Friday, 29 January 2010

Domestic Wunderkind

I have this theory that kids of today are so much less able than we were. Now I sound like my mother (You don't know you're born etc etc) oh dear...

Anyway, I think they're pathetically incapable of the smallest domestic task – well, either that or they have what Psychologists like to call “learned helplessness”. Indeed, I love to bore my children with the story of how I made my mum breakfast in bed at the age of 6 - and I mean a proper, cooked breakfast - bacon, egg, mushrooms and tomato and a cup of tea. This, I should also point out, involved the lighting of a gas burner with matches – can you imagine one of today’s helicopter parents even having matches in the house much less leaving them where a 6 year old could get hold of them, much, much less teaching said 6 year old how to use them safely....! Okay, the meal might not have been worthy of a Michelin star, but my teenagers would struggle to do this today - and it's not for lack of trying to teach them!

TS is off to Uni in the autumn, so you might think he’d be vaguely interested in learning to knock up some basic dishes to stave off the boredom of beans on toast 6 nights a week and some form of takeaway on the 7th. Oh no – not a bit of it. Any feeble attempts on my part to get him to, for example, chop an onion are met with expressions of sheer horror. When I point out to him how cheap it would be to make a batch of bolognaise he is overcome by ennui, yawns expansively and leaves the room.

However, there is a chink in his armour! (The Shah just came along and read that over my shoulder and said “Ooh – racist! Shouldn’t that be “person of Asiatic origin in his armour”?) Anyway, I digress – the chink is a certain couscous dish that I make and which he loves. I was putting it together recently and he was standing by, slavering, so I said it would speed up the process no end if he would help a bit. To my utter amazement he replied “why not? Got nuffin’ else to do,” (which counts as extreme enthusiasm on planet teenager). So, I asked him to chop some olives up – nothing fancy – just halve them. When I next looked, he was painstakingly slicing them lengthwise. Made no difference to the dish, other than the chilli filling of the olives fell out but so what? It just illustrated to me that what is obvious to an experienced person is not at all clear to the inexperienced.

TD is a slightly different kettle of fish in that they still teach HE in her school. (TS had the option but firmly declined on the grounds that “I’m not gay” to which I replied “Is Gordon Ramsay gay d’you think? Or Jamie Oliver? Huh? Huh? ) And they even called it Food Tech so that boys wouldn’t think it was cissy, so there's no hope really. TD favours baking big time – perhaps this is a girly thing but the very mention of cupcakes and scraping out the bowl is likely to bring her sprinting into the kitchen.

But there is more to domestic bliss than cooking. Let’s try washing for example. TS is given to appearing in front of me with a pile of stinking sports kit in his arms and the demand “Mum, can you get this lot washed by Saturday?” When I mildly suggest that he could actually have a go at it himself, he has to sit down sharpish and put his head between his knees. And my status as “just like white noise, innit?” was confirmed recently when, blind to the Persil standing on top of the washing machine, he trots up with a bottle of Ace Laundry Bleach in one hand and a bottle of Flash floor cleaner in the other and the query “which one of these do I use for the washing?”

Monday, 25 January 2010

How not to be a Model Mummy

I am heartily sick of the recent proliferation of articles offering advice on parenting. Generally, the writer interviews some “supermum” (how I despise that word) and there will be a photo of her running across a wild flower meadow with three or four Boden-clad children in hot pursuit. The oleaginous caption will read something like “Margarina Ffrench-Frye has three children under eight, a full time job and is studying for a PhD in The Tao of Smug. She still makes time to collect Aubergina, Vienetta and Cochineal from school and nursery every day.”

Well pardon me, but BLEURGH! Get real. Real mummies do not behave this way. Real mummies reel from one disaster to the next, hoping to God they are not doing any permanent psychological damage to themselves or their offspring en route.

Let us compare and contrast the ideal mummy and the reality. I give you the Every Silver Lining Guide to the stark authenticity of being a mummy...


Ideal Mummy: Sets aside fifteen minutes each and every day to examine her behaviour and think of more ways she can provide a positive role model for her children. She always stops and thinks before responding to her children so that she never says anything negative or demotivating.
Real Mummy: Would love to be able to set aside 15 minutes per day just to breathe. Instead, she hurtles through the door at 6pm after the day from hell and screams at everyone. When her children whine about their hunger, she is likely to reply “Can’t you even manage to sling a pizza in the oven?”

