Sunday, 29 June 2008

Head for the hills

Janey has been on the phone a total of six times today asking me questions along the lines of "If the quiche is cooked the day before will it still be safe to eat?" and "What gas do we need to make the balloons float up to the ceiling and stay there? Nitrogen?". She is of course planning her one year anniversary party - the anniversary is tomorrow ("Never thought we'd get there to be honest") and the party is this coming Saturday in the same church hall that they held their wedding reception. My contribution to "the party of the year" is merely as guest but I did put her right on what gas to use. Could you imagine? They'd have to rewrite the A to Z.

I've spent today hiding from the Stewarts and Belinda Hall - the opposing armies have been up and down The Avenue, gathering supporters and running errands for the neighbours. Jane Opposite texted me the following "If leave a bucket of water by cars wonder if they will fight over who will wash them". I replied "worth a try" and considered leaving a garden fork out in the front garden just in case one of them fancied doing a bit of digging. Jack Next Door caught me in the garden while I was waiting for the beef to cook - he looked a bit worried. "That Belinda Hall women asked me if I needed any shopping doing.....she's two years older than me!"

Oh, and I've got this song going round and round and round my head. Bea says it's my own fault for not listening to Radio 4.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Satellite aggravation

David's sister Ginny is beginning to think that we've gone off her because she keeps asking us to visit her in Windsor and we don't. "I'm wondering if my family is a figment of my imagination" she said on the phone to me on Tuesday. Keen to escape the pressure cooker environment of The Avenue (Jill with the Purple Door has gone over to the Hall Camp because she now "can't stand" Jane Opposite who is firmly entrenched with Team Stewart because I am. Jack Next Door is sitting on the fence and Old Mrs Lazenby isn't bothered who she sides with as long as she gets her "heavy" shop done by one of them). David suggested yesterday evening that Mac and I drive to Windsor first thing, he'll get the train from work at around lunchtime (disaster with junior account executive "norsing things up" with the invoicing systems) and we'd all come home together. Jack Next Door was happy to pop into the dogs - I'd kept our jaunt away from the Stewarts and Belinda for fear the dogs would become pawns in their Quest for Avenue Domination - and Jack would even lie through his teeth if Amelia rang to see where we were.

Armed with directions, map, sat nav, polos, juice and snacks for Mac and coffee coursing through my veins, we set off bright and early at just gone 9am. Grace (my sat nav) was chatting merrily away and keeping me on course and all was right with the world - Mac was conjuring up one of his "personlally createded fun stories" and my coffee buzz was still buzzing. Until we hit the Chelsea Embankment and Grace deserted me. "Lost GPS signal" was flashing on my little screen. Thankfully I was in traffic so started my deep breathing techniques, peered at my map and tried not to panic. As I've previously documented, I hate HATE getting lost: cold sweat followed by hot sweat followed by a sick feeling.....I'm not sure what's given me my fear of getting lost but I'm sure it's something I inherited from my mum. She used to panic if we went anywhere North of The River "in case she couldn't get home again". Either that or Charlie is right and I hate not being in control. Whatever. All I knew was Grace had buggered off, I had the sudden awful thought that my "Nunhead to Windsor" directions and map were wrong (I had no proof of this, just a certain knowledge) and I was beginning to perspire.

Chugging along, surrounded by 4x4s and chauffeured cars in the steadily moving traffic I started pleading with the God of Driving to reinstate Grace. "I'll never call her a stupid wench again when she sends me fifteen miles out of my way because she's got it into her head that I don't want to go on the motorway" I muttered. "Lost GPS signal" was still flashing.

"Head for the A4 then M4, head for the A4 then M4" I kept muttering, along with "omigod this was such a big mistake" and "when I get my hands on the junior accounts executive I'll strangle him with his own tie". Just as I was about to give in and ring David for a quick sob (really, I'm such a drama queen), Grace beeped, bing bonged and started bossing me around as if she'd never been away. "Bear right onto Ashburnham Road" she nagged. I could have kissed her.

Soon we were eating up the miles on the M4, with Mac telling me the plotline of his latest blockbuster (one of these days I'll write one down and post it on here) whilst munching on a granola bar. I'd just started to relax (by that I mean my shoulders removed themselves from my ears and my fingers that were gripping the steering wheel had lost their white hue) when Grace did her disappearing act again. I couldn't remember the junction I needed to turn off at. "Darling, at what number did Grace tell mummy to leave the M4?" I asked hopefully. Mac thought for a few seconds and yelled "Seventy twelve mummy!"


My phone rang, thank God for Bluetooth. It was Ginny who hooted with laughter at my predicament. "Junction six darling - honestly, the scrapes you do get into" and hung up before I could ask her to guide me on from here. Grace, the treacherous little cow, bing bonged back as we got onto the A335 and stayed with me until we pulled up outside Ginny's place. "Don't trust 'em, never will, awful things!" Ginny boomed as I unclipped Grace and gave her a good shake. "Saw a programme once where the woman was recording all the directions for one of these things. She looked like she needed a good seeing to if you ask me." Mac loves his Auntie Ginny, probably because she constantly has him open mouthed with amazement. "We won't tell daddy about this will we sweetpea?" I said as we bundled into Ginny's eclectic abode and fell on the tea and wonderfully sticky cakes she'd provided.

David arrived in time for a late lunch and a good afternoon was had by all. Mac kept his side of the deal and accepted payment in rice crispie cakes.

