Friday, 24 June 2011


Archie (our dog) is not terribly good at entertaining himself. ‘Go and play with the cats!’ I say, but we both know that as playmates, they are worse than useless. He leaps around in front of them: ‘Come and play girls! We can roll around in a slobbery ball!’ They stand stock still ‘Who is this idiot?’ and if he goes too close, they shoot off and he goes crashing after them: ‘I think we’re playing catch!’ but they flash effortlessly through the cat flap and he comes to a skidding stop at the garden door. They stare at the poor galloping fool through the glass: ‘You can’t even get through on your own – you need Mummy to open the door for you – big baby!’ When I let him out, as fast as he can career after them, they are up on the fence ‘Ha ha stupid dog. Can’t catch us.’

So he comes back to me: ‘Woof’
‘Archie you’ve just had breakfast, soon it’ll be lunch, so stop woofing for food.’
‘I said stop it’.
He nods. ‘WOOF’

‘OK, let’s play tug tug again’ I give in. ‘Tug-tug’ is a pretty challenging game of tugging a rope – you wouldn’t get it. Growling and panting optional. Then there’s ‘Fetch It’ where you throw a ball and he watches it receding into the distance: ‘Jesus that’s twenty gallops are you kidding? You think just because I’m a dog you can give me the run around. Think again, sister.’ Or ‘Football’, where you kick a ball for him to retrieve, and he chews your shoelaces and won’t let go.

If he’s feeling a bit sexy, it’s ‘Tickle Tummy’. He’s on his back before you can say Jack Robinson, nose to the sky, eyes squeezed shut and hind legs spread for all the world to admire his naughty bits. ‘Tickle my tummy, please’. And you do.

But he does get ignored so I can play grown-up games like work and moving mess from one room to another. I get the disapproving eye: ‘Jesus, when I booked into this hotel, I was told my every need would be catered for. Well I’m bored, and you look like you’re going to start another round of washing up, for crying out loud. I’m going to pretend to be asleep – but you can forget about leaving this room because I will LEAP up and walk right in front of your feet if you do...that’ll teach you...grumble grumble..’

Or he chews the kitchen (but not the chew toys). Or the washing! A big gusset man, Archie; if he hits gold and gets some pants out the dirty washing before I’ve noticed, he’s off to his favourite corner: ‘Don’t even think about getting these off me, I’m not listening’. But I try, for yay, I have pulled strips of pants from his bottom. He’s had eight gussets so far.

He found his voice around ten weeks old, growling fiercely at the Forsythia. ‘He’s turning into a man!’ I thought, so proud, and I was right for next it was the humping – anything - male, female, but for preference the green bath towel, which he gathers up with his front paws into a lump, pushes between his legs and vigorously humps. That is why I now run hell for leather up the stairs when I want a shower – to lock him out.

If he beats me to the shower, things can become a bit hairy; emerging from the steamy cubicle, twenty kilograms of dog throws itself at my dripping self, hanging on with front paws to the towel I’m yanking around my shivering form, but which he’s intent on humping. I’ve tried holding the towel above my head, but that was just a crazily good jumping game and didn’t do anything for getting me dry. My best bet is a two towel job - Archie humps my towel-clad right hip while I dry the left, then it’s a quick swap-sides, him humping left-wise and me drying the right. It’s quite scratchy, so mostly I’m just plain mean and throw two or three towels right over him, to confuse and knot him up for a whole thirty seconds, which if I work fast, is long enough for me to dry, put on pyjamas, and of course cleanse, tone and moisturise. Phew!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

I Rilly Rilly Want My Ears Pissed

‘Bonnie’ I began, ‘as it’s the last day of the holidays, please start one of your five pieces of homework, or write something of your choice in your optional Writing Book – I’ll get it out, sit with you, find you a pencil, do it for you, give you crisps every day, kiss your feet-’ ‘LEAVE ME ALONE YOU CAN’T MAKE ME! ONLY IF YOU LET ME HAVE MY EARS PIERCED........’

The ear piercing campaign is an ongoing joy, but since Josie and Maddy had to wait until they were ten (God knows why I cooked up that arbitrary rule) it’s only fair that Bonnie does too. We wouldn’t want her to have her own way simply by going on and on and on and on and on and on until she has my head on the table, would we? She wrote me a note ‘I rilly rilly rilly want my ears pissed more than anything in the hole werld and I am not talking to you until you say yes’, but that heavenly arrangement was curtailed when she realised it was more effort giving your hand-maid written instructions every time you wanted something fetched or cleaned, than just howling orders from wherever you happened to be.

Bonnie is acutely interested in all aspects of appearance...but I am not in the least worried that she’ll become a fake-eye-lash-flaunting, orange-faced, belly-button-pierced babe. Certainly not; that would be judgemental and superior. That she can list designer labels, but doesn’t know her number bonds to ten, is just modern life!

