25 September 2008

Chickie's First Wedding

“You’re brave bringing a toddler to a wedding” said the lady in the silk gown. Reading between the lines, I think what she really meant was, “You silly, silly girl!”

I didn’t mention I’d invested many hours trying to redeploy Chickie to a more suitable venue but Nanna was busy (something cappuccino related). My sister was also busy (something about washing hair) and Grandma and Grandpa were smearing clotted cream onto scones in Devon.

Through my tears, I stressed upon each of them that this was a ‘posh’ wedding, requiring female participants to feature in cocktail dresses and that Chickie wasn’t trusted within 10 feet of dry clean only fabrics. They made sympathetic noises, but all felt that if children were invited, it would be fine. I countered their arguments with the fact that neither bride nor groom had children of their own, so couldn’t possibly comprehend what they’d gone and done.

A day of genteel elegance and refinement beckoned and I was expected to seamlessly blend my 3ft minion of mass destruction into proceedings.

I wore an apron over my dress in the car. Chickie was changed into his tux on arrival and after some initial grumblings about wanting to wear a dress too, he charged off to explore the Manor. Accountant trotted after, thoughtfully leaving me to retrieve my bulging sack of munitions. An essential selection of apparatus– toys, snacks, chloroform...

“Where’s daddy?” I asked as I tugged my sack through the topiary fronted doors.
“Bar” said Chickie, pointing to Accountant’s retreating form as he scurried off down a corridor.

We took up pursuit. “Is it a ghost tunnel mummy?” he asked as we entered the dim hallway. I nodded seriously. He did his penguin dance, delighted by the scariness, before grasping my hand.

By the time we’d negotiated the labyrinth of corridors, we’d lost Daddy (who I know had started running), and found ourselves in the gardens. Vast and wooded with bridges and secret bits, Chickie’s eyebrows nearly fell off his head. “Let’s find dinosaurs mummy” he said, letting out a roar. My heels began their descent into the mud.

We returned for the ceremony looking much like we’d been landscape gardening. We took our ribboned seats, next to the exit. Accountant reappeared with a rosy glow. I glared lovingly at him before showing Chickie just how many packets of jelly babies could be his if he could just be quiet for the next three hours. He nodded his affirmation. He liked the deal.

And then something amazing happened. He actually was really quiet. It lasted throughout dinner. Then he was adorable as he laughed in all the right places during the speeches.

Once the disco lights began to twinkle, Chickie was up and everyone wanted to dance with the little boy who had so loved his first wedding. The one with the dinosaurs and the troll bridge and all the ghosties.

19 September 2008

The Pressure

I remember a time when you could accept a friend’s dinner invitation safe in the knowledge you could look forward to an evening sat on your bottom, gorging yourself on After Eights. Sadly, it would seem those blissful days are gone.

Now that everyone owns such useful ‘gadgets’ as Nintendo Wiis and Brain Trainers, after dinner mints and digestion are out and physical and mental torture are in.

Last week, we went to Accountant’s boss’ house for dinner. Filo pastry with feta cheese for starter, chicken curry for main and a blood pressure test for pudding. His boss stood over me sipping port as he pumped all of the blood from my left bingo wing with his new birthday present. The other guests watched in terror, knowing their turn was coming. He instructed them to relax – it could affect their readings.

“Ooh, that’s very low” he informed me seriously. My curry started to curdle as a familiar terror crept through my stomach.
“It is?” I wondered whether it was a good time to introduce my health anxiety?
“Yes. Let’s do it again!” He sounded excited and pressed the button again for another go.
The other guests look relieved as they enjoyed a momentary reprieve.

Three days later and awaiting my doctor’s appointment to check my low blood pressure, I’d just finished my friend’s risotto when I was plucked from the sofa and deposited onto a white plastic board. She busily waved another device at the tv which beeped a lot. She then turned to me, looking delighted, as she informed me that I was unbalanced, overweight and physically eligible for a free bus pass.

“Now let’s do your mental age” she said, handing me a tiny console. A three stage mathematics and logic challenge followed. “Ooh, you’ve got the brain of a 65 year old!” she cooed. She concluded her findings by softly mentioning that she, 12 years my senior, had the brain age of a 30 year old.

I drove home panic struck. Accountant pretended to listen as I ran through a carefully considered list of degenerative brain diseases.

“Test me. Ask me a maths question” I urged him, desperate for it not to be true.
“What’s 4000 x 0?” came the response.
“That’s not fair! You know I never know the answer to ‘x 0’ questions!”
“Perhaps you should go and see the doctor after all” he suggested helpfully.

In the cold, terror filled hours that followed, I slept fitfully in between reciting my 2, 5 and 10 times tables. When Accountant brought a puzzle book home the next day, I sat down with pencil in hand and my bottom lip sucked in between my teeth.