As we were leaving David took the sat nav cradle off the windscreen "I don't need sat nav" he said as he assured me that I was far too reliant on maps and directions and stuff. "You just need a good sense of direction, common sense and a level head" he went on as he missed the turn off the roundabout so we had to go round again. Familiar scenery swam past my eyes until wordlessly I reinstated the cradle and told Grace where we wanted to go.

Of course, the bloody thing stayed with us the entire way home, took us a completely different route to the one I took this morning and even appeared to be mocking me when she told me we had arrived at our destination. Jabbing at her off button did little to console me but I took great delight in shoving her into a chaotic drawer in the dining room.

Friday, 27 June 2008

The Resistance

I was halted on my way along Nunhead Lane this morning (purchases from Ayres, butchers, chemist and the newsagents weighing me down) by Belinda Hall who professed great delight in seeing me and rabbited on and on about how well I was looking and how handsome my dogs are and how fabulous my (three year old) shoes were and that I had “nice shapely ankles”. Pleased that she’d noticed one of my best features I let my guard down slightly and dropped my bags where I stood. I was then flattered wildly for another five minutes (“I hear you’re THE person to know in the Avenue” and “lovely hanging baskets”) before she moved in for the kill - outlining her plans to Take Over The Avenue And Usurp The Stewarts.

Apparently, the whole Avenue is up in arms about the stranglehold the Stewarts have on us. I must admit I hadn’t noticed this and told her so – we’re all so used to them and their attempts to bolster community spirit that we just accept they’re “there”. Belinda gaped at me as if I’d suggested that her head was on fire. I admitted that they may be a little domineering but their hearts were in the right place. She clutched at her chest – “They are overbearing monsters who have the whole Avenue tied up in knots….they won’t even leave the Lottery alone, they have to jump on the bandwagon……and as for their ridiculous stab at Neighbourhood Watch……I couldn’t believe they way we were being bullied into coming along on their ludicrous summer outing…..and the way they’re so proud of helping out all of the elderly neighbours…..” I have to admit I tuned out so you’re only getting the jibes I remember.

I snapped back to attention however when she grabbed my arm and said “You must come to lunch. Today. I’ve got some soup I can reheat – homemade of course – and I see you’ve got a lovely French stick……”. Before I knew where I was I was being bodily dragged along the road. “I’m sorry but I can’t” I said firmly, skidding to a halt and snapping my French stick in the process. “But together we can outdo the Stewarts on every turn!” she said, eyes glinting rather demonically. I took three steps backwards, shaking my head. “I see” she sniffed, looking me up and down. I got the impression that she now regretted throwing all those compliments my way. “I see” she repeated.

“I’m sorry” I said and gathered my bags more comfortably in my hands. “I see” she said again, brushing down her neat beige twinset and patting her salt and pepper curls into place. We both stood there looking at each other before I remembered that I’d bought some brawn (eurgh!) for David from the butcher and it was now going all gloopy in my bag. As I turned away I caught sight of a stricken Marjorie on the opposite side of the road, looking at us both with a crushed expression on her face. I waved an Ayres carrier bag at her but she just looked down and rushed into the greengrocers.


Update, 4.40pm: I've just knocked on Marjorie's door with a lame excuse (did she have any cocoa powder, I ask you, pathetic) and was given the silent treatment with additional huge sad eyes. I hate, hate, hate feeling like I've let anyone down and started babbling about how I was hijacked and then practically forced to go home with Belinda to lay down her plans for Avenue Domination. I admit I over egged the pudding slightly in that I said that I was far more vociferous in my refusals and of course grassed up Belinda Hall totally and pledged my troth to the Stewart Cause. I may regret this of course. In fact, I know I will.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Turf war

After just five minutes in the Stewarts cluttered cosy living room I wished I was tackling the mound of washing up I’d left David to do. It was that bad. Frank expressed extreme delight at the sight of me on his doorstep but admonished me for forgetting my agenda. “You’ll have to share!” he boomed as he frogmarched me into the living room and all but threw me on the sofa next to Alice Three Doors Down. Things had changed since my last meeting: the committee (Frank, Marjorie, Mike Robinson and Jill With The Purple Door) sat at the dining table and peered down at the rest of us. It seems that I have relinquished my role of Deputy Community Activity Organiser to Jill. And I didn’t even notice. I’d just about given up on Jane Opposite and Jack Next Door turning up (Ruby Over The Road was neatly ensconced in the corner with the yukka) when they arrived, like naughty school children, with a bag of pick n mix sweets from the corner shop.

Frank fixed us all with his beady eyes and welcomed us all. “Lots of familiar faces” he crooned as he took in Amy On The Corner, Scary Bloke with the Rottweiler, Mary Three Doors Down, The Woman with the Hat, Timid Tina and Susan at Number 30 with the baby. “And some old faces returning!” he boomed at me, Jack, Ruby, Jane and Mrs Satinder With the Persian Cat. Marjorie fixed the room with a death stare “And a new face” she hissed, just like James Bond would have greeted his arch enemy. The new face turned out to be Belinda Hall (“she’s moved into end house on the corner” Alice Three Doors Down said and simpered “welcome!” to Belinda which earned her a filthy look from Marjorie.