Ideal Mummy: You shout and your child shouts back! Ideal Mummy Increases her chances of staying calm by lowering her voice instead of shouting, counting to ten to give everyone breathing space and making time for relaxation so that tension dissipates naturally.
Real Mummy: Are you having a larf? I shout, therefore I am.

Ideal Mummy: Praises her child at every opportunity. Like the idiot savant I observed in our local park last week shrieking “Great sliding darling!” as their brat shot off the end of the slide and landed on its backside in a puddle of mud.
Real Mummy: Observes teenager attempting to feed itself by removing a pizza from the box and sliding it into the oven. Is heard to remark “take the wrapping off first, you pillock!” (In a warm and maternal way, of course).

Ideal Mummy: Has the kind of children who leap from their beds every morning of the holidays, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for the day’s activities with their equally enthusiastic mummy. All pursuits are carefully thought out so as to achieve a balance of physical and mental stimulation, interspersed with nutritionally balanced meals and well timed, healthy snacks.
Real Mummy: Staggers downstairs in the morning, dishevelled and hungover, cursing the concept of school holidays. Children stumble along some time later. Children lie on sofa for some hours gazing blankly at a screen whilst moving only their thumbs. A little bit of drool gathers at the corners of their mouths. Eventually are driven by hunger to find their mother who offers them twenty quid to go away.

Ideal Mummy: Plays French language tapes to her embryo while she is pregnant and enrols little Augusta for Esperanto classes within a week of her birth.
Real Mummy: Shouts "Fuck" at an inopportune moment and knows, with a sick feeling, that it will be the one word her toddler will instantly commit to memory and sure enough, he or she chants it loudly, over and over again just as Daddy arrives home. Happily, the toddler seems to forget it pretty quickly but has magical recall just in time for the next visit of the mother in law.

Ideal Mummy: Takes good care of herself so that she can take good care of others. She makes time for relaxation and those little treats that Mummies love – a massage, a pedicure, for example.
Real Mummy: Thinks massages are a waste of time because she is so exhausted, she falls asleep as soon as she is horizontal, and is thus unaware of the benefits of any bloody massage. With no time for manicures or pedicures, she has feet of elephant hide and the hands of a navvy.

Ideal Mummy: Firmly believes in lifelong learning and is always alert to new avenues for self improvement.
Real Mummy: Utilises her Science ‘O’ Level to design a Portable Intravenous Gin Infusion Kit (Patent Pending).

Friday, 22 January 2010

Grumpy Old Woman

Is what I am definitely turning into. I've realised recently that, on my trudge through daily life, I have been mentally compiling a list of all those little irritants that mount up into one giant, mahoosive ball of FURY and FRUSTRATION which is likely to elevate my blood pressure to a monstrous height and keep it there.

Maybe it would help if I got them off my chest...
Okay here we go (and in no particular order) THINGS THAT IRRITATE THE LIFE OUT OF ME..

Old people who use their supermarket trollies as zimmer frames and lean on them with their astronomical arses sticking out, stopping dead in the middle of an aisle and gazing blankly around them while a huge queue builds up behind.

Our cats' propensity for killing the local wildlife and bringing it home to share with us.

Drivers who don't indicate on roundabouts and then make finger gestures at you as they almost kill you.

People sinking pints of lager at 7.30am in the bar at any airport.

The way a man cannot leave a tv remote alone for a moment and flicks through the channels relentlessly during the ad break.


Cat hair that sticks to your clothes.

Trying to prepare a meal while supplicating furry paws reach up to the work top and attempt(sometimes successfully) to hook the chicken down onto the floor...

Anyone who says 'Ciao' and is not Italian.

That ridiculous ad where women sit in a cafe discussing their bowel movements and sharing constipation remedies - yeah right!

WheN YoU Start tYping WitHOut ReALIsING THaT caPS LOcK IS oN

Liz Jones

Ludicrous statistics, dreamt up by the media to frighten people eg "The bad weather has cost industry £600 billion in the last two days" Nice and vague and unsubstantiated eh?

