Monday, 28 June 2010

Trip me up ...

Aah, summer is here and with it comes the season of the school trip.  Happy memories of stomach-churning rides on stuffy coaches, lurching along the roads, bound for Chessington Zoo (as it was in those days).  Once there, we instantly overcame our nausea and threw ourselves whole heartedly onto the Ghost Train and the Waltzer via giving the animals a cursory glance.

A couple of hours later we would be made to sit in the shade somewhere and eat our packed lunches – I don’t ever remember having an insulated lunchbox or an ice pack – such luxury!  It was just a plastic carrier bag – generally consisting of warm, squashed ham sandwiches, some Bourbons or Custard Creams (they were better when they were warm because it made it easier to separate the two halves and lick the filling...) and an emetically sweet fizzy drink.  Approximately thirty seconds after wolfing this lot down, we would be back on the Waltzer, taking bets on who would be the first to spew.  (That’s a great word isn’t it?  Nobody says ‘spew’ any more.)

Then it was time to leave, clutching our tacky souvenirs, bags of sweets and the last remnants of candy floss still meekly clinging on to the stick.  Have you noticed how candy floss comes in nice, clean plastic bags these days?  Probably some daft Health & Safety rule aimed at preventing stick warfare amongst the under tens.

The coach seemed to have been hermetically sealed all day and was a) roasting and b) stinking – a sickly odour made up of sweat (from the driver who had been kipping in it), fag smoke (driver again), the squashed banana that Kevin had left down the side of the seat and the egg and cress sandwiches that the class thicko had forgotten to take with them, resulting in much tears and snot and ensuring that the hard-pressed teachers had to share their lunch with the culprit.  This repellent aroma was generally enhanced by the first child to vomit copiously when we were a mere 10 minutes away from Chessington and still had a long time to go before we reached home.  The teachers would give each other meaningful looks whilst half-heartedly comforting the puker and mopping up as best they could with a wholly inadequate supply of hard Izal toilet paper.  The rest of us would hold our noses and shriek and generally make it as much of a drama as possible until the teacher finally snapped.  When the coach got stuck on the A road home (not on the motorway – there were NEVER traffic jams on motorways when I was a kid), the parents just stood around outside school, enjoying a chat and a cigarette until the coach eventually showed.  Happy Days!

Compare and contrast, if you will, the above with today’s school trips.  Nowadays they fall into two categories – the day trip and the residential.  The day trip requires all parents to fill out a form listing allergies and medical conditions (real and imagined) and to give their written permission for their little darling to take part, whilst confirming that they have apprised themselves and their offspring of the need to behave at all times, adhere to the school rules and listen to the trip leaders.  Once these forms have been collected in (after a series of dire warnings to those who are late) the teachers then write up a risk assessment in which they have to dream up every single little thing that could possibly go wrong, rate it as a potential risk and write down precisely what steps they have taken to swerve said disaster.  Comprehensive First Aid kits have to be carried which are stocked and re-stocked and checked and re-checked to standards that would make your average OCD sufferer feel right at home.  Sheets of medical information on any child who needs it are amassed containing the lists of allergies supplied by mummy.  Every child is given the teacher’s mobile number which they then use for prank calls for months afterwards.  When the coach is delayed in rush hour traffic on the way home, each parent gets a call from a child which they can’t hear because of the level of noise and music in the background.  They take comfort from the fact that Joshua is clearly still alive, whilst being no wiser as to his ETA.  Mummy tries texting Josh, but gets no reply as J is too busy kneeling up on the back seat of the coach making lewd finger gestures at the driver behind who eventually loses patience and flips him the bird, whereupon Josh informs the teacher that “the guy in the car behind is like, a paedo, innit?”

Residential trips are worse – a nightmare of Abercrombie and Jack Wills one-upmanship, designed to drive the average mother to an early grave.  Actually, make that an early, pauper’s grave.

But by far the worst experience any mother can ever have is the Foreign Exchange Trip. 