Frank thought it best to move swiftly on. The minutes of the previous meeting were touched upon and thanks passed to Old Mrs Lazenby who had provided fairy cakes for the meeting. Agenda item one was the increase in litter in the area – “additional road sweepers seem to encourage people to drop more litter because they know it's going to get picked up” twittered Susan at Number 30. Agenda item two, parking issues, was a touchy subject. “People with more than one car,” Frank began eyeing me a little too beadily “Should respect those with just one car and not park both of their cars together”. Jane Opposite snorted with derision. “Listen darlin’, I’ve got a 4 x 4 and my Bill’s got a Porsche, we want them where we can see ‘em”. Jill With The Purple Door, who was obviously still simmering over the recent incident, suggested that Jane show more respect for the rest of the Avenue by “not revving your monstrosity up each and every morning”. Just as it looked evident that the fingernails were coming out, Frank changed the subject, telling Marjorie to mark it down as “ongoing” in the minutes.

The summer outing was touched upon briefly and got little or no support from the gathered masses, especially when Scary Bloke with the Rottweiler (he’s actually quite sweet, Mac adores them both) asked if he could bring Messiah with him. As Messiah is a ten stone Rotty with halitosis I was hoping the answer would be no. Marjorie averted the certain storm by saying that it would be addressed “at the next meeting”. Alice Three Doors Down sniffed “No wonder nothing is achieved at these things” as she shoved a macaroon into her mouth.

The newsletter was equally well received. Frank’s suggestion that he write, produce and distribute it was met with complaints that it’d then be extremely biased and how the hell could one person reflect the views of the entire Avenue. It was a pity then that there were no volunteers when Frank asked for volunteers. I kept my eyes down at this point: he knows we have a colour printer and scanner. We then discussed various random things, including the possibility of setting up an Avenue Ramblers Association which would “take in local walks of interest”. Timid Tina seemed quite intrigued at this and said she’d investigate further and report back. Marjorie reported that, as no-one had won the last three Saturday Bonus Ball Lottery games, she would put the money towards the summer outing. Ruby Over The Road had beaten me to it and looked as if she were asleep.

All through the dreadful hour and a half Marjorie didn’t exchange words or looks with Belinda Hall, other than the hissed comment at the very start. Once everyone had gone and Jane and I were making our own escape, Marjorie let rip. Apparently Belinda Hall is trying to muscle in on the Stewarts territory by arranging coffee mornings and doing odd jobs for the elderly residents. “Twice she’s been to Morrison’s for Old Mrs Lazenby and she’s only been here since last weekend!” Marjorie huffed. “I wouldn’t mind but she shouldn’t have even been here! Her garden only backs onto The Avenue, her house sits on The Road. Cheeky upstart, who does she think she is?” she continued as she expertly wrapped a macaroon each for David and Mac in yards of clingfilm. Frank patted her on her shoulder and leered at her heaving bosom.

There may be trouble ahead!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


I can't escape it any longer, I have to bite the bullet, brace myself, gird my loins and just......give in. TANA are meeting tonight and, having avoided the last.....oooooh, nine meetings I've run out of excuses. So, at 7pm I shall be sitting in Frank and Marjorie's overstuffed, overly stuffy living room, surrounded by chintz and knick-knacks and bewildered neighbours. I've ensured that Jack Next Door, Ruby Over The Road and Jane Opposite will be suffering with me. Agenda items include summer outing, littering, parking issues and newsletter. If I stay awake long enough, I'll report back!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Big school

We’re going to have a walk round of Mac’s primary school on Friday 4 July. Mac is very excited and can’t wait for September to become a “big boy”. I’m wavering between elation that a) he got a place in the school we wanted and b) he’s finally able to leave the nursery that announces, a la PlaySchool, “ooh, children, look, this crayon is YE-LL-OWWW” and despair because my baby is growing up and he won’t need me soon. I’m sure every mother goes through this but I’m finding it particularly hard because I can remember my nursery and reception class days and my mum isn’t here to wallow with me.

On my first day at Consort Road Nursery (it’s now a clinic) I spent the first ten minutes hiding behind my mum, ignoring her suggestions that I go and “play with that little girl over there”. I was distraught when she left and, unbeknown to me at the time, she spent the entire morning sitting on the wall opposite the nursery. Crying. When she picked me up I said something along the lines of “I’m not going again mummy” and cried a fresh round of tears when she told me that I was. Obviously I grew to love it in time: overly diluted orange squash and a rich tea biscuit for break time, those little chairs that seemed so heavy and cumbersome to a four year old and that strange odour that can’t be explained but is mimicked in every teaching establishment in the country.

My primary school is now a housing development and they’ve attached a hideous yellow and steel thing next to it as a replacement. It’s not the same. I remember coveting and cherishing my own coat peg, casually announcing to family members that I’d had Numbers today in a weary voice (in pretty much the same way that I used to announce I had double maths followed by double history ten years later), moaning when the milk was warm instead of icy cold, colouring inside the lines of a picture and being given a gold star - girly swot that I was. 1977 was Jubilee Year and the school threw a party. I was dressed in a very flash (now classed as hideous) red, white and blue dress and, with the rest of my classmates, learned the words to God Save The Queen. Quite hard when you’re struggling with the three times table and “i before e, except after c”. We had a very enthusiastic band of Class Helpers: Mrs Norman, Mrs Coleman and Mrs Spencer. These angels kept the Reception class ticking over, wiped up tears, dabbed at cut knees and launched a full scale panic in the playground if it started raining. Watch this from Peter Kay (ignoring the obviously non-school setting) to explain why!