All teenagers' inability to speak clearly e.g. "likewossfordinnermumawwwwnotpastaagain..."

Sanctimonious people who have no children but are world experts on parenthood

Sanctimonious people who have small children and, when you are ranting about your teenagers' latest indiscretions, say loftily "Oh Vienetta will never do that sort of thing!" (Vienetta being all of 2 years old).

Joe Pasquale's voice

People with unreadable handwriting - it's LAZY!

Celebrities who refuse to criticise anyone or anything or ever, ever say anything negative about any damn thing at all (ever). "Oh no, I rilly rilly don't mind not winning the Oscar - I'm just soooo grateful to be nominated.." oh yeah?

Celebrities who insist that their spookily smooth and immobile faces are "gosh, just down to good genes and healthy eating, I guess" (snigger)

Celebrities who insist that their spookily small waist size and skeletal frame is "gosh just down to good genes and lots of exercise, I guess" when they have been papped leaving a Lipo clinic two days previously.

People who look down on Heat Magazine and swear they never read such tosh....c'mon, fess up - we all love it really!

Celebrities who are interviewed about their summer holiday reading list and spout crap like "I've almost finished reading 'A la recherche du temps perdu', so I shall be taking that to Mustique with me"...Must be the title of Jackie Collins' latest tome surely?

Scrapheap Challenge. I can't STAND it! The Shah, by contrast, LOVES it with a capital L....WTF is that about? I mean given that he's never so much as owned a Meccano set in his life?

Top Gear - all those braying blokes :-(

The hairy one off Top Gear who has all the personality of wet cardboard and who (inexplicably) built a house out of Lego (I mean a real house) and then knocked it down again....hmm - that was worthwhile, wasn't it?

Richard Hammond's hairdresser

Celebrities (again - sorry) who "confess" their past sins to fellow celebrities "exclusively" for their column or their tv show...stories such as "I have to admit I took drugs, and I just want to speak out so that I can share my experiences with the world and offer my support to fellow sufferers. And this has nothing to do with the fact that the News of the World was about to break the story so I had to get in quick...honest. Er, could you just make the cheque payable to..."

Particularly if those celebrities are squeaky songstresses.

And (dyed) blonde.

Drivers who get in the right hand lane at traffic lights and don't indicate right until the lights have changed, so you get stuck behind them when you just want to go straight on.

The current British obsession with Health & Safety. Some years ago, at my kids' first school, a mum suggested that boiled sweets should be banned from the Summer Fete "in case someone chokes on them". How many generations of children have beseiged the sweet shops of old (can you imagine having a proper sweet shop now? It would probably get torched by the pc brigade) to buy gobstoppers and pineapple chunks...and how many of them have choked to death, I wonder?? For more of the same, I direct you to the very excellent "May Contain Nuts" by John O'Farrell.

Actually, all political correctness.

I have to stop here or I could go on for ever...I have a feeling that this is a list I may be returning to....

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

What Women Want...

My TS is learning about the whims of women the hard way.

It was the Shah's birthday last week and, as is customary with us, the four of us decided to go out for a meal to celebrate this auspicious occasion. The venue was a smarter-than-your-average Indian Restaurant (the type you need to book for, as opposed to the regular curry house into which fifteen people can tumble at a moment's notice knowing they are guaranteed a table somehow). The table was booked for 7.30 and it has to be said that, knowing how long her ablutions can take, TD was leaving it a smidge late to begin getting ready. Eventually, after a lot of shrieking up the stairs and issuing of threats, the kind you can carry out and the kind that would be impossible to maintain (these are the kind in which the Shah specialises, but that's a story for another day) her ladyship deigns to answer. "I'M READAAAAAAAAAAAAAY" she bellows from her bedroom but still doesn't appear. I decide not to go upstairs in pursuit of her because I know it will only lead to a full scale investigation into the contents of her wardrobe and a rendition of that well known million-selling hit beloved of teenage girls everywhere "I've got, like, nothing to wear!"

So, after a lengthy interlude, she appears, looking lovely, wearing jeans tucked into boots and some trendy top or other (I would like to say they all look the same to me but daren't in case she reads this :) This is where it all fell apart. Her brother, who has been lounging against the wall, rolling his eyes for the last 20 minutes takes one look at her and says approvingly, "You look like you're going for a riding lesson."

