Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Moving House


Do you know, those two little words once filled me with such joy.  That first flush of house-hunting is almost a magical experience.  You check out fabulous properties, ooh and ahh at each room, become mesmerised by acres of granite work tops, enthralled at expanses of oak flooring, and almost faint at marble tiling.  I do anyway.  When we viewed what was to eventually be our new house, I wandered around with my mouth hanging open.  The icing on the cake was discovering a dressing room leading off the master bedroom (a dressing room!) and, a little further on, a huge en-suite which contained a bathtub shaped like a giant open Easter egg.  It was too much.  I jumped in fully clothed.  Fortunately there was no water in it.
          Mr V hummed and hawed and looked at the whole “Moving House” thing from every conceivable angle.  Finally he agreed the house was perfect and we should go ahead.  I gave my husband a big smacker on the mouth, nearly did the same to the sales lady, and promptly burst into noisy tears of joy.  I spent the rest of the day weeping with happiness.  But then Mr V got cold feet.  Suddenly it was a bad decision.  The deal was off.  This time I cried with disappointment.  After a few days, he changed his mind again.  Suddenly it was a great investment.  I cried with happiness once more – albeit cautiously.  I wasn’t truly surprised when my husband yet again got cold feet.  It was overpriced.  It wasn’t a buoyant market.  It was the wrong time of year.  We weren’t young anymore (speak for yourself, thanks very much, because I feel perfectly young).  Every and any reason was trotted out as to why this house should be pushed to one side.  I wept for twenty-four hours solid.  When my husband changed his mind again, I had little enthusiasm left.  It was also fair to say the atmosphere in the marital abode was pretty frosty.  And they say moving is stressful.  We hadn’t even got to that bit. How more stressful could it get?  As it turned out, much muuuuuuch more stressful.
          Santander – yes I’m going to name and shame, to hell with it – sent out an incorrect mortgage offer not once, not twice, but three times a wally-brain.  Seriously, how many attempts does an employee at Santander need to
get the paperwork right?  Is there some moron sprawled across his (or her, I’m not sexist) desk, bored out of their skull and thinking, ‘Dear oh dear, it’s only Tuesday.  I have the rest of the week to crawl through. 
Yawn.  I know what I’ll do to brighten up my day!  I’ll send out a Mickey Mouse mortgage offer and titter at the pandemonium it causes. And then, even better, I’ll do it again.  And again.’  Sort yourselves out, Santander.
          Halifax Bank – yes, you are next on my rant list.  For years this bank was synonymous with Howard.  Remember him?  An adorable black guy with big specs and a natty suit, our Howard warbled away as he welcomed us through the bank’s big glass doors.  Your money was safe!  Oh it’s safe all right.  So safe you can’t get at it.  Yesterday I needed to cancel a direct debit and set up a new one.  I picked up the phone.  After five minutes of listening to six million, four thousand and seventy-three different options – none of which were applicable – a real person greeted me.
          ‘Hello, Mrs Vag…ina.’  Truly, it’s never a good idea to call me that.  Ever.  ‘You’re talking to Richard today.’
          ‘Hey, Dick.’  I was just being friendly.  Honest.
          *Uncertain sound of laughter.*  ‘How can I help you?’
          ‘I need to cancel a direct debit and set up a new one.’
          ‘Sure.  First, I need to take you through Security.’
          ‘Go ahead.’
          Now at this stage I’d just like to say my other bank is NatWest.  NatWest are sane and sensible.  They ask simple security questions like, ‘What is your mother’s maiden name?  Where were you born?  What is the third and fourth digit of your password?’  But Halifax are different.  Very different.
          ‘Yesterday you spent an amount of money.  Can you tell me what the amount was?’
          ‘I spent several amounts of money yesterday.  You haven’t sent me December’s paper statement, and I’m not set up for on-line banking with you. Therefore I can’t say what I spent yesterday.’
          ‘That’s the wrong answer, Mrs Vageen.’
          ‘How can it be the wrong answer?  I’m asking you to define a particular transaction.’
          ‘Okay.  I’ll do that.  Here’s the next question.  Ready?’  I felt like I’d suddenly dropped into a quiz show.  ‘Take your time, Mrs Virgo.’  I licked my lips nervously.  ‘Do you have an overdraft?’
          ‘Yes.’
          ‘Sorry, that answer doesn’t count.  You have to tell me how much your overdraft is for.’
          I frowned.  ‘I haven’t the faintest idea.  It’s probably for a thousand pounds.’
          ‘Sorry, I have to take your first answer.’
          ‘Eh?’
          ‘You said you hadn’t the faintest idea.’
          ‘No, I said it was probably a thousand pounds.’
          ‘But that wasn’t your first answer.’
          ‘This is getting ridiculous.’
          ‘Don’t worry, Mrs Vagano.  There is one more question I can ask before Security locks you out.’
          ‘What do you mean “locks me out”?  I’m moving, for goodness sake, and I’m moving THIS FRIDAY.  I need to sort out my direct debit.’  I took a deep calming breath.  Hyperventilation has been frequent of late.
          ‘Earlier this week, you spent a sum of money with a removal firm.  Please tell me the amount.’
          ‘Can I ring a friend?’
          ‘Is that your final answer?’
          ‘No!  Just…wait…wait a minute.’  I rummaged through my memory.  Yes, it was coming back to me. ‘Nine hundred…’
          ‘Yes?’
          ‘And sixteen pounds…’
          ‘Yes?’
          ‘And something pence.’
          ‘I’m sorry, but you failed to specify the number of pennies.  You are locked out of Security.’
          ‘Don’t be absurd!’ I spluttered.  ‘Why don’t you ask me my date of birth?  Or my mobile phone number?  Or my dog’s name?’
          ‘Because you could be anybody, Mrs Vegan.’
          ‘You’re right.  I’m none of the people you’ve called me.  I’m Mrs Viggiano.  And now I’m going to tell you exactly what I think of your bank–’
          ‘Do you want to be abusive?’
          ‘Thank you, I would love to be abusive.  Please tell your manager, your board of directors, your CEO, indeed all your shareholders, and anybody else who cares to listen …’
          ‘Good-bye Mrs Veggie.’
          I was left addressing a whirring handset, but no matter.  When you have to offload, you have to offload.  I told the handset exactly what Halifax’s security could do with itself which involved a massive rectum and a definite lack of sunshine.
          Which reminds me.  If banks are so friendly, how come they chain down the pens…?
 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Black Friday