David has declared this a “rite of passage” and has booked the day off to come with us. This has rendered me tearful because he has acknowledged this monumental event in the life of our pride and joy. Although, as I heard him telling Auntie Ivy last night, “I’m not going so much for Mac but for Joanna – if only to carry the tissues”. He knows me so well!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

What's in a name?

Lydia has copy of The Best Comprehensive Baby Name Book in the World (or whatever its called) and it's already well thumbed. "It gives me something to read during my lying down time" she said as she called me yesterday. From her supine position on her bed. "How many names have you got?" she asked me as I heard her flipping through pages and muttering something. I am a Joanna Constance Wealthy - first second name from my mum and my second second name from her mother. David has four - David James William Stanley. Mac is a Mackenzie James while Matt is Matthew James William. Lydia (Lydia Elizabeth Jayne to give her her full title) is in a quandry over names for The Bump. "It's going to have a double barrelled surname - Mitchell-Johnson - so I'm not sure whether to go long or short or one or two or more" she mused. She reverted to her maiden name during her first visit to her solicitor to discuss the divorce.

Some people think that it's pretentious to give their children more than one name. Some people think that to give them a name that can be shortened is "common". One of Mac's friends is called Joe and, when I asked his mother if he was really a Joseph, she gave me A Look. "His name is Joe, just Joe" she said, giving me the impression that I'd committed a cardinal sin.

Scarlett James Cassia Grace was born to Jane Elizabeth Mary Katherine Anne (Janey) and Darren. Just Darren. Auntie Ivy (Ivy Wealthy) believes that just having one name shows a lack of imagination. Uncle Jim, if Janey were a boy, wanted to name his child after the England football team. For the record, Jim is James Richard Albert Ian.

My sister Beatrice Matilda is married to Stephen Phillip Arthur Michael and are parents to Caitlin Matilda Regina and Ian Phillip Arthur. As their surname is St-John Sykes it's perhaps understandable that they spent ages in the vestry signing the register at their wedding. Bea almost divorced him immediately when she realised that his initials spelt "spam".

Lydia has a short list: Emma, Romy, Jessica, Fleur, Rebecca or Catriona for a girl and Jack, Daniel, Roman, Harvey or Andrew for a boy. "Or a mix of all of them" she adds, telling me that she wants a "strong" name. When I was telling David this morning, little ears were listening. Mac demanded that I ring Lyds (as he calls her) and suggest Hulk.

I think it has a ring to it, don't you?

Friday, 13 June 2008

Sell-by dates

I'm currently watching this on ITV1. When I say "watching" I'm using the term extremely loosely - when the presenter (the slightly scary Jonathan Maitland) unwrapped some chicken fillets that were six days past their sell by date and announced his intention to cook and eat them, his wife did what any sensible person would do and squealed loudly and refused him access to any of her saucepans.
I'm not saying that I throw food out the minute it's hit the sell by date because I don't. I've toasted bread that's days old, I've gingerly eaten a yoghurt that was a week past its date and my muffin and custard bake puts in an appearance if the out of date muffins and the mood to comfort eat synchronise effortlessly. I've eaten black bananas, nectarines and strawberries that have fizzed on my tongue, I've livened up limp celery and soft tomatoes by frightening them stiff and firm respectively with a bowl of iced water and I've cut the mouldy bits off a slice of bread and eaten the remains slathered in butter. Brought up in a house where the phrase "don't waste it!" was repeated on a daily basis, I don't.

The only thing I'm wary about is meat that tastes "cheesy". That is immediately binned amid much face pulling. This is down to the story that my mum used to tell about some mince that my Gran had cooked for the family on a Wednesday, reheated on the Thursday, put in the fridge only to be reheated and eaten on the Friday night. My gran brought up three children on little money and nothing was wasted. My mum used to recall (in graphic detail) the way her stomach churned as she, Ivy and Daisy forced down this mince because to refuse it was to incur their mothers wrath. An hour later Daisy was lying in a pool of sweat and mum and Ivy fighting over who was going to stick their head down the toilet first.

What makes this whole thing worse was the following week mum refused point blank to eat some pork sausages because they tasted "funny". Gran, Grandad, Ivy and Daisy found nothing wrong with them and told her to eat them. They weren't "right" and made mum so ill that she couldn't eat any form of pork for ten years. She used to tell me that one whiff of a pork sausage roll at a party used to send her screaming from the room - her teenage years were full of angst! And parties with pork sausage rolls.

Actually, I think I've got some muffins and a tin of custard in the cupboard ........

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Birds, bees and birthdays

Mac arrived home from nursery on Tuesday with the dreaded bright yellow envelope. This is Nursery Communication with Parents at its very best – these special envelopes convey all kinds of messages, some good (your son has been selected as water monitor), some bad (your son has nits). Mostly they’re used to torture parents. The last bright yellow envelope I received informed me that, not only was I expected to attend the forthcoming Parents Day, I was to be given the responsibility of supplying all the mummies/daddies/guardians with the usual nursery fayre at times like this: polystyrene cups of warmish tea and stale biscuits.

