Thursday, 24 June 2010

Electronically Challenged

Alfie's Play Station Portable (PSP) wasn't working - this was really serious. I did all the usual checks: on off on off, bang it on the table; nothing. ‘Where’s Daddy?’ he whispered.

A cacophony of shrieking had me charging to the front room where the other three were sprawled, taking a well-earned rest from breakfast. ‘The telly’s gone blank!’ they cried, gutted it was only me. 'We need Daddy!' I chose one of the seventeen units which Alan keeps lined up to show what he’s achieved in life, and started pushing buttons, giving a pretty mean impersonation of someone who knows how to switch the TV on. ‘WRONG UNIT! GOD MUMMY! WHERE’S DADDY?’

I'll admit to being slightly electronically challenged; but if I spent as many hours as my children fiddling around with handsets and remotes, I'd be a genius at it too! I assume. Instead, my time is spent doing more constructive things up, and...putting things away...

I went back where I belonged in the kitchen to do something better suited to my skill set: School bags! The girls were too busy face-booking the previous night to lift their lunch boxes out of their schoolbags, so I’m in there, down amongst the mobiles and screwed up homework sheets, when I skewer a lump of slush, which turns out to be a kiwi, with my finger. Aaaaargh. I was starting to mumble and grunt 'Lazy pigs...take me for granted...'

I needed to get out before I really started ranting, so bagged a plum job: take Bonnie and chum to Brownie Sleepover, point being it was a half hour drive, return trip child-free, Radio 4 hello! I spun a yarn about how Bonnie was going to miss me, ha ha, so I needed to go to say goodbye, and set off with the girls. Alan programmed the satnav for me because I haven't learnt to do it yet, hmmm, and he's hidden the good old map book somewhere it won't embarrass him.

As soon as we set off, I discovered that the children had hilariously programmed the satnav to german. Still, I managed to follow the arrows on the liquid crystal display (rather cleverly I thought) to the finishing post, except it was a Ladbrookes, not the gothic mansion we’d envisaged ('Northern Heights')peeping through the dark forests of yore. I tried to re-programme the German guy who came up with a whole new set of flow diagramz easily detzipherable if you’d recently revized your metaphysicz, but offering simple folk like me nothing remotely comprehensible, like ‘get me to Northern Heights half an hour ago, cleverdick’. We were back at Ladbrookes, and the punters there were useless at directions too - because they all use satnav! A chant of ‘Late! Late! Late!’ from the back seat kept my blood pressure in the danger zone as I PUNCHED in the post code another 15 times, hoping Mr G would come up with something new before lights out in the dorm.

Eventually Mr G got it (oh that WD6 3RG!) and we screeched to a halt at the correct venue, where the entire Brownie pack were waiting for us to arrive so they could start the jolly japes. I ripped the satnav out; I could still get my Radio 4 moment on the return journey. But guess what, Mr G wouldn't switch off, and directed me all ze way home. 'Where's Daddy?' I said, when I got there. 'I want that map book back in the car!'

Friday, 18 June 2010

Come to Lunch!

‘Mummy, have you and Daddy actually got any friends?’ said Josie, ‘because all my friends’ parents have people to lunch the whole time.’

Showcasing my home-making skills being my absolute favourite activity of a weekend, I arranged a lunch last Sunday - ‘Come to lunch – the lot of you! Yes, do!’
I must not replicate my own mother’s lack of social ease; she was so scared of Grandma coming to stay for Christmas that we ate mince pies from September on, each recipe making mother cry all the more into her sherry bottle.

Of course, there is no food at all in your brain when you have to cook, but A for apple, B for bread got the ball rolling until I’d come up with something strangely similar to what I cooked last time, different salad on the side. The menu, once decided, embedded itself in my psyche, and took on a life of its own, ricocheting out of my mouth when Alan was recounting his day: ‘He’s a funny chap, this bloke, but I said, let’s brainstorm this one-‘ ‘LENTIL SALAD AND SAUSAGES!’ ‘What?’

As the lunch loomed, and I visualised the rolling countryside that our guests call their garden, I bought Geraniums to conceal the paint pots awaiting transportation to the correct recycling centre in Outer Mongolia, but currently adorning our front doorstep, and ripped thistles bare handed from paving stones. I cast an eye over the interior, hoping that pockets of interesting untidiness (gulp) indicated full lives…some half finished sewing (oh, I was just making…’). It was a ghastly mess.

