Friday, 30 May 2008

Duvet days

Once upon a time, four child-free days would have been a dream come true. Nowadays I dread sending my little dears off - it happens much too often and gives me much, much too much time to think. A friend in a similar leaky boat told me the secret is to keep busy, so I have drawn up the following lists:

Things I would like to do while the children are away

1. Go on a holiday mini-break with True Love. This would involve poking around a scenic medieval capital, browsing the art galleries, having a few delicious dinners under warm, starry skies and generally gazing into each other's eyes in a way guaranteed to sicken any passers-by.

2. Do huge quantities of work, thus enabling me to invoice up a storm, get paid on time and remove the giant albatross of my Visa card from around my neck.

Things I have actually done while the children have been away

1. Realise that 99 per cent of my friends have children on half term and are busy going on family hols/doing creative Mummy stuff all week long. Remember that, thank God, I do have a great friend who is also man and child free, and make ambitious plans with her for four full days of entertainment of the non-PG variety. Spend last moments with children frantically applying nail varnish, waxing legs and plucking eyebrows, much to their bemusement.

2. Receive a call from friend on first day saying that she has the flu to end all flus, and is effectively bed-bound throughout the whole half term.

3. Panic.

4. Go to Peckham to distract myself from wasteland that is my life, and idly pick up a pack of Dylon Amazon Green fabric dye in Woolies. Only a fiver-ish, and will transform the old duvet cover at the back of the linen cupboard which, beautiful in its heyday and costing a fortune from the Conran shop, could really do with a revamp. What a clever idea, and will hardly add to the ghastly debt mountain at all. Decide that, as I recently dyed Child Two's duvet (French lavender, gorgeous) I am an expert and do not need to read the instructions.

5. Take duvet out of machine, hideously blotched in vomit green and bile yellow. Now I read the instructions. I should have spent five minutes damping the material first. Panic.

6. Drive back to Woolies to get pack of pre-dye colour stripper, around £4.

7. Follow instructions rigorously but drip stripper all over new outfit from Hobbs (£200) which I am only wearing to cheer self up. Wash dry-clean-only Hobbs kit in sink and watch it shrink before my very eyes. Duvet cover comes out of 95 degree wash looking even more vomity than before.

8. Drive back to Peckham for more pre-dye stripper, plus more Amazon Green dye and go for Ocean Blue as well - aiming for a pale, wafty turquoise this time. Hand over £16-odd quid to assistant, who eyes me strangely.

9. Go through colour stripper routine again, taking all clothes off first to avoid dreaded drips. So that's why they call it stripper!

10. Duvet comes out still in patches, though admittedly paler than before. I grit teeth and shove both the blue and green dyes into the machine, throw the duvet on top - it is now beautifully damp, hurrah - and press 'on'. It will work, it will, it will, it will ......

11. It doesn't. Retrieve duvet, now in splotches of darker green and blue. Pretend I was going for a sea-scape look. Know full well, in my heart of hearts, that it is the type of unsuccessful tie-dye look even a 70s hippy would snigger at. Acknowledge that, if I should ever date again (very unlikely), one look at this duvet cover would have any sensible man fleeing forever. Try not to remember passing stand of quite nice duvet covers on sale in Woolworths. A double was £10.

12. Friend rings me to say she is all better, and ready to play. By this time I have a raging sore throat. Retreat, alone, to hideous tie-dyed bed for rest of half term. Pull covers over head.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Three Little Words

Three little words just aren't enough these days. I remember a time when I thought that they would always cover every possible emotion and say it all for me. Until my stepmother rang yesterday and told me she was going to start reading my blog.

Oh My God!!!

See how inadequate that is? I really need some sort of primal scream, wrenched from the very roots of my being. Let's try. Imagine, if you will, an ear-splitting yodel, enough to raise every lazy, croissant-engorged pigeon from the roof of Dulwich College, and you'll be getting somewhere near the very beginnings of the sound I would like to make, if I had the energy/lung capacity/will to live.

I feel as though I have been caught behind the bikesheds, and that really isn't nice, at 40-ahem-ahem. 'How do you even know I have a blog?' I said, starting my objections at an oblique angle. 'Oh, someone at the bridge club reads the Telegraph or something ....' she said. Well, that lets my brothers off, anyway. I was worried that they'd revealed a detail under torture, and gone back on the normal family rules - nothing, ever, ever, ever is said to the parents, on the simple grounds that they don't need to know and wouldn't understand even if they did.

I remember X once laughing hysterically, when I said that I came from a close family. He pointed out that we three children all lived, at that time, on different continents. Well, yes, I admitted. But we're close. And you hardly ever speak to each other, he continued. Or see each other. Or ....Well, ok, but we're still close, I insisted, and I think that holds true.

But my stepmother? Reading my blog? Really, there is no need. Her worst fears about me have already come true - look, I'm divorced! My life is messy! I'm attempting (very badly) to support myself and my children (though doubtless both Mr X and True Love would laugh very hollowly at this)! Really, Joan, it can't get much worse.