So, did you venture out?  Did you dare to set foot in your local shopping mall for fear of being flattened by Black Friday lunatics desperate to save some cash? I mean, let’s face it, in not too many weeks the sales will be on with half-price-this and mega-discount-that.  Is Black Friday really worth all the huff and hype?  All I can say is it suited me to go Christmas shopping Friday evening – and it just happened to be Black Friday.  Did I get squashed by a stampede of rioting people?  No.  Bluewater, my local stomping ground, was no busier than any other day of the year.  Did I save money?  Yes, quite a bit actually.
          I met up with my daughter and sister for some girlie company.  Eleanor isn’t the greatest of shopping companions unless you are up for buying make-up, clothes, or jewellery.  Fortunately two out of three items ticked my Christmas shopping list.  Eleanor was like a bloodhound sniffing out discounted goodies.  However, she hadn’t counted on her aunty wanting to buy different things to her.
          ‘Ooh, look, a steam cleaner,’ Janice beamed.  She hovered outside Lakeland, clearly in raptures.  ‘It’s reduced from four million and sixty-three thousand pounds to just tuppence.’  No, it wasn’t really, but I’m trying to convey my sister’s excitement over a substantial saving.
          Eleanor looked unimpressed. ‘Are you going to buy it, Aunty Janice?’
          My sister dithered.  ‘Well, um, I don’t know.  It’s certainly a bargain.  But, I’m not sure.  Do I really need a steam cleaner for my floor?’
          ‘No,’ said Eleanor decisively.  ‘So let’s check out Russell & Bromley instead.  They have some brogue boots massively discounted and–’
          ‘But, hang on. Oh dear. I’m not sure what to do. If I walk away, I might later regret it.’  My sister paused, clearly torn.
          ‘Shall we go inside and check it out?’ I suggested.  Eleanor gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head. I warmed to my task.  ‘Perhaps you should get the contraption out of its box.’  Eleanor scowled.  I smiled mischievously.  There’s nothing like winding up a teenager in a public place where they’re unable to have a hissy fit.  ‘I think you should read the instructions too, just to be sure you’re buying something that’s easy to work.’
          ‘Good idea,’ Janice beamed.
          M-u-mmm,’ Eleanor begged nearly an hour later.  Please get Aunty Janice out of here.  She’s worse than you when it comes to shopping.’
          ‘What do you mean?’ I frowned.
          ‘She’s buying really boring stuff.  I mean, like, really boring.  She’s not only bought the steam cleaner, but also a huge machine that shreds raw veg, and now she’s looking at casserole pots and kettles and toasters.  I can’t take any more.’
          I had to admit, there’s only so long one can delight over a set of saucepans.  Five minutes later we were out in the shopping mall again.
          ‘Where to now?’ my sister asked. She looked different. Odd.  Her eyes were alight.  Cheeks glowing.  She was clearly experiencing an adrenalin rush induced by so much spending and saving.  I’d seen that look before – on our mother’s face when armed with my father’s credit card.  We then spent a further couple of hours demolishing every shop with a substantial discount.  Finally, weighted down with boxes and bags, we staggered into House of Fraser.
          ‘Oooh, designer sunglasses,’ my sister smiled, ‘and there’s fifty-per-cent off!’ Janice then proceeded to try on three-hundred-and-twenty-five pairs of black shades.  ‘What do you think?’ she asked, price tag bobbing over her nose.
          My daughter studied her aunt.  ‘I think this pair looks exactly like the other three-hundred-and-twenty-four you’ve just tried on.’
          ‘Can we move away from the sunnies?’ I implored.  ‘Jan, you said you wanted a handbag for Christmas.  Can we head over to bags?  After all, the time is getting on.’
          ‘Okay.’  My sister reluctantly whipped off a pair of shades that made her look like a brunette Lady Gaga.
          As we walked past leather bags by Mulberry and Vivienne Westwood, Eleanor began to hyperventilate.  ‘I want them all,’ she breathed.  Ignoring her, I began to search through House of Fraser’s own brands.  I turned to my sister.
          ‘This one’s nice.’
          Very nice,’ my sister enthused.  ‘And look – there’s a matching purse to go with it!’
          ‘Would you like them both?’
          ‘Yes…I think so…let me just have a little explore.’  Her fingers whizzed across the bag and the purse, checking out pockets, flaps, zipping, unzipping, fastening, unfastening.  ‘I’ll have them both!’ she declared.  Shoving the purse into the handbag, she passed the whole thing over to me.
          ‘Right, I’ll just see how Eleanor is getting on over there, and then I’ll go and pay for the handbag.’
          My daughter couldn’t decide which bag she liked and began to get flustered.  ‘You’re stressing me, Mum.  This is such an important decision. Don’t rush me.’
          ‘Don’t rush you?’ my eyebrows nearly shot off my forehead.  ‘Between your aunt in the sunglasses department, and you in the handbag department, we’re almost out of time.  The shops will be closing any minute.  While you’re choosing, I’m going to pay for Aunty Janice’s Christmas present.’
          Trying to find a pay station that was still open was difficult.  Hardly anyone was about.  Craning my neck, I spotted one last open cash till in the next department.  Bracing myself, I half dragged and half carried my shopping over to the pay station.
          ‘Had a successful night?’ asked the young sales lady as she took the handbag from me.
          ‘Yes, thanks.’  My mobile began to ring.  ‘Excuse me,’ I apologised and took the call.
          ‘Where are you?’ asked Eleanor sounding peeved.
          ‘In the next department.’
          ‘Well the bad news is I’ve lost Aunty Janice.’
          I turned away from the sales lady and scanned the shop floor.  No sign of my sister.  ‘She’s probably trying on sunglasses again.  I’ll see you outside the store in two minutes.’  I rang off and did the chip-and-pin thing.  ‘Thank you,’ I smiled taking the wrapped bag and receipt.  Rearranging packages and carriers, I took a deep breath and, like a weightlifter, raised my arms.  Everything was so heavy.  Indeed, after hours of carting stuff about, my arms had started to shake. I clanked and rattled towards the exit, lurched past the security guard…and all hell broke loose.  Alarms sounded, bleepers bleeped and lights flashed.
          ‘Hold it right there, Madam,’ boomed the security guard.  You could tell from the glint in his eye that he’d had a tremendously boring day but – hurrah! – the final second before shut down one shopper had set off alarms and bells thus relieving him from crippling inertia.  ‘Have you paid for your shopping?’
          ‘Of course,’ I replied.
          ‘Show me all your receipts.’
          ‘No problem,’ I replied and dumped everything around my feet.  As my arms yo-yoed back into their shoulder sockets they began to visibly tremble.  The security guard observed them suspiciously. A shopper with the shakes.  Guilty as hell.
          ‘I’m going to have to go through all this shopping and closely inspect every single receipt.’
          ‘Be my guest,’ I invited whilst willing my arms to behave.  They’d gone from stretched spaghetti and swinging somewhere around my knees, to shrinking forty-eight inches in a split second.  In fact I was pretty sure my hands had relocated into my armpits.
          ‘Hmm,’ the security guard declared.  ‘Something isn’t right.’
          ‘I know,’ I said, worried.  ‘Look at my arms.’
          The security guard ignored me and proceeded to wave every piece of shopping in front of the alarm detector.  Finally one offending item sent the alarm into orbit.  My sister’s handbag.
          ‘You haven’t paid for this,’ he accused.
          ‘I most certainly have,’ I retorted.
          He began checking out the bag’s pockets and flaps, as my sister had done earlier.  I had a sudden feeling of déjà vu.  As he zipped and unzipped, fastened and unfastened, a nasty memory rose to the surface just as the guard hauled out the matching purse my sister had shoved deep within the bag.  Clearly the sales assistant hadn’t spotted it and Eleanor’s ill-timed phone call had distracted me from pointing it out.
          ‘Was it your intention not to pay for this, Madam?’ the security guard accused.
          I had an uncontrollable urge to reply, ‘Indeed.  I have spent umpteen hundred pounds this evening but the thought of sneaking past your security barrier with a two bob purse was absolutely crucial to my sense of wellbeing.’  Instead I just shook my head and sighed.  ‘Clearly an oversight.’
          He gave me a look that begged to differ.  ‘I’ll have to escort you back to the cash till, Madam.’
          As I walked back into the store with a security guard hot on my heels, I met Janice and Eleanor coming in the opposite direction.  My daughter’s jaw dropped as she took in the situation.
          ‘Oh cringe, Mum.  This is sooo embarrassing.  I’m sooo glad it’s closing time and nobody else is around to see my mother caught for shoplifting.’  Which reminds me.
          There’s a gang going through Bluewater systematically stealing clothes in size order.  The police believe they’re still at large…

