Even Churchill’s bedroom had a large map on the wall.
I got the familiar tingling up and down my spine that alerts me to the possibility of spirits wandering around - there were cold patches, warm patches and I swear I heard whistling from a closed off corridor. I was quite pleased when Lorna said she was “gasping for some tea”.

Lunch (again at Hayes Galleria, this time we went Thai, am going to be gigantic if this carries on) and then a tour of HMS Belfast. That was another eerie experience with more than enough tingles to prevent me wandering around some areas of the ship. Either I’m becoming more in tune with spirits or they were strong enough to reach me - which led me to question who, what and why? And were they tiring of the buffoon in the red T-shirt who kept booming “which is port and which is starboard?”.

I know I was.

Guilt presents: camouflage face paint and a camouflagued duck for Mac, a wartime Kellogs mug for David, a home front apron for me (well, it was snazzy) and a bone each from my secret stash (car boot) for the dogs.

Monday: Tooley Street and surrounding areas

Monday and the first of our tours – the Britain at War exhibition, London Dungeons and Hays Galleria. We all met up at Nunhead train station at ten past nine for the start of our journey. I had no worries about losing Don – he was wearing a bright fuschia pink shirt. Lorna seemed remotely unconcerned that her husband was searing the retinas of our fellow passengers as we sped towards London Bridge and requested an additional pit stop at some point during their stay: “I’d like to go and see where that Gordon Brown guy lives.” It seems that Lorna has taken quite a shine to our Prime Minister – “He kinda reminds me of Doug when he was younger”.

The Britain at War exhibition is amazing – both inside and outside you truly get a feel for how things were during the Second World War. We went into an Anderson shelter (I got a strong sense of Gladys at this point), visited a “night club”, hyperventilated when wearing a gas mask, saw what contribution women made during the war (we deduced that I’d have made a great Land Girl!) and tried to work out how the hell we’d survive if we were on rations now – four ounces of butter? Don joked that he put that on his toast every morning. A real eye opener and made me, once again, realise how very lucky we are. Quite an emotional visit which propelled me over to the coffee bar and a large hot chocolate. With biscuits.

The problem with arranging things for others to do (especially if you don’t know them that well, if at all) is that you’re constantly worrying if they’re enjoying themselves. By half past eleven I’d whipped myself into a frenzy. Were they having fun? Were they enjoying it? Were they depressed? Why did Don keep immersing himself in his guidebook? Why did Lorna keep putting her extremely dark sunglasses on?

After constant reassurances that they were in fact having a good time, I relaxed enough to enjoy our wander through Hayes Galleria and a fantastically heavenly sandwich while we had the chance to chat – I think all three of us felt more comfortable after I had to perform a mini Heimlich Manoeuvre on Lorna after she swallowed a baby tomato whole while Don boomed “c’mon lady, spit it up!” to the chagrin of a group of businessmen at the next table.

We escaped into the jaws of the London Dungeon, amid Don’s jokes about Lorna having taken her heart pills this morning. He was only joking but my own heart stopped when he said that. Lorna cuffed him none too gently around the head and managed not to scream when she was grabbed by a hooded monk. I, on the other hand, emitted an ear piercing scream that I’m surprised David didn’t hear in his office which is just fifteen minutes walk away from London Bridge.

Of course, we popped in to see him. I’m sure he wished we hadn’t as Lorna proceeded to bond with his PA Irene (Irene herself having choked on her bacon ciabatta this morning) and Don took up residence on his office sofa to read more from his guide book.

Guilt presents: book for Mac, Indian takeaway dinner for David, nothing for the dogs

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

An aside....

I can see the years flashing past me, propelling my pride and my boy into his teenage years and then young adult hood and then introducing me to his bride and then making me a granny......during an off-hand discussion last night, just as I was about to fall into the Land of Nod, David informed me that Mac will be attending the London Nautical school. That's it, no discussion, no asking Mac if he'd prefer to go to Bacon or anything. Just "Mac will go to the London Nautical, just like I did."

My baby son was just four on Saturday and is not yet in primary school yet his father has sealed his fate in seven years time just because he likes the sea and is good with a golf club.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Fish and freesias

It's officially Day 2 of Don and Lorna's visit and I'm officially knackered. Of course, it may have something to do with my exhausting Friday (I knew I should not have spent all week putting off my tidying and cleaning - I was mopping the kitchen floor at ten to midnight) and my shattering Saturday (five over excited children and lots of fish) but even so. I'd have thought I'd have had more stamina than this.

Mac's birthday treat was just that - a treat. We found Nemo, "Jaws, mummy!", stroked some stingrays (despite Lydia's reservations - Ginny told her to stop being such a "big pansy, let the lad feel some danger!") and had a lovely walk along the Thames afterwards, with Mac telling everyone that he was going on the "big wheel soon". Home for cake and presents (Ginny's present of a stetson and leather chaps went down a bundle - David is still worried she's going to somehow land us with Jezebel) and an early night for us after we'd taken Ian and Caitlin home to Bea, Stephen, Enormous Au Pair and her parents. But that's a whole other post. When we were snuggling down under our duvets at about quarter to ten, Dad, Don and Lorna were heading along the motorway for the start of their few days in London.
Up this morning to breakfast in bed - bowl of cereal, cup of coffee and toast and jam ("I made it all mummy!") and a quick whizz round the park with the hounds, home to find Sort of Step Son Matthew had bought me the windchimes I'd seen in the aquarium shop the previous day and he and Mac had gone "halvesies" of the biggets bunch of freesias I've ever seen.
Don and Lorna (I've not met either of them before) are larger than life characters, even though Lorna is about half the height and width of Don. Don favours loud shirts (I'll have no worries losing him in a crowd) and an even louder voice, calls Mac Young-Feller-Me-Lad and chomps on huge great cigars. Lorna is blonde and petite with a ringing laugh, is prone to giggles and affectionately calls her husband The Chump. I think we'll get on just fine!
They gave Mac the opportunity to choose the venue for dinner when we dropped round to Dad's this morning with left over birthday cake: David, Dad and I looked nervously at each other - Mac is as capable of suggesting "McDonalds" as he is the "Saveloy!". Thankfully, he was struck down with sudden shyness at being put on the spot and hid behind Lydia who suggested Harvesters - she's craving their Combine Harvester platter enough to suggest pregnancy.
So that's where we're off to in a little while - Mac wants to wear his chaps and Matthew is quite keen to get his mitts on the stetson.

All about me

My photo
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.