Saturday, 18 October 2014

Come Shop With Me


Earlier this week I drove to Bluewater to visit Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall.  As someone who has zero interest in cooking with a history of disastrous burnt offerings reflecting this, my family appreciate that in order to survive somebody else has to be chef.  In this case it is the supermarket.  Now the standard of convenience meals in supermarkets varies.  Asda is so-so.  Tesco slightly better.  Sainsbury’s all right.  Waitrose – very good if you’re a meat eater (I’m not).  Marks & Spencer – brilliant.  There is something for everyone.  The vegetarian shelves (note the plural) are enticing and imaginative, and there is plenty of choice when it comes to fresh vegetables to steam alongside your mains, plus lots and lots of fresh fruit, whether in a punnet or a peel-back pot.
          Anyway, rather than sound like I’m on a marketing campaign for M & S (which I’m most definitely not), I’ll instead tell you what recently happened after I walked out of their Food Hall with my four bags of shopping.  Quite by chance I discovered – in the pyjama and nightie aisle – my father.  This was quite a surprise because (a) he loathes shopping (b) he particularly detests Bluewater, and (c) he doesn’t need a new pair of pyjamas as his twenty-five-year-old paisley pair are still going strong, so why waste money?  As I bore down on Father Bryant with my four weighty bags of goodies, his face registered delight.
          ‘Ah, Debs, am I glad to see you!’
          ‘Hello, Dad.’  I kissed him on the cheek.  ‘Aren’t you with Mum?’
          ‘Yes,’ said my father, ‘or at least I was until ten minutes ago.’
          ‘Oh, where’s she gone then?’
          ‘I don’t know.  One minute she was standing beside me, and the next she’d wandered off.’
          Now the chances are that my mother did indeed inform my father of her impending departure but he simply didn’t hear.  Father Bryant has been a taddy deaf…okay very deaf…for several years.  He has a hearing aid which seems to be as much use as snow in a microwave.
          ‘Well she can’t have gone far,’ I said.
          After all, Mother Bryant walks slightly faster than a snail and has one of those walker contraptions on wheels.  It’s fireman red, fitted with a shopping basket, a seat and, if she’s having a good day, there’s a handbrake that can be deployed to stop her mowing down other shoppers.  Frankly I think it should have a bell too, but generally Mother Bryant’s ‘good days’ are few and far between.
          ‘Have you actually looked for her?’ I asked Father Bryant.
          ‘No, my sciatica is playing me up.’
          ‘Does she have her mobile phone on her?’
          ‘Yes, but the battery is flat.’
          ‘Okay, if I go off and find her, do you have your mobile phone so I can call you to say where we are?’
          ‘No, I left it at home.’
          Great.
          ‘Well I expect she’s popped to the Ladies.  You stay here in case she comes back, and I’ll quickly check the loos.’  I dumped my shopping at my father’s feet.  ‘Look after this for me.’
          I jogged to the escalator, took the steps two at a time, trotted through the Children’s Department and burst into the Ladies.  ‘Mum, are you in here?’ A number of locked doors greeted me and the occupants remained silent.  Right, not in the Ladies.  I did a swift about turn, back through Children’s Department and bounced down the escalator…to find no Father Bryant and no shopping bags.  Marvelous!  There was nothing for it, I’d have to now look for him too.
          I then systematically jogged up and down the pyjama and nightie aisles attracting the attention of a bored security guard. Oh aye?  What have we here?  Clearly that blonde impersonating Zebedee is a potential shoplifter ready to grab and run.  His eyes tried to pin me to a mannequin modelling a dressing gown, but I was too fast for him.  I sprung into the next aisle but not before catching a glimpse of him talking into his radio.