         

Sunday, 22 November 2015

I’m a Celebrity – Give Me Publicity


My daughter is a huge fan of most reality shows.  When she’s watching ‘the jungle’, I do sometimes pause – mostly in gobsmacked amazement – to see what people do to up their fame game.  Apparently this year’s cast of characters includes Lady Colin Campbell, whose is a crashing snob and prone to bonkers outbursts.  I watched her pop her hands into a box of concealed snakes.  Her task was to identify the objects.  She has such a plummy accent, one presumes she swallowed the whole plum pie.  ‘I huven’t felt thaat texture befaww,’ was her comment.
          The bush tucker trials are always disgusting.  There is a soft-centred part of me that doesn’t like creatures being eaten alive, never mind being used to provide TV entertainment.  Tequila Bumrise was apparently one of the cocktails ‘celebrities’ had to drink.  Well you don’t have to have too many brain cells to work out that an animal’s backside is somewhere in the blend.  I mean, really?  That’s the ultimate bum lick – how desperate can somebody be for publicity to do such a thing?
          I’ve looked up the other contestants on the internet because, despite them being celebrities, I wasn’t sure who they were.  I remember Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley.  Regrettably I’m not a fan of his singing due to being traumatised by Mr V yodelling his own cover versions over the years (yes, beyond dire).  I do, however, remember eccentric Chris Eubank, who clearly shops at the same plum pie place Lady C goes to.  Susannah Somebody, Yvette Wotsit, Kieran I-haven’t-a-clue…the names go vaguely on…but I most definitely have heard of Duncan Bannatyne.  My husband is an avid fan of Dragon’s Den. Many a time have I heard Duncan’s dulcet tone declaring, ‘I’m out.’  And he was indeed out when he tried to get into Lady C’s bed one night in the jungle.  ‘I lost my bearings,’ he later explained, smiling sheepishly.  I like Duncan.
          I’m not so keen on Ant and Dec.  Having seen them several times, the moment the camera stops rolling their smiles are a non-event.  Especially the one with the big forehead who has a penchant for both rudeness and sarcasm.  His standard facial expression matches the celebrities who have chewed on one of the bush tucker bugs.  Which reminds me.
          After one female celebrity’s jungle trial which took place in a room with an ostrich, Ant and Dec asked how it felt to come face to face with a strange looking bird with a tiny brain.  ‘Absolutely terrifying,’ replied the ostrich…