TS had no truck with any of this nonsense and flatly refused to have anything to do with residential trips.  “Oh, are you sure?”  I crooned, whilst silently offering thanks heavenward.  TD was, by contrast, immediately up for it, thus proving my theory that whatever child 1 likes, child 2 instantly dislikes and vice versa.  Her exchange trip took place with a German school – shock horror – it was a MIXED school, so that meant that someone had to volunteer to house BOYS!  TD put herself down for either sex on the grounds that, if she could cope with an older brother, she should have no problem with a nervous German lad.  Several of her friends did likewise.  A couple of weeks before arrival, we were told who we were to have staying with us for four days.  Yes, she got a boy and his name was....(no sniggering please), erm, Fritz.  How we howled!  Even her teacher was unable to keep a straight face.  They began emailing each other and struck terror into TD’s heart as F’s emails arrived in perfect English – Gah!  She had only been studying German for a year – she would be shamed!  No need to worry.  When Fritz arrived it became apparent (from the lovely letter his parents sent to us, in perfect English) that he had been having a little help.  His command of our mother tongue was so basic as to be non-existent and we quickly had to rely on shrugs and hand gestures.  So that was Crime Number 1.  As the coach pulled up outside TD’s school, hysterical teenage girls could be heard yelling “mine’s FIT!  Is yours FIT?”  So Crime Number 2 was that the poor lad was not “fit” by any stretch of the imagination.  Crime number 3 was ours.  At the time the poor boy was billeted upon us, we were in the middle of a kitchen extension (and general shoring up of Crap Cottage) and had literally no kitchen, just a couple of electric rings in the living room and a microwave.  To this day I am not sure that he understood what was going on as we picked our way through the building site every morning on our way to the car. 

All we needed was to find an unexploded WW2 bomb in the foundations and that would have finished it all off nicely!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

In which my boy becomes a man...

Today is Father’s Day and it is also the 18th birthday of the Teenage Son.  Good grief, is it a mere 18 years since I was lying in a hospital bed wondering if the bit between my waist and my knees would ever function as nature intended again whilst the Shah was dancing around the labour room shrieking “I’m a dad!  I’m a dad!”?

One look at this photo of the newborn and you will see that the experience was not great for him either.  In fact, he didn’t stop frowning for about five years after this was taken.

In the past eighteen years he has brought us 
  • Pride (academic scholarship to a good independent school, hockey colours, great GCSE  results)
  • Irritation (he once annoyed his music teacher so much that he was chased out of the classroom and across the playground.  “Why?” we asked wearily.  “Oh I, er, fell off my chair and into the cymbals...” came the reply...ahem)
  • Worry (passing his driving test only a few months after his 17th birthday, causing me and the Shah to hold our collective breath every time he ventured out the first few times) 
  • Laughter (he has an excellent sense of humour – inherited from his mother, naturally) 
  • Revulsion (he can belch like a feckin’ foghorn)
  • And enormous joy, as has his sister.
But it has never been dull having him around.  We have taken photos at all the major junctions of his life so far...first day at school, the day he became a teenager – all those things that doting parents do and no doubt we will force him in front of the camera again later today and no doubt he will groan and pull faces and eventually give in gracefully.

This morning, he came down to open the cards that had been accumulating: Card number 1 from an aunt contained a fat cheque - huzzah!  Card number 2 from maternal Granny contained a slightly leaner cheque, but huzzah! anyway.  Card number 3 from paternal grandparents contained, er, two balloons.  Go figure....

The poor old Shah’s Father’s Day celebrations have been somewhat eclipsed by the birthday boy.  However, he did receive two very nice cards from his children – TD made one which featured a drawing of her and her father (they are so alike as to be virtually interchangeable in personality).  Under her portrait she has written ‘Dad’ and, of course, her name under his.  It couldn’t be more true and he was thrilled with it.

The birthday boy, meanwhile, ‘ceebsed’ making a card and loped down to the local Clintons to buy one, via talking his way out of a parking ticket in the process.  (How?  That’s so unfair, I’ve never got out of a parking ticket in my life).  His card listed the top 15 things every dad in the world has said at least once and goes like this:-

1.   Don’t ask me, ask your mother!
2.   You didn’t beat me, I let you win!
3.   We’re not lost, I’m just not sure where we are.
4.   Call that a haircut?
5.   I’ll tell you why – because I said so, that’s why!
6.   You’re going out dressed like THAT?
7.   Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.
8.   Careful!  You’ll have somebody’s eye out with that...
9.   What do you think I am, a bank?
10.  Now in my day...
11.  I’m not going to sleep, I’m just resting my eyes
12.  Oh for God’s sake, where the hell are my *&*@ing car keys?  Oh thanks, love.
13.  Oi! That’s my chair, now shift yer butt!
14.  What part of NO do you not understand?
15.  Call that music?

The Shah has many other delightful and not so delightful sayings, but I feel I should save those for another day.....

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Blow Out

Sometimes it seems to me that there are people in the world whose lives run without incident – I don’t mean they have no drama in their existence – we all have the odd bout of personal excitement – births, marriages, deaths etc; I’m talking more about the kind of day in which you set out to achieve something entirely mundane and life pulls the rug in a most unexpected way.

This happened recently when I went to collect my mum to come and stay with us for a few days.  Now mama is currently aged 86¾ and very lively with it.  She lives alone, still drives (gasp – but only within a very small radius of home) and generally copes well with life.  However, she is 86¾ after all and much more infirm than, say er, me for example.