          To throw the security guard’s attention, I decided it might be beneficial to call out to my parents whilst jogging along the aisles.  Father Bryant was probably a lost cause, because of the deafness, but Mother Bryant is renowned for her bionic hearing.  Indeed, it’s the only part of her that still works properly.
          ‘Mum?’ I called as I panted along.  A startled lady moved smartly out of my way.  ‘Dad?’ I called and puffed round the corner slap into another security guard.
          ‘Do I look like your father?’ he asked. Well actually, no he didn’t.  He was black for starters and about ten years too young.
          ‘Sorry,’ I apologised, ‘I’m looking for my parents.  And four shopping bags,’ I added as an afterthought.
          At that point there was an announcement on the store tannoy.  ‘Will Mr Anthony Bryant please make his way to the Food Hall where his wife is waiting?’
          ‘Ah,’ I beamed at the security guard, ‘that’ll be my mother.’  I sped off to the Food Hall.  There was Father Bryant wandering aimlessly around the trolleys and shopping baskets, but no Mother Bryant.
          ‘Dad!’ I called.  ‘I thought I told you not to move!’
          ‘I didn’t,’ he insisted, ‘you did.’
          ‘Yes, I told you I was going to search the Ladies…oh never mind.  Where’s Mum?’
          ‘She’s not here. Did that announcement say the Food Hall or somewhere else?’
          ‘No, it definitely said the Food Hall.  Tell you what, I’ll run up and down the food aisles and I’ll find Mum in no time.’
          So once again I sped off.  Down Fruit and Veg, past Salads, down the Italian aisle, up the Indian aisle, down Chinese, up Vegetarian.  No Mother Bryant.  ‘Mum,’ I gasped.  I was in the unchartered waters of dog food and cat litter now, of which my mother surely had no need, but I dare not leave an aisle unexplored.  Perhaps I should turn up my vocal volume?
          ‘MUM!’ I fog-horned as I sped into Bakery.  And straight into a third security guard who stepped out behind the gluten-free.
          ‘Do I look like your mother?’ he asked.  They’re a right bunch of jokers these security guards.
          ‘Obviously not,’ I glared at him balefully.  ‘Now if you will please excuse me.’  I tossed my hair back and set off at a run.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d shifted my butt so fast.  As I completed my lap of the Food Hall I discovered Mother Bryant, no less, hanging onto her walker.  ‘Oh thank God,’ I gasped and sank down on the walker’s seat.
          ‘Debs, whatever are you doing here?  You’re all out of breath.  Yes, sit down, dear, have a rest.  Shall I try pushing you?  Oh look, there’s your father. I lost him half an hour ago.  I told him not to wander off, and what does he do?  Yoo-hoo!  Tony!  Tone-eeee, over here.’
          Father Bryant turned around and registered our presence.  So did the three security guards who had now converged as one.  Their expression was clear.  ‘The blonde suspect is working with two pensioners who are pretending to have lost each other.  Any minute now they’re going to climb aboard the walker and zoom off without deploying the handbrake.’
          ‘Excuse me, Madam,’ said one of the guards striding over. ‘Do you have a receipt for those four bags of shopping?’
          So there you have it.  A perfectly normal afternoon in Marks and Spencer with the parents.  Which reminds me.  An eighty-one-year-old woman was arrested for shop lifting.  When she went before the Judge, he asked her what she had stolen.  ‘A can of peaches,’ she replied, ‘because I was hungry.’  The Judge asked how many peach slices she’d eaten.  ‘Six,’ said the old woman.  ‘In that case,’ said the Judge, ‘I will jail you for six days.’  Before the Judge could bang his hammer, the old lady’s husband piped up.  ‘Your Honour, she also stole a can of peas…’