Sunday, 15 November 2015

An Exchange of Dialogue

As anybody who knows me will vouch, I love to talk.  I call it conversation.  Others, less kindly, say rambling.  I particularly enjoy chatting to my sister and daughter because they, like me, go off on tangents before asking, ‘What point was I trying to make?’
          Conversation with my son is a bit different.  A sharp wit and screaming intelligence, he is up to date on all things scientific and political.  Can I talk with astuteness to him and others like him?  Not really. I flounder and feel stupid.  My inability to talk about current affairs is because I deliberately never watch the box or read a newspaper.  Is watching the news or reading a newspaper an uplifting experience?  No!  Consequently I live in a bubble where the sun mostly shines and, even if the heavens open, there is a rainbow not too far away.  Ignorance can indeed be blissful.
          Thanks to social media, when really nasty things happen, there is no escaping what is going on in the world.  Twitter and Facebook will suddenly be ablaze with chit-chat.  This week’s dreadful acts of terror in Paris had everybody saying exactly what they’d like to do to the culprits and it wasn’t long before hashtags were trending.  I logged into an on-line daily newspaper and recoiled in horror.  On Facebook, rather than posting a funny picture of my cat captioned with an inane comment, I felt prompted to write a Status from the heart.  My presence on social media is primarily as an author platform, therefore I mostly remain silent on tricky subjects like politics and religion.  But yesterday I spoke.  I posted about my concept of God being one of love…that He loved us all and, in turn, we should love each other.  Within seconds the sentence had sparked a lively thread of debate.  Comments ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  But everybody is entitled to their opinions, and I won’t spark another barrage of remarks by talking about it any further here.
          I particularly like conversation where a gaff is made.  For example, yesterday afternoon we took my parents to see the new house we are buying.
          ‘It’s lovely,’ said Mother Bryant as she creaked into the hallway, the floor of which was covered in white stone tiles.  ‘Does it have underground heating?’  No.  Sadly it doesn’t have underfloor heating either.
          Or out shopping.  ‘I love this sparkly sweater.  What’s this material called?  Oh, I remember now, Durex.’  For those still puzzling, Mother Bryant meant lurex.
          Even better is conversation where somebody trips over their words so they sound like a blithering idiot.  We’ve all done it.
          ‘What would you like for breakfast?’ I asked my daughter.
          ‘I’ll have some pain au cheu-cheu-cheu-cheu…’  I appreciate it’s very difficult saying pain au chocolat before nine in the morning when you’re a teenager with a hangover.
          And then there are those who mishear things and take the conversation down a completely different path. 
A friend worked in an art supply store. She sold artists’ canvas by the yard. It could be bought in two widths – thirty-six and forty-eight inches.
          Customer:  ‘Can you cut some canvas for me?’
          Friend: ‘Certainly. What width?’
          Customer (confused and slightly annoyed): ‘Scissors?’
          Even better, is when we read one word but say something different.  I can still remember addressing a Mr Stipples as Mr Nipples.  Fortunately he laughed, but then spoilt it by pretending to mispronounce my surname for something too rude to mention here.  Gosh…not heard that one before…yawn!  Which reminds me.
          What do you call a one-legged female pirate?  Peggy.
          What do you call a lady with one leg shorter than the other?  Eileen.
          What do you call a man standing on top of a hill?  Cliff.
          What do you call a man with expensive tastes?  Rich.
          What do you call a man with a shovel?  Doug.
          What do you call a man who has lost his shovel?  Douglas…
         