Five minutes later, staring blankly at all the empty boxes, it struck me that the blinding mental agility I was no doubt capable of would surely be a waste at this stage of the child rearing process. I put the pencil down and watched Peppa Pig with Chick.

11 September 2008

Hi Honey... I'm Home

Although my parents swear that their house is still my ‘home’, I can’t help but think they slightly regret not getting their front door key back. Even if they’d tried, they wouldn’t have succeeded. To me, it’s not just a key to my childhood but to a whole other world where life is sweet.

Each time I let myself in unannounced, they look startled and guilty. Although they also swear that they’re far too busy doing DIY to be watching Countdown, there always seems to be lots of scurrying and cushion patting as they scoot out of the living room when I arrive.

To be fair, it took them a long time to get me out in the first place and I think the fear that I might return on a permanent basis still lingers.

At 21, I bought a house which needed ‘work’. I then made my dad do the ‘work’ and my mum sew all the soft furnishings whilst I considered fabric samples and drove to B&Q to get sandpaper and new drill bits for dad. After six months of ownership, I finally slept there.

Three miles away, my parents could hardly believe their luck. 21 years and now dad could finally watch what he wanted on tv. Mum could have a lie in now that she was no longer required to kneel at her adult daughter’s bedside each morning, posting marmite on toast between the gap in her front teeth.

Halfway through their satisfied sighs, they heard a noise. It sounded very much like a key in a lock. They exchanged glances, hoping it wasn’t burglars. Unfortunately, it was far worse. It was me. Mum made me a cup of tea whilst I reclaimed the remote and explained to my despondent father that I just wasn’t cut out for living alone.

Two years later, I was bound for Spain where I’d live for a year. My dad’s hand twitched in anticipation of all the golf and snooker he could soon be watching. Arrival at my final destination was via Holland, where a de-briefing conference thing was to be held first. Dad dropped me off at Church where I boarded a mini-bus.

Eighteen hours later, via lots of other countries where we picked up lots of very excited people, we arrived. Tired and feeling less exuberant than my associates, I stood before my accommodation. Think big scout hut, made of corrugated iron. I looked around the field I was sinking into, regretting my recent life choices.

The inside was worse. Steel bunk beds were lined up under fluorescent strip lights. Having never owned a sleeping bag, it hadn’t occurred to me to take one. But with no bedding provided, I realised my mistake.

The next day, as I boarded an aeroplane back to England, I clutched my front door key hardly able to wait to see my fully furnished home and mum and dad’s happy little faces.

06 September 2008


“Oh bless him!” said my Mother.
“Mum, come on!” I implored. I’d been convinced she’d bless me this time.
“It’s not so bad” she said.
“He bought me a packet of hobnobs for our anniversary!” I squeaked.
“They were chocolate coated!” she pointed out helpfully.
“I want diamond coated, set in platinum!”

I leant against the kitchen worktop, holding one up for inspection before biting it with as much resentment as I could muster towards something so rich in coca-solids.

“This is bad” I warned. I honestly hadn’t realised it could get any worse than the dog coasters he bought me in 2001. Although, that wooden box with the miniature duck and fishing rod on the lid I’d got for Christmas had been horrifying at the time. I hid it in a cupboard.

“Just be thankful” mum said.
I didn’t want to be thankful. “I’m going now. It’s my wedding anniversary and I’ve got 15 hobnobs to eat”. I put the phone down as she began instructing me to eat an apple instead.

That night, as Accountant snorted beside me like a walrus with dodgy adenoids, I couldn’t sleep - partly due to the snoring, partly because I couldn’t help but think that anniversary hobnobs were just one present away from divorce. It was if he’d just given up on me altogether.

At least with the coasters, weird wooden box and dog breeding book, he’d shown some sort of originality and somehow thought that I’d like them. Of course, it just served to prove that, despite all the years we’d been together, he didn’t know me at all but, even so.

What would next year’s present be? A packet of Bourbons? Custard creams? That’s if we even made it to next year. I logged onto the Relate website and clicked on the Frequently Asked Questions. There was nothing about biscuits.

I decided it was time for a little chat. Accountant hates ‘chats’, so I eased him in by presenting him with his favourite dinner when he arrived home. Whilst his mouth was still full, I seized my opportunity.

“You still love me don’t you sweetheart?”
He glanced heavenward before nodding cautiously.
I tried for a more emphatic response. “You do really, don’t you?”
He swallowed his chicken kiev. “Of course I do” he said before cramming eleven chips into his mouth. Knowing that was as good as it got, I left him be.

When he sat down later that evening, I handed him a cup of tea and a coaster. A poofy dog one, retrieved from under the sofa wheel, where it had lived happily for seven years. He didn’t notice and plonked it on the table, next to a hideously unattractive trinket box with a duck on it.

Weeks have passed and, although I notice the coasters and duck box everyday, Accountant still hasn’t. My mother, however, noticed immediately.

“Oh, bless you” she said to me. Finally.