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.

Friday, 8 June 2007

It's Cosmic, Man

I am being driven to the end of my extremely short tether by the amount of school paraphernalia my kids have lost recently. They now have a record of ‘disappearances’ that would put a military dictatorship to shame. The list includes a pair of trainers, two cardigans, two pairs of football socks, a waterproof jacket, P.E. shorts and vest, 3 pairs of swimming goggles, and two pencil cases.

When I was young, my school uniform was treated with the sort of reverence that is given to a priest’s ceremonial robes. Each item was supposed to last for about three years, regardless of how quickly I was growing. As a result, in some school photos, my uniform is so short and tight that I look like I am dressed for one of those adult ‘School Disco’ nights.

Losing an item of uniform not only incurred the considerable wrath of my mother, but it also meant that I had to wait for the next three year buying period before it was replaced. Some children love to flout the restrictions of school uniform, but as a card-carrying conformist, such unintentional rebellion caused me endless anxiety. I vowed, therefore, that if I ever had children, I would calmly accept that sometimes they just lose things, and then quietly get a replacement.

So where did it all go wrong?

This morning, my daughter was as unconcerned as ever about the mysterious and repeated disappearance of her school cardigan. I tried to explain why it was important to find it, but there wasn’t even a flicker of acceptance of any personal responsibility. I started on the gentle interrogation, but this appeared to have no effect either. By the time we were at the school gates, I had gone completely over the top, and was dispensing acrimonious threats. Her bright optimism about the cardigan’s prodigal return had now evaporated completely, and as she turned to go into school, her little face was pale with misery. Walking away, I tried to justify to myself that she needed to learn some accountability, but needless to say, I felt like a complete sadist for the rest of the day.

This afternoon, when I picked her up from school, the detox period away from her mother’s verbal venom had worked a treat, and she was her usual ebullient self – and still without her cardigan. With uncharacteristic restraint, I pretended not to notice, choosing to seethe inwardly instead.

Now that they are all in bed, the chance to wash away the lingering taste of vitriol comes in the form of an Ackerman Laurence Sparking Saumur (£5.99 Ocado).

Friday night is always Cheap Fizz night chez Drunk Mummy, and I really wanted to like this, as an alternative to my beloved prosecco. But although it is light and yeasty, it doesn’t have a great finish – a bit like that sensation when you have just missed out on a sneeze, or an orgasm (delete as appropriate, depending on your sex life, or your hayfever symptoms).

It seems that I will either have to believe in the existence of a ‘school uniform black hole’ somewhere in the cosmos that is sucking these items in, with apparently no hope of their return, or resign myself to another ten years of shrewish scolding.

Strangely enough, the more I have of this Saumur, the more I am starting to feel an affinity with the theories of Professor Stephen Hawking. If I finish the bottle, I may need to borrow the great man's wheelchair.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

All Present and Correct

I went out today to buy some presents for yet another round of birthday parties that the kids will be attending in the next few weeks. I once added up how much I spent in a year on birthday presents for other people’s children. It is not an exercise I would recommend. I couldn’t stop myself from equating the cost with the number of cases of champagne that I could have bought instead – I was miserable for days.

Thankfully, my kids have now got to an age where birthdays no longer involve a party for the whole class. This means we now have the occasional weekend where H and I are not on permanent chauffeur duty, and our annual birthday present expenditure has dropped from ‘obscene’ to merely ‘uncomfortable.’

Unfortunately though, the birthday children are no longer at an age where they all want a day-glo pony with a tangled nylon tail, or a double-jointed superhero - regardless of how many they already own.

Despite the obvious practicality, giving money to the 7-10 age group seems to be frowned upon. Maybe there is a suspicion that feckless parents will fritter it all away on booze rather than invest in something ‘educational’ for their little darling – which is not a bad idea when you think about it. The only solution I can think of, that allows the children to choose something they actually want, is vouchers.

Now, I know my sons and their friends would prefer a voucher for the local video game shop, so they can continue to fry their brains with high definition graphics. My daughter and her friends would rather have a voucher for ‘Claire’s Accessories’ so they can deck themselves out with fluffy headbands, bracelets and body glitter. I would rather have Majestic Wine vouchers, for obvious reasons, or failing that, book tokens, but that’s because I am a forty-something mother of three (and I already have enough body glitter).

In the end, I was so fed up trying to decide, that I got several book tokens, and several vouchers from the other shops as well.

I’ve now got my feet up, enjoying the spicy cherry flavour of a glass of Tesco Finest Corbières Reserve (£4.99) and trying to match up each voucher with the appropriate child. It’s a bit like a card game, but with the added complication of having to consider which parents consider video games to be the work of Satan, and which would have their feminist principles offended if their daughter bought some sparkly hairslides.

Thankfully, there are always the book tokens, but I can’t help wondering if the recipients of these will just end up wanting to swap them for cash from their parents, and then blowing the lot on the Pic ‘n’ Mix sweetie section of Woolworth’s.