This latest message was to advise all parents/guardians that Mac’s class would be participating in a “special” talk entitled “Where did I come from?” on Friday afternoon. Of course they’ve arranged this for a Friday afternoon – that way they don’t get all the questions and worried looks that follow things like this. It would be “tastefully done” and all worries and concerns would be addressed in “an open and adult way”. The children are just four. I was nine before I learnt that I didn’t just appear in a babygro in my mum’s arms and eleven before I found out the gruesome details. When Bea told me after her first biology lesson at secondary school I didn’t believe her and ran away yelling “eurgh, that’s horrible”. The letter went on to advise me that “all those unanswered questions about where babies come from will be dealt with”. Great. I really don’t fancy Mac sidling up to Lydia and saying “I know what you’ve been doing”.

Sex. It seems everyone’s at it. Or at least talking about it. I had the extreme misfortune of spending yesterday morning with Marjorie Stewart because she caught me as I was leaving for Bromley. “Where are you going?” she trilled, dressed from head to toe in cerise. “Shopping” I mumbled and put on my “boring old Sainsbury’s, nothing exciting” expression. She saw straight through me, I can’t lie. “Oh yes? Where?” “Bromley” I muttered, already opening up the passenger door for her.

I was determined to start my “Card and Present Box” buying in a good mood and tuned out her chatter about how Frank and his Viagra are doing well and that he’s packed enough for the weekend and how she’s packed all of her sexy underwear – “We don’t plan on seeing anything of the Isle of Wight at all!” – she giggled. While I was having a sneaky peek in Marks and Spencers Food Court and wondering if I could get away with just bulk buying their heavenly sandwiches and having a picnic tea Charlie rang to tell me that James the Gorgeous Cardiothoracic Surgeon With Audi and No Wedding Ring has invited her away to his “weekend place in the country” this very weekend and what did I think was a priority: seduce him into bed or seduce him into wanting to spend the rest of his life with her. I told her to play the long game and that leaping into bed with someone on what will be only their third date is a little promiscuous. She thought about it for a nano-second and said “Ah yes, but one romp with me and he’ll want to spend the rest of his life with me”. Sometimes I think my friends only ask me for my opinion so that they can convince themselves that they’re right.

I got home to find Lydia on the doorstep in a state of disarray. She fell into the house and headed straight for the biscuit tin. “I’ve just seen Mike” she mumbled through a chocolate hob nob. Lydia’s Nearly Ex Husband took it upon himself to congratulate her on her pregnancy by expressing amazement that she “could actually get up the duff at her age”. Lydia hit back with an ill-judged “well, it was obviously you that was faulty wasn’t it?” just as Susan came out of the house carrying Mike’s son. She shoved another hob nob into her mouth miserably. Although she’s not really showing that much (at the moment it looks like she’s just eaten a lot) but she’s taken to waddling like a duck and clutching her back. And refusing to lift anything heavier than a tea cup. After I’d lugged everything in from the car she helped me put everything neatly in the large wicker box I’d bought, going all gooey over the stuffed bears.

Feeling everso slightly smug I picked up the invitations that Mac has received. Nothing suitable for the birthday boys and girl in my brand spanking new Birthday Card and Present Box. Nothing, nada.

Best Friend Ben, who celebrates his birthday on Sunday with a barbecue in his spacious and newly landscaped garden, deserves more than what I’ve bought for the generic-just-stick-a-hand-in-and-grab-a-present Box. Miriam from Nursery is an organic, vegan, tie dyed little girl whose mummy doesn’t believe in “non educational toys”. I have nothing educational in this Box. Similarly for Jack, whose birthday is on the third of July but who is having his party on the last Saturday in June (which makes me shudder, I am extremely superstitious about celebrating birthdays before the actual day), is a real Boys Boy in that if he’s not dissecting a frog with his scientist father, he’s learning how rain is made or how electricity works or Higher Maths or Latin with his former University Professor Mother.

I don’t think he’s going to be happy with a Monster Trucks Top Trumps set do you?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Grumpy ol' me....

Well. The house wasn’t what I imagined. From the photos that David showed me on Friday night the place looked huge and airy with a daisy-strewn paddock and a hot tub. In reality it was poky and angular, the paddock about 20 foot by 20 foot and the attic bedroom would struggle to accommodate Junior Dog, let alone anyone else. “It’s certainly…..compact” David muttered as he nearly knocked himself out on a low beam as he came down the stairs. He was looking so despondent that I started to wax lyrical about the view. It was lovely – rolling fields, horses dotted picturesquely around….but it didn’t feel right. After another half an hour trying to convince ourselves that it really didn’t matter (it did) that we were closer to Chichester than Hastings we said farewell to the pretty little village and headed home in a rather dejected mood. We cheered up though after we’d had a paddle on Brighton beach.

And now I’m lethargic, in a grumpy mood and can’t be ars*d to do anything. Is this normal? I hear from Amelia that she is spending the weekend walking somewhere with her friend (I forget who and where, I was so happy to hear that she wouldn’t be descending Chez Moi that I didn’t register the rest of the call). The woman is in her late seventies and thinks nothing of donning sensible sturdy shoes and trudging round England’s green and pleasant land. Lydia, who is very much pregnant, is spending the weekend “doing the garden”. Janey is engaging in lengthy and plentiful bedroom raunch sessions in an attempt to remind Darren why he married her. Their wedding anniversary party is being planned meticulously as I type. And no, I’m not lifting a finger to help. Not more proof of my general “can’t be bothered” mood but borne out of the fact that I would just like to turn up at just one family event without having to organise the bloody thing.