So....we joined the motorway on the way home and, within a few hundred yards, it became obvious that there was something very wrong with the car.  After a very few more yards it was akin to driving a bucking bronco and I had to stop.  Fortunately, as we had only just joined the motorway, I was still in the slow lane.  Unfortunately, as we had only just joined the motorway, we were still on a stretch that had no hard shoulder.  Fantastic!

I should have mentioned that mama is extremely deaf and a noisy environment simply interferes with her hearing aids making communication nigh on impossible.  I realised that I had more than likely had a blow out but decided to err on the side of least drama (Mama is dramatic enough at the best of times) so I yelled “I’ve had a puncture,” to which she bellowed “You’re at a juncture?” rendering me nigh on hysterical. 

Anyway, she hopped gamely out of the car and we trotted up the edge of the slow lane until we could reach a crash barrier a little further up and stand behind it.  I thought the best thing to do was call the police as the car was presenting a considerable hazard, abandoned as it was in the slow lane.  There have been many occasions in my life that I have had to talk to the emergency services – one of the most memorable was when TS (aged 2) was playing with the phone and I suddenly realised he was actually talking to someone.  “No,” he said, “no mummy.”  “Oh shit,” I thought and grabbed the receiver off him.  I got a very frosty reception from the lady on the other end of the phone who gave me a lecture on wasting her precious time and said that they had been within a few seconds of sending the police round to make sure he was not left alone...ahem.

Anyway the nice police officer on the phone assured me that they would be along soon and that we should stay as far back from the road as possible (yup, right, you try that when you have two inches of tarmac to stand on before you hit a bank of nettles).  “Can you move the car further up?” he asked.  I was tempted by sarcasm (as ever) “well yes, I could, but I thought it would be more fun for everyone if I just left it in the middle of the sodding motorway” but decided against it.

The noise was incredible, as was the stupidity of the remaining drivers on the road.  The number of people who seemed unable to spot a silver car with its hazards on, stationary in the road was extraordinary.  They zoomed up behind it, slammed on their brakes and pulled sharply out into the middle lane.  Then the pillock in the middle lane wouldn’t pull over (I Got Here First syndrome) so the two of them would jockey dangerously for position, meanwhile gawping at us, huddled together a few yards further up.  This is what they were avoiding:-

Pretty spectacular, huh?

I was terrified, not least for my mum.  Mama however, was absolutely thrilled.  “What an adventure!” she cried, tottering out into the slow lane, the better to crane her neck and spy the rozzers.  I continuously had to pull her back – it was like having a toddler likely to make a dash out into the traffic at any moment and just as stressful.  Eventually, the rozzers whizzed past going in the wrong direction, but waving comfortingly.  It seemed to take them bloody ages to find a junction where they could turn round and come back again, but arrive they eventually did.  Charming and young (argh – did you read that?  Policemen are looking young to me now!) They offered to change the wheel but, hey, guess what?  Despite several imploring phone calls to the Shah and his assurances that there was definitely a wheel brace in the boot, wheel brace was there none.  So the rozzers (these were real police, as opposed to the Traffic Police who turned up shortly after – talk about overkill) kindly arranged for us to be “recovered”.  A large lorry turned up and hoisted my poor jalopy onto the back.  We hauled and pushed mama up into the cab - “whee!” she roared – and took off.

To cut a long and immensely tedious story short, a journey that should have taken an hour took 5 and cost me £200 (“No VAT tho’ love, because the police called me out, so they pay the VAT” -  small comfort).  Luckily my mama is as generous as she is adventurous and insisted on paying half on the grounds that it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been collecting her.  Could still have done without it though!

Monday, 7 June 2010


Thank God it’s over for another year – Britain's Got Talent, I mean.  It’s the kind of car crash television that I generally despise, but there is undeniably something compelling about it and, like anything addictive, the only way to escape its weaving tendrils is not to watch it in the first place.  It is Medusa TV – once glance and you are turned to stone, forever caught up in the horror and needing to know who got through, to laugh at the deluded and cheer on the truly talented.

Each week we tune in to see what outfit Amanda Holden has poured herself into, whether or not Simon is smiling (a blinding flash from his veneers usually gives the game away) and whether Piers can get any smugger.  Each year it becomes sadder and sadder to see everyone hanging on Simon Cowell’s assessment of their performance.  No matter that Piers and Amanda have already given them the two ‘yeses’ needed to go through to the next round -  it’s Simon who really counts.  It’s astonishing that someone has managed to build themselves up into an almost God-like figure (if not here, then certainly in the US where he is almost literally worshipped) simply by telling people a few basic home truths and puncturing the bubbles of the self-deluded.  It really helps if you are either a child or a pensioner as both will be over-praised and are guaranteed to get through at least one round, only to be brought crashing down to earth later on in the competition.

