Friday, 25 March 2011


Alan has a great little time management model which categorises activity into four types: there’s (1) important-urgent (your hair’s on fire!) (2) important-non urgent (tell me you love me) (3) unimportant-urgent (wipe the cabbage off your cheek before you go out) and (4) unimportant-non urgent (playing golf). We set about categorising our daily chores thus to better prioritise our respective workloads, but when it became apparent that 99% of my activity is unimportant-non-urgent, I decided the model was stupid, though Alan kindly agreed that if you leave unimportant-non-urgent for long enough, it becomes important-urgent; if it’s never quite time to try that recipe for peanut cookies, I may become depressed with the meaningless of life and kill myself!!

Given Alan’s testy temper of late, methinks there is too much important-urgent in his day – what with holding down the Big Job (‘I’m doing two peoples’ jobs!’) and then home to ‘Daddy where have you been? The rubbish internet’s not working again – I need it for my homework now’ (and face-book). So he has to call the amusingly titled ‘help’ line at the call centre in India, staring angrily at his new SUPER hob which he bought to speed up the internet, but which has actually killed it. I did suggest we’d be better off without the SUPER hob but I got ‘I AM NOT GIVING UP I AM GOING TO MAKE IT WORK’ (red-faced). When I said he seemed stressed and maybe he should put a little unimportant-non-urgent into the mix, for instance by picking up a few puppy plops of an evening, I just got a look which said important-urgent = me, puppy plops = you.

As he’s in the grip of important-urgent matters at all times, muggins here, as well as doing all the usual unimportant-non-urgent jobs (toothbrushing enforcement, cleaning and tidying, general moaning and yelling) has been assigned furniture construction. Previously Alan had been happy to spend a day constructing a Murmb or a Duk, smiling at TalkCrap behind closed doors, hammer in a limp hand, until I gave him a shove to get working again. But now poor old Daddy needs to relax ‘a bit’ at the weekend by playing golf then dozing in front of the football. All day.

So this week I constructed an Ikea chest of drawers and an acoustic drum kit all by my little self, including getting the packages up to the top-most bedroom; Alfie had squealed on Daddy, who’d said ‘Mummy might not be able to do it properly’ so I was damned if I was asking for help – I’d do it myself or my name was not Bob the Builder.

The flat-pack Ikea box, eight inches thick, the size of a door and the weight of a car, would only shift up the stairs if I slid it, but could I get a grip on the sod? No, so I sat on the stair below and pushed up with my back, and then with my head by lying face down on the stairs. My head was moving but the flat pack was not, which started alarm bells ringing. Finally I gave in to common sense, and took the pieces out of the box and up the four flights one by boring one, hearing my Dad’s voice in my head ‘Less haste, more speed’ Ner ner ner ner. Next was the bass drum box which was the shape of a washing machine. I couldn’t get my arms around it for love nor money so it was another sliding job. Disaster struck at the penultimate stair corner which needed an up and over, but luckily Alfie was off sick-ish, to offer encouragement and someone to fall over, and he really would have helped if he didn’t have to suck his thumb and hold his comfort blanket. There was effing and blinding, but eventually drawers and drum kit were constructed, properly.

Alan came home, ‘Come and look!’ we shouted down the stairs. But he was firing off e-mails. ‘Sorry, this is really important – and urgent – I’ll look later.’ He’d had time to pour a glass of wine though...

Friday, 18 March 2011


We’ve bought a puppy. Visitors are queuing up to hold the little bundle of fluff, followed closely by me, the dettol and the paper towels.

It’s all Bonnie’s fault; she’s the dog-lover, and we are not talking whim here; she’s learnt all the breeds, and it’s been ‘Look at the cute dog!’ every five minutes for as long as I can remember. ‘I only have to wait another six years till I can have one!’ she exclaimed the other day - that was what broke me.

‘Alan’ I said ‘I really think we should get a dog while Bonnie’s still actually living at home’. He hurrumphed about. ‘You know nothing about dogs – it’s like having another baby. And what about when we go on all those exciting foreign holidays?’ ‘We don’t.’ ‘What about the garden?’ ‘It has nothing in it’. ‘It would need walking every single day – 6.30am!’ ‘My job!’ ‘Poo?’ ‘Love it!’

Being enthusiastic and excited got me nowhere. Only when I tried to look really grim (this will not be good or fun in any way) did he come round. I’d reserved a hound within minutes, which is how I came to be driving out of Taunton on Sunday morning with a pooch in a cat-basket snuggled in his doggy-mummy’s blanket, bound for home.

‘Leave him in the basket for the journey’, said the owner. But I knew better, and out he came for a delightful cuddle with Mummy at the first service station. I popped him back in, and that’s when the yelping started. Be firm, I thought; he’s just like a baby who doesn’t want to go back in his car-seat. The barking rose to hysterical shrieking, and then... the stink. He’d pooed in the cat-basket and I couldn’t get off the motor way. He was spinning around inside the basket, biting his tail, having a doggy-breakdown. ‘Get me out, Wicked Step-mother!’ he cried. His golden fur was brown and wet with poo, as was the interior of his temporary accommodation. I couldn’t stop in the hard shoulder to stop a pooey puppy crying...could I? ‘It’s all right, Doggy!’ I yelled over the racket, but there was nothing all right about this situation at all.

Three days later I pulled into a Sainsbury car park, and took the pooey puppy (with my bare hands) out of his poo-smeared prison. Armed with a packet of baby wipes, I set to, wipe-wipe-wiping every inch of his tummy, toes, willy, bum, mouth and ears. It was possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever had to do. Doggy-mummy’s blanket went in the bin (bye bye Mummy), along with his new pooed-on doggy toys.

He had to go back in the (baby-wiped) cat basket for the remainder of the journey, which oddly enough he didn’t fancy, so he barked all the way home (two hours). All I had to offer him by way of comfort and distraction was some wiggling fingers (if I fed him he might poo again). I was stressed. I texted Alan to get Bonnie out of the house; this stinky hound was supposed to be the best surprise of her life. He’d needed a bath first – another lovely surprise along with being removed from his mummy, siblings and home, and being incarcerated with his own poo for hours on end – the psychological damage meant we may as well have got a dog from Battersea in the first place...

All dreadful experiences come to an end, and little Archie (named by unanimous vote while I was out) was duly bathed, blow-dried and presented to Bonnie later that day. When the penny dropped that this pup was actually ours for keeps, her look of disbelief and joy brought a tear to Alan’s eye. Alfie was pretty amazed too. ‘Is it second-hand?’ he said. That’s my boy!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Just A Tiny Bit For Me!

The conversation bit of a proper dinner party fills me with dread: ‘Compare and contrast the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions – start NOW!’ So I displace the anxiety about what to say onto what to cook, fussing and flapping for days on end before the big event.

My Jewish friends came recently, and they observe the meat and milk prohibition. I decided that if I chose the meat and lost the dairy, I was throwing away my key cooking skills - buttering bread, grating cheese on top of everything - in favour of the scary stuff (roasting meat (Raw! Tough!), cooking vegetables (‘Mmmm – they’re so...crisp!’).

But if I kept the dairy, I’d have to do fish. And what with Alan not being partial (er! Bones, picky-pick!) I only know how to cook fish pie and I did that last time...They might think it was the only thing I could cook (true) or that I thought it was so brilliant I just had to do it again (oh no), or worse still that I had forgotten I did it last time (embarrassing, Christ) . But there was no way I could make conversation and fry a fillet or steam a sprat at the same time (SERVE IMMEDIATELY!) had to be fish pie again; the only alternative was vegetarian and you know people are disappointed when you do that because they keep saying ‘I love vegetarian food!’

During the week, I tried a number of horrendous practice dishes. First, vegetarian Croque Monsieur, which sounded Parisien and chic for a starter, but was a Croque of Shit for my purposes as it was basically a vast cheese and tomato sandwich, and you don’t want to dump that in front of your guests when you’ve bothered with the candles and put a blouse on.

Next starter idea was a posh mushroom tart. I strode into Waitrose like a big shot and flashed around the porcini dried mushrooms which I soaked, squeezed and cooked very, very, slowly, popped into a homemade parmesan pastry and served to Alan who took one bite and covered it with ketchup, so that was a no vote.

I tried a new fish pie which looked glorious in a pastry crust, but by the time I’d served it, was fit for the slops pot; oh and the famous ‘foaming Hollandaise’ which turned to scrambles in the time it took to forget you were in the middle of cooking a foaming Hollandaise.

I was relying on my sticky toffee pudding – lovely old fashioned comfort food, I thought. But I should have accepted it had taken a turn for the worse when the smoke alarms were going at full throttle. Instead, I stubbornly set the electric carving knife to ‘bone’, and sawed Alan a portion of the black brick, ignoring his panicky ‘just a tiny bit for me!’ After a decent effort though, I agreed his new caps were at risk, and let him off.

My last try was home-made mayonnaise. Nigella said ‘Never rush an emulsion. Silly I know’ (giggle, giggle) ‘but I like to beat the glossy wodge by hand (!) just as my mother did’. ‘Piss off’ I thought, grabbing the electric mixer ‘I bet you’re not doubling as the buffer for your childrens’ indoor roller-blading track at the same time’. I curdled the mayonnaise (rushed it, tut, tut) and had to do it twice.

The day before the dinner party, I had a bowl of mayonnaise and a head buried in the sand. I was sort of bored with the whole thing, so I put my trust in fate; I fanned through a cookery book and jabbed my hand in at random. Whatever recipe I turned up, that was what I had to cook.

Absolved of all responsibility, I had a ball! It was like performing a delightful scientific experiment. While my guests chatted their way through Bahrain and Barclays, I seared tuna, kneaded gnocchi, and bubbled sauces galore. I’m going to do it that way next time.

Friday, 4 March 2011


I am forty-five and I am a tripaholic. There’s this evil voice bent on destroying my karma that intones ‘take them to the National Gallery National Gallery National Gallery….’ and before I know it there I am again, sweating under a mountain of coats, hissing ‘You don’t know how lucky you are!’ at my beloveds, who never said they wanted to go there in the first place.

I blame a friend’s advice for the last relapse. ‘National Gallery – no problem!’ she said. ‘I take my three to the computers in the basement. They choose a few pictures and print out their own route. They love it!’ My heart began pumping though my head was screaming ’Don’t do it!’

Alfie rose first. ‘Alfie’ I said, ‘we’re going to do that computer thing at the National Gallery!’ (don’t ask, state). He agreed to come out of pity, providing I guaranteed no workshops, and home by lunch. Then Bonnie got up. ‘Bonnie, do you know what?’ I said, ecstatically. ‘You can go on the computer at the National Gallery-‘ ‘I KNOW ABOUT THAT YOU’VE TOLD ME A THOUSAND TIMES I AM NOT GOING!’ she shouted and put her hands over her ears. Crushed, I was. ‘FINE FORGET IT, YOU SPOILT GIRL!’ I shouted back. Alfie involuntarily took a hop and a skip; this was unbelievable good luck - the trip was cancelled and Bonnie was getting it in the neck.

Ten minutes later and I’m still sulking when Bonnie says ‘I want to go now.’ ‘Well I don’t want to go any more – you’ve ruined it all!’ I said, maturely. ‘I want to go! I want to go!’ she shouted, ‘Mummy, first you say we are going, then you say we can’t go!!’ I wavered, and Alfie realised another U turn was imminent. ‘Can I not go please?’ he said.

‘For God’s sake, I plan a LITTLE TINY trip and TRY TO MAKE IT FUN so you can BARE IT but NEITHER OF YOU really want to go because you’d rather be doing NOTHING. I felt REALLY HAPPY when I got up and now I am EXTREMELY FED UP.’

We did go. I resignedly refereed another journey: ‘Shh you two – people on the bus don’t want to hear your squabbling’ ‘Alfie, I saw that, you shoved her’ ‘I didn’t mean to!’ ‘If I’m good what will you pay me?’ ‘Have we got any sweets?’

The computers all hallowed be thine name, in the basement of the National Gallery were lovely (silence). We printed off our route and I started to breath. But we couldn’t find the most popular rooms in the Gallery with all the Monets, Manets and Van Goghs (although the longest staircase in the place was key to the search). The second information desk we tried revealed that these rooms were shut (SHUT??) for staff training (‘You promised we’d be home by lunch!’). Severe exhaustion had set in by now of course and the children had to hang off my arms just to stay alive as their legs were buckling under them. We spent a half-hour sitting on a bench in silence right outside the door of the closed galleries. ‘Everyone having a lovely time?’ I said, announcing a Burger King reward for future good behaviour. It was grim.

Eventually, the galleries opened and the children made a dash for the selected masterpieces – ‘there’s one – tick it off – let’s go!’ they shouted, not losing speed. ‘Can I just stand still and look at a painting for one second please?’ I grouched.

Fifteen minutes later, all done, we were in the lovely Burger King, where the children stood on their own two feet with apparent ease and stared at the menu for considerably longer than at all the masterpieces added together. ‘Which was your favourite picture today?’ I said (final effort). ‘Dunno. Mummy, she got more chips than me!’