Marjorie reported joyfully that she and Frank, influenced by my recent weekend away, are off to the Isle of Wight this weekend and plan to see “a lot of ceiling”. Saskia has lost a stone in weight since she started her new job – “It’s all that running around after stupid passengers” – and has hooked herself a pilot called Jeremy. “Only a budget airline pilot though” Bea said when she called by lunchtime to tell me that, should I need her on Saturday, she’ll be at Champneys. So not to bother her until Sunday. Even, she said darkly, in the event of an emergency.

The rest of my week is looking a little something like this: today an unprecedented midweek shop - Matt has eaten me out of house and home. Tomorrow I’m going to attempt to start a “Birthday Card and Present” box for Mac’s friends by going shopping for….things. Is it me or are there a lot more kids parties (all more extravagant than the last) knocking around just lately? Mac has invitations to three this month and I plan to start (!) being An Organised Mummy. On Thursday I am planning a Cooking Day and Friday will be spent cleaning the house from top to bottom.

I’m off to see Colin Fry at Catford Broadway on Saturday with Auntie Ivy, nothing strenuous there. Sunday will be spent having some “me” time as David and Matt are taking Mac to a cricket match and you know how they go on. Mac is suddenly “into” cricket having spent last Saturday with his cousin at Dulwich College in the slips. Or something like that anyway.

So, I am trying to be productive……it’s just that I’m not getting anywhere!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

All shook up

"Now, don't get too excited, it might not amount to much. And don't say no right away, I know it's not exactly what you wanted but I'm sure you'll love it really. And there's no pressure....just.....well, just see how it goes"

There are worse things to hear when you're lying on and under pure Irish linen next to your beloved husband on a kingsize bed in the room that the Mandarin Oriental (and several Sheiks I am led to believe) know as the Courtyard Queen on a Friday night after a lovely afternoon being pummelled and brushed and steamed and then a lovely meal where each course was better than the last. But, as I struggled to take in what David was saying, I was at a loss to know what in fact could be worse.

I turned to face him, his face hopeful and at the same time filled with trepidation. I had the fleeting thought that he'd been talking at length to Frank and Marjorie and pulled the sheet up to my chin. "What do you mean?" I said, shimmying further across the bed. Away from him. Such a shame really - he was so excited by the size of the plasma television in the room and kept booming "the people are almost life size!" as he channel hopped whilst I lay flat out in a steaming hot, Molton Brown scented bath that I was really quite hopeful of, y'know, a good night.

"Well, I've been umming and aahing about actually telling you because I know that it's quite possibly not what you want but then I thought that, once you saw it, you'd want it." he smiled at me winningly. My fleeting thoughts were now distinctly on the dark side, especially as he was wriggling around in the bed and a little down to his left as if.....reaching for something.

I can't tell you my relief when he came up with a sheaf of papers and not the whip/handcuffs/PVC tape/battery powered item/blindfold that I had imagined. After several large lungfuls of air I felt quite dizzy but relaxed enough to release my vice-like grip on the Irish linen (really, it was so lovely). It turns out that he's found a house in a village in East Sussex and is worried that because it's more rural than seaside I wouldn't be interested. "It's affordable even though it needs some work on it - I've taken the day off on Monday and thought we'd go down to view it?" It looks gorgeous, amazing even, and I'm sure that anyone passing our room might have mistaken my squeals of joy because the house has got a paddock and an attic room for Mac for something far raunchier.

Bea was right: I packed for glamour and got it - one slightly famous actor who was checking out as we were checking in and chilled champagne whilst perusing a menu that made me drool.

Janey was right: my inner sex kitten turned up on Saturday evening and successfully kept the football at bay too.

Marjorie was right, after a fashion: I got so intoxicated on the champagne (and lightheaded thanks to Marlia and her magic massage skills) that I fell A over T as I stepped regally out into the spa reception. David picked me up and practically carried me back to the room. Laughing.

Lydia was right: we just WERE, the two of us, despite frequent calls home to check on Mac and the dogs. Bea informed me that Mac was in danger of forgetting us altogether, he was having such a good time with his cousins and Matt assured us that all three dogs had nearly eaten the jumbo sized bag of Bakers that I'd only bought the day before.

Oh, and the room service was excellent!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Mini break

I’m confused. It’s not difficult I know but even so. The purpose of my weekend away with my lovely husband is as part of my birthday treat so I’ve packed accordingly. Comfy shoes for sightseeing and shopping, a good book, comfy jim-jams, a collection of lotions and potions for the luxury bathroom (as if the freebies won’t be enough) and casual clothes.

Bea is scandalised at this flagrant lack of class. “Darling, you should be packing for champagne at the American Bar, for dinner a deux, for exiting limos elegantly, for sheer glamour. You never know who you might bump into in the lift!”

Janey, currently undergoing a renaissance in her marriage – “I’ve got Darren to admit that he quite likes my stretch marks” – instructed me to pack for my inner sex kitten. I grumpily pointed out that I’d have to find her first. “Body chocolate and silk scarves are the way to go” she added.

Marjorie was shocked when I told her that we hadn’t planned anything special. “What? No role playing?” she screeched at me over the garden wall as she repotted her petunias. “Imagine it, you could pretend you don’t know each other and “meet” in the bar and let nature take its course” she said dreamily, tipping the best that John Innes had to offer all over her flagstones. “I remember our last hotel stay – Frank picked me up in the sauna, it was the best sex we’d ever had.”