I have even taken her to a nail bar - premises I never planned on visiting, me with my butcher’s hands past repair. ‘These are working hands’ I boasted (as if she would be impressed). I witnessed a pedicure, which involved soaking an old dame’s trotters in a bowl of water (spa-bath) and scraping off the dry dead skin in slices with a cucumber slicer. My stomach turns at the memory. That has to be the most revolting job, and presumably paid a pittance given that Bonnie and her friend’s forty minutes of nail filing, undercoat, buff, varnish, and highly skilled decoration, came to a grand total of £6.

I did get a cuddle out of it though (because she got her way). She was up close, smiling, looking intently at me. I’m thinking ‘she’s feeling the love’. ‘Mummy,’ she said, ‘you should dye your hair. This ringlet is nearly all grey’.

Later she tried a tactful approach. ‘Mummy, if you went grey, then would you dye your hair?’ ‘No, I don’t mind going grey’ I said, ‘Why not?!’ she shrieked - this was preposterous, incomprehensible. ‘My hair matches my face, which is getting old’ I said, ‘and you get this white line along your parting if you don’t dye it enough...’

On the tube, we were sat opposite two intimate young people. The girl had soft short grey-pink hair and shades, very chic. Bonnie raised her lips to my ear discretely; I was expecting ‘Mummy they are kissing!’ ‘Mummy’ she whispered, ‘why would anyone dye their hair grey??!’

At night-time she tries to turn me into Groomed Mum and slaps creams on my face, begs to apply lippy, and sweeps my hair into some god-awful bunch up on the side, clipped and bowed. Her own hair she deftly brushes and ‘styles’ every morning sternly refusing assistance. Then the brush is hurled in my direction, ‘I’m not going out like this’, and it’s time for the old chump to get stuck into the do-the-hair-wrong-so-she-can-rip-it-out routine, which I’m working on perfecting via deep breathing and contemplation of the finer things in life, like term-time between 9 and 3.

It occurred to me that perhaps I could harness her energy and commitment to the beauty industry and get some educational value out of it! We could just not do homework any more, but write, think, describe, add up, draw and create around H&M tops?? Somewhat excited at my brainwave, I hatched a plan – she describes (literacy!) whatever item of clothing she’s currently after, I casually draw it and she is persuaded to join in (art!). We make an advert, and price it (maths!!)...’Bonnie’ I began, choking with excitement, for this was the answer to all our problems! ‘That bikini you were talking about – can you describe it to me? Every detail – I’m really interested!’ She banged on the computer, and before I had a chance to say, Jack Wills, she’d brought it up on the H&M website. ‘I’ll leave it on the screen’ she said, and wandered off to varnish her nails again.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Some Things Are Worth Shouting About

A week ago I banned myself from rushing, stressing or shouting at the children ever again; I was forbidden, by some outside force, from charging around like a nut using threats, argy bargy, or any other effective tools for producing children with long lists of qualifications and perfect manners, or at least the occasional appearance at school with shoe-laces done up. It was a liberation! A happy, calm and harmonious vibe enveloped the familial abode and I acquired a gentle bouncing gait and a permanent half-smile. There was a place in the back of my mind that went into spasm if I thought about getting anything done this year, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. It must be possible to have a full life and still stop for a chat; everyone else seemed to manage it.

For once, I didn’t start the plates spinning the minute I rose in the morning: ‘Bonnie’s got to do this, Alfie that, me that, that, that, and that, and that, that and that, Josie wants seventeen A* GCSEs or she’ll slit her throat…’ In fact on day two I awoke feeling playful, and after saying ‘Good Morning’ to sleeping Alan I spontaneously licked him all over his face, pretending to be the dog!! What was going on? Was our relationship to be refreshed, to boot?! Oh my.

No rushing, no stressing and no shouting meant taking all paths of least resistance: music practice was out ‘My knee hurts – I can’t play the violin’ ‘Uh..OK’; getting to school on time became a distant memory: ‘Please go to school now’ ‘When I’ve finished my nail varnish’ ‘Uh...please hurry’. Extra curricular activities were quitted ‘Don’t forget your flute!’ ‘I’m giving up orchestra and jazz band’ ‘Oh, that’s a shame...’, and since I was no longer in a rush, I was available – always! ‘Mummy, come here and look at this picture,’ ‘Uh...I’m doing the packed lunches, finding Alfies’s shoes, and on the phone, but I’ll come straight away....’ ‘Thank you, Mummy!’