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Retail Therapy


I love shopping.  Well, not supermarket shopping.  Proper shopping.  You know, clothes…and handbags…and shoes…and more clothes and handbags and shoes.  You’ve got the picture.  Yesterday I decided to go lingerie shopping.  Having spent the last twelve months in a sports bra due to injury following my argument with a Dyson vacuum cleaner (never row with a Dyson, never), after two operations I decided it was time to try wearing a normal bra again.  My daughter materialised by my side.
            ‘Did you say you’re going shopping?’
            ‘Yes.’
            ‘Food shopping?’
            ‘No, lingerie shopping.’
            I should have lied.  Too late, I saw the error of my ways.
            ‘Oooh, wonderful.  Wait for me.  I’ll just slick a bit of lippy on and I’ll be with you.’
            ‘I could be some time,’ I warned.
            ‘Excellent.’
            Wrong response!
            ‘I mean, er–’ Quick! Think of a real put-off excuse!
            ‘Ready!’
            ‘Fab,’ I replied weakly.
            ‘Are we going to Victoria’s Secret?’
            ‘No we are not,’ I scowled.  Between you and me, that had been my intention, but not now my spending budget had halved thanks to the company of my shopping plus-one.
            ‘So where are we going?’ asked Eleanor, undaunted.
            ‘M & S.  We shall buy something boring and sensible.’
            Actually, have you visited the lingerie section of M & S?  It’s gorgeous!  My daughter was in seventh heaven collecting armfuls of lacy this and leopard that.  Not to be outdone, I grabbed something that promised to give a bigger cleavage than Dolly Parton, and more lift than a helium balloon.  Uplifted (no pun intended), I went off to the changing room.
            ‘Wait for me,’ said Eleanor.
            ‘Go in your own changing room,’ I protested.
            ‘The others are full.  Come on, Mum.  We can share.  All girls together.’
            Actually, that’s where she was wrong.  We were not all girls together. We were one girl and one middle-aged woman, the latter with surgery scars and a mid-riff that looked like dropped knicker elastic.  There is nothing more demoralising than stripping off next to an eighteen-year old that weighs eight stone with curves in all the right places.
            ‘Oh yes, this is fabulous,’ said Eleanor as she worked her way through a selection of figure-enhancing items.  ‘How are you getting on, Mum?  Oh dear.’ Yes, oh dear indeed.  I surveyed my reflection in dismay.  Think of a trussed up chicken.  Apart from anything else, it was beyond uncomfortable.  ‘It’s still early days after your surgery.  Why don’t you go for something wireless?’
            I stared at my daughter in confusion.  Wireless?  Had they invented a bra that picked up the internet?
            To cut a shopping tale short, we left the store with half-a-dozen fancy bras for Eleanor, and a sensible cotton jobbie for me.  Sigh.  Which reminds me. Designers have invented a new bra for women of a certain age.  It’s called The Sheepdog.  It rounds things up and points them in the right direction…
           

Sunday, 25 October 2015

For Better or Worse


My daughter, home from drama school for half-term, announced she was bored.
            ‘Fancy watching a DVD together?’ she asked.
            ‘Okay,’ I replied.  ‘What shall we watch?’
            Eleanor opened the drawer under the coffee table and peered within. Inside were a number of DVDs that have been languishing for years.  When I say the Teletubbies are in there, you’ll realise just how many years I’m talking about.  ‘Ooh,’ she grinned.  ‘Your wedding DVD! Come on, Mum.  Make us both a cup of tea and I’ll set it up.’
            I was expecting the next hour to be spent companionably with my daughter as we sipped tea and smiled indulgently.  Instead we alternated between crying a river and doubling over with laughter.  The laughter came first.
            ‘Oh my goodness, the quality is tragic,’ Eleanor announced.  On the screen, colours blurred and bled into each other.
            ‘This was state-of-the-art stuff back then,’ I protested.  As you’ve probably gathered, I got married when cameras contained thirty-six exposure film and a mobile phone was just a mobile phone.  Tell a lie, I do remember one wedding guest proudly holding a mobile phone that actually housed a camera with a ridiculously small amount of pixels.
            ‘Look this way, Debbie!  Smile!  Fantastic. Want to have a look?  See here, this white blob with a smaller blob is you in your wedding dress holding your bouquet. Amazing, eh!’
            ‘Oh my goodness, so it is!  Your camera phone is just…appalling.’
            At least he wasn’t doing the wedding pics.  There was a professional photographer for that, and also a professional videographer.  The latter had a huge camera on his right shoulder.  He was wearing a jacket which appeared to be weighted down with bricks. In fact they were battery packs.
            The film continued to roll.  The television screen was filled with various shots of Rowhill Grange, the glorious hotel where Mr V vowed to take me and my cooking for better or worse.  Then the titles scrolled up.
            Starring the bridesmaids…followed by two posed shots of my daughter and step-daughter.  Eleanor, aged five, was thrilled to be wearing a princess dress and far more interested in whizzing round and round so the skirts spun out.  Rianna, my step-daughter, grinned self-consciously into camera.  She revealed a pair of newly-popped grown-up front teeth too big for her small face.
            Co-starring the pageboy…followed by my son Robbie in the grip of nerves. His smile for the camera was like somebody in intense pain.
            From our vantage point on the sofa, Eleanor and I slapped our thighs and chortled with laughter.  The next title faded in and took our breath away.
            We remember our dear friend, the best man… Eleanor and I burst into tears.  My husband’s closest friend was to have been the best man.  He died in a tragic accident weeks before our wedding.  Nobody could take his place, but we’re pretty sure he came along and we raised a glass to him.
            The camera panned to guests.  My mother, tall and straight, wearing stilettoes and looking incredibly young.  These days she’s eight inches shorter after bungled back surgery, walks on crutches and wears a caliper.  Eleanor and I howled some more.
            And finally, the arrival of the bride and groom – it was a second marriage for me so we arrived together.  The tears turned to laughter again.
            ‘Oh cringe, Mum. Your hair!’  Yes, let’s not forget THAT hairstyle.  I was born with curls and big hair.  Without a doubt my finest decade was the eighties.  Back then, women all over the land were perming their hair and fluffing it out.  Not me.  My hair did it all by itself.  As I exited the limo, I was preceded by a billowing cloud of blonde curls so wide it was a wonder I could walk through doorways.
            As the wedding unfolded, Eleanor burst into tears again.  ‘I looked so carefree,’ she lamented.  She’s had a few troubles recently, bless her.
            All three children were undeniably cute.  A part of me momentarily longed to return to that faraway time where the only thing our kids had worried about was where the next Barbie doll or Action Man was coming from.  These days they have nervous breakdowns about spots, body shape or the dating game where inevitably somebody gets dumped.  On the other hand, I don’t know how we got through those days juggling the jobs we had with small children and very little sleep.  As I watched myself on the screen walking into the hotel followed by three beautifully turned out children, I marveled at what the camera hadn’t caught an hour earlier…a harassed woman helping two little girls into cream tights, frocks and ballet shoes, and a little boy needing assistance with his tie whilst the same harassed woman clock watched and wondered if it was possible to do full bridal make-up in four minutes and thirty-nine seconds before the limo arrived.
            Eleanor and I laughed again as Mr V fluffed his vows.  ‘I take thee to be my awful wedded wife…’
            I’d booked a table magician to entertain throughout the wedding breakfast.  The videographer had captured everybody’s requests for balloon poodles, balloon bicycles, balloon flowers and so on.  It had also captured one guest who fancied himself as a bit of a wag.
            ‘And what would Sir like?’ asked the magician.
            ‘I’ll have a blow-up doll please.’
            To use one of my daughter’s favourite words…CRINGE!
            Following on were the speeches. I made one too.  Trying to ignore the camera, I nervously thanked everybody for coming and turned to Mr V.  ‘I’m delighted to be your husband and honoured you’re now my wife.’
            By the time the DVD came to an end, Eleanor and I had trumpeted our way through half a box of tissues.  When Mr V came home from work, he asked why we had bloodshot eyes.
            ‘We’ve been watching the wedding DVD,’ said Eleanor.
            ‘Put it on again,’ said my husband as he settled himself down on the sofa.  ‘What’s that for?’ he asked as Eleanor placed the remaining tissues next to him.
            ‘You’ll need them.’
            ‘Don’t be daft,’ Mr V laughed.
           
