Saturday, 31 July 2010

Biff Boff!

Alan and the girls returned from Latitude Music Festival as gentle as lentils: ‘That was cool, man.’ The girls demanded a further unauthorised absence from school to recover horizontally from doing nothing all weekend, but Alan shot into work before his tan faded to model the designer stubble which was just too much hassle to remove until a straight-talking first-born said ‘I didn’t know you were going grey’, whereupon it disappeared pretty much immediately. ‘No ponytail, absolutely not’, I said, ‘it wouldn’t match your brogues, and the smock – bedwear only’.

Josie had a heavenly glow about her and I knew for sure she’d had an amazing experience: I was right – she’d borrowed her friend’s leggings: ‘They were so soft!’ She put her arm around forlorn me, ‘But don’t worry, Mummy, I don’t know how people stop their washing being rough and hard either’. Maddy and her mates were escorted back to Alan, lying down in his tent, by a security guard, who'd found them in the S&M tent. Glad some-one was keeping an eye out.

One more week of learning before the Summer Holidays! By Tuesday, ALfie and Bonnie were bug-eyed with film-watching while their teachers hid the best rubbers for next term. Teacher presents! I'd planned to give the teachers ice-cream, but Bonnie was on it:‘You are no way giving boring ice-cream to my teacher, that sucks’. I searched the emergency presents drawer. It was the last day of term. 'What about a fluffy Winnie-the-Pooh hot water bottle, Bonnie?' I said, but it was ‘Oh man, are you kidding?'. A football motif whoopee cushion and a glow in the dark IKEA toilet bag rounded up the selection, the latter winning by a whisker. That meant that Alfie’s very un-fluffy teacher would get the fluffy Winnie-the-Pooh hot water bottle – it could double as a missile when she was breaking in her new class. 'What do you think, ALfie?' I said 'Biff boff' was the reply, so that was decided. I was imagining my dreadful presents lined up alongside the organic chocolates and Estee Lauder, but Alan put me straight: ‘Don’t worry, those teachers must get all sorts of junk’, which made me feel alot better, I think.

I wrote the last crawling notes of apology to the girls’ teachers with some relief: ‘Dear Miss, Maddy couldn’t do her homework and watch Hollyoaks, Misfits and The Apprentice, so she prioritised the good TV. She is so very sorry and will never ever do it again, Yours Sincerely, Sucker’; ‘Josie has no tie, I don’t know why, Where can it be? She should have three!’

Maddy tumbled in after school with her friends in a 'school's finished hysteria' throwing together a pancake mixture, pink this time, some of which made it to the kitchen table where it was eaten off the large sheet of paper I had stuck down to encourage everyone to draw their vision of the holidays to come (I am the sole contributor so far). The rest of the pink gunge was welded to areas of high use – the kettle, door knobs, microwave, cutlery drawer, and the bathroom sink where they had thought to wash their hands so's they'd be clean and comfortable. They kindly moved up to our bedroom so that the cleaner (me) could get started on the kitchen, and they could eat crisps on my bed and discuss how annoying mums are. I quite like it when they're at school.

Later, still grumpy from spring-cleaning the kitchen and not being able to shout properly until Maddy’s friends had left, it seemed like the perfect moment to announce my holidays rule, with effect from the next day: ‘No screens until 3pm - you are not zombies’. The obligatory caterwauling ensued, all of them placing bets, once my back was turned, on how long I’d last if they kept to their rule of continuous aggravation by all and any means, though they did expect a better effort than 12.45pm the next day, by which time I had the mother of all headaches, and was turning the wii remote over in my hand saying ‘this looks intriguing – what is it?’ until they got the hint and asked please to go on it. ‘Just this once’ I said. ‘BIFF BOFF!’ whooped my boy.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Get Down, Baby!

Cripes - the girls are at a Pop Festival!! With Daddy, though. ‘Oh all right then, I’ll take you to Latitude’, he said, his voice squeaky with excitement, but keeping a straight face. A weekend away with the girls? That must mean serious brownie points! ‘Why don’t you bring a few friends too?’ he said, getting carried away now – but no, this would ensure the girls would want nothing to do with him once he’d shelled out the dosh and he’d be free to get down, baby! Three-day pop festival!! Whoo-hoo!