Lydia, arriving at ten past eleven to receive the list of instructions for their dog sitting weekend, suggested that I just be myself and re-connect with David. She’s going all Earth Mother having signed up for Birth Classes at the Institute. “Just BE, the two of you as one.” She said as she read the five page document I’d prepared for her.

Mac is remarkably cool about the fact that he won’t see mummy or daddy until Sunday evening – he went off to nursery this morning with a spring in his step. I told his teacher that he will be collected this afternoon by Remarkably Skinny Now Au Pair. “You can’t miss her” I said “she’ll be drenched in perfume and fake tan”.

Remarkably Skinny Now Au Pair was equally flippant when I dropped off Mac’s bag. “She out” she said when she saw me on the marble doorstep, no doubt thinking I was here to see my sister. Once I’d reminded her (twice) that she was responsible for picking up my pride and joy from nursery at 3pm she smiled engagingly and invited me in for “some ‘erbal tea no?”. Bea has observed that it’s like having a completely new au pair: “She doesn’t eat to excess and I no longer have to step over empty KFC boxes in the utility room”

David is on the phone to Matt warning him against any “buggering about” and “if Granny arrives on a whim tomorrow, don’t you dare tell her where we are”. He’s packed – his one bag dwarfed by my two – and has booked the cab for 12noon. Lydia is bonding with Junior Dog who is looking worriedly in my direction as if he knows he’s going to be abandoned for the weekend. It seems my hounds are going to be more concerned about my lack of presence than my son.

Still, David has got a familiar gleam in his eye and I’m getting quite excited about room service…

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Oh. Dear. Me

Big Brother 9. Initial reaction? Want to hug two of them, slap three of them, gag one of them and mother the hunky one.

I shouldn't have started watching it......

Reality? Check!

Well! I have a mixed bag of comments with regard to my previous post in which I asked You to decide if I watch BB9 this year. Sharon wasn’t really much help to be honest because she just echoed my own thoughts on the subject, Working Mum warned me about getting sucked into the twilight zone, Millennium Housewife suggested that I watch it and report back (so, when you think about it, it’s a truly selfless act if I do watch it), Kelly (I think) is a very definite “no” whilst Aims asked me if I wanted my brain to melt. Too late there I’m afraid, that went during the whole “Jordan and Peter Andre” debacle of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

It’s true, I’m a sucker for reality television. Well, any television really. No, that’s not true. I don’t watch for the sake of watching and only spontaneously combust if I miss/fail to record about six programmes. I can take it or leave it. On the reality front it’s mainly Big Brother (Celebrity or otherwise) and the aforementioned IACGMOOH. I have no truck with any programme that involves Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber looking mock-terrifying on a throne and Denise Van Outen. Sir Alan Sugar’s Apprentice makes my teeth itch, Castaway makes me yearn to find a desert island of my own and, as for Celebrity Love Island or any programme that involves watching nubile young ladies and permatanned young men cavort round a beach has me reaching for the off button.

I have a theory. And I’m not justifying the fact that in a few hours I shall be watching the housemates arrive amidst flashing camera bulbs BUT……it’s a form of People Watching isn’t it? And I’m a great People Watcher. Some people (David, Lydia and Charlie) call it being nosy. But it’s not – it’s human nature. And it’s human nature to want to watch human nature if that makes any sense. Why do you think that all the body language experts and psycho-analysts line up to appear on the spin off BB shows? Not that I watched them, that’s taking it all too far, even for me. Apart from the fact that they were earning out of it, naturally. It’s because we’re so fascinated in why people do what they do. Whoever knew that raising your left arm six inches up and a little to the left when faced with the object of your desires meant that you were actually revealing your entire personality. Or something like that anyway. Saskia recently attended a Body Language course for work. It was terrible, she reported on her return – she’d upset three people in the space of ten minutes because of the way she held her body whilst talking to them. “By the time the course had finished, none of us were talking to each other”

I was fascinated by the whole Big Brother 8 Chiggy escapade purely because she was an apprentice bunny boiler and he was a failed pop star who loved himself. Charley was compulsive viewing as the South London It Girl from Lewisham. Bea was horrified at this and very nearly moved her entire family to the country – she spent weeks telling people that “Dulwich is not really anywhere near Lewisham”. I’ve had my favourite contestants in all of the BB’s – the only year that failed to capture my imagination was the 2003 one. Cameron Who?

I’ll tell you what you won’t find me doing though: confusing television with reality. Did you hear about the woman who sent a wreath for Vera Duckworth’s funeral? How worrying is that? I know that when I’m watching Stenders or Holby or whatever that they are actors playing a part. It’s not real. None of it. The fabulous Amanda Mealing who plays Connie Beauchamp would probably recoil at the sight of real blood but thinks nothing of plunging her arm into chest cavities on a regular basis. Pat Butcher in Stenders may be a bleached blonde harridan with gigantic earrings and a penchant for leopardskin PVC coats but I happen to know that, in reality, she is quietly and well spoken and favours clothing that don’t require a wipe down with a damp cloth.

I love Teletext and Ceefax. I flick through the pages checking my horoscopes, the news pages, football and the Soap Updates. Just for a laugh. Anxious people like “Dave, Bridport” or “Cath, Essex” regularly write in to express their concerns about the inhabitants of Albert Square or Coronation Street with gems such as “I agree with you Bev, Ken and Deirdre have got lots of money and yes, Blanche does own a house on the street so I don’t know why they’re telling everyone they have no money!!!!!” or “Tanya is heading for a fall with that Jack! Ange from Derby”. It makes you wonder doesn’t it? About whether reality, for some people anyway, has been suspended.