He pulled the first tissue thirty seconds into the film.  Which reminds me.
            A
man placed an advert in the classifieds: Wife wanted.  The next day he received a hundred letters. They all said the same thing. You can have mine

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Little Miss Muffet (sat in her car and screamed)


I’m not a fan of spiders, nor are my family.  Last summer the media was full of terrible tales about False Widows.  They’d apparently infiltrated the UK and embarked on a frenzied breeding program.  Newspapers trumpeted stories about horrendous spider bites that put victims in hospital. Photographs of the wounded with swollen limbs were splashed across the pages.  Everyone was terrified!  In fact at the time of writing this there are four False Widows sitting in webs outside my lounge window.  The fact that they remain shows general hysteria has calmed down.  That said, hysterics of the unfunny kind will break out if any one of those Widows dare to enter this house.
            Spider encounters are enough to make the bravest jump.  Earlier this week my mother spotted a huge hairy monster on her bedroom carpet.  She creaked off to get her spider-catcher (she never kills them, unlike her murdering daughter and grand-daughter).  By the time she’d creaked back, the spider had gone.  She found it again at bed time – when she got under the covers.  All together now…ARGH!
            Last weekend my daughter jumped in her car.  Humming absent-mindedly, she set off.  Just as she was gaining speed, in her peripheral vision something moved.  Daring to take her eyes off the road, she saw a spider had parachuted off the door and was dangling across the driver’s window.  Inside, not out.  Eleanor was instantly on red-alert.  A scream rose up but died in her throat.  She didn’t want to do anything to send the spider dropping on her or, even worse, scuttling off into the depths of the car only to re-emerge when on a motorway.
            Leaning away from the driver’s door, my daughter continued to drive with stretched cartoon arms whilst searching for a place to pull over.  To add to her anxiety, the sound of a siren filled the air.  Was it a fire engine?  An ambulance?  Spotting a gap ahead, Eleanor edged towards it.  The siren was gaining momentum.  Every pulse of its screaming wail matched her galloping heartrate.  The spider had started to spin its way over to Eleanor’s shoulder.  Squeaking in terror, she kerbed the car, mounted the pavement and promptly stalled the engine.  The siren was almost upon her.  Ratcheting up the handbrake, she spotted a toilet roll on the open glove shelf.  Yes, this family carry toilet rolls in their vehicles.  I always mean to provide boxes of tissues, but always fail.  Anyway, I digress.  The spider was almost upon Eleanor.  Whimpering, she grabbed the toilet roll and smashed it hard against the spider.  Without losing a beat, she flung the driver’s door wide and tossed the toilet roll just as a police car – siren still blaring – roared past.  The toilet roll sailed through the air, bounced off the police car’s windscreen and, like a party popper, streamed across the road.  Eleanor was horrified.  Visions of a police car screeching to a halt with an angry officer arresting her for assault by toilet roll danced through her brain.  Unable to take any more, Eleanor collapsed weakly over the steering wheel.  The horn promptly beeped making her rocket upright again in shock.  Fortunately the police car had more pressing business than a highly strung teenager chucking toilet rolls about.  Exhaling shakily, Eleanor started the car and drove back home.
            ‘Mum!’ she cried, crashing into the hallway.  ‘Help!’
            ‘What’s happened?’ I asked in alarm.
            Eleanor leant against the wall for support.  ‘Spider,’ she gasped.  ‘I need you to check the car over for me.  I’m scared.’
            Well so was I in all honesty.  But like all Mother Hens, when our chicks need assistance, we get on with it.  ‘I’ll be right with you.’  I squared my shoulders.  This called for my long-handled feather duster.  Thus armed, I marched out to Eleanor’s car.  My daughter trotted after me.
            ‘Eeeeeek,’ she squealed.  ‘There’s one on the boot.  Look!’
            Sure enough, a fat garden spider was dossing about on a web strung between the aerial and the rear wiper blade.  I didn’t hesitate.  The feather duster whipped through the air and hit its target.  I then went over every inch of the car whacking the paintwork like a woman possessed.  Which I was.  Fear drove me.  I was aware of net curtains twitching.  Heaven only knows what the neighbours thought watching a frenzied blonde thrash the living daylights out of a car with a pink feather duster.  The same exercise was carried out internally.  Thankfully no spider was found but I didn’t take any chances and thwack-thwacked a dropped chocolate Minstrel, a chewing gum wrapper and even a lost penny.
            ‘This car,’ I panted as I clambered out of the confined area, ‘is now a spider-free zone.’
            Which reminds me.  What do you call 108 spiders on a car tyre?  A spinning wheel…