Both of us insanely busy - him with his big job, me with my whisk - the organisation of the trip left a little to be desired; we’d hatched a plan to think about it later, but later came before the thinking, and suddenly it was time to go! I just got Alan up to speed on his responsibilities (‘child x is having an asthma attack and calls you from somewhere in the festival. Her credit runs out. What do you do?’ ‘um, put some more pasta on?’), threw 48 toilet rolls and a packet of dried soup in the car and they were gone.

Back at the ranch (!) I was up with the lark the next morning, and (absence making the heart grow fonder) I was looking around for little memories of my love. The shrunk shirts (‘thirty degree wash’ he’d said quietly); the massively over-filled cat bowl, for he scolds me for not feeding them – as if there’s a chance, with him leapfrogging the banisters every morning, grasping the GoCat: ‘There! Empty again!’; oh and his tomato puree tubes all lined up: ‘you can never have too much tomato puree!’ Bless.

Just in case Alfie and Bonnie resented being stuck at home with me, instead of camping with friends and non-stop entertainment, I had planned a varied and interesting day: we could enjoy fresh air, ethnic delicacies and the arts too! Blood was drawn over breakfast (something to do with the milk lid) but luckily our lift to football training arrived and it was time for Fresh air and Exercise! I stood on the touchline - I was Dad today! - and aped the other Dads, ‘Push Up! Back! Back!!’ and shook my fist urgently at random players. Was Alan getting any exercise? Twirling the poi? Exploring the martial arts? - one leg cocked, stock still on t’other? Kaftan-clad? Bandanna-ed? He has been under an awful lot of stress lately.

Lunch time approached. I knew for sure that Alan would be stuffing as much chips, beer and jelly-babies as he could without falling over, but for Maddy it would be 'Stop eating junk, Maddy, and try a bean and tofu fancy.' Well, we were going to sample Chinese Cuisine - Crispy Roast Duck in China Town, which I garrotted down the middle before you could say ‘that’s not fair’, so that Alfie and Bonnie could share it without sharing. We were getting along famously so it was time for the sting in the tale: the National Portrait Gallery where I happened to know a match that! We were going to print a T-shirt inspired by the Collection! (‘Mum, can we just go now?’)

But at the desk we discovered there was a misprint in the pamphlet! No Free Family Event! No T-shirt inspired by the Collection! I looked the assistant sternly in the eye – ‘this is really bad’ I said, ‘we’ve come all the way from...London’. ‘Madam, I am so sorry you have wasted your journey but you are holding the Programme of Free Family Events for July 2009. I stared at my 2009 pamphlet and muttered cantankerously that it was nearly the same colour as the new 2010 one.... Alfie spluttered with mirth and relief in equal measure and my phone ding donged a text from Alan saying he’d just watched Michael Bourne’s Swan Lake across the lake at Latitude to which I didn’t reply.

Well we were here now, so we stomped around the BP Portrait Competition 2010, critiquing the art loudly, impressionistic getting the thumbs down (‘that’s really messy!’), Alfie winding me up by pointing at the pictures very very closely (‘ don’t touch!’). There were child friendly captions: ‘This artist was interested in putting patterns side by side! Can you find another pattern in this room??’ ‘Na’ he said, ‘let’s go.’

The texts from Latitude dwindled to nothing the next day...he’s in a drunken stupor or having his hair braided by some young lovely who looks him in the eye, instead of in the stomach and says ‘shift over, I need to get to the sink’. But probably not – he’s too tired, like me.

Friday, 16 July 2010


Just played in my first orchestral concert for years! I was so excited about the children coming to watch! I was playing the viola - how better to inspire them to practice diligently and perhaps trigger a life-time's enjoyment of classical music? But as the day grew near, two dropped out because something better cropped up - parties, sleepovers - so in the end it was just Bonnie and good old Maddy. ‘Bonnie,' I whooped, 'you can sit right in front of the violins and watch them at close range!!’ ‘I don’t want to listen to a few STUPID violins. I want to go to the Steam Fair and GO ON THE OCTUPUS!’ she bawled.