And, in the course of that telephone conversation, she not only told me she was going to start reading the blog, but also threw in that she'd been to lunch at a friend's daughter's house and the garden 'was as big as a park,' someone else's daughter was having a big wedding anniversary party, and yet another woman who had had the appalling bad taste to inflict a divorce on her family had redeemed herself in the nick of time by getting married again, to a fabulously wealthy and reliable man. Oh, and did I know that Fiona Bruce was coming to Dulwich with the Antiques Roadshow?

Fiona Bruce, I should explain, was briefly in my class at school, before soaring off into the BBC stratosphere, and was lovely, super-intelligent and obviously destined for stardom even then. Ever since, my stepmother has obsessively followed her career and used it to beat me up with on a regular basis. Did I know that Fiona was on Crimewatch? Had I seen Fiona on the News? Oh, look darling, now Fiona's doing Call My Bluff .. In fact, even my stepmother has had to give up on this as Fiona is on everything and you'd need some sort of 24 hour TV monitor to keep track of her. But yes, I am aware of the impending Antiques Roadshow, as Fiona's lovely face is plastered all over leaflets in the Picture Gallery cafe, thanks, Joan. Yes, and I do get the point that she is successful, has children, looks fabulous and, most importantly, is Still Married. No pressure, or anything.

There is one tiny ray of hope, as I contemplate either ending it all or a life of rigorous self-censorship in the future. My stepmother still hasn't got the hang of ringing my mobile phone ('So many numbers .....'). There is real hope that the computer will defeat her. 'You will show me how to get onto this thing next time I'm over, won't you?'

'Oh yes,' I say, airily, going on to mention casually the extraordinary power surges which sometimes leave Dulwich without an Internet connection for hours, nay days, at a time. 'But of course that hardly ever happens .....'

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Summer of my passions

Ah, to be in Dulwich, now that summer's nearly here actually rather a pain. Much as I adore the general scenic leafiness all around, as Dulwich's premier (only) divorcee, I can report that there is not a single, single man to be had anywhere in the vicinity. Of course, this mattered not a jot, when I bought my cosy cottage with True Love by my side. A couple of turns of the clock later and things are rather different. Time has moved on, so have we, and concerned friends tell me that, should I ever venture into the relationship fray again, I might have to go as far as Sydenham or even (delicate shudder) Crystal Palace to get a date.

Of course, there's always the Internet, but could I really imagine myself clicking with someone I'd clicked on? Let's not answer that, and skitter onwards, to brave friends who have already hiked this byway of the information highway. 'It's all fine,' reports one. 'Just as long as you bear in mind that all the men on-line are .....odd.' So, pretty much like ordinary men out there in the real world, then? 'Er, no,' she says gingerly. I can hardly bear to prod her for details. But, of course, I do. She tells me of the top banker (no rhyming slang intended) who insisted that his old teddy be kept in the centre of the bed throughout proceedings. The doctor who had to ring his mummy half way through dinner to ask if he was still allergic to shellfish. The academic who couldn't get her La Perla bra off and simply tore it to bits. The .....No, after the bra story, I just can't listen to another word.

I shall have to accept that, like the property market, the love market has pretty much gone flat. In a way, it's a bit of a relief. Just as it's exhausting, when selling a house, to keep the cushions plumped (particularly now that my OCD compulsions are waning slightly) so the nightly effort to stave off the ravages of time seems more than I can be bothered with these days. So what if I'm declining from 'immaculate condition' to 'needing refurbishment'? I'm still a des res with 'plenty of character', aren't I? Oh poo, I forgot. It's only men who can get away with that one.


Off to see B, who lives the dream, with a tall handsome husband, three gorgeous well-behaved children and a beautiful house containing a dog, two cats ......and a rabbit. Into even the most well-ordered lives, the odd wrinkle must occasionally intrude and, as far as I can see, the wrinkle in this case has a cute little pom-pom tail and whiskers, and answers to the name of Dill.

Dill lives upstairs in a hutch with en suite bathroom, or, more accurately, in en suite bathroom. A near death experience at the jaws of the dog meant downstairs was no longer safe, so he has taken up residence in B's most recently done-up convenience, a dreamy room which looks as though it has been cut and pasted wholesale from World of Interiors. It is all freestanding, state of the art bath, Paint Library walls and clever tonal artworks. Apart, that is, from a large scattering of straw, a makeshift barricade, a big plastic cage and a generous helping of rabbit poops, plonked right in the centre of the room.

Here, if you are quiet, you will be able to catch little Dill, sitting looking all innocent, fluffy and beige, like the most delicious sort of cashmere coat - but much smaller, obviously. What harm could this adorable creature possibly do?

Plenty, says B. If he is sitting peacefully in one place, it's simply because he's exhausted, having escaped his prison with all the elan of a four-footed Houdini. His speciality is rampaging all over the upper reaches of the house, chewing up the bespoke carpet, hand-loomed in the Outer Hebrides, munching through the plasma screen cable, gnawing B's favourite antique quilt or sharpening his teeth on every freshly decorated corner. He once, particