Monday, 3 September 2007

Bloggering Off - For Good

The jockeying for position has started. Several parents have already been straining at the leash, eager to drop impressive nuggets of one-upmanship into the school gate conversation:
‘Ptolemy has been doing Kumon Astrophysics over the summer – he just LOVES it!’
‘Cressida was so impressed after our visit to the Coliseum that she’s been teaching herself Latin for the last three weeks!’
My daughter has not mastered a second language this summer (unless you count the lyrics to High School Musical) and the boys appear to have forgotten how to write their own names.
Instead, they have all channelled their energies into growing about three inches taller and two shoe sizes bigger, so that not a single item of last year’s school uniform fits any more. Damn inconsiderate, if you ask me. I had rather hoped that their extensive sofa-bound, screen-based activities might have stunted their growth, but not at all. Instead, there was a definite hint of claustrophobia this morning as they wrestled their free-range feet into battery-farm school socks. When I tried to help them, I felt like a Chinese foot binder.
Now that they are back at school, I have been faced with some tough decisions.
Blogging for the last six months has been more fun than I could ever have imagined. However the pressure of my copious wine consumption on the family finances means that I need to either give up drinking wine (What? And lose the will to live?) or earn some money to support my habit. In addition, my nine year old daughter has discovered my ‘alter ego’, so my cover of anonymity looks like being well and truly blown.
I have therefore decided to suspend the blog. Note that I can’t quite bring myself to say ‘stop blogging’ since the prospect of blog withdrawal symptoms is too hideous to contemplate.
Without the blog, I may be forced once again to converse politely on topics as unedifying as Gordon Brown’s sense of humour, or David Cameron’s hairstyle, instead of immersing myself in the glorious cyber-circus of other people’s blog pages.
Without the blog, I may have to start taking notice of my children, whose gradual slide from ‘benign’ to ‘wilful’ neglect hasn’t even been spotted by the social workers.
Without the blog, I shall miss the kind, supportive and desperately funny comments of all those people who took the time to read the posts and leave a reply.
Rather than stumble around the blogosphere, saying goodbye and flinging my arms around necks, whilst slurring ‘I love you, mate, I REALLY love you’ I will try and maintain a bit of decorum by simply raising a glass of La Marca prosecco, and wishing all my blogging buddies the very best for the future…..
….although, decorum has never been my strong point, and come to think of it, I do feel a song coming on. I might just grab the bottle (for a microphone), open the fridge door (for a spotlight) and in my very best pub-singer voice, belt out (in the style of Frank Sinatra rather than Sid Vicious):

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain……

Come on, folks, join in with the chorus!

Friday, 17 August 2007

Bloggering Off

I’m swanning off to South Wales for two weeks. ‘Swanning’ being the appropriate word, since I am trying to maintain a cool, calm and collected appearance on the surface (see my graceful, slender neck gulping back this glass of sparkling wine), but underneath I am working frantically to get everything packed and ready (see my big broad feet thrashing around among the boxes in the loft).
This time we’re off for a week camping on the coast with one of my brothers and his family, followed by a week staying at my mother-in-law’s house. There’s lovely!
The camping should be interesting, since my brother’s family are seasoned caravanners, but have never taken the canvas plunge. I have told them that camping is ‘the holiday the weather can’t spoil’ but for some reason, they don’t believe me. I just don’t think they realise how little there is to spoil.
My emergency camping supplies are two wine boxes, both Hardy’s and both £17.99 from Tesco. One is Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Chardonnay. I haven’t tried either of them before, but since both grape types are generally good ‘crowd pleasers’ I reckon they will be just what we need. If not, I am prepared to slug the lot back on my own.
It is Friday though, so no matter how busy I am, there is always time to pause for the Friday Night Fizz. This week it is a bottle of Angas Brut (Oddbins £7.49) an Australian sparkling wine which has a delightfully smooth and creamy taste that somehow reminds me of strawberries. This is excellent value if you like fruity fizz, and I intend to stock up on several more bottles for the Drunk Mummy Wine Vaults.
In my absence, I thought you might like to read an article I wrote for the July edition of Dulwich Life & Style magazine. I don’t live in Dulwich. I doubt I would be allowed to, since I don't own a single pair of white jeans (unlike Dulwich Mum who was up to double figures at the last count). The article looks a bit outdated now, since it was published at the end of the school summer term, but never mind. Here goes:

A Question of Sports Day

It’s the end of the Summer Term - the time of year when many schools realise that parents can’t possibly have any annual leave left, so they organise a Sports Day.
At my children’s school, which terrorises parents on a regular basis, some bright spark decided it might be ‘fun’ to have some races for parents during this year’s Sports Day.
I have always felt that I embarrass my children enough in public without having to make a special effort, but my daughter had other ideas. She pointed out that I am always urging her to ‘join in’ so she wanted to know why I wasn’t entering the Mothers’ Race. My defence (that I was wearing a push-up bra) was scornfully dismissed, and within minutes I was lining up with assorted long-limbed and athletic mums. There were a few nervous jokes, and the occasional high pitched laugh, but there was no disguising the air of steely resolve.
Now, the race itself seemed to happen in slow-motion, but that could just have been the actual speed I was running. Still, in my mind, I was a streamlined gazelle, bounding gracefully over the grassy plain. The video footage taken by a sadistic parent revealed a much harsher reality. I had been right to worry about the push-up bra.
The Fathers’ Race which followed, proved to be a triumph of ambition over common sense, and no doubt, resulted in months of brisk business for the local physios and chiropracters. The testosterone-fuelled dad who won looked delighted with his victory, and when he faced the cheering crowd, his moment of glory was only slightly tarnished as he realised that he had run the whole race with his flies undone.
Of course, there were other competitive events at Sports Day. The Picnic Display was hotly contested, as parents vied to provide the most nutritionally smug lunch. At one point, a wholesome mother offered me a piece of home-made cake which consisted entirely of chickpeas, yogurt and toddler spit.
Over at the stall selling ploughman’s lunches, there was some Long Distance Queuing. Unfortunately, the line of shuffling participants was forced to witness the disturbing sight of a mother trying to cut a large wheel of extremely ripe Brie into sixty four equal portions. There was some concern about what was likely to crack first – her perky smile or her sanity.
Finally, there was the Pimm’s Bar Relay (a personal favourite), where contestants had to get the next full glass lined up and ready just before they finished downing the last one. In my opinion, Pimm’s should be classed as a health drink, by virtue of its five portions of fruit and vegetables in every glass. It is also a much livelier alternative to a ploughman’s lunch or a picnic.
I seem to remember at some point during the Sports Day, there was a rumour that the children might be running a few races, or something. But like most of the parents there, I was way too busy to watch any of that.

I am off to enjoy the last two weeks of this glorious English summer (cue hollow laugh). I will be back in September.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Back On The Chain Gang

I never thought I would say this, but I had forgotten how much relentless hard graft is involved in raising babies and small children.
When I had three children under two-and-a-half, I lost count of the times some bright-eyed, well-groomed mum with self-sustaining older children would tell me to ‘enjoy’ these early years, since they were over so quickly.
Invariably, I would force a crazed smile and think ‘How can you say that? This feels like a life-sentence of hard labour.’ I even had the clothes, hair and make-up appropriate for the whole chain-gang existence. I could just about cope, but someone telling me that I should be enjoying it all, just made me feel worse. Like many parents, I had to suspend belief in everything that was rational and self-evident, and give myself up to the blind faith that things would somehow turn out alright, alternating with periods of self-flagellation when they didn’t.
Who needs religion when you can have parenthood?
Fast-forward six years, and although I still have the mental scars from those early years, the loosening of the shackles has been so gradual, that I never realised quite how much freedom H and I have gained. That is, until the travelling circus of my brother and his young family came to town.
Of course, the baby was adorable, and the two year old twins were a delight, but there really wasn’t one minute of the visit when we weren’t ‘doing something’ for one of them. Between the wiping, rattling, rocking, soothing, helping them dress, not helping them dress, and negotiating over which plate to use, there was hardly time to have a decent glass of wine or three. Luckily the weather was good, so we managed to keep all six children entertained with trips to the playground, and copious use of a paddling pool in the garden.
Now that they have gone home, the lawn looks like the final days of Glastonbury, and the house is spookily quiet. Games which involved shrieking and chasing ‘monsters’ up and down the stairs have been replaced once again by games which involve lying silently on the sofa and chasing monsters across a screen. Bathtime has reverted from an hour long water-based theme park back to something more closely resembling a sheep dip. And once again, I no longer have to wipe anyone else’s bottom but my own.
I am sitting here with a glass of soft, smooth, black-cherry tasting Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir (Ocado £8.49) and thinking with utter relief how far we have all moved on. The only down side I can see is that a single Smartie is no longer considered a suitable reward for good behaviour.
Even the kids, who loved playing with their little cousins, have gone strangely quiet on the subject of wanting me to have another baby. Maybe now that they too have realised what incredibly hard work babies and small children can be, they will finally stop bullying me and my shrivelled ovaries.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Bloginterviewer Interview Her Blog

We are all still submerged in the mire of velvet-skinned babies and argumentative toddlers, while my brother and his family are visiting, but I thought I would just quickly publicise an interview I was asked to do for
I think this site is a great idea and like all great ideas, you wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before. I was tremendously flattered to be asked, since I have never been ‘interviewed’ before. What amazed and amused me was the difficulty I had in answering the simple question: ‘What is your blog about?’
One of the requests from the site is that contributors are asked to link the website on their side bar, and get their readers to vote for their blog. Although I am more than happy to publicise the website, I am not overly concerned about the voting. Indulging in the fantasy of being interviewed was reward enough (I just imagined the dulcet tones of Jenni Murray asking the questions). As a result, any delusions of grandeur have now escalated, and I have spent an indecent amount of time crafting whole interviews inside my head. However, as a forty-something mum, I realise that confessing to fantasies that involve Richard Madeley is seriously sad.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

We'll Take Manhattan

Our visit to Manhattan was a combination of slick, high-speed living and slow, patient queuing. We had a great trip to the Statue of Liberty and took all the requisite photos of ourselves grinning like chimps, with the ethereal green statue in the background. The Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island was fantastic, and seemed to offer an insight into what ‘being American’ means for millions of people. We also managed an early morning trip up to the top of the Empire State Building. At the time it seemed that the visibility was rather poor, but that could just have been my hangover - a result of over-indulgence in the delicious Californian ‘Toasted Head’ Cabernet Sauvignon. It certainly felt like my head had been toasted.
We also managed rides on the subway and in yellow taxis, went to the Central Park zoo, and popped our heads in at Tiffany’s. We ate fantastic Chinese food downstairs at Wo Hop, superb pizza at Arturo's and drank root beer with our burgers in the Big Daddy Diner. Add to that the bagels, pretzels and ice cream we consumed, and we can safely say that we took the most almighty bite out of the Big Apple.
In a slightly surreal moment, we passed the apartment block where I spent a very happy, party-fuelled year, in the days when I was single, solvent and sexy (yes, it was a long time ago). I explained this to the kids, who nodded vacantly, just to humour me. The only interest shown was by the youngest who asked if he had been around then. No, I explained, Mummy didn’t have children then. Ah, but was he in my tummy? No, not even there. Ah, but wasn’t he inside me, even as a tiny, tiny egg? Okay, yes, on that basis, I suppose so.
My God, how depressing. There I had been, thinking I was living a fantastic, carefree life as a sassy single girl, but all the time I had really been a mother of three children. It’s amazing how children can not only colonise your body and your every waking thought, but they can re-write your personal history too.
I am posting early today, as my brother and his family are coming to stay with us for a while, and I can’t blog again until they leave next week. He and his wife have two-year-old twins, and an eight month old baby, so H and I are going to try and give them both a bit of a break. Our reward will be to punch the air every time they are out of the room and shout ‘Thank God that’s not us any more!’
We have been trying to remove as many ‘swallowable’ items as possible from the living room, but just clearing the Lego pieces and the Polly Pocket bits has taken us hours. I remember my youngest child swallowing a metal ball-bearing from a Magnetix set when he was two. I never knew if it ever came out of him, but I was tempted to make the other two children swallow a magnetic bar each from the same set, so at least I could click them all together when we needed to cross the road.
I am planning for tonight’s meal to include several bottles of Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier (Ocado £5.49 down from £6.99 until 11/09). This hearty, full-bodied red is bound to be a big hit with my hearty, full-bodied brother. It tastes of licquorish and plums and is lovely and smooth.
I am also going to need several bottles for tomorrow’s Friday Night Fizz, so it can really only be the great La Marca prosecco (Ocado £5.99). Its light, fragrant sparkle will match my light, fragrant sister-in-law, as she settles down to get hog-whimperingly drunk with me.

More Red Carpet

I have (quite rightly) had my knuckles rapped over the use of the term ‘laundry’ for ‘washing’.
However, in the same way that the Inuits are supposed to have at least twenty words for ‘snow’ given the ubiquity of the stuff in their lives, then I suppose it is appropriate to have more than one word to describe the festering piles of ordinary dirty clothes, specialist wash dirty clothes, clean but damp clothes, and dry but unironed clothes.
I think that using the term ‘washing’ is like being sold short in terms of job description, whereas ‘laundry’ better illustrates the three-headed beast that is washing, drying and ironing – and I want full recognition for doing all three, dammit!
However, my reluctant Cinderella status has been brightened by the appearance of this little gem:

My Fairy Godmother in this instance is Crazy Trace, the all-action, tandem-toting Aussie mum. Thank you Tracy, I shall go to the ball! I don’t suppose you could wave your wand at the remaining bits of ironing, and turn them into a fabulous sparkly dress could you?
I would like to pass the award on to Reluctant Memsahib who writes with great warmth and humour about bringing up a family in Africa. When I am huffing about one of my favourite wines being ‘temporarily out of stock’ at the supermarket, her blog is a delightful reality check.

Enjoy the award Memsahib – you are an inspiration!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Noo Joysey

Back from the Good Ol’ US of A, after a fabulous holiday of sun, sand, sea and sauvignon.

Saving me from the inevitable ‘post vacational tristesse’ and among the barrage of grim or threatening correspondence, were a couple of cyber-gongs!
So, before I do anything else, I need to thank Akelamalu for this:

Mother at Large for this:

And The Good Woman for this:
Almost as important as the shiny badges (but not quite – I can be very shallow) were the kind words they used when ‘presenting’ the awards. Thank you all very much – I have already been toasting your future health and happiness! I know I am supposed to pass two of them on, but having been away for so long, I feel I have rather missed the boat – and everyone I would have suggested appears to have been nominated already!

Anyway, our family holiday was a fantastic trip. The flights were painless, courtesy of the in-flight films and interactive games. In fact, the boys spent the entire flight immobile apart from their thumbs. I have no idea if deep vein thrombosis is a risk for the under eights, but I did check them for bed sores.
We spent the first week in Bay Head, New Jersey, which must be one of the prettiest, most manicured towns I have ever visited. I don’t think there has been any crime there since an ugly incident two years ago when a feckless resident allowed his front lawn to become slightly overgrown. He was fined and probably had his membership of the Yacht Club revoked. I believe the public shame and humiliation forced him to sell up and move to a neighbourhood more suited to his slovenly habits.
Even the beach in Bay Head is sparkling clean and litter-free, since you aren’t allowed to eat anything while you are on it, and you can only take water to drink (which seems rather uncivilised). No-one locks the doors of their house or their car, because the town groans under the weight of so many ‘enforcement’ squads – law, traffic, beach. I knew without asking that topless sunbathing would be forbidden. There’s probably a ‘boob enforcement’ squad somewhere, ready to pounce on unsuspecting European sunbathers and cover them up with bandeau bikini tops.
Even if you told your whinging children to ‘run along and play in the traffic’ they would be safe in Bay Head, because all the traffic yields to pedestrians. There is even one road down which the residents avoid driving, because the local kiddies like to roller-blade and ride their bikes and skateboards on it. My children already suffer from the delusion that the world revolves around them. Staying in Bay Head just confirmed their belief.
Such a squeaky-clean place would have had me snorting with derision when I was in my twenties. Since the town doesn’t even have a bar, I would have seen no reason to stay longer than to sneer a few well-chosen insults about a ‘police-state’ before retreating to the nearest den of iniquity. But as an aging mother of three, I loved it and didn’t want to leave. Ever. It was like living in a Doris Day film, but cleaner and more wholesome.
H and I spent the week eating the local specialities - lobster, clams, oysters. Attempts to get the kids to sample these delicacies ended in the usual theatrical face-pulling from them, and mutterings about ‘casting pearls before swine’ from me. They preferred to gorge on those other local specialities - hot dogs and burgers. Even then, faced with the cornucopia of options (Tomato? Onion? Dill pickle? American cheese? Cheddar cheese? Swiss cheese? Lettuce? Ranch dressing? Blue cheese dressing?) they still opted for ‘just ketchup please.’ My irritation with them was soothed only after several glasses of a delicious Napa Valley Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc.
We drank some fabulous wines during the holiday, but they were nearly all from California (with the notable exception of a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon). My ‘Friday Night Fizz’ was a bottle of Korbel Brut Champagne - a light and crisp Californian sparkling wine which is allowed to call itself ‘champagne’ without invoking litigation from the French producers.
Despite making (fairly illegible) notes of the wines we drank, I have only been able to find a UK supplier for one, so most of them will have to remain a distant but tasty memory. The one I can get here is a Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (Ocado £7.49) which I am drinking right now, and desperately trying to recreate that holiday feeling. Despite its delicious black cherry and spicy taste, it just doesn’t have the same magic as it did when we were away. I suppose it must be similar to the disappointment of a holiday romance, when that waiter who looked like a sleek stallion in Santorini, just looks like a greasy gelding in Gatwick. Another glass, perhaps, and I might be able to rekindle the romance.

We finished the holiday with some time in Manhattan, but I need to sober up a bit and engage in some hand-to-hand combat with the laundry before I get the chance to write about that.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

On The Town

I have been nominated by Mopsa and MYA for a Blogging Community Involvement Award for Services to Schmoozing! I am truly flattered, as I believe that schmoozing is a seriously under-rated skill (along with sponging – but we’ll come to that later). It is supposed to involve the gift of ‘conversing casually in order to make a social connection.’ After a few bevvies, my conversation can become so ‘casual’ that it is positively slurred, but never mind. Thank you Mopsa and MYA, I am delighted to accept, and would like to pass the nomination on to Jenny at Mountain Mama, who has such a warm, conversational style, you feel that you are sitting right next to her, at the kitchen table of her lovely mountain home.
Download the shiny badge, Jenny, and enjoy!

Anyway, enough of the red carpet - we are off on holiday! Some friends in New York have very generously given us the use of their beach house on the Jersey Shore, followed by the use of their Manhattan apartment. What a sponger’s paradise! Even the horror of taking three children on an eight hour flight wasn’t enough to make me pass up this opportunity. Also, as I have mentioned before, I am unfashionably fond of the USA, and can’t wait to get back there again.
The kids are very excited about seeing the Statue of Liberty, and I am very excited about pouring gallons of American wine down my neck. The favourable exchange rate means that I really should sample as much as I can, don’t you think?
While we are away, my brother and his family are coming to stay in our house. This has caused me considerable anxiety. When you take a look at your own house and try and see it through someone else’s eyes, it can be truly alarming. I’m not just talking about the level of squalor we tolerate at home, compared to normal people. It’s more to do with the vagaries of the house and its contents.
It started when we handed the keys over. I had to give my brother and his wife details about how the front door was ‘really easy’ to open, as long as you pull it towards you, before turning the key. Then I moved on to explain how opening the back door was ‘really easy’, as it was the reverse procedure to the front door, but required an additional shoulder barge. ‘Never mind’ they said, ‘we won’t open the back door – how do we open the windows?’ Well, it’s ‘really easy’, there’s a key, but it only works on some of the windows. ‘Never mind’ they said, ‘we won’t open the windows.’ By this point, they were exchanging claustrophobic glances, so I didn’t dare describe how you have to twist the shower control right round to the left if you want any hot water, or stand on one leg to ignite the ring on the gas cooker. It is turning into a nightmare scenario of having to attach explanatory Post-it notes to every idiosyncratic control and appliance we own. I have even bought a new kettle and iron, since the risk of electrocution from our old ones was dangerously high, unless you were wearing Wellington boots.
As I am in holiday mood, I have cracked open a bottle of Ca’Rosa Prosecco (Oddbins £7.49) which is dry, with a light and delicate apple flavour. I don’t like it quite as much as my favourite La Marca (Ocado £5.99), but it is a very strong contender for second place. Highly recommended!
Just one more glass, then I will carry on packing the suitcases. Despite all the preparation, I am really looking forward to this holiday. The chance to spend time together as a family will enable us to discover what it is that we really can’t stand about each other.

I will be back in August – I’m missing you already!

Monday, 16 July 2007

Knee Trembler

It is amazing how long a weekend can seem when you are free of the shackles of domesticity. Time normally spent making meals, arguing about eating the food, clearing up, and then making the next meal, can be spent on far more agreeable pastimes. H and I were away from the kids for only one day and night, and yet we crammed so much into that short space of time, it felt like we had been away for a week. Even the weather was complicit in this wild fantasy, by staying dry for the walk during the day and turning sunny for the Saturday evening party.
My new walking boots were fantastic – robust, flexible and reliable, which is more than can be said of the person wearing them. My friends and I started our heroic hike with a visit to Chesters at Skelwith Bridge to talk strategy, between mouthfuls of cake. The unanimous decision was to walk up to Stickle Tarn in the Langdale Pikes. This isn’t a difficult walk, but it is steep, and took us over three hours. By the time we got back to the car park, my knees were trembling so much that I could have been a teenager in the side alley of a nightclub.
A hot bath sorted me out, and within a couple of hours I had morphed from hearty hiker to party princess (or merry matron, depending on your perspective).
Any meal which starts with Taittinger on the terrace is going to be good, and the spectacular views over Lake Windermere were an added bonus. There were plenty of tasty little ‘amuse gueules’ which certainly amused this girl. I ate so many of them, there didn’t seem much point in going inside for the main meal. I was only persuaded to do so by the promise of a French white (Lamy St Aubin chardonnay) and a South African red (Meerlust Rubicon). Obviously I felt the need to sample them both, several times over.
Strangely, the more wine my fellow walkers and I drank, the more our ramble to Stickle Tarn took on the dimensions of an epic mountain adventure that would have had Sir Edmund Hillary begging to turn back, claiming lack of experience. By the end of the evening, one of my friends was slurring so much that we felt sure her jaw was displaying the early symptoms of frostbite. The other was having dizzy spells and kept falling over, so she was obviously suffering from altitude sickness.
Back here in the kitchen it already seems like a long time ago. I want to recapture that heady romantic feeling of being on the hotel terrace, without having to shout ‘Come away from the edge!’ to a lively child every five minutes. Perhaps I can re-enact some of the glamour with this chilled La Prendina Estate Pinot Grigio Rosé (M&S £5.59). Its crisp fruity flavour makes me think of strawberries and raspberries, and warm evenings where the glow from the setting sun is reflected on the dappled surface of a lake. Sadly, the only water I can see from my kitchen window is a fetid pool of stagnant rainwater which has collected in the yellow plastic lid of the sandpit. Not quite the effect I was after.
I think I will just sit down at the kitchen table, pour myself another chilled glass, close my eyes and dream. I can already feel a bout of altitude sickness coming on.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Lakeland Larks

I am posting early today, because we are about to set off up the M6 for a weekend away. On Saturday morning, H and I will palm the kids off on my Dad, and then try not to run as we head off to the glorious Lake District, where our friend’s 50th birthday party is going to be held.
The plan is that two very good female friends and I are going to do a fairly substantial hill walk in the morning and early afternoon, leaving the blokes to ….well, I’m not exactly sure what they are going to do, really. Watch videos or sport or something. Maybe swap knitting patterns, who knows?
I have already done an emergency dash to the shops this morning, to replace the walking boots that I threw out over six months ago, when I discovered that they had gone mouldy. I had actually forgotten that I had thrown them out, but apparently H hasn’t. Well, at least he claims to remember my bitter outburst about the symbolism of it all.
Thankfully, walking boots are designed for wide-footed hearty types, rather than pointy-toed pixies, so at least this speed-shopping trip wasn’t as arduous as procuring the turquoise strappy wedges last Saturday. I am now the proud owner of a pair of ultra-lightweight, waterproof state-of-the-art boots. Doubtless they will enable me to leap across mountain crevasses, scramble over scree, and stride purposefully up near-vertical inclines. Well, they looked comfortable enough to stroll through quaint little gift shops looking for Kendal Mint Cake, and that’s what really matters.
After the walk, the three of us intend to return rosy-cheeked and virtuous, ready for a hot bath and the transformation from mountain goats to valley girls.
Now, although I am really excited by the prospect of the walk, the pessimist within fears that after all that fresh air and a scented bath, I may just want to curl up and go to sleep. Walking any distance in new boots means that my feet will be like two bags of chips, and I will have to unplait my toes in order to force them into my strappy wedges.
There will be only one thing for it: pre-dinner drinks to lift my spirits and numb the pain.
I was thinking about pre-dinner drinks last night as I opened up my Friday Night Cheap Fizz (one night early). A glass of champagne in a posh restaurant is probably going to cost about £6. For the same money, I could have a bottle of Cuvée Royale Crémant de Limoux (Ocado £5.59 down from £6.99 until 31/7). I wanted to try the Blanquette de Limoux as suggested by MYA, who calls it ‘a fête in a bottle’ but this was as near as I could get. It has a rich biscuit and apple taste, and is quite dry, making it seem a lot more expensive than it actually is.
I have just checked on the weather forecast for The Lakes, and with comforting familiarity, it promises to be lousy. Therefore, I have packed my waterproofs - and I’m not afraid to use them.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Bags Of Fun

That’s it – the third child has finally finished school for the summer. At last we can sit around in our pyjamas all day and watch junk television – which is exactly what I used to do myself at a similar age.
I have spent the last week studiously avoiding eye contact with other mothers in order to sidestep plans to meet up for educational days out or healthy picnics. Unfortunately, my daughter has accused me of stunting her social growth by refusing to plunge headlong into the morass of scheduled events and activities. She hasn’t yet discovered the boundless joys of being unsociable, which is surprising when you consider that she lives with such a great role model.
Each of my kids has come home from school on their final day laden down with at least three carrier bags. These have all been dumped unceremoniously in the corner of the kitchen. It looks as if I have had a supermarket home delivery, but instead of the usual bottles of wine and packets of frozen chips, the bulging carrier bags contain every single piece of work they have done across the school year.
What is the point of all this? Do schools think that parents need hard evidence that their children have been doing something other than picking their noses all year? Are they just pandering to the parental obsession of needing to know everything our children are doing, even when they manage to escape the full glare of our interest for a few hours a day at school?
When I was at junior school, the only thing we brought home on the final day of the school year was a pair of cheesy-smelling plimsolls which had been used for ‘music and movement.’ I vaguely remember that we did those lessons in our underwear, which seems astounding now and makes me feel ancient. I suppose it added another weapon to the armoury of the sadistic PE staff, enabling them to humiliate the weedier children even more effectively.
Anyway, the bags are piled up in the corner, and I’m not sure what to do with them. I really can’t face looking through reams of spelling tests and times table worksheets, or making appreciative noises at A3 sized pieces of artwork which drop chunks of bright red powder paint all over my dressing gown. I know for certain that I don’t want to look in the ‘My Busy Bee News’ book, which is well-known for exposing my intemperance, rather like a tabloid newspaper. Now I know what it must feel like to be a D-list celebrity whose agent has advised her against reading the gutter press. After all, there isn’t much point trying to sue an eight year old for libel.
Other parents tell me that they select a couple of pieces of artwork to keep, and a nicely written story or two. But that is going to involve sifting through the entire contents of each bag, not to mention lighting the blue touch paper of sibling rivalry.
Time to pause and enjoy a glass of Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (Sainsburys £8.99). This grassy, gooseberry–and-lime tasting wine is really intense, and offers everything you could ever want from a Sauvignon Blanc. Including inspiration.
I have decided to simply pour myself another glass, and revert to my default mode of ‘do nothing.’ That way, the carrier bags will become just another slag-heap in the industrial landscape of my kitchen. They can blend in with the assorted clutter until they cease to exist in their own right.
I have no doubt that the day my son asks me to retrieve the brightly coloured caterpillar with fifty pipe cleaner legs will be the day after I have finally shovelled the lot into a black bin liner.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Fifty Sense

The mighty Marks and Spencer has come to my rescue. Thanks to the divine intervention of St Michael, I will not be forced to wear orthopaedic shoes at the birthday dinner next weekend. Instead, a pair of turquoise strappy wedges (wider fitting) will transform me from dumpy frump into streamlined sylph – blink and you will miss me as I cha-cha-cha past, waving my glass of bubbly aloft. So what if my little toe hangs over the edge of the shoe like a sea-sick sailor? You can’t have everything.
Unfortunately, in my euphoria at scoring a pair of glam shoes, I forgot all about buying a birthday present. What do you get a fifty year old man for his birthday? He doesn’t drink much wine, so the ‘gift which says you truly care’ is not an option. There is a trend for buying ‘adventure days’ which allow the birthday boy to hurl himself around a racing track or parachute out of an aeroplane. But I reckon if you’ve managed to get to fifty without a coronary, it doesn’t seem very wise to tempt fate. A relaxing spa day is out of the question (this is no metrosexual male we’re talking about here), since I think any attempts at massage could result in an unseemly brawl. As for those enormous novelty balloons - I’m not sure what the attraction of a large balloon might be for anyone over the age of eight.
It appears that fifty-year-olds are no longer allowed to shuffle quietly into the realm of the old git, swathed in a baggy, threadbare cardigan, and clutching the crossword. Now they are all completing triathlons, or clambering across several thousand miles of coastline dressed in lightweight gore-tex.
I can remember a time when the term ‘male grooming product’ referred to a pair of nasal hair clippers, and that was it. Apparently today’s fifty-something male has the choice of applying anti-wrinkle cream or a face mask after shaving, rather than just slapping himself around the chops with a handful of Brut. It’s all very confusing.
As I am running through options for presents, I am aware that I am running out of time to buy anything. Slowing me down (thankfully) is this large glass of Bon Cap Syrah (Ocado £7.99).
This South African organic wine is a recommendation from my mate Peter at The Pinotage Club. H is more of a Shiraz fan than I am, but I like the peppery spice and liquorice aftertaste of this one, even if it is rather dry. It has certainly made me determined to try some of the Pinotage that they produce, if I can get hold of any.
As for the 50th birthday present, I’m still at a loss what to get. It’s all very well sashaying along to the dinner in my new shoes and party frock, but I don’t think that clutching a gift-wrapped Old Spice soap-on-a-rope is going to be appropriate, somehow.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Horse Shoes

I am going to a birthday celebration next weekend. It’s a dinner in a smart hotel, and I need to scrub up a bit for it. I have a rather glitzy dress which hasn’t seen the light of day for about a year, and which offers the perfect blend of sleek sophistication (for when I arrive) and party animal (for when I leave). The problem is that the shoes I bought to go with the dress have been reduced to twisted, mummified corpses at the bottom of the wardrobe. I am going to have to find a replacement pair, and that means going shoe shopping this weekend.
Now, I love going shopping for clothes, especially if it follows a boozy lunch with a good friend, and involves swaying in and out of dinky boutiques, stifling giggles and daring each other to try on totally unsuitable stuff (tops that reveal upper arms, peasant-style dresses, anything lime green).
But no amount of alcohol can numb the despair and humiliation of shoe shopping. I often feel like I belong to a completely different species when it comes to the topic of shoes. Many of my friends get a bigger sexual thrill from ogling shoes than they do from ogling their husbands (but then looking at some of the husbands, it’s hardly surprising). Shoes have become a byword for wild-eyed womanly lust. Buying shoes apparently represents the orgasmic fusion of female desire, submission and subsequent guilt.
I read once that the reason women supposedly lust after fancy footwear is because shoes are an accessible piece of glamour for all women, regardless of their body size. So, no matter how large you might be, or how much weight you put on, shoes will always fit.
Well, I’m sorry, but that is a load of sh....oes. I am the unhappy owner of wide feet. When I was pregnant they were even wider. So wide that flip-flops seemed like a reasonable option in February.
Years of sitting in shoe shops trying to cram my robot feet into tiny strips of satin or leather have left me feeling like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters. I might be able to go to the ball, but if I want to dance or do anything other than sit on a stool and annoy the bar staff, I will be forced to wear sensible shoes.
Shoe manufacturers seem to be convinced that anyone with wide feet must be over seventy and devoted to beige. I never knew there were so many shades of beige, but wide-fitting shoes encompass the whole beige spectrum. They can range from a delicate, pale ‘support stocking’, through to ‘corn plaster’, and all the way to a rich, dark ‘ear wax’. The excitement of buying a foxy, sparkly red dress diminishes rather rapidly when the options for accompanying footwear all involve neutral colours, comfortable one inch heels, and large buckles for easy fastening. Not exactly ‘f**k-me’ shoes – more ‘sit me down with a nice cup of tea’ shoes.
Before I decide to unleash my inner pensioner, I am going to unleash this Friday’s Drunk Mummy Cheap Fizz. It’s an Australian sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and was chosen purely on the basis of its cork – or its lack of cork.
I am a huge fan of the screw-top wine bottle, since the disappointment of a bitter-tasting corked wine is enough to reduce me to tears. This Deakin Estate Brut (Oddbins £6.99) has a cap like a beer bottle, and why not? It is impossible to force a cork back into a bottle of sparkly stuff (and who would want to anyway?), so the metal cap seems like a perfectly sensible idea.
Admittedly if you tried to ‘pop’ the top off in true party buffoon style, you might get severe lacerations to the eye, but then I have always thought such displays of forced exuberance to be a complete waste of good fizz. The celebrations at the end of a Grand Prix race usually have me tutting like a tight-lipped maiden aunt.
The idea of forcing a cork back into a bottle is an uncomfortable reminder of the hellish task that lies ahead of me tomorrow. I think I need another glass of this rough-and-ready Aussie fizz to cope with the prospect. It is quite yeasty, and creamy, but with a good crisp finish - just what I need!
I have noticed that some shops are starting to do ranges of shoes to fit wider feet, so I know that I am not alone in my splay-footed splendour. These collections are usually called something euphemistic like ‘comfort range,’ ‘eezee-fit’ or ‘heifer hooves’ but at least they do colours other than beige, so maybe there is a chance I might buy a gorgeous and vertiginous pair of heels to go with my party dress. On the other hand, perhaps I should just stick with flip-flops, and then I won’t have to worry about falling over at the end of the evening.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Sweet Charity

We seem to be careering towards the end of the school year at an alarming rate.
It is particularly noticeable because every remaining day seems to require non-standard items of clothing, food or equipment in order to support the plethora of school charity days. This poses a dire threat to the well-rehearsed military precision of the morning routine. The school uniform may be all clean and ironed, but wait! It’s ‘Wear Something Blue Day’ to save water, or ‘Wear Something Yellowy-green Day’ to save the bile bears. We’ve already had ‘Wear Your Pyjamas to School Day’ and ‘Crazy Hair Day’ (both of which I endorse on a regular basis anyway). We are still living with the after-effects of ‘Crazy Hair Day’, since it involved copious amounts of coloured glitter spray. There is a fine dusting of the stuff over every surface in the house, and the bathroom looks like a drag queen’s dressing room.
At least the ‘French Day’ merely required that the children learn to shrug dramatically and mutter ‘C’est pas possible’ all the time. Parental involvement was limited to the provision of a few mouldy croissants, and a small donation to a charity which helps middle-aged women to buy matching underwear.
‘Roman Day’ was a bit scarier, involving gladiator fights to the death at playtime. The home-made toga was supposed to be straightforward, but all my sheets are fitted with elastic at the corners. So instead of a regally draped white toga, my son was sporting a pale blue billowing version with a puff-ball skirt. I forget what the charity was that day – something to do with sourcing vegetarian Christians to feed to vegetarian lions.
It may sound churlish to rail against all this fund-raising activity, but the majority of the charity days seem designed for the kids to have a big old laugh and eat lots of cake (there’s always a cake stall), while their parents run around throwing time and money at whatever outfit is required. I’m not sure that the idea of charity as an act of selflessness is actually getting through to the children.
It reminds me rather uncomfortably of a dinner party I went to recently where one of the glacial female guests peppered her conversation all evening with references to her ‘charity work.’ When I finally asked her what exactly she did for this charity, she smiled the benevolent smile of the morally superior and told me that she organised dinners and fashion shows to raise money. She lost no opportunity in reminding the other dutifully nodding guests of her extensive contribution, and clearly felt that her involvement with posh frocks and fabulous meals was enough to bestow the golden glow of virtue upon her own immaculate head.
I’m normally a very jolly drunk, but I couldn’t help wondering if she would be quite so charitable if asked to accompany a busload of incontinent pensioners on a day trip to Rhyl. Since there would be no call for a glamorous dress and limited opportunities for networking, I doubt she would be up for it. She didn’t look the type who would own a set of waterproofs, either.
Before I descend into total Scrooge-like malevolence, I need a glass of something to sweeten my mood. I think I have found the perfect solution in this glass of citrussy Leasingham Magnus Clare Valley Riesling (Sainsbury’s £7.99). This is a 2005, so there are no petrol fumes to contend with either. I happen to know that it is also a favourite of Heidi the kite-surfing, snowboarding dudette at Wood Vale Diaries.

I would like to nominate Heidi for my ‘Rockin Girl Blogger’ award, especially as she is someone who qualifies on all three counts. She gets to post the badge on her blog (by clicking on the badge, saving it as a picture, then adding it to the blog) and then to nominate someone else.
Heidi – I thought the pink badge might go with your new pink kiteboard!
Thank you Jenny from Mountain Mama for nominating me. I was absurdly delighted to be referred to as a ‘girl’ – can’t remember the last time that happened. Cheers!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Chinese Crackers

On Saturday morning my daughter produced a letter from the murkiest recesses of her school bag, asking if any parents would be interested in paying for after-school lessons in Mandarin Chinese next year.
That would be lessons in the notoriously difficult language that has over 200 basic characters and four tonal variations, then? For nine year olds? For half an hour a week? It was one of those classic examples of not knowing whether to laugh or scream. So I did both, and screamed with laughter – causing plenty of alarm for all witnesses, since I am usually grimly silent when I’m in my dressing gown.
I try to keep my cynicism under wraps when I am around the children (which is why I don’t talk to them much), so I had a hard time explaining to her why this was such a preposterous idea, without employing the terms ‘half-baked’, ‘pushy parents’ or ‘total insanity.’
I am convinced these lessons must be some knee-jerk reaction from the otherwise sensible headmistress, in response to the beady-eyed contingent of mothers who are constantly looking for that extra competitive edge for their children.
A quick whiz around on Google reveals that Mandarin Chinese is considered to be one of the most ‘economically useful’ languages to learn, for obvious reasons, and will make those who can master it attractive to future employers.
All very true, and in the case of nine year olds, all very depressing.
I can’t help thinking that the school’s efforts might be better spent on improving the provision for sport in the summer term. Even when it hasn’t been raining, there have been constant cancellations of rounders lessons (because the grass is slippy) or athletics lessons (because the track is slippy) or swimming lessons (because the water is slippy).
I seem to remember that when I was at school, there was a similar belief that the burgeoning South American economy meant that you would be virtually unemployable unless you could speak Spanish, or even better – Portuguese. There must be thousands of people my age who are now seriously disillusioned to find that the only benefit resulting from years of intensive Portuguese study is that they can order a Caipirinha off a ladyboy at a Mardi Gras carnival.
A scout around the Drunk Mummy Wine Vaults to unearth something Portuguese has produced just the one bottle of Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional (£5.99). It is very robust, and tastes slightly of prunes. I think that means I ought to have another glass – for the roughage, of course.
I was reading on Google that the four tonal variations in Mandarin Chinese can result in a word like ‘ma’ meaning either a mother, a horse, hemp, or a reproach, depending on the tone. Looking at that list, it would make you convinced that there is some sort of embedded word association going on there too.
Perhaps ‘pa’ can mean (depending on the tone) a father, a rat, beer, or leaving the toilet seat up.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Pillow Talk

This hasn’t been a good week for sleep.
I haven’t been ill (I’m not allowed to be) but on the rare occasions that I feel unwell, I just want to be left alone to hibernate silently in a corner of the bed. My children, on the other hand, are keen to share their illnesses and the detailed descriptions of their symptoms at all times of the day and night.
It’s only when I have interrupted nights that I remember what life used to be like about five years ago. In those days it seemed that my ear was fine-tuned to the slightest noise my children made in the night. Muffled yelping and snuffling meant bad dreams which needed to be calmed with a gentle motherly hand on the forehead. Rapid breathing indicated a high temperature, which required a brisk but dextrous dose of the Pink Panacea. A sudden gagging noise resulted in instant SAS siege tactics of leaping across to the bedroom and dragging a green-faced floppy child to the toilet bowl, all in one manoeuvre.
My, how things have changed.
These last few nights each sickly child has had to stand beside the bed and yell my name about five times before I have even stirred. At one point I even incorporated the droning noise into a particularly satisfying dream where 'Muuuummmm' was being chanted by a chorus of young (but strangely attractive) Buddhist monks.
Until this week, I didn't realise how much I have started to drool in my sleep. Each time I was woken up, my cheek appeared to be stuck to the pillowcase. It got increasingly difficult to find a dry bit of pillow. I have long been used to avoiding the damp patch in the bed, but on the pillow? I wonder if H is aware of this particularly attractive new habit. Does he wake up in the night with amorous intentions, only to take one ardour-quenching look at his dripping corpse of a wife? Given that it's dark, I suppose he can't see me lying there with jowls like a rabid dog. If he were to put a randy hand on my pillow though, he would probably think my head had been leaking slowly all night. I'm not even sure what exactly is leaking out. Saliva? Excess wine? Venom? When the pillowcase finally does dry out, it looks like a piece of parchment, so it could be that I'm oozing slaked lime.
Maybe I am just getting to that age where bits of the body start to re-align. Hips and knees are well documented for developing worn-out hinges, so there's every possibility that my over-worked jaw no longer closes properly. It won't be long before the body parts which used to operate in pairs start to strike out on their own, demanding to be acknowledged as individuals. That's the point at which I will start referring to 'my good eye' or 'my bad leg' or 'my good ear'. God knows what will happen to my breasts - one will probably shrivel away quietly while the other joins a line-dancing class, and then has a whirlwind holiday romance with a Masai warrior.
At least I only need one hand and one mouth to enjoy this Friday’s cheap fizz - a bottle of Cave de Lugny Sparkling Burgundy (Ocado £5.99 down from £7.99 until 3/7). It’s dry and biscuity (sounds like a cure for seasickness) and although it tastes like real party juice, it lacks a good finish.
If it starts oozing out of my head tonight, I wonder if it will still fizz when it hits the pillow?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Domino Effect

Two of my kids have been struck down with a mild flu virus. They have been too ill to go to school, and have spent the last couple of days wafting around the house like tragic laudanum-soaked characters from a Victorian novel. It started me wondering what the collective noun for slightly ill children is. A wheedle? A wilting? A drape?
Part of me was tempted just to sit them in front of the all-powerful TV, simply to get them out of my hair for the day, but since they would view this as the ultimate treat, I know I would never be able to get them back into school for the rest of the year.
I thought about descending on them like one of those mad-eyed women who threaten their children in high, sinister voices that 'we're going to have some fun now, aren't we?' But after so many years of maternal neglect, I'm not sure they would have coped with the sudden overdose of attention - it would probably have brought us all out in a rash.
I tried suggesting brightly that they do something 'educational' but they treated that suggestion with the contempt it deserved, by simply staring at me with their rheumy eyes until I went away.
In the end, I (rather conveniently) decided to let them get bored senseless, so that they would be clamouring to be allowed back into school tomorrow. Unfortunately most reality TV isn't on until the evening, and there are no politicians pontificating during the daytime schedules either, so we had to look for our tedium elsewhere.
Prolonged staring at the wall did the trick, but resulted in them falling asleep for most of the afternoon, so just before bedtime they were fully recovered and bouncing off the walls.
It was at that point that I finally turned to drugs - for them, not me, although a crafty swig from the Night Nurse bottle wouldn't have gone amiss. Putting my trust once again in St Calpol (the patron saint of a good night's sleep), I am praying that they will both be crashed out for the whole night - or more importantly, that they won't wake me up every couple of hours.
I thought about having a hot toddy myself this evening, as a preventative measure of course, but they usually cause me to sweat like a pig, and I don't want to wake up thinking I have somehow slipped into the menopause overnight. So instead, I have opted for milder medication in the form of a glass of Oyster Bay Chardonnay (Ocado £6.39 down from £7.99 until 3/7). It is fresh and subtly oaked, and it's having a wonderfully relaxing effect on me.
Unfortunately, I am also realising that even if both children are back in school tomorrow, the third is probably just about to come down with the same illness.
I think I am going to need more medication.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Sunday Service

Well, Sunday lunch was a big success, in that we ate loads and drank loads, and no-one threw up.
It hadn’t been the most auspicious start. The invitation was for midday, so I spent the morning in complete denial by reading the newspapers, crunching Coco Pops underfoot, cursing at the kids - all the usual Sunday morning stuff. It was only at about 11am that the true magnitude of what I needed to achieve within the next hour gradually dawned on me.
Like the beginning of a machine wash cycle, I started off just moving slowly backwards and forwards across the kitchen, without actually doing anything. Gradually I began to build a bit of momentum, prodding at a few piles of dirty washing and crusty plates. Within half an hour I was up to full spin, whipping through the house, removing all traces of the life we really do live (toenail clippings on the sofa, fourteen pairs of shoes in the hall) and trying to replace it with the pretence of a more civilised version. The finished effect was hardly ‘Homes and Gardens’ but at least the living room didn’t look like a crack den any more.
I had earmarked the last 15 minutes to run upstairs and attempt the final bit of ‘Sunday lifestyle’ deception – clothes and make-up. Therefore you can imagine my blind panic when the doorbell rang at 11.45 and I was trapped in the kitchen, still wearing my (rather stained) dressing gown.
Like many women my age, my un-made-up face bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to my fully-made-up face. So, for one fleeting moment I considered pretending that I was the live-in help. That promise of salvation was short-lived when I realised that I don’t look underfed enough to be really convincing in the role. Also, the stained dressing gown would have been grounds for instant dismissal under the draconian hygiene standards demanded by employers of domestic staff.
So, with skin like blotchy porridge, and eyes like pee-holes in the snow, I went into the hall to greet the guests, smiling brightly through anaemic lips.
I needn’t have worried. The couple who had arrived early have a three year old and a six month old baby, and were therefore so sleep-deprived that I could have been wearing full clown suit and wig, and I doubt they would have noticed.
I left H to steer them gently towards the drinks, and escaped upstairs, emerging 15 minutes later, slathered in industrial quantities of concealer, and wearing something suitably floaty and relaxed. The whole intention was to create an impression of effortless style, but I nearly gave myself a coronary trying to achieve it. The contrast, though, was so dramatic that I had to introduce myself all over again to the baby-infused couple. I think they spent the rest of the afternoon vaguely wondering when the pasty-faced domestic was likely to appear again, and hoping that she hadn’t touched any of the food.
At about 12.45 the other family arrived, just as we were popping the cork off the second bottle of Lindauer. Since their children are seven and five, they had been delayed by the usual arguments and mock threats of stopping the car, and pretending to drive back home. By the time they got to our house, they had actually covered the total distance twice over.
As the meal got underway, and the white wine flowed, it became easier to ignore the constant interruptions from various children. By the time we hit the red wine, the kids had finally realised that we were shouting louder than they were, so they sensibly left us alone and went upstairs to imprison each other in the wardrobes. We didn’t see them again until the two designated drivers (the dads) decided they really couldn’t stand any more of their wives’ shrill hilarity, and shovelled them into their cars along with the children.
One of the wines our guests brought was a fabulous Saint RocheVin de Pays du Gard (Ocado £5.49). This fruity organic red went really well with the fresh, meaty shepherd’s pie. It’s a shame there isn’t any of it left, as a large glass would certainly liven up the congealed mass of leftovers we are eating tonight.
Perhaps it’s just as well I’m abstaining. The children came down for breakfast this morning and started a rousing chorus of ‘Ten Green Bottles’ when they looked at the detritus. I had to buy their silence with sweeties, but I know that our excesses are documented every Monday in that Stalinist invasion of privacy known as the ‘My Busy Bee News’ exercise book. I did tell them that the clear bottles are for lemonade and the green ones are for limeade, but I don’t think they believed me.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Hostess With the Mostest

The weekend is here! Bring it on! Two whole days to relish the dubious delights of the family unit.

Sunday mornings chez Drunk Mummy are usually a pyjama-fest (or ‘dirty protest’ depending on the hangover), where the kids sit and watch junk TV while H and I sit and read junk newspapers. Later on we all sit down to endure the mutual misery of a meal together.

Family conversation topics can range from politics (‘Stop doing that!’) to religion (‘For Christ’s sake, will you sit down!’) to philosophy (‘Why do I bother?’). We occasionally delve into the deeper, more cerebral issues of analytics (‘Who farted?’), logic (‘Well, it wasn’t me!) and ethics (‘Will you stop it, it’s really unpleasant!’).

This Sunday will be different. We are having friends over for lunch. Actually, I say ‘friends’ but despite the fact that they are both extremely pleasant families, the dads are also H’s work colleagues. Somehow that fact makes me feel that ‘best behaviour’ is called for – mine rather than the children’s.

I think my sensitivity stems from a rather unfortunate incident when I had just started going out with H. We met up after work with some of his colleagues to go to the theatre, and although I didn’t realise at the time, I was about to be struck down with a stomach bug (honest!). I felt fine during the pre-theatre drinks, and even managed a G&T at the interval. But by the middle of the final act, the auditorium had become stiflingly hot, and I suddenly started to feel rather queasy. I realised that since I was in the middle of a very long row, it would be unlikely that I could hurdle over legs and briefcases fast enough to get to the loo in time. I retrieved my brand new handbag from under my seat, and started the frantic scramble for a tissue. Of course, there was nothing so practical in my bag in those days – just credit cards, lipstick and a couple of condoms. In that split second of rising panic and rising puke, I decided that I really couldn’t spoil this lovely new bag, so I vomited into the sleeve of my suit.

Fortunately, H realised what was happening and propelled me very rapidly to the exit, galloping over the tangle of feet. I remember clutching the cuff of my sleeve to prevent the armful of vomit falling out onto the other people in the row.

If H was horrified at this display of pitiful ingenuity from his new girlfriend, he had the decency not to show it. Instead, he covered me with his own coat, looked after me, and took me home in a taxi. Reader – I married him. But he can’t say that he wasn’t warned!

Anyway, the upshot (or should I say ‘upchuck’) of this episode was that one of H’s female colleagues always referred to me afterwards as ‘Vomiting Veronica.’ My, how I laughed! I laughed even more when she got fired.

So, on Sunday I am determined to present myself as a paragon of sobriety.

Who am I kidding? I know that after all the bustle of preparation on Sunday morning (scraping the mould off the hand towels, shaving the toilet bowl) I won’t be able to resist a few glasses of fizzy when the guests arrive.

Once the main meal is on the table, I can start to relax with a few glasses of white, then move on to the red. Dessert will involve lurching towards the freezer for a tub of ice cream and a couple of spoons, and by the time it gets to the coffee, I shall be propping my feet up on a chair, and waving vaguely in the direction of the kettle.

I have bought a few bottles of Lindauer Special Select (Ocado £7.99 down from £9.99 until 3/7) for the pre-lunch drinks on Sunday. But in the interests of research (and because it’s Friday night) I am drinking a glass of it now.

It has a very unusual salmon pink colour, and tastes a bit like nutty, yeasty biscuits, but without the choking risk.

It was in the ‘Vomiting Veronica’ era that I discovered Lindauer. Back then, it was one of the very few sparkling wines that could hold its own against the snobbery of champagne. Now, of course, we are spoilt for choice with good, cheap fizz.

I’m sure our guests will enjoy it too, and at this price we can drink three bottles for the equivalent cost of one bottle of champagne.

I think on Sunday I might wear a long-sleeved top. Just in case.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Out of My Box

I have never been tempted by those organic produce boxes which many people have ‘delivered to the door.’ For starters, they include vegetables that you actually have to peel before you cook them – you can’t simply prod a plastic bag with a knife, and bung it in the microwave, like normal vegetables. It seems that cooking them requires considerable amounts of creativity too. I’m not sure I would know what to do with a courgette (no rude suggestions, please) never mind a bulb of fennel. Do you screw the fennel into a light socket? As for chard – that could either be a salad leaf, or a general description of my cooking.

I was asking some friends today why they pay for these boxes which require them to eat purple–sprouting broccoli for the entire month of February, or Brussels sprouts when it isn’t even Christmas (can you imagine the horror!). One of them, who is a very good cook, said that she liked being challenged in the kitchen. I nearly suggested she come round to my house and I would introduce her to my kids. They challenge me in the kitchen on a regular basis.

What really surprised me was that most of my friends signed up to these organic box schemes because the company which delivers them donates 20% of the cost to the school that their children attend.

Now, I can’t decide who is the more cynical – me, or the company that delivers the boxes.

This marketing masterstroke enables them to exploit the lucrative combination of parental guilt and charitable donations in one fell swoop.

The organic produce box enables you to feed your kiddies with healthy vegetables (you know you should) and you can donate money to their school at the same time - how can you resist? Everybody wins!

Hmmmm, everybody that is, except the frazzled mums who now have to spend twice as much time trying to make an evening meal out of celeriac and alfalfa sprouts, while paying handsomely for the privilege.

I am feeling rather irritable about this. Yet again, I seem to be out of step with everyone else’s warm fuzzy glow. My own method of generating a warm fuzzy glow will be to demolish the best part of this bottle of cherry-and-plum Secano Estate Pinot Noir (M&S £6.99) from Chile. It needs a bit of time to breathe (don’t we all) but now its silky finish is gradually smoothing my raised hackles.

During today’s conversation, one of my friends did concede that she’d had a lot of trouble getting her kids to eat some of the vegetables that had been delivered. ‘We eat an awful lot of soup at the end of each week’ she said, ‘and the rabbit is looking really healthy these days.’

I can’t see myself taking delivery of any organic produce boxes in the near future. I think I’ll just stick to wine boxes.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Summer Diary Delights

It seems to be crunch time with summer holiday arrangements. All those ‘Yes, let’s get together in the summer....’ procrastinations are coming back to haunt me. I have blurred memories of several occasions this year, when, full of bonhomie (and red wine) I cheerily waved a warm, smudged glass in the air, and signed up verbally to various tin pot ideas. Now the net is closing around me, and I am being pinned down for dates. Each entry into the diary feels like a nail in the coffin of our summer freedom.

I really envy people who just clear off somewhere for the summer. ‘Sorry, we’re away for the holidays’ they say breezily, with an unconvincing attempt at disappointment. As a way of fending off the diary-toting hordes, this really is a trump card. How I would love to wave goodbye to everything back home, and just head for the hills, dragging the kids and a trolley full of wine behind me. Come to think of it, if the hilly terrain got too arduous, the kids could just return home and fend for themselves.

We are going away for a couple of weeks here and there this summer, but we seem to be the only family not taking a holiday based on topics from the National Curriculum. If I was able to go on holiday to Rome, I would want to cavort in the Trevi Fountain in a strapless evening gown, like Anita Ekberg, not haul three moaning brats around the Coliseum. If I went to France, it would be in order to drink good, cheap wine and eat smelly cheese, not to kid myself that the children are learning to speak French just because they can now order ‘un sandwich au jambon.’