Saturday, 11 October 2014

University Challenge


A couple of weeks ago my daughter plonked some paperwork on my desk.
          ‘Here you are,’ said Eleanor.
          ‘What’s this?’ I asked.
          ‘Some blurb about funding for when I go to uni.’
          ‘Oh, right.’
          Funding wasn’t required for months.  I put it in the bottom of my paperwork pile and forgot all about it.  Two weeks later I had cleared everything on top of this ‘blurb’, so settled back to have a read.  Within three seconds my heart had leapt into my mouth.
          ‘ELEANOR!’ I roared.
          My lethargic teenager appeared in the doorway.  ‘Yeah?’
          ‘Have you read this?’ I waggled the papers under her nose.
          ‘No.  Have you?’
          ‘This is your future, not mine,’ I yelped.  ‘It says here that you should be researching universities, downloading prospectus, getting yourself organized and going on open days.’  I gulped.  ‘And this was TWO WEEKS AGO.’
          ‘Stop stressing, Mum, there’s plenty of time.  Our directors will tell us when to do it.’
          ‘Actually, I don’t think they will.’  My eyes scanned the sheets of A4.  ‘They’re far too busy having diva fits about students who don’t know monologues off by heart and whether to bring back The Beano.’
          The Beano was the last show my daughter appeared in.  Since then there have been some staff changes and artistic temperaments have got in the way of too many things.  I won’t name and shame my daughter’s Theatre in this blog but, as a parent, I don’t give a stuff about whether they should re-run a show that’s already been done, but I do give several stuffs about kicking seventeen-year-olds’ bottoms and making sure they have actually started their university research and got some open days booked.  If some of them can’t be bothered to learn monologues without nagging, how are they expected to organize their future?  They need prompting.  And if you want to change prompting to spoon feeding, then so be it.
          My son went to a grammar school and staff were hot, hot, hot on ensuring students were doing everything on time.  I don’t recall once getting involved in the whole university process other than paying for train tickets for my son to visit a prospective place of study.  The students spent research time during lessons checking out universities on-line, what degree courses were suitable, and bookings for open days were made there and then.  Personal Statements were drafted under the eyes of watchful teachers, tweaked, re-tweaked and tweaked again.  But at my daughter’s college, clearly it’s a case of Get on with it yourself.
          ‘You’ve got to do this yourself,’ I regarded my daughter.  ‘Pull up a stool and I’ll help you.’
          ‘Oh, but I was watching–’
          ‘NOW!’
          Two hours later we had decided on geographical locations, sorted what universities did BA (Hons) Acting, and narrowed it down to three drama schools and five universities.  This will have to be revised again at some point as only five applications in total are permitted.  Picking up the phone, I rang the first university on our list.
          ‘Hello! We’d like to book an open day.  You’re all booked up?  No availability at all?  Do a virtual tour on-line, you say.  Terrific.’  I banged the phone down and looked at Eleanor.  ‘Well this is a promising start.  Not.’
          Eleanor slouched down in her chair and gave me the same look the pooch does when in trouble.
          ‘Sorry, Mum.’
          I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  ‘Okay. Not your fault.  As far as I’m concerned, your directors are the ones who are culpable.  Let’s just keep ringing the universities on this list and keep our fingers crossed.’
          To cut a long story short there were a few more open days up for grabs, and grab them we did.
          ‘But several of them are on a Saturday!’ Eleanor exclaimed in horror. ‘That’s my day off!’
          ‘Good heavens,’ I cried, ‘so it is.  Which also means,’ I clapped a hand to my head dramatically – oh yes, my daughter isn’t the only actress in this family you know, ‘it’s MY DAY OFF TOO.’
          I glowered at my daughter.  ‘As I keep trying to tell you, this is your future.  Now are you prepared to sacrifice a few Saturdays, or not?’
          ‘Okay,’ Eleanor grimaced, ‘keep yer hair on.’
          ‘Keep my–?’
          I pursed my lips and shut up in case I gave way to the rant bubbling just below the surface.  The next headache will be drafting the Personal Statement, which no doubt I’ll be roped into doing too.  But at least we’re now on schedule.  I can only hope my daughter’s peers are too.  Which reminds me.  How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one.  They don’t like sharing the spotlight…

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Ship Ahoy!