Go on. I dare you. ITV Teletext. Pages 116 and 117 and I think 118. It’s a whole other world

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Big Brother 9

Should I watch? Or not? You decide!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Postscript to last post

Hm. Maybe I have got an issue with him carving people up and putting them in a meat and potatoe pie. If not that, then certainly the fact that he consorted with a pox ridden pie shoppe owner!

Now, where's my DVD of Henry VIII.......?

Lord Ray of Winstone

I salute you. He can strut around in doublet and hose shouting at ladies in crinoline. He can carve people up and put them in a meat n potatoe pie. He can stare moodily as he walks through London's mean streets. He can even munch on that bloody cereal. Whatever he does, he does it with style and..........sigh.......he's lovely.

BBC2, 9pm, tonight. Have got a steaming cup of coffee, a bag of Minstrels and I'm ready.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

My birthday

Is it wrong for a 36 year old woman (as at 9.15pm this evening) to get almost hysterical at the thought of a birthday gathering? Not hysterical as in "needs a good slap" but hysterical with excitement at the prospect of birthday cake and opening a multitude of cards? David thinks it's endearing, Mac finds the whole thing highly embarrassing. He's approaching that age where a goodbye kiss from me at nursery is enough to make him run screaming into the playground. Never mind, I enjoyed myself immensely. I wasn't sick, nor did I have a tantrum, but I did eat jelly and ice-cream with gusto and Charlie who was responsible for providing the confections.

I got lots of nice cards with lovely things written on and in them and a fair few long sought after, fantastic, original, amazing, thoughtful presents. David's present was one of the best however and required the support of my wonderful sister and stepson and close friend. "It's all arranged" David had said as I clutched onto the envelope and gaped. "Mac's staying at Bea's from nursery on Friday until Sunday evening and Matt and Lydia will be staying here with the dogs while you lap up luxury." I glanced at my mother in law who had a face like a bulldog sucking a wasp because she wasn't part of Team Give Joanna a Nice Weekend Away. She was also in a foul mood over the whole Lydia Pregnancy Situation but that's another story. Mac made much of the fact that he'd "given mummy lots of money to buy new clothes" and brushed his father's assistance with this under the carpet. "I went into the shop with you daddy to buy the vachers!" he insisted with a pout that he's inherited from me. "But why aren't you happy I'm going to be a nuncle Granny?" was his other outstanding contribution to the evening.

"Aaannnnddd....." David said in a teasing fashion as he pretended to stagger into the room under the weight of the cake and the 36 candles that my Auntie Ivy had made, "....I'm even missing the opening games of Euro 2008 just for you!"

This led to a fifteen minute debate by the boys in the room - David, Dad, Stephen, Matt, Jack Next Door, Darren, Uncle Jim, Frank, James the Gorgeous Cardiothoracic Surgeon With Audi and No Wedding Ring who came with Charlie and Simon - about how terrible and awful and shameful that England wasn't in the tournament. This set the girls in the room - me, Bea, Lydia, Janey, Auntie Ivy, Marjorie, Charlie, Eliza and Saskia - off into discussions about just who is the sexiest footballer in the tournament, y'know, in the absence of Mr Beckham. Amelia pursed her lips and tutted us all loudly, her daughter especially. Ginny ignored her.

"Why don't we have a stakesweep?" Darren suggested. "Or a sweepstake" Simon pointed out. This was greeted with even more enthusiasm than the vol-au-vents that Marjorie provided.

There was then a burst of activity as David searched for pen, paper and a big box. Followed by an even longer burst of brain activity as we all attempted to work out how many teams were in the competition in relation to the amount of people in the room. As you can imagine, five bottles of champagne down, this took a while. "Sixteen!" Saskia announced as she peered at the computer screen after finding this site. She was the only one on the Schloer because she was due on duty at 9pm. "So, we all pick a team out of the hat, stick two quid in the pot - to make it worthwhile - and the winner takes all!" Simon said as he shook the box to shuffle the teams.

"And if you don't want to do it?" Amelia asked as she stacked up the cake plates. "Oh come on mother, don't be a stuffed shirt!" Ginny was rummaging in her pockets "If you win you can donate the lot to charity". "And if you don't know the first thing about football? Other than the majority of footballers are uncouth yobs who think spitting should be an Olympic sport?" Bea enquired, despite clutching a two pound coin in the hand that wasn't holding a glass of champers.

Because there was more of us than there are teams, David drew Spain on behalf of Mac and Janey chose Poland for Scarlett. Bea got highly excited that she had drawn Italy and started talking earnestly about Milan "for shopping darling". Lydia selected Greece for The Bump which made Amelia's lips disappear disapprovingly. Needless to say, the killjoy that is my mother in law declared the whole thing "ludicrous" and proceeded out to the kitchen to "make a start on this mountain of washing up".

All in all, an enjoyable day. I'm currently sitting in bed, typing this on David's laptop with yet another glass of champagne on the bedside table. My wonderful husband is splashing around in the bath having promised me a "preview" of next weekend. "You do know that England are playing tonight don't you?" I queried as I flicked through the Sky TV guide earlier. "S'alright darling" he said as he headed bathwards, towel draped provocatively around his waist "We can have it on in the background".

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.