On that basis, I should have just bought Majestic Wine vouchers all round.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

If Music Be the Food of Love, I’m On a Diet

I went to my son’s school Music Evening tonight. It was scheduled early enough in the evening to be a logistical nightmare for anyone with younger children, but not late enough to make it easy for working parents to get to.

The result was that all the front rows of seats in the hall were taken up by a coterie of glossy, fragrant mums, freshly dressed in cool white linen separates, relaxing their perfect posture only sporadically in order to share a few conspiratorial laughs at other people’s expense. Shoe-horned in at the back with laptop bags the size of rucksacks, were the creased sweaty suits and creased sweaty brows of the working parents. As several of them tiptoed in during the head teacher’s opening address, the area at the back of the hall began to resemble a refugee camp. When the loud electronic beeping of a mobile started to emanate from the jacket of one poor sod, there was a collective swishing noise from the front rows, as manes of salon-straightened hair revolved in unison to register the owners’ tight-faced disapproval.

After the jolly music teacher had arranged the choir on stage, and persuaded all the small boys to remove their hands from their crotches, the music evening began.

There is something really lovely about hearing children sing together. Any little mistakes make the performance even better, somehow. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of children playing musical instruments. As one nervous child after another made his way up to the stage, the assembled parents were treated to a form of aural torture that ensured nobody would nod off.

After about half an hour I started wondering why music teachers always insist on putting a few popular tunes in the repertoire. I can guarantee that if any child played whole sections of Bach or Beethoven incorrectly, the majority of the audience (myself included) would remain blissfully unaware of his mistakes. Pity then, the little boy who had to play ‘Itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini’ on the violin. Perhaps it’s my fault, for just wanting to sit and tap my feet like a pensioner at a day centre, but as he valiantly see-sawed through the piece, each member of the audience started leaning slightly forward, willing the next screechy note to emerge on time, and not flat.

Back in the relative peace and quiet of my kitchen, I am relishing a cold glass of flinty, lemony Les Ruettes Sancerre (M&S about £9 a bottle, I think).

Thinking about tonight’s performance, I am wondering whether it was actually the audience that might have put the children off. Not only did the poor kids have to contend with the glare of laser-whitened teeth from the front row’s rictus grins, but they also had to block out the antics of the camcorder-wielding dads, who were busy reversing centuries of male competition by trying to see who had the smallest.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Guten Tag

I have only just realised that Nunhead Mum Of One tagged me while I was away camping. I was doing some catching-up on all the blog news last night, so I’m a bit late. I don’t know if there’s supposed to be a ‘blog by: date’ on these tags, but here we go:

  1. I once ate 36 oysters in one sitting at an ‘oyster appreciation’ event. I don’t think the organisers realised quite how much I appreciate these little bivalves. I washed them down with copious quantities of Chablis (goes really well), champagne (goes less well, but what’s not to like about champagne?) and Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne, which doesn’t go very well at all, but by then I was just showing off).
  2. My name is not really Rusty Burke, despite the article 'Ten Reasons Why I Could Never Be an Eco-Mother' which I wrote for the Bad Mothers Club website. (Nothing like a bit of self-publicity, eh?)
  3. I was once sunbathing topless with a friend on the beach at the Cannes Film Festival (she yawned) when we were surrounded by about 200 men with cameras, all clicking away furiously (some of them even had film in them). My friend grabbed her bikini top to protect her modesty, but I just grabbed my sunglasses to protect my anonymity. Needless to say, this was all in the pre-children years. It still remains my one and only paparazzi moment.
  4. My favourite book is a collection of short stories by Helen Simpson called ‘Hey, yeah right, get a life.’ I think it should be handed out to all new mothers, instead of the usual tracts of finger-wagging ‘information.’
  5. I used to row for Great Britain Under 23s. That’s ‘row’ as in boats – not ‘row’ as in argue, although I daresay H might suggest I was equally well qualified for the latter. Obviously, it’s a long time since I was ‘Under 23.’
  6. When I was in labour with my son, I was on all fours when his head emerged out of my nether regions. He stayed like this for about 30 seconds, and even opened his eyes and started to cry, before the rest of his body was born. H admitted that it was one of the more bizarre sights he had seen in his life. I imagine it must have looked like Dr Doolittle’s Push-me-pull-you.
  7. I was Head Girl of my Catholic convent school – and yes, they are always the worst. The experience left me with a strong commitment to atheism and a bizarrely feminist love of wine (from enviously watching the priest guzzle all the communion vino, while we girls had to make do with a 'host' wafer which had the consistency of school toilet paper).
  8. I used to be the Women’s Sport editor on a student newspaper, which had Jeremy Vine as its editor. I sometimes think I should call one of his phone-ins and say ‘Hi Jeremy, remember me-eee?’ but I doubt I could take the public humiliation of his reply.

It seems that lots of my blog buddies have already been tagged, so I’m going to nominate a few bloggers whom I have met only recently. Apologies for this if you have already been tagged before, and if you don’t want to join in then, speaking as a lifelong breaker of chain letters, that’s fine by me.