Wrong,wrong, WRONG,WRONG,WRONG! The only acceptable comment in these circumstances as all men should know is something along the lines of "Wow! You look great!" No other comment is necessary or desirable. The inevitable consequence was that TD emitted a scream of rage and disappeared upstairs, sobbing loudly. From the bowels of her bedroom all that could be heard was "I look HORRIBLE!"

"Oh well bloody done! You and your big gob," I bellow at TS who is looking somewhat shell-shocked. "I meant it in a good way," he bleats unconvincingly and hurries after his sister whose roars of fury are continuing to rattle the foundations. I have sympathy with TD because I know only too well how one misplaced remark can kill your confidence at a stroke. Viz my Moroccan handbag. I bought it as a birthday present to myself some years ago and it is black leather with some engraved silver decorations on it. It is a very nice handbag but, as I unpacked it, the Shah remarked "Ooh! Rock Chick!" And that was the end of that. Every time I thought of using it, the Shah's words echoed in my head and, consequently, the lovely handbag never saw the light of day.

But back to the present. I look around for the Shah who is nowhere to be seen. It is true to say that, generally, he is very supportive of me in any dispute with the children but, when it comes to girly things, he comes over all butch and testosterone-ridden and buggers off sharpish. But there is no hiding place and I knew where I would find him because, at times of great stress, the Shah takes comfort from surveying his beer stash which he thinks is hidden in the utility room. Sure enough I find him there gazing misty-eyed at some bottles of Cobra and instruct him to sort his errant offspring out. He takes on his twin, sorry, his daughter (but they may as well be twins) and I take on the TS. Ultimately, calm is restored and TS and TD make up and all of us (including the cowboy boots make our way to the restaurant where a korma atmosphere prevailed (sorry).

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Every Little Helps....

If it’s Friday, it must be time to visit the supermarket to replenish the meagre supplies now that the locusts to which I gave birth have decimated last week’s mega-shop.

“I know,” says the Shah brightly, “I’ll come with you!”

“Wow!” I can hear you cry. “He’s a new man who is not above trailing round the supermarket with his beleaguered wife. What a hero!”

Yeah right. Although this gesture is meant kindly, it makes my heart sink every time he offers to accompany me to Chavco. The thing is, that it’s all a bit of a novelty on planet Shah. Not for him the weekly trudge, taking up to an hour and a half, and straining the back muscles while you haul an over-stuffed trolley around the aisles and the wheels go in one direction as you try to go in another. Oh no, visiting Chavco is an opportunity for an outing of Mr Bean proportions.

First of all, the Shah insists on driving. Nothing wrong with that, only he doesn’t get that the trick is to park as close to the exit as possible so that you have the minimum distance to push said trolley. No, he sails to the far end of the car park, oblivious to my harrumphing from the passenger seat. As we trek back towards the supermarket which, by now, is but a speck on the horizon an ominous drizzle starts. I grumble. “It’ll be fine!” insists the Shah, ever the optimist.

We collect a trolley but of course find ourselves spending the requisite five minutes emptying it of the assorted crap swilling around in the bottom. Several vegetable bags, screwed up shopping lists, damp receipts and empty sausage roll wrappers later (well, they help to keep Kylie and Ronaldo quiet while I get the shopping in, innit?) we make our way through the shell-suit clad throngs towards the entrance and the Shah gives me a look I know only too well. “Er, I’ll just be upstairs for a bit,” he says shiftily. Like most blokes, the Shah is a gadget man and can spend many happy hours gazing at the ranks of televisions, Blu-ray players and other electronic wizardry on display. Maybe it’s the male equivalent of shoe shopping...

So I set off, through the vegetables, round the toiletries, trying to simultaneously find what I need and avoid incurring the wrath of my fellow shoppers with my unwieldy trolley. I am reminded of a friend who moved to this area some time ago, knowing nobody but hoping she and her husband had chosen a nice locality in which to put down roots and start a family. On her very first visit to her local Chavco, she happened to nudge someone else’s trolley with hers which caused its owner to glare at her and demand “wot’s your facking problem?” It took a lot of persuasion on the part of her husband to prevent her calling in the Estate Agents there and then.