I am firmly of the opinion that children don’t need holidays – their parents do. I have heard people say that it’s important to provide holiday memories for your children, but since none of mine can even remember what they had for breakfast, I have serious doubts.

My own form of escapism tonight comes in the form of a particularly luscious Diemersfontein Pinotage (Ocado £7.99). This South African beauty was recommended to me by Peter at The Pinotage Club, who describes it as ‘coffee and chocolate in a glass.’ I can’t add anything to that, it is such a good description, and makes you wonder why you would ever need to eat or drink anything else in your lifetime. There is a little quote on the label at the back of the bottle saying

‘It befriends – It converts – It seduces’

which makes it sound like a particularly sinister but racy church group (one way of expanding the congregation, I suppose).

Peter is also the author of a wonderful book, about unusual wine labels which has the extremely memorable title of ‘Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape.’ It will definitely be on my letter to Santa this Christmas.

As I am sipping this pinotage, I am hatching an escape plan for next year that will enable us to say that we are ‘away in the country’ for the whole summer, on an educational trip for the children, which encompasses their maths work, language skills, geography projects and plenty of exercise. It will also guarantee some indelible memories for them. The shortage of fruit-picking migrant workers in the South East could be my salvation. I haven’t decided yet whether or not I will let the kids keep any of their wages.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Wine Dinner Wipeout

Well, the Wine Dinner certainly was a lot of fun, and I certainly have been paying the price for such reckless abandon on a Monday night.

My new belt performed its sartorial duties with aplomb. The only problem was that the more I had to drink, the more I considered the belt to be an interesting topic of conversation: ‘Ah, yes, really bad news about your acrimonious divorce - ran off with the trainee didn’t he, how dreadful (pause) - do you like my new belt?’

The belt did take its revenge by gradually tightening its grip across my stomach over the course of the evening. Just my luck to buy a belt with sadistic tendencies. I suppose it just became tired of battling against the tide of food and drink I was consuming, and annoyed at finding no support in this unequal struggle from my stretchy trousers. I have noticed that I am starting to look for the lycra component in trousers in the same way that some people look for the percentage of cocoa solids in chocolate. Anything less than 70% and I’m not buying.

Anyway, the Wine Dinner aperitif was one of those very fashionable award-winning English sparkling wines (this was a Ridgeview, but I have also tried Nyetimber before). Now, I don’t wish to be disloyal to the English winemaking industry, but delightful as these fizzies are, I think they are really expensive (the Ridgeview is around £18). There is so much good cava and prosecco around, that I just wouldn’t pay the money for this. I suppose there would be some huge cachet in serving it at a drinks party and braying to fellow competitors about your ‘sourcing of local produce, darling,’ but you might just as well serve cider and say the same thing. In fact, it may just be me, but there is an unmistakeable hint of cider about these English sparkling wines. I love cider (I have an emergency can of Strongbow lurking at the back of the fridge) but I wouldn’t pay twenty quid a bottle for it.

Having ‘mingled’ to excess, it was a relief to sit down and enjoy the whites – a young, citrussy Australian riesling (as I suspected there would be) and a rich Chilean chardonnay which had a lovely long finish.

Talking to the organiser, it seems that my problems with riesling all stem from my over-reliance on choosing wine by grape type, and ignoring the vintage. Quite frankly, I always feel that for my level of wine enjoyment (I just want to drink it, not have its babies) knowing which grape types I like is sufficient. Not so with riesling. The petrol-tasting rieslings which I can’t stand are the older vintages, which are also more expensive. The younger wines, with their crisper, more mineral taste are the ones I like, and they cost less too. I always have been a bit of a cheap date.

The reds were a peppery St Joseph (Rhone Valley) and a rich, warm Argentinian Chacayes (cabernet sauvignon and malbec) which made me want to hunt down and savage a raw steak. Certainly, the beefy young waiter seemed to be rather nervous around me. I think he was worried I might try and lasso him with my new belt.

Finally, the pudding wine was a wonderfully light Napa Valley moscato. Thankfully this delicate peachy brew is only 8%, and at that stage in the proceedings, it could make the difference between getting out of bed the next morning or not.

Talking of which, I think I need to lay off the wine tonight, and aim for a Drunk Mummy Detox - a bacon and egg butty, cup of tea and a good night’s sleep.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Shopping Trollied

I had a lovely treat this weekend. I met up with a friend for lunch and a bit of shopping. We drank way too much over lunch, laughed way too loudly, and banned all use of the ‘c’ word from our conversation (meaning, of course, ‘children’).

This friend has known me over half my life, and has therefore borne witness to the many great disasters and occasional small triumphs within that period. She has an enviably slender figure, a great sense of style and a very rich husband. You would think I might choose my friends more wisely, wouldn’t you?

Going clothes shopping with her is something of a vicarious pleasure. Maybe this is what it feels like to construct a Second Life avatar. You can dress your avatar in all those items of clothing that look dreadful on you in real life. So, that chiffon ‘gownless evening strap’ that merely accentuated my farmer's tan? Put it on my peachy-skinned friend instead, and it looked great. Those tight cropped leggings I barely managed to squeeze into, and which made my legs look like a string of sausages? On her long lean limbs they looked fabulous. Even the ‘must have’ patterned smock tops just made me look like I ‘must have’ a very strange sense of humour. As my avatar friend effortlessly amassed a complete wardrobe of fashionable trousers and skirts, with numerous co-ordinating tops, I managed to buy a belt.

I did notice that the shops seem to be full of linen trousers - the fool’s gold of fashion. They always look fantastic when you put them on in the changing room, but I know from bitter experience that this effect is extremely short lived. If you are so reckless as to sit down in them, even for a few minutes, then be prepared for the full gypsy accordion effect when you stand up again. And why do the hems always curl up at the edges like slices of stale ham? I reckon that the majority of people who buy linen trousers don’t actually do their own ironing. I own one pair, and I think I have spent longer trying to iron a straight crease into them, than I have spent actually wearing the damn things. Life is just too short for linen trousers.

Anyway, I will be wearing my new belt tonight (but not my linen trousers – I haven’t got two hours to get ready) at another Wine Dinner - hurrah! The ‘theme’ of this one is simply wines which are personal favourites of the organiser. I am a little bit anxious, as I know he has something of a soft spot for Reisling - a wine that I have locked horns with on many occasions. Sometimes it is delicious, (like the Waitrose Pfalz £4.99 recommended a while ago by Stay At Home Dad, although Ocado don’t seem to stock it any more) but other times it’s like drinking petrol. It should be a very interesting evening.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Spare Tyres

I am generally indifferent to the allure of cars, even really flash ones. Although I might lust after someone else’s house, or their wine cellar, I just can’t get to squeaking point about cars in the way that a petrol head like Jeremy Clarkson does.

There are plenty of performance cars on the roads around here, which I presume must reflect their owners’ performance bonuses. But between the speed bumps, central islands and mini-roundabouts, I don’t see how they ever get the chance to ‘perform’ on their home turf (rather like their owners, I suspect).

The traffic calming measures in the area are designed to stop anyone reaching either third gear or more than ten miles an hour. Despite this, I managed to burst one of the front tyres two weeks ago, with an ill-judged manoeuvre through a chicane. The alarming gunshot noise made me think I was in the vicinity of the first ‘school-run Mum’ suicide, but when I pulled over, I realised that although the tyre was damaged, it was still possible to drive the car to the tyre fitters for a replacement.

Ever since I read an article about tradesmen who charge female customers more than men for the same job, I have veered between depressed supplication, and aggressive chippiness whenever I deal with a male ‘repairer’.

Sometimes I feel that I ought to trust in the innate decency of another human being not to rip me off. But then I am sure this approach invites a premium on my bill, since it makes me look as if I am too ineffectual to complain.

Other times I try and present myself as some sort of kick-ass broad who knows what I am talking about, so don’t mess with me. This is always a tricky approach with plumbers due to the risk of being unmasked as a fraudster if I confuse my stopcock with my spigot.

The deciding factor seems to be whether or not the tradesman reminds me of my Dad. If he does, I am happy to trust in the milk of human kindness. If not, then I launch into bolshie smartarse mode. Not exactly a scientific approach, I know.

Unfortunately, the man at the tyre fitters had eyes like a robber’s dog. He would not look directly at me, preferring to suck air through his teeth and shake his head slowly as he inspected the tyres. I was already squaring up to him mentally, even before he suggested that both front tyres needed replacing, not just the passenger side one that I had damaged.

‘Ah, not so fast matey, I know your game’ I thought, and declined his kind offer while smiling primly at him, to let him know that I am not just another female sucker he could rip off with unnecessary extra tyre sales. I drove away congratulating myself on my street-wise shrewdness.

Earlier this evening, H went out to pick up one of the kids, but came back in saying he needed to put the spare wheel on first, as the driver’s side front tyre has now gone flat.

He can’t understand why I really don’t want to take the car back to the tyre fitters on Monday.

As it is Friday night, I have opened a bottle of my favourite La Marca Prosecco (Ocado £5.99). This ‘party in a bottle’ is always great to drink on its own, but tonight I think it will go especially well with the large slice of humble pie I have to eat.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

The Reveal

As I expected, my trip to the hair salon today has not resulted in any Cinderella-style transformation. When the stylist held up the mirror, so that I could see the back, I was lost for words – well, I had already used up all the appropriate ones for this exact same hairstyle on my previous visits.