There is, I suppose, an argument that says that it is at least clean and a programme that you can watch with children of any age (even our teenagers were hooked).  But I still feel that there is something of the Roman Games about it and the hosts and judges don’t help by talking about each round in the most dramatic of terms:-

Tonight – little Wayne Cliché is literally singing for his life.”  Cut to shot of little Wayne, staring wide-eyed into the camera, looking totally constipated.  He speaks in a piping northern monotone, his eyes moving side to side as he reads from the autocue:-

“This is me dream come true.  I want it so bad.  This means everything to me.  This is all I've ever dreamed about, singing into me hairbrush in me bedroom.  Tonight I’m going to give it all I’ve got – 110%.  Tonight, I’m literally singing fer me life.”

Get a grip – NO YOU’RE NOT.  Calm down dear, it’s just a talent contest.  You’re singing for a fat cheque and a chance to sell your story to the red tops.  Meanwhile, his parents Gary and Sharon Pikey-Fatchav are proudly mopping their eyes while simultaneously dialling the number of The Daily Mirror on their top of the range mobiles and cutting a deal for their exclusive story, proposed title “Singing through the pain with Wayne.”

They belong to that peculiar band of people who would “do anything to be famous”.  Why is this?  I've never got it.  Even my kids say they would relish fame – huh?  Fortune, yes – no problem with having a couple of million quid land in my lap – thanks very much.  But fame?  No thanks!  Why on earth would I want everyone to know who I am, to follow me down the street, to make me unable to do the simplest thing without a band of screeching fans dogging my footsteps?  Why would I want to become tabloid fodder, to have sleazebag journalists digging into my past and that of my family, snouting out any tiny transgression that they can ‘sex up’ the better to sell their ghastly rags?

The over dramatisation continues with a somewhat over-excited Simon Cowell announcing to a pole dancer that “tonight you have literally risked your life”.  Oh pur-lease!  

I think there is a place for a “Kindness Judge” to preview some of the contestants and weed out those who are simply going to embarrass themselves and make the viewing public cringe with their delusions of talent.  I know that the contestants already go before a preview panel but it seems to me that it exists simply to weed out the overweight, the seedy and the sad and make damn sure we get to see them on national TV.

Maybe one day, some bright spark will start up the Medusa TV Corporation – utterly addictive, if trashy, programmes that once watched, cannot be ignored until the final credits roll.  The only way to escape would be to buy a lifelong subscription to Perseus Programmes Inc – but would that simply mean that you had to watch Medusa TV through a mirror?! 

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Swept away...or not

Can it really be almost three months since I wrote about my ghastly experiences with pizza and dead squirrels?   Well, reader, I have more to share.

Having insisted that the Shah wake me this morning before his departure to the Midlands, I was up and about damn early for one who has a week off.  Catching up on blogs I never get time to read, I heard what I naively imagined to be the ASBO cats enjoying a merry romp in the next room.  The romp did seem to be a little on the hysterical side, admittedly, but hey - it was early and I had better things to think about.  However, after about 5 minutes, I became aware of odd sort of clucking sounds and far more scrabbling than I would have expected... oh crap - another bloody pigeon, I thought.  So I bravely stuck my head around the door.  both cats were staking out the table that the TV sits on.  Whatever they had brought in had obviously managed to hide underneath it and was making the mother of all noises.  I tiptoed past and up the stairs to wake TS - mightily unimpressed as you can imagine.  "Please - I need you," I begged and he unwillingly loped downstairs looking like something freshly disinterred.  

This time we were organised.  I opened the back doors as wide as they would go.  He stood on a kitchen chair with the broom, the better to brush whatever it was out towards the door.  I stood on an armchair with an ancient window pole and prepared to use the hooky end to move the table.  Lo and behold!  Another feckin' squirrel - only this time very much alive and very panicked.  Did it work?  Did it run to the back door?  Did it hell.  No!  It gambolled merrily to the front door and jumped up and down in a crazy manner as if to cry - "let me out, you heartless bastards."  Then, sensing the futility of this action, it ran back to its hiding place under the telly while TS and I squealed like babies and waved brooms and poles around feebly.

By this stage, the cats had both decided they were now scared of Sciurus Minimus and they were the ones who departed sharpish out of the back door with our curses ringing in their ears.  TS then bravely climbed down from his perch and unlocked the front door and we went through the whole horrible process one more time, except that, this time, Sciurus saw sense and bolted with, of course, both cats in hot pursuit.

As I said to the Shah on the phone later, they were like two blokes boasting down the pub about the one that got away.."of course, I coulda had 'im, right?  "Yeah mate, me too...we were THAT close - no worries."  

And the moral of the story, dear cats, is - DON'T START WHAT YOU CAN'T FINISH!