I almost collide with a harried mother who has children of varying sizes sitting in and hanging off her trolley which also contains a small mountain of packets and ready meals. Suddenly, two of them let go and make a break for freedom, careering off down the biscuit aisle. “Oi!” shrieks their mother, “Destiny! Brooklyn! Get back ‘ere”.

All at once, I am distracted by the pinging of my mobile which signifies the arrival of a text. "Where ru?" it reads. Uh-oh. Then I spy the Shah, clearly his need for an electronic fix is sated. This is very bad news. I am less than half way round the store and I really need to keep him otherwise entertained until I have got everything I need. The reason for this is that, revelling in the novelty of his visit, he is inclined to meander up and down the aisles, picking one of everything he sees and dumping it into the trolley. As a rough rule of thumb, I can expect the bill to double if I take the Shah with me. I reverse back up the aisle I am iun, hoping to fend off his well-meant attentions a bit longer. As I begin to tip toe around, hoping to remain invisible, we play cat and mouse and I see him looking bereft, wandering about like a little boy lost - a look he is inordinately good at and which fools everyone except me. I stop at the top of every aisle and peer round the corner, the better to elude my pursuer. I can hear the theme tune from Mission Impossible pounding in my head and my heart thumps in time. All of a sudden, backing away from the beer aisle (where he is guaranteed to be lying in wait) I reverse into something solid. "There you are!" cries he with delight. I try to muster a smile.

Just to prove my theory correct, some twenty minutes later, we stagger for the checkout, the trolley groaning with stuff I wouldn’t dream of buying under normal circumstances. Half a hundredweight of Bombay Mix anyone? Every possible variety of nut? (hmm, I could comment further but I won’t go for the cheap laugh. This time.) He also helpfully insists on pushing the trolley now that it is full. Here we encounter another problem. He doesn't get supermarket etiquette. He abandons the trolley, broadside on across an aisle and wanders off, in search of yet more delicious morsels to satisfy his (more than healthy) appetite and returns, looking bemused as irritated shoppers bash into him and our food mountain on wheels as they try to get past, giving him evils all the while.

We arrive at the checkout. Let battle commence. “Awright? Joo need any ‘elp wiv your packin’?” says the checkout girl and, not waiting for the answer, begins to scan items at the speed of light, hurling them down to the end of the bay. I am still getting the shopping bags out of the trolley, but the Shah is quicker off the mark than I am. He obviously sees this as some sort of challenge to his manhood and so, leaps to the end of the checkout like a young gazelle in flight and begins to chuck the shopping willy nilly into bags. I see bleach packed with milk, I see a massive bag of King Edwards landing on top of the eggs. I want to scream, I want to cry, but a strange inertia has come over me and I am powerless to protest. I just want to get out of there as quickly as I can with what remains of my dignity intact. “That’ll be £168.00 please, doyouhaveaclubcard?” parrots the checkout girl. I fling cards at her randomly and punch something akin to my pin number into the keypad. The Shah is gasping like a superannuated goldfish. Just as he regains his senses he opens his mouth and begins to roar “A HUNDRED AND....??” With dexterity born of long practice, I flick the full trolley round and catch him neatly in the balls.

Outside, the ominous drizzle has become a monsoon. We wade to the car in silence.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Coo-coo ca choo Mrs Robinson

I love the Irish sense of humour. The disgraced Northern Ireland politicians Peter and Iris Robinson have, it seems, been christened the "Swish Family Robinson" by the good denizens of the province they serve. Unsurprising really when you realise that, not only did Mr & Mrs Robinson employ every member of their immediate family (sons, daughter and daughter-in-law) in various capacities, in a breathtaking act of nepotism but that, between them, they managed to rake in close to £560k in 2007-2008 alone, enjoying three homes in Belfast, London and Florida in the process.

What is surprising is that Iris Robinson couldn't just dip into her own pocket for the requisite £50k or so she procured from business contacts to hand over to her toyboy lover, pocketing a neat £5k for herself in the process. What is it about money and power that skews the thinking of apparently right-minded people? That's a genuine question, by the way, because I really, really don't get it (never having had much of either :) It's one thing to live your life to stunning double standards (viz Tiger Woods, family man) but it's quite another to imagine that the truth will never out. It seems to me that the truth will always out. In this age of technological wizardry any of us are potential paparazzi. Anyone with a mobile phone can take a photo, covertly record a conversation - there really is no hiding place. It takes a special kind of arrogance to believe that you are untouchable.