The last three years have been very challenging for my octogenarian parents.  Having managed to overcome a number of personal problems, they decided to book  a seventeen-day cruise around the Med.
          ‘I hope we’ve done the right thing,’ Mother Bryant said nervously, as we sat around her kitchen table drinking tea.
          ‘Of course you have,’ I assured, ‘it’s about time you and Dad had a holiday.  What better way to relax than on a lovely cruise ship!’
          ‘They’re awfully big,’ my mother gripped her tea cup anxiously. ‘It’s a wonder they stay afloat.’
          I knew what she meant.  I’d said more or less the same thing upon boarding a jumbo jet last August.  ‘How the hell is this going to get up into the air?’
          Anyway, I digress.  ‘I’m sure everything will be fine, and anyway, you’ll have Janice there to reassure you.’
          Janice is my sister.  She and her husband unexpectedly found themselves going on the cruise too when an elderly relative – who had actually booked the trip for himself and his retired wife – could no longer attend on account of the wife finding out about her husband’s mistress. Consequently the wronged wife told her husband to shove the ship where the sun didn’t shine.  Don’t ever think pensioners have dull and boring lives.  There’s a seething mass of hormones going on underneath the pacemakers and blue rinses.
          Two days prior to the cruise, my mother still hadn’t packed.  One day prior to the cruise, she declared she had nothing to wear.  Father Bryant was slightly hysterical by this point.  He’d already packed his modest thirty-year-old suitcase with shorts, t-shirts, and a tux for the evening.
          ‘What are you playing at?’ he demanded of my mother.
          An original war baby, my mother’s motto remains Never Throw Anything Away.  Consequently, her wardrobes are stuffed to bursting with clothes.  And what doesn’t squash into the wardrobe is boxed up in the attic, the garage, and possibly even my father’s potting shed.  I walked into her bedroom to find an explosion of garments everywhere and my mother looking rather vague and suggesting that perhaps she might not go on the cruise after all.
          ‘None of these clothes fit you, Mum,’ I said picking up the outfit she wore to my wedding.  Back then she was 5’2” and a hundred-and-forty-pounds. These days she hovers around the 4’ 9” mark and weighs no more than a feather.
          So a very last-minute trip took place to Bluewater shopping mall for clothes from John Lewis’s Petite range.  Once back home, Mother Bryant sank into her orthopaedic armchair.
          ‘I’m too exhausted to pack,’ she gasped.
          So Father Bryant did it for her, muttering many oaths along the way.
          The following morning, bright and early, I drove them to Southampton Docks where the MS Azura awaited.
          ‘Wow,’ was all I could say.
          It was a whopper of a ship.  One-hundred-and-fifteen thousand tonnes of metal stood majestically awaiting its three-thousand passengers.
          ‘There are an awful lot of old people getting on,’ said my mother looking horrified.  Sometimes she forgets she’s eighty-one.  ‘I hope none of them die.’  Actually, three of them did, but we won’t go there.
          ‘Have a lovely time,’ I cried, ‘and take lots of photographs.’  They didn’t.  Father Bryant had forgotten the charger to his first generation digital camera, and my mother hadn’t been able to source any Kodak film for her own camera.
          ‘Look after them,’ I murmured to my sister, who was looking more apprehensive by the minute.
          And in no time at all, they were off!  Well, it wasn’t like the Grand National you understand.  More a slow sort of drifting away, with everybody waving, Union Jacks fluttering, and the ship’s horn making everybody jump out of their skins and possibly contributing to one of the geriatric fatalities.
          Anyway, my parents arrived back in England on Wednesday earlier this week.  Mother Bryant came home slightly paler than when she’d left.  It transpired she’d spent every day in her room reading my very first novel.  I gave her the book four years ago and she never read it on account of ‘bad language and sex scenes’.  Seemingly, she now can’t get enough of it.
          ‘Why didn’t you read on the balcony and catch a few rays, Mum?’ I asked.
          ‘I didn’t want the sea breeze ruffling my hair-do.’
          ‘Did you go for a swim in the pool?’
          ‘No, I didn’t want to wet my hair-do.’
          ‘I can’t believe you didn’t get off the ship and check out all those lovely countries.’
          ‘I didn’t want the harsh sun drying out my hair-do.  And anyway, I can’t walk properly.’
          ‘But the ship has umpteen wheelchairs – you could have borrowed one!’
          ‘A WHEELCHAIR?’ roared Mother Bryant, two spots of colour staining her floury cheeks.  ‘They’re for OLD people!’
          Right.  I turned to my Father.  ‘Well at least you have a smashing tan, Dad.’
          It transpired this was mainly due to his disastrous excursion into Cadiz. Leaving Mother Bryant in her cabin, he set off, explored, and even stopped for a spot of lunch.  He then lost track of time, began to feel unwell in the intense heat, staggered about, couldn’t get back to the ship, got picked up by two policeman who thought he was having a heart attack, and ended up having a ride in a Black Maria with the bee-baw blaring.  He caught the ship by a gnat’s whisker when two burly stewards put out an emergency gangway just for him and physically lifted my father back on board. 
          ‘Well, that’s certainly a very different sort of holiday you’ve all had,’ I said giving my sister a meaningful look.
          Janice looked at me with wide eyes.  ‘It’s been…challenging,’ she replied.
          Still.  All’s well that ends well.  Which reminds me.  Passengers aboard a cruise ship were having a fab party when a beautiful young girl fell overboard. Immediately there was an eighty-year-old man in the water who rescued her. A handful of crew pulled them both out of the treacherous waters. The captain was both grateful and astonished at the old man’s bravery. That night a luxurious banquet was given in honour of the elderly hero. He was called forward to receive an award and asked to say a few words. He said, ‘Firstly, I’d like to know who pushed me…’