I strapped her into the car nonetheless (‘most children would think themselves lucky...!’) and brushed off the shoe-prints she’d stamped on my concert dress. It was unfortunate that the Steam Fair coincided with my concert, but I was confident that culture would win over candyfloss. In the meantime, I struck a deal that she would watch half the concert, get an edible treat on the way home, and I would take her on the Octopus at twelve noon the next day. The words 'spoilt brat' never crossed my lips, I swear.

Once seated in the concert hall, my family group were transported by the glorious Grieg Piano Concerto. Glancing over from the second desk of the violas I spied them concentrating on the music with eyes shut and mouths open, excluding Bonnie who was transfixed by the pianist’s peach gown; the combination of balmy evening and vigorous tinkling were turning it dark orange around the bosom area as she became drenched in sweat, a social faux pas of the gravest order by the look on Bonnie’s face and her pointing at the offending armpits. Alan whispered something in her ear – at a guess concerning the edible treat – and she then sat quietly, staring into the middle distance, no doubt soaking up the heart stopping beauty of the final movement. The audience rose for a standing ovation as the magnificent performance ended, and I rushed over to receive Bonnie’s congratulations and witness her awe-struck reaction to the music first hand.

‘That was the most BORING thing I have EVER heard’ she said, ‘Let’s go Daddy – I want my treat’.

The next morning I knew I had to get out of the Octopus ride, for I would be sick; the obvious solution was to allow Alan to do it after he’d returned from remedying his golf swing; but when I explained my idea to him, he said he might not be able to get back by noon, but he’d try, so I knew the score. With mounting unease, I tried entertaining the children with good old-fashioned family fun so that they’d forget all about the boring old steam fair, but Bonnie positioned herself on the garden gate straight after breakfast and was shouting ‘Let’s Go! Let’s Go!’ I even got out all Alfie's model-making sets that birthday guests mistakenly thought he had the fine motor skills and enthusiasn to conquer, and squinted at the teeny weeny B52 bits, but he preferred turning the telly on and off by banging his head on the TV table, a trick which relies on excitingly unpredictable circuitry, a wobbly house, and a seriously bored child. No, it wasn't working, so I grimly accepted defeat, rang my Dad to say I’d always loved him, and walked to the Octopus, there to have my stomach pulled out of my mouth and shoved back in a thousand times before being deposited back on firm ground whence I fell over, and was led home by the hand and put to bed by Alfie and Bonnie. I am hoping to recover by the next orchestra rehearsal.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Summer Fair

I love the school Summer Fair! And this year, I was selling my own home-made ice-cream at it! I was terribly short of sleep, mind you, having spent way too much time the night before engaged in exercise of the middle-aged kind: shoving, pinching, and slapping on the head my special, but snoring, partner for life. Finally I'd yelled in his ear-hole 'YOU ARE SNORING LIKE A PIG!' but to no avail.

Still, the day of the Fair is always a great skive 'Got to do my bit for the school, Alan!' (all day!) 'Don’t forget the children like pancakes for breakfast at the weekend, then recycling centre, homework – there’s a list…..' Love it. But this year I messed up! I sent Alan to the shops as we were out of shuttlecocks and tennis balls with which to festoon neighbouring gardens, and then remembered I'd booked a Tesco delivery, so was stuck at home waiting for that. I was going to be late for my own sales pitch! (I mean fund-raising activity)

Eventually I made it to school. The caretaker had decided that rather than stick his nose in where it was wanted, he’d continue his lie-in until all the heavy work was done, but dragging a freezer two hundred metres was a small price to pay for advertising my ice-creams and I was ready to trade as the gates opened. It was a sweltering hot day, so I introduced a ruthless no-melt lid-shutting policy (‘Mind your fingers – SLAM!’) when I realised I could make a batch of mango in the time it took a toddler to choose their favourite flavour. My own children seemed to be remarkably happy being left to their own devices and using my ice-cream takings as a cash-point, so I left them to it and before long, I'd sold out.