As for a sixty year old woman having an affair with a 19 year old boy (and I'm sorry - but at 19 he was still a boy, not a man) there will be some who applaud and some who are appalled. What leaves a nasty taste in the mouth is that Mrs Robinson and her husband have always played the super-religious card. Indeed, she has publicly proclaimed on many issues, making her views on Homosexuality , Abortion and Catholicism well known. Funny, that. Obviously, the moral high ground was abandoned sharpish when a buff 19 year old strolled into view.

The thing that disturbs me more than anything about the affair is that Iris Robinson has apparently known Kirk McCambley since he was 9 years old. Am I alone in finding this slightly creepy? I think of my kids' friends (and my friends' kids for that matter) whom I have known since they were small children and the Robinson affair makes my skin crawl.

Anyway, now Iris is confined to home, apparently suffering from mental illness. There has been some sniping in the press, suggesting that the timing of this illness is convenient. Who knows? Perhaps she should make an appointment with the doctors who treated Ernest Saunders at the time of the Guinness scandal - he who made a miraculous recovery from the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In fact, he is allegedly the only person in the world to do so.

For some time before the scandal broke, Saunders' nickname within the company was "Deadly Ernest". The unfortunately named Mrs Robinson (but what a gift to the headline writers!) can expect to hear catcalls of "Coo coo ca choo Mrs Robinson" for some time to come.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Resigned to it...

I'm resigned to the weather, I mean. That's about all I have to say on the subject because I'm absolutely sick of everyone else banging on about it - every news bulletin, every newspaper, every text conversation with snowed in family and colleagues...yadda yadda yadda! The BBC even managed to concoct a whole programme on it last night, fronted by Sophie Raworth. What's wrong with re-running Dad's Army for the 9 millionth time FFS?

On the subject of the BBC and resignation (see what I did there?) Jonathan Ross has resigned. Well 'big whoop' as my kids would say. Now this is something else I have noticed about the supposedly neutral BBC and its "resistance" to advertising. On the six o'clock news tonight (incidentally read by Fiona Bruce wearing a repellent peachy-coloured jacket which made her look terminally anaemic, but I digress)the Jonathan Ross story was reported before the following:- The feeble attempt by Patricia Hewitt and Geoff "Buff" Hoon to manipulate a vote of no confidence in the PM; Abuses of the Immigration system by those entering into sham marriages; Interest rates; President Obama's further comments on the security breakdowns that failed to stop the Christmas Day Bomber.

So my question to the BBC is - what in the name of all that's holy makes you put news items in that order? How can anyone seriously imagine that the departure of a jowly middle aged man who was once arguably talented and funny but who has, of late, descended into pathetic schoolboy vulgarity be a major news item?

Recently, when we couldn't turn on our tellies without David Tennant's jolly, birdy little face popping up all over the place, like about 10 days ago, it was pretty much the same. D. Tennant's departure from the role of the tenth Dr Who made massive headlines (like it was some sort of shock to the nation - wasn't it announced months ago?) and took precedence over practically everything else on the BBC. I dread to think what the Beeb would have done if there had actually been any news worth reporting - perhaps it could have gone split screen and still had Dr Who as headlines?

Get a grip! It's an actor leaving a drama series, not a vehicle for national mourning. Similarly with Jonathan Ross. He's not shunning public life (as if!) He'll pop up again somewhere else on some other channel - I'm resigned to it.

Monday, 4 January 2010

I don't know Jack about fashion, but I know what I like....

A few postings ago, I mentioned a shopping trip to Jack Wills and how I had considered just having all my salary paid directly to the coffers of J Wills Esq. Well, to celebrate the New Year I found myself once again Jack Wills-bound with TD in tow. I write that sentence and sit back and enjoy my own hollow laughter Celebrate! HAH!