Sunday, 4 October 2015

A Bit of an Old Bag


There is a very high shelf in my wardrobe.  Once it contained an organised row of handbags.  From the tiniest purse to the most sensible work bag, the shelf was neat and tidy.  This orderliness lasted, ooh, a couple of weeks.  Like most women, I’m a sucker for a handbag.  In no time at all the organised row descended into a higgledy-piggledy mess.
            Colour, shape, pattern, motifs, pockets, zips, handles, straps, flaps, texture, fabric…to the female brain these things are enthralling.  And let’s not forget size and whether it’s floppy or stiff (no smutty thoughts please, I’m still talking about handbags).
            Things got a bit heated between Mr V and myself when he went into the wardrobe and was assaulted by a rainfall of handbags on his head.
            ‘Isn’t it about time you sorted out this shelf?’ he grumbled.
            Nearly all my bags are designer fakes.  I lurve a good fake!  Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Yves St Lauren – fabulous!  On more than one occasion a friend has said, ‘Wow, look at you with your swanky bag.  That must have cost the earth!’ The only time I didn’t quite pull it off was when, out of price curiosity, I boldly walked into a Louis Vuitton store with a fake tote on my shoulder.  The sales assistant was beyond scathing.  The temptation to bash my credit card just to wipe the contempt from her face was overwhelming.  But the sensible part of me reasoned it would be much better just to bash her with the fake.  No, of course I didn’t.  But I wanted to!
            However, last year when I was in Canada, one of my very dear relatives took me to a designer outlet.  And lo!  There were designer handbags.  I gravitated towards one that was a mix of suede and leather.  The overall colour was nude with panels edged in black.  It had a long strap and short handles, both with brushed gold clasps that matched the designer’s discreet lettering.  And deep joy - there was a matching purse!  When I later showed my purchases to my mother, she nearly had a fit.
            ‘You’re using them!’  She clapped a hand over her mouth in horror.  ‘Aren’t you going to save them for best?’
            ‘For best?  At that price?  No, I’m going to get my money’s worth and use them every day.’
            And I have.  My designer bag and purse go everywhere with me.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to treat them with a bit of reverence.  This usually occurs when my daughter goes into my bag to borrow something but has to fight her way through layers of crumpled tissues, twenty defunct pens, a split bag of mints, four hundred lipsticks, old till receipts, six pairs of sunglasses (yes, all fakes), driving specs, reading specs, and a collection of parking tickets.
            ‘Mum!’ Eleanor scalded.  ‘Your bag is absolutely minging.  Sort it out!’  Eleanor’s own designer handbag is kept in pristine condition.  She uses it on high days and holidays and it mostly resides in a dust cover.  I wish her bedroom was as immaculate, but apparently bedrooms don’t count.
            Which reminds me.  As the bus pulled away, a woman realised she’d left her handbag under the seat.  Later, she called the depot and was relieved her handbag had been found.  When she went to pick it up, several bus drivers gathered around.  One handed her six typewritten pages, the handbag, and a box containing the handbag’s contents.  ‘We made an inventory of everything we found.  It’s all there,’ he explained.  As she started to put everything back into the handbag, he said, ‘May we watch?  We’re rather curious.  You see, we all tried but failed to get everything back inside…’

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Ready, steady, go (somewhere)