We were all tired and tetchy when we got home. Alan was dealing with his work-life balance, sipping tea in the middle of the Tesco’s shopping, sizing up how ‘I don’t know where anything goes’ would work as an excuse for leaving it covering the floors of two rooms all day. Concluding that it would jeopardise tomorrow’s golf he pretended to unpack something already on a shelf while reading Car on the sly. Bonnie began her very loud singing reserved for driving Alfie mental and getting him out of the room, so he joined me in the toilet and out of sheer boredom began firing shuttlecocks with deadly accuracy at my forehead ‘BonnieAlfieMaddyAlfie! Stop it!’ I squarked with what dignity I could muster while forgetting his name with my pants down.

At last the children were in bed and we could resume our affable banter about TV choices: Alan getting shirty if he misses one micro-second of Jeremy Clarkson's clever-dickory, me preferring interesting documentaries which I might occasionally fall asleep in front of. But that's because of the snoring the night before...

Friday, 2 July 2010


Teenage mess? Sorted! This is our arrangement: Josie studies for her GCSEs, dance exams, music exams, does artistic stuff, cooks toffee, leaves the phone in the garden, loses her Oyster Card every three seconds; I follow in her wake and hoover up all the discarded books, ballet shoes, sheet music, paints, pens and poetry, putting them back in their places. She thinks she's in control of her life. I get to walk on the carpet instead of wading through a soup of pants, tea-cups and hairclips. Simple!

And in case I sound like an idiot, a sell-out, 'not doing her any favours!' nudge nudge, guess what: for eight of her fifteen years I insisted on her tidying up, so that's eight years of nagging. She didn't tidy, or wouldn't, or couldn't. She is wired up to be dreadfully, painfully, continuously, untidy. And she doesn't like being that way, either. She would just look at me and say 'I'm sorry, Mummy'. That was the killer.

Of course I wonder what will happen when she leaves home. And it's not easy letting her get away with murder, though we do have a gentleman's agreement that allows me to vomit unspeakable insults in her direction every now and again which she takes on the chin until I reign in my darker side for another few weeks: 'You are a complete SLOTH!' was this morning's wake-up call, which she isn't, but the horrible words hang in the air. How could I speak to her like that? I am a monster! And on the morning of her Physics! Which as it happens was a ‘disaster’ because the meanies have again tested her on material she hasn’t been taught (?). No time to dwell, we’re all off to see her read a poem at the school tonight, the culmination of a year of extra-curricular extra-enriching creative writing which she signed up for before 90210 got really good. The little ones are dead excited (‘How much will you pay us, we’re missing our TV time’)and Maddy’s happy to come along given the shed load of noisy snacks I’ve packed to annoy the audience, and reckons (correctly) I’ll be past caring about homework when we get back.

The school has laid on biscuits and juice! Bonnie and Alfie run for the snacks table and there's a tussle over the carton resulting in a spill on the carpet, hastily splodged up by you know who while they grab the big comfy chairs at the front meant for important people. A hush falls and the Writer in Residence introduces the evening, warmly welcoming the children (crikey, don’t let me down guys). The readings proceed, themed as expected around teenage angst and despair. Bonnie realises she is not the centre of attention so puts things right with a stage whispered ‘This is very boring’. She walks ceremoniously over to the digestives, takes a stack, refills her juice, then returns to her revolving chair to begin spinning, faster and faster, until the centrifugal force ejects her juice in an ark around her.. but all good things come to an end, and the applause is that enthusiastic, it even swamps Alfie’s yowling yawns. I plan to say ‘thank you’ to the Writer in Residence and a chummy ‘you know how it is with kids, haha!’ but he averts his eyes, so maybe he doesn’t..

Back home to a fresh layer of detritus on Josie's floor, I congratulate her on her poem reading, simultaneously kneeling in some tea she spilt and forgot about...'Oh Mummy, I'm so sorry, I forgot about that, I was in a rush...'