My subconscious has blotted out the details of payment, on the basis that it could threaten my sanity, but when I stood by the reception desk trying to look pleased with my helmet of rigidly-coiffed hair, I could have sworn that the young girl who brought my coat referred to me as ‘Your Majesty.’ But maybe I’m just paranoid.

At least having my roots done has meant that my hair finally looks clean, which is a good thing, but it also looks extremely sensible which, for some reason, doesn’t feel quite so good.

My daughter told me that she thought my hair looked nice, so I smiled chirpily, and pronounced myself ‘delighted’ with it. Surprised? Ah, but I know that mothers are not supposed to keep making negative comments about their appearance in front of their daughters. Usually I am fed up to the back teeth of advice for parents, and the implicit blame that goes with it, but this one seems to make a lot of sense to me. In addition, I have been keeping a wary eye on her recently – a sort of ‘Daughter’s self-image watch’ (a bit like Springwatch but without the horror of Bill Oddie or owl fratricide).

A friend who also has a nine year old daughter told me last week that her beautiful girl has started to say that she thinks she is ugly. Whether this is because of teasing by schoolmates or from comparisons with models or pop stars, my friend has no idea. Both she and her husband have constantly tried to reassure their daughter, but to no avail.

I seem to remember going through similar feelings myself, but not at that young an age, I’m sure. I remember my parents used to go out of their way to tell me I was beautiful, but as always, I dismissed their viewpoint outright since I thought they were madder than monkeys. It wasn’t their opinion that mattered to me, but the opinion of whichever monosyllabic spotty youth I happened to have a crush on at the time.

I am thinking about all this as I am cradling a large glass of Bonterra Zinfandel from California (Ocado £9.99). It is rich, spicy and peppery and very relaxing. I had an e-mail from Jane in San Francisco who recommended the Dashe Cellars Zinfandel, but so far, I have been unable to get a bottle. Jane really made me laugh with the confession that sometimes she telephones a friend in a more Eastern time zone, so that she can bring forward the time of her evening glass of wine by an hour, and make it seem a little more respectable. Ingenious! I think if I had access to all those fantastic Californian reds, I would be doing exactly the same thing.

When I tucked my daughter into bed a few minutes ago, I told her how beautiful, how lovely, how gorgeous and how pretty she is.

‘Yes Mum’ she intoned in a flat, bored voice, which sounded vaguely familiar. I can see already that my biased opinion is fairly worthless in her eyes. Maybe I would be better saving my reassurances for when she starts visiting the hair salon.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Hair Of the Dog

I am getting my hair cut and highlighted tomorrow. It actually needed doing about six weeks ago, but trying to book consecutive appointments with a stylist and a colourist is harder than gaining an audience with the Dalai Lama. With the combination of extensive dark re-growth and long straggly split ends, my head is starting to resemble a jellyfish.

In the past when I went to the hairdressers, I used to look for inspiration by flicking through the salon’s magazines. I gave that up when I realised that pointing hopefully at a photo of some glossy-maned model always sent the salon junior into a fit of giggles. I also remember one particularly sulky stylist mumbling something about being a hairdresser, not a magician. Time after time, my bright-eyed optimism has been dampened by the assertion that I don’t have ‘that sort of hair’ by which, I suppose, they mean the sort that actually looks good after a trip to the hairdressers. So now, I just sit there swathed in sweaty nylon, while the stylist cuts my hair in exactly the same style I had before, regardless of what I asked for. Still, on the bright side, I have ample opportunity to sit in front of a large mirror, staring at my haggard reflection, and marvelling at my increasing resemblance to my mother.

I often wonder why no-one is allowed to escape the salon’s clutches without having their hair blow-dried. I would quite happily just give mine a brisk rub with a towel on the way out, since I always hate the way they blow dry it, and can’t wait to re-do it myself. Whenever the stylist enquires above the noise of the hairdryer as to whether I am going out that night, I always have to resist the temptation to shout ‘No, I have already missed this year’s Bobby Charlton convention.’

The final insult in this whole sorry exercise is the extortionate cost. Every time I pay a hairdresser’s bill, I swear that next time I’m going to cut it myself. But, like wearing pop socks with a skirt, it seems that cutting your own hair is one of those unmistakeable signs of descending into muttering insanity.

I am taking some consolation in a glass of chilled Araldica Madonnina Gavi (currently £5.99 down from £6.99 at Ocado). This wine is a regular tenant of the Drunk Mummy cellar, and its crisp, clean lemon taste is just what I need. I am starting to think about radical action tomorrow on the hairstyling front – a Mohican perhaps, or maybe dreadlocks? I could always opt for a rebellious streak of bright blue, like an East European au pair. Sadly, I expect that I will simply be sitting here tomorrow with a shorter, blonder version of what I have now, and a considerably lighter bank balance.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The Tattooed Lady

My nine year old daughter has recently taken to covering her arms with tattoos. Not the inky-blue prison varieties, but sparkly iridescent butterflies and flowers. They are like the old fashioned ‘transfer’ tattoos I loved as a child – but better. There is none of that ritual disappointment when you lift the paper off too soon to reveal only half of the pattern.

I suppose the tattoos are a step up from the lurid felt-tip body art she used to enjoy as a toddler, which was always completely indelible, despite over twenty minutes of feverish scrubbing in the bath.

Therefore, I can see that it is only a matter of time before she wants to decorate her lower back with some vast black Celtic cross, or cover her shoulders with the Chinese symbols for ‘fried rice.’

I don’t have any tattoos. I very nearly got one in my twenties, but as with everything else in those days, I just couldn’t make the commitment. I was living in Paris at the time, and along with two close friends, thought it would be ‘hilarious’ if we each got a French cockerel (symbol of French sporting excellence) tattooed at the top of one thigh. We thought the tattoos would give us all sorts of conversational opportunities (‘Would you like to see my coq?’ or ‘People say I’ve got balls, but I’ve got a coq as well!’) although I’m not sure they would have been the most successful chat-up lines.

We went so far as making an appointment at a tattoo parlour, and turning up on the night. But when we got there, the tattoo artist was so far behind with his appointments, there were still three people waiting ahead of us. We were due at a party that evening, and since we were all getting a bit thirsty, we decided to just forget it and go to the party instead. My friends wanted to re-book the appointment, but secretly I felt it was a lucky escape. I had actually spent the previous night lying in bed staring at the ceiling, in a futile attempt to imagine the rest of my life, and whether or not the cockerel tattoo would fit in with it. How ridiculous that I never suffered any such concerns over the decision to have children.

I remember my American friend was particularly unforgiving about my gutless ducking out. ‘Whaddya gonna do?’ she demanded ‘Start dating Senators, or something?’ I am embarrassed to admit that with the arrogance of youth, I replied that I just might. What I didn't realise at the time, was that I should have just gone ahead and had 'Put Your Shoes On' tattooed on my forehead - it would have saved me no end of grief twenty years later.

Another trip down memory lane comes in the form of this glass of Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay (I think it’s on offer at Tesco at £4.78). I doubt there’s anyone in the country between the ages of 20 and 50 who hasn’t tried this melon-tasting stalwart. I think it’s very pleasant, but it does remind me of dire ‘dinner parties’ in the 80s when young people sat around doing their best to emulate their pompous middle-aged parents. Maybe if I had gone ahead with the cockerel tattoo, I could have livened up the dinner party conversation. As it is, I’m not sure how I will react when my daughter decides she wants a genuine tattoo – I suppose compared to a cockerel, a gothic skull or red devil won’t seem quite so bad.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Press 'Pause'

I am beginning to suspect that H may be on the verge of a mid-life crisis.

He would not be the only male I know to succumb. For starters, I have lost count of the depressing tales of family men being caught with their pants down recently. It seems they are frequently drawn to someone who looks remarkably like their own wife, but without the slippers or the post-pregnancy paunch.

Then, at a party this weekend, a lawyer friend announced that he needed to ‘find his true identity’ and was therefore about to chuck in his lucrative but soul-destroying job for something more fulfilling. As everyone clustered around to applaud his brave decision, I couldn’t help noticing his shell-shocked wife in the background, nodding enthusiastically and smiling through gritted teeth. For her 45th birthday present, she had been handed the role of sole breadwinner, rather than the pedicure voucher she was hoping for.

I suppose with drastic behaviour like this, I should be relieved that H’s particular obsession is fairly benign. Our finances preclude the purchase of that typical symbol of mid-life crisis - a ‘male meno-Porsche’ so instead he has bought a pair of in-line skates.

To be fair, as well as being an all round Boy Scout, H has always been a good skater – a sort of Ray Mears on wheels. He used to rollerblade to work when he was young and carefree, and was therefore a frequent recipient of abuse from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

However this weekend, he returned from a skating trip with more of a glow than usual. Apparently, a car full of teenage girls had beeped their car horn and waved at him as he skated along. All fairly innocent, you might think, but no - he has been down at the gym this morning, clearly convinced that his body is now a temple at which young women will come and worship. Bless!

More worryingly, he has declared his intention to abstain from drinking wine. Surely such self-delusion has its limits? Clearly some action needs to be taken to avoid irreparable damage to our marriage. Therefore, in an attempt to lure him once again with my oenophile charms, I have uncorked a Tesco Finest Beyers Truter Pinotage (£7.99). I am certain that the spicy blackberry flavour will convince him of the error of his ways. How could he fail to realise that a lithe limbed lovely offering him a swig of her alcopop cannot compare with the delights of drinking decent red wine? Even if it does mean sharing it with a woman whose teeth are gradually turning blue.