My children came home for the weekend, which was lovely.  When he’s around, Rob is always keen to drive the car he shares with his sister.  He feels it’s important to keep everything he learnt ‘fresh’ and not lose confidence.  Between you and me, his sister has overtaken (excuse the pun) Robbie in the confidence stakes.  I suppose that’s what happens when you have had one child coming home intermittently and the other has been at home all the time and whizzing from A to B on a daily basis.  However, whilst Rob hasn't quite got the edge on Eleanor, he is one-hundred-per-cent hot on remembering his theory, whereas Eleanor is vague about the Highways Department’s need to paint “pretty” zig-zags on a road.
            Yesterday Rob had an eye test appointment.  Eleanor said she’d keep her brother company.  I said I’d meet both kids afterwards and treat them to brunch in Sidcup (hello again, Sidcup).
            ‘Can you remember the way?’ I asked Rob.
            ‘Um, not sure. I’ll get Eleanor to direct me.’
            ‘No, don’t do that,’ I said quickly.  Recent memories of my daughter relaying her own description of roads rather than road names had me experiencing a rush of anxiety.  ‘Stick to using your sat-nav.’ Well you can’t say I didn’t warn him.  So after the eye test, son and daughter jumped in their little car and off they set.
            ‘Which way to Sidcup?’ asked Rob edging out of the carpark.
            ‘Drive towards the funny ramp thing.’
            ‘Funny ramp–?’
            ‘Yes, there.  Look…there.  There.  THERE!’
            ‘You mean turn left?’
            ‘Obviously!’
            The direction came too late and my son kerbed the car.  ‘Now look what you made me do.’
            ‘You were driving too close to the pavement.’
            ‘Because you instructed me too late!’
            ‘You drive close to all the pavements.’  Getting the two kids in the car together is always potentially likely to end in a row.  ‘You still drive like a learner,’ Eleanor complained, as Rob brought the car to a jerky standstill at a roundabout.
            ‘I most certainly do not,’ Rob huffed.
            ‘Your last bit of braking almost gave me whiplash.’
            ‘You do exaggerate.  And what have you been doing to this car while I’ve been away?  It’s not running properly.’
            ‘The car is fine.  The problem is you over-revving it,’ Eleanor sniffed as her brother came off the clutch and, with engine whining, bunny-hopped into fast-moving traffic.
            A woman waiting at the exit ahead observed a novice lurching forward and took the opportunity of pulling out on him.  Emergency braking was immediately applied.  Annoyed, my son took to the horn.  I’d like to point out their car is a Citroen C1.  It’s a tiddly vehicle with a feeble hooter.  So when my son gave a couple of angry blasts, what he actually got was a Noddy-like peep peep.
            The woman immediately buzzed the window down of her giant 4x4, stuck a middle finger up and, with her other hand, leant on the centre of her steering wheel.  A noise issued forth not dissimilar to a ship’s foghorn.
            ‘Flamin’ cheek!’ Rob hissed.
            ‘She’s totally out of order,’ Eleanor agreed.
            ‘Take this!’ Rob growled leaning continuously on the Citroen’s horn.  Peeeeeeeeeeep.
            The woman responded by once again waving her middle finger about.  Infuriated, Eleanor decided to go one better.  She buzzed the passenger window down and stuck all her fingers out.  The woman gave Eleanor a puzzled look and roared off in a cloud of exhaust.  Rob attempted to zoom after her but got waylaid by mirror-signal-manoeuvre and clutch control.  By the time he’d reached second gear I suspect the offending female motorist was a good mile away.  Which reminds me.
            Sitting on the side of the highway waiting to catch speeding drivers, a State Police Officer sees a car puttering along at twenty-two miles per hour.  He thinks to himself, ‘This driver is just as dangerous as a speeder!’ So he turns on his lights and pulls the driver over.  Approaching the car, he sees it contains five young teenagers.  The driver, who had recently passed her driving test, was confused.
            ‘What’s the problem, officer?  I was driving at the exact speed limit.’
            The police officer sighed and explained that 22 was the route number, not the speed limit.  Embarrassed, the young driver grinned and thanked the police officer for pointing out her error.
            ‘Before I let you go, ma’am, I have to ask…is everyone in this car okay?  Everybody seems a bit shaken up and nobody has said a word.
            ‘Oh they’ll be all right in a minute, officer,’ said the young driver.  ‘We just got off Route 119…’
                       


 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Get Lost!


My daughter, a newly qualified driver, is absolutely brilliant at three point turns, clutch control, parking, you name it.  The only thing she’s not so good at is finding her way around.  Unfortunately this is essential if you want to drive from A to B.  Eleanor has a sat-nav but has yet to actually use it.  As a result she pre-plans her route and relies heavily on road signs.  Earlier this week she had to drive to Sidcup, not a million miles away from our home.
            ‘So, Mum.  Remind me again where Station Road is.’
            ‘Okay, you know the High Street?’
            ‘Yes.’
            ‘So travelling towards Eltham, you turn right at the traffic lights by the old police station.’
            ‘Got it.’
            Nice and clear on both sides.  And off she went.  Twenty minutes later she phoned me.
            ‘I’m stuck in this ridiculous traffic jam.  I don’t know where all these cars have come from!’
            ‘It’s called
rush hour,’ I pointed out.
            ‘I’m going to be late for my appointment.  What shall I do?’
            ‘Cut through the back doubles.’
            ‘Eh?’
            ‘You remember the short cuts I used when driving you to College?’
            ‘Oh right.  Can you direct me?’
            ‘Sure.  Where are you?’
            ‘Dartford.’
            ‘Yes, I
know that, darling.  I meant what street
are you in?’
            ‘Oh, I see.  Um…I dunno!’
            Not a great start.  ‘Can you describe the road to me?’
            ‘Yes.  It’s the one with houses down both sides.’
            It’s at times like this my daughter reminds me of my younger self.  ‘That’s…very descriptive.  Can you see a road name?’
            ‘Erm…no…but it’s the road where the three-legged dog lives.’
            ‘Ah…right…you’re on Park Road.  Now look on your right for Downs Avenue.’
            ‘Is that by the yellow bollard?’
            ‘Yes.’
            ‘Oh dear.  I’ve just driven past it
.’
            ‘Can you make a U-turn
?
            ‘I’ll try.  One moment.’
            Suffice to say, my daughter did eventually arrive at her destination.  Listening to a re-hash of the journey, it’s a good thing she wasn’t trying to direct anybody else.  Otherwise it would have gone something like this…
            “Turn left into the road with houses down both sides.  Turn right where the three-legged dog lives.  At the bottom cut across the junction where, like, everybody looks like they’re going to hit you.  Keep going until you get to the traffic lights and then, like, get into the lane which goes to that pub on the corner which looks, like, really dodgy.  Follow the signs to Sidcup and avoid that
tragic road with the stupid mini-roundabout where everybody drives, like, straight over it and you have to swerve at the last minute.  Arrive at destination in a road which is
, like, by loads and loads of traffic lights and has some, like, trees in it.”
            So would you know where you’re going?  Me neither.  Which reminds me.  Someone bought Bonnie’s Tyler’s car off eBay.  It’s awful.  Every now and then it falls apart and the sat-n
av keeps saying, ‘Turn around Bright Eyes…’