The last time I entered one of Mr Wills' emporia, it was a pleasant, light-filled domain, staffed by cool-looking surfer dude types. For some reason though, Mr Wills has since decided to "upgrade" his shops so that they now sport dingy striped wallpaper in the company colours of mucky pink and dull navy, heavy dark, oversized furniture and a load of skanky looking, moth eaten rugs which litter the floor. Admirably, the company seems to be following an eco policy which has seen them cut down on electricity to the point that you practically need a guide dog to get you safely round the store; it's so flipping dark in there.

The only problem is that there is no room for a guide dog. There isn't much room for the customers really, what with all the furniture and the aisles being taken up with racks of over-priced tat, sorry, desirable designer threads.

Okay, so the place now looks like a cross between a boarding school library, a Gentlemen’s club and a crack den. Fantastic. We fight our way in, past a vapid blonde whose task appears to be to stand in the doorway going "hiiiiiyaaa" to anyone who comes near. Music thumps painfully. We squeeze round a gigantic dining table which looks as though it's made of solid mahogany but could be fashioned from balsa wood with a bit of brown paint sloshed over it - it's too dark to tell. The table is hardly visible under the weight of cable knit jumpers and checked shirts piled upon it. Almost immediately, I trip over an old trunk which is lying open on the floor, overflowing with knickers. The TD falls on them with cries of glee. I cry aloud as well once I see the price tag. She selects one astonishingly unattractive pair - sort of grey with minuscule pink dots on them which look like a pair of baggy old Y-fronts that could have been worn by my granddad. Except for the pink dots, that is. She declares that she "just has" to have them. I look askance at her because I am seriously wondering if she is trying to wind me up. Apparently not.

We move on to a rack of tops, shirts and jackets, inconveniently placed in the middle of the aisle. TD is in need of a coat and selects a tweedy jacket from the rail. “That’s nice,” I offer meekly, hoping to make up for my earlier transgression of going head first into the knicker hamper. She looks at me sternly. “It’s disgusting,” she announces baldly. “And it’s three hundred quid.” All at once, I am drenched in a cold sweat. We move hastily on, past serried ranks of folded trackies and hoodies, incongruously arranged amongst old wooden tennis rackets and faux leather bound books. At the end of the store are two tiny changing rooms. A huge crowd has amassed by the entrance to them, blocking the only passage round the other end of the mega dining table. At first, I think that either there is some special event going on or perhaps a parent has collapsed under the weight of their wallet and has had to be resuscitated. But no. The crowd is made up of two parts: those waiting in vain to get into the changing rooms and those standing around admiring the ones who have come out of the changing rooms to show off their chosen gear.

This is how it goes: - surly teenage girl emerges from changing room, attired in what look to me like my gardening clothes. Her parents are standing nearby. Mother looks anxious, father has a light sheen of sweat upon his top lip. Every so often, his hand sneaks convulsively to his pocket and he caresses his credit cards with a trembling hand. As the girl emerges, they make neutral sounds of approval – any extremes of emotion are “like sooooo embarrassing” after all. Teenager ignores them completely and, instead, turns to face a full length mirror. She slouches one hip forward and looks hard at herself. She dips her head to one side. She has already parted her hair over one ear so that it hangs over her face and requires pushing back every three to five seconds. She lifts a hand to her head and pushes her fingers into her mane. She makes a special shimmying action with her hand which simultaneously mucks up her barnet and pushes it off her face. As she with draws her hand, her hair falls over her face once more and the whole vignette is repeated. Over and over again. “Do you like it?” asks her mum meekly. “Dunno,” comes the weary sigh. She goes back into the changing room, ignoring the ravening hordes waiting to take her place and eventually emerges with an armful of J Wills’ finest which she dumps into her father’s arms. Father blenches and heads for the till which is staffed by a girl wearing jodphurs and a quilted jacket in British Racing Green and who looks as though she should be out on the moors beating for the shoot. Except that she is Chinese.

We queue up behind the aforementioned parents and wait as father hands over his credit card whilst clutching onto the mahogany counter for support. They receive a massive carrier bag full of stuff and daughter finally offers dad a tiny smile and a brief “thanks, Dad.” Dad looks as though he might cry or faint, or both.

We escape with the single pair of knickers. Somehow, the parsimony fairy was smiling upon me that day and the final bill was nine quid. As we leave, the vapid blonde comes to for a moment and emits a high pitched “byeeeee! See you soon!”

Over my dead wallet, love.