So, over to you:

Vanessar- The Fidra Blog


Elsie Button

Cybil, aka Wife, Mom, Drunk

Natural Blonde

I have been sipping a few glasses of Ernest and Julio Gallo White Zinfandel (Ocado £4.99) this evening whilst drawing up my list. Despite the name, it is a rosé, or ‘blush’ as it is known in the States. It is fruity and extremely sweet – probably too sweet for me if it wasn’t really chilled (that doesn’t mean I won’t drink it). I notice that it’s only 9.5% which would make it a good wine for a picnic, or for when you don’t want to fall asleep and start snoring after a couple of glasses (at breakfast, maybe?).

Monday, 4 June 2007

Going Wild In the Country

We are back from camping in the rugged terrain of the Lake District, and I have finally released my matted hair from the Croydon facelift I have been sporting all week. Oh, the joy of soaking in a fragrant, hot bath! The delight of sleeping in a comfortable insect-free bed! The relief at the absence of ripe Camembert smell when I wave to someone!

I suppose the trip was a big success in that the children avoided contracting e coli, and I have only a mild case of trench foot. In fact, the weather wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but that could just have been the combined effects of copious wine consumption and lack of sleep. I also know that if you go on holiday in this country, then there is really no point in complaining about the weather. If the Home Office is short of questions for its ‘Britishness Test’ for citizenship, then they could do a lot worse than include the following:

Where is the best place for a picnic?

a) a shady and sheltered spot to avoid the harmful rays of the sun

b) an area where no wild animal habitats will be disturbed, or fragile eco-systems damaged

c) the car

If you answer c) then you will have captured the very essence of what it means to be British, and should instantly be issued with a passport (which means you can also go on holiday to a country with better weather).

The old-fashioned trailer tent proved to be excellent, and cut our usual tent-pitching time from over two hours to less than one, which matters a lot in the UK monsoon season. It did attract lots of interest from fellow campers, several of whom wandered over to tell H that they had ‘never seen one like that before.’ It’s a long time since anyone said that to him, and being a very friendly sort of chap, he was happy to discuss its various merits. Meanwhile I skulked around in the background, wondering when the other campers were likely to start throwing buns at us.

I had forgotten what sheer hard work camping is. People talk about the ‘slower pace of life’ that camping encourages, but I’m convinced that this is a rather skewed perception. It takes longer to do everything, so you are actually much busier. When we first took the kids camping a couple of years ago, I was surprised to see so many people on camp sites just sitting in foldaway chairs outside their tents, doing nothing. It wasn’t long before I realised that they were relishing a few precious moments of inactivity before yet another round of meal preparation or tidying up the limited floor space.

Of course, the kids loved every minute, because for them it was one long session of playing with mud and sticks, frightening the wildlife, or damaging their retinas by shining a torch directly at each other’s eyeballs.

We did do a lot of cycling, which was great fun, apart from the discovery that my waterproofs aren’t as waterproof as I thought. As with all this outdoor kit, we seem to have spent a fortune on good quality items for the kids, while H and I make do with ancient gear from the days when nylon was considered a high performance material. Being a bit of a softie, the one thing I have invested in is a gel-filled saddle cover for my bike, despite the obvious invitation for ribald commentary that my seat is already more than adequately upholstered. Frankly, neither my under-carriage nor the saddle cover proved to be well-cushioned enough, and I am still walking like a cowboy. I’m not sure how you are supposed to prevent this – it’s not as if you can apply surgical spirit to the area to toughen it up in advance.

Despite the Spartan conditions, H and I did have some quiet, relaxing evenings huddled under the awning, in the romantic glow of the citronella insect-repellant candle. As five sets of waterproofs dripped onto our heads, he would sit cradling his warming glass of Irish whisky, while I would sit cradling my warming 3 litre box of Hardy’s Stamp Shiraz-Cabernet (Sainsbury’s £14.99 down from £19.99, and definitely one of the better wine box reds).

Preparations for bed would start with me slipping (rather hurriedly) into my thermal underwear, laughably called a Superwoman set (I don’t recall Lynda Carter ever looking like this, unless she moonlighted as a mime artist on her days off from saving the world). With just the three additional layers of socks, track suit and fleece, I would be all ready for a snuggle in the double sleeping bag. However, since H was similarly dressed, the only crackle of passion we managed was the static from the bobbly brushed nylon sleeping bag. Any romantic inclinations had to be weighed up against the combustion hazard of electricity and the large quantities of methane gas issuing from the boys.

Back in the cosy confines of the kitchen, I am knocking back a couple of glasses of spicy Lindeman’s Cawarra Shiraz Cabernet (Sainsburys £4.99) in memory of our camping trip. The only problem is that a mere 750 ml wine bottle looks rather tame in comparison with a mighty 3 litre wine box. Maybe there are some benefits to camping after all.