I knew I’d lost control when I found myself at the skirting boards with a toothbrush, while the lentils bubbled and the coucous swelled, but luckily my family came to the rescue: Alan laid the table (‘Where is everything?’); Maddy and Josie kept nice and quiet in bed and bath respectively until 10 minutes before kick-off; Bonnie decorated the garden with purple playdough ‘Look Mummy – d’you like it?’; and Alfie alternated ‘Can I have a sausage?’ with ‘Can you play a game with me?’ for two hours, a joke he did so well I nearly smashed his head in. ‘Does it look like I can?’ I growled, storming into the loo, where something unsavoury had miss-fired. ’ALFIE!!!! CLEAN IT OFF!!’ I yelled, and the toilet brush being a thing revolting enough to be handled only by me, he sensibly put on a glove, picked it up with forefinger and thumb, and swung it at said deposit. ‘Can I have a sausage?’

I was on my knees going at the purple garden with a scratchy sponge when a tap on the head with a mascara indicated that Josie needed my attention. ‘Hey mummy, I used a new shampoo and just look!’ giving a twirl ‘My hair’s all smooth!!’ ‘Goodo. Can you do something to help please?’ I muttered into the gloop.

The doorbell, minor seizure, and we were away! ‘Hello! Come in!’ Lovely afternoon, as it turned out - no friends, my foot!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Happy Birthday Darlings

Maddy and Alfie decided on ‘proper’ parties this year ie. get your cheque book out, no pass the parcel. Maddy’s was first, so on Saturday night Alan and I were under lock and key in the kitchen of the local hall with strict instructions to be neither seen nor heard. The children hollered ‘Your Sex is on Fire’ on the other side of the shutter - it was a disco, what do you expect? - but soon Alan’s nosey side got the better of him and dolled up as he was in his best check shirt, extra Tuff Stuff on the remaining strands, he emerged rather brazenly from the kitchen to take his chances on the dance floor, and get a better look at the glamorous girls and idiot boys, returning to me rather surprised that no-one had wanted to talk to him. Well, we had a whole hour to talk to each other in the kitchen, so Alan went for a long walk and I fiddled with my phone until the coast was clear and Maddy let us out to scrape chocolate butter cream off the floor, lug everything home and then be neither seen nor heard there, while she had her sleepover.

Forty-eight packets of Sensations was just enough to give the kids a treat, judging from the crumbs left for me in case I got any funny ideas about sitting down any time this life. At 3.15am in the morning, while the rest of the world thought sleep not a bad idea (including Alan) the girls were bouncing each other on the floor above my head and howling because it was so DAMNED funny that I had to say things to them you only think of when you’re really serious about stopping really serious fun.

Rising refreshed three hours later to start the usual one thousand point turn putting everything back where I put it back the same time the day before, and to prepare for Alfie's party, I realised with horror I’d forgotten his party bags. Goody! A Sunday morning trip to Sports Direct, doubling as quality needling time on the bus for Alfie and Bonnie, since Alan was, with regret, required at the golf course or his name would be mud (I could think of others). I guess it’s best at least one of us keeps their work-life balance in perfect working order.

We returned from our shopping jolly to find the kitchen coated in green pancake mixture. This day was turning into one big laugh! I smiled – those girls have been up to something! I waited for a scene change in the teen flick they were watching in the other room to enquire, begging your pardon ma’am, whether any help was on offer with the green kitchen. ‘I have cleared up’ said Maddy, and silly me, she was right, for there in the sink, was a dirty frying pan! I took up my default position under the kitchen table, starting with syrup-covered lemon pips, moving onwards and upwards, until there was a clear space just big enough to fill with lunch time.

And then it was Alfie's turn - a Circus Skills party with the lovely Nathan, Alan on duty as host ('I think the boys would like a man there' was the best I could come up with). I was at home pretending it took an hour to open the jammie dodgers for the buffet tea that I hoped would encourage mixing if any of Alfie’s guests were shy. I swung wide the door - ‘Hi boys, jackets go-’ - picked myself up off the floor in time to see the last of them catapult into the back garden whereupon an hour of violence and intimidation to man, beast, and tomato plant took place. I ventured out with pizza but gave up after the second football knocked me sideways, and set up a first aid post inside, Alan singing Happy Birthday with me as a duet through the cat flap to anyone who would listen. Happy Birthday one and all

Friday, 4 June 2010

Getting Off

This half-term my sister and I planned another little Youth Hostel trip, dosing our children up on fresh air and natural beauty whether they liked it or not. This time our destination was Beer in Dorset. We solemnly agreed a suicidal set-off time of 8.30am, which meant that at 6am, with regret, I had to swish open the curtains to let daylight do its work on a sleeping Alan, and get packing.

It is difficult to land a large suitcase precisely onto the unoccupied half of the marital bed, so let’s just say there were a few cross words...but then he had claimed he needed to stay at home to focus on work, so I was doing him a favour really. Only ‘if time allowed’(shaking his head doubtfully) would he be able to devote any time at all to maintaining his handicap on the golf course, though I had overheard the surreptious phone calls: 'Tee off at 9?...nice little pub does steak pie...'

8.31am and my sister pulled up with her three, smiling and sensibly packed. She courteously agreed to lead, since my route planning had been stalled by rolling muddy football boots up in the map book, and of course satnav beyond capabilities. My family were still indoors, the girls downloading music for the journey in their pyjamas, Alfie using the Force to get his shoes on because the alternative was taking his thumb out of his mouth. Bonnie was in the garden with teddies, quilt and pillows, causing rounds of 'that's not fair, I want to take my teddies, quilt and pillow too!' from everyone else. I was screaming randomly.

Finally we were off! A kick in the back from time to time kept me focussed, and their were sundry duties such as dividing chewing gum into four tinsy pieces with hands on the wheel, eating everyone's crusts as no bin bag, usual stuff. On the whole though, the in-car DVD of which I so disapprove but allowed as an experiment only, meant we reached Devon with the shocking sensation of not actually hating each others guts, and wheeled down the beautiful lanes, wild flowers and hedgerows galore feeling quite full of the joys! I threw open the windows, drawing in breath ‘Aah! Lovely fresh air!’ The children fell about gasping ‘STINK!’ at the cows doing what comes naturally. 'That's life!' I trilled, but Maddy, gagging into a hankie, reminded me that whilst inviting in the sounds of the chirruping birds I was actually increasing air resistance, and thus fuel consumption, so I was only allowed to have my window open.

We pressed on to Beer and discovered that the Youth Hostel was set at the top of a number of steep hair-pin bends; the idyllic hillside views came at a price. I cursed our stupid big people carrier, but that didn't change the facts: I had to try, so I steamed up the track, heart thunping, and took the first bend like a hero, laughably misjudged it, and was stuck straight away, wheel spinning, engine smoking. The children all leapt out so I could fall over the hill edge alone. I then performed one of my special thirty-point turns on slippery muddy inclines with a fatal drop right there, which I've been practising for a moment like this, and guess what - I did it!! 'Don't tell Daddy about the smoke, will you?' I said to the children, when they'd stopped laughing.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


After the costume fiasco that was Bonnie's Greeks assembly, the sewing box was out in a flash when it was Alfie’s turn, the topic being Rainforests. ‘I have a snake head-dress already’ he said, (an animate role! he’s usually foliage) ‘but the head looks all smashed up - like an alien!' (delighted) 'because Tommy pressed reallyreallyreallyhard when he drawed the scales for me' Don't push yourself, Alfie. Well then, could I help him with his lines, the acting? Nothing registered for a while. 'Well,' he said, ' all I have to do is look at the animals and trees....and then lie down.’ Fingers crossed.

Bonnie was seeking attention by stabbing herself with a bread knife, so I asked her how the Greeks were going. ‘They pooed in buckets, and they wrote on papyrus, which is made out of weeds’. ‘It's so easy in the Juniors', whined Josie who had been crying on and off for a day over the ‘C’ she got for her review of Great Expectations, which I thought was a great mark considering she hadn't read it. ‘No-one told us to read the actual book' she said. 'I’m so stressed I need another bath, please have a cup of tea ready for me, Mummy, and this time I need two sugars... ‘and she trailed out of the room with a sigh, glancing in the mirror on the way.

As it turned out, the Rainforests assembly, was a marvel! The scene was set by various creatures of the rainforest wandering about amidst stirring music. No words! The plot relied on actions alone to reveal itself. Deforesters, I think, crashed in with a Bob the Builder chainsaw after a while, and CUT DOWN the very life of the forest – whoosh! Next it was burn, burn, burn (and burn some more as it happens, because the music had quite a considerable coda) until the ground was bare, and the creatures laid low. The bad guys then yawned excessively which was when I could have done with some narration, but my neighbour explained that the yawning symbolised lack of oxygen on account of the deforestation. Lesson learnt!

The assembly was topped off with the usual sing-song, but with the addition of a child conductress - not necessarily a wise move, but I’m sure her sense of achievement outweighed what the music lacked by way of a beat. After a few rounds of ‘One Voice’ (or should I say ‘Many Voices – and not all at the same time!’) my own little snake had more or less fallen sleep over his tambourine, which may be why he hasn't yet had a speaking part. Bravo, children!