Not that I wasn’t tested: I was called home from a dinner party ‘because the dog was being sick’, but the screams down the phone hinted at the truth - imminent GBH. Did I shout when I got home? Oh no no! I cocked a sympathetic ear, listened to both sides with a caring expression on my face, waited for the sobs to subside. I took one off to bed ‘Come darling, I think you need a cuddle’ (it was beautiful). ‘You lie down and take it easy’ I whispered to the other. ‘Watch some TV – you’ve had a horrible night, darling’. Then I cleared up the dog sick, congratulated myself for being so ace and churned some ice-cream I’d have churned in the daylight hours if I hadn’t been busy being amazingly un-shouty.

And when Bonnie squirted water repeatedly in my face because I said no to a bag of sweets at 9.05am, still shouty mum layed low! I took that darned squirt on the chin (in the eye anyway), blinking with as much dignity as I could muster, and said in deep and powerful tones ‘You are humiliating me, but you will not have the sweets’.

But last night I blew it – at least it was over something really important. Maddy had insisted on going out to get super noodles at 8.30pm, after some heated ‘discussion’ about two packets of crisps and a Feast lolly being enough junk for one day. Ignoring my good sense, off she went (SLAM). What was I to do – hang onto her ankles? When I found an empty crisp packet in the bag with the super noodles, I think you’ll agree, it was time to bring out the big guns. There were hands over ears and hollering on both sides. ‘I will not have lying and trickery!’ I shouted (though obviously the reverse was true). Some things – like super noodles – are worth shouting about.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Things Have Got To Change

Maddy likes a noisy, shrieking kind of party. So this year we squished a giant inflatable slide into our postage stamp garden, and she invited seventeen adult-averse teenagers to share our living space and ignore us for twenty-four hours, throwing themselves down the slide (‘AAAH!!!’), spilling sticky drinks, chucking cake about (‘HA!’), squirting writing icing at each other at midnight (‘EEEEE!!!’), and even consuming modest amounts of alcohol (what?) You want your fourteen year old to have friends who know how to party, don’t you?

It was OK; if I kept my head down and charged across the kitchen only when absolutely necessary, I could still make ice-cream in the middle of it all, and churn, label, pot, store, deliver...and keep the little ones happy (MUM! ALFIE’S GOT THE UNIT AND HE WON’T GIVE IT TO ME! MUM! DO SOMETHING! DON’T JUST SIT THERE! MUM!!’).

I didn’t have to make pancakes for the eight that slept over – but I wanted Maddy’s friends to think I was totally the coolest, nicest Mum in the world, so I was there with the double frying pans the next morning, even letting them have the maple syrup! ‘It’s fine darling – it’s your birthday’ I said, sickly-sweet, bracing myself for the drips down the bottle.

But later I began to fray around the edges, shunting children in and out of the house to do their Crouch End Fun Runs, slide still there, (‘OOOH! AAAH!’), sucking shoe laces three minutes before the start-gun to thread the blasted race-tags on (‘What are you doing Mummy – I’m going to miss my race!’ ‘Just stay still!’), running down to see the races (big smile – hurrah! – come on, whatsyername in Class thingy!!), and chatting normally with other folk as if my head was not going AWOL.

Finally the slide was gone, the races run, the guests had said ‘Thank you for having me’ Thankyou for coming!’ (first time that girl has looked at me), the dust had settled, and it was time for the children to lie down in front of the telly and relax (‘I’m tired Mum’ ‘Tired? You don’t know the meaning of the word’). But the shadowy figure in the corner (me) was still moving up and down at eight o’clock in the evening, picking up soggy socks out of the flower beds, scrubbing icing off the kitchen floor, hanging up washing, packaging up food, hoovering crisps out of the stereo, stressing about homework, making and delivering ice-cream, washing hair, spending poor quality time with children who were moody because it wasn’t their birthday weekend and with children who were moody because it was... Martyre Mum began to decompose, as she does, slowly but irreversibly, into that highly flammable bundle of anger and self-pity that is Monster Mum. ’Will someone please GET OFF THEIR ARSE and do something helpful, I have asked you to come up to have your hair washed SEVEN times now AND PICK YOUR PANTS OFF THE FLOOR, I AM CRAWLING AROUND LIKE EVERYONE’S SLAVE....’ BANG BANG BANG-BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Pathetic. Always the same.

Still stressed on the Monday, when I hit a jam on the North Circular, I thought I’d have to do a U turn through the central reservation or I would explode. And when I took Alfie to have his third blood-test-because-we-don’t-know-what-else-to-suggest at the Whittington and ran straight into the glass of the revolving door, because my mind was so many elsewheres it couldn’t figure out how to enter a building without denting my head, I thought – you know what? I quit. Things have got to change.

So Tuesday was the first day of the rest of my life, guidelines as follows:

Thou shalt not rush. (You are not the Prime Minister, none of this really matters)
Thou shalt not stress. (Choose to be calm, man. Breathe.)
Thou shalt not shout. (You are vile. The children will leave home and never come back. All their lives they will recall their mum as a raging bull)

Three simple steps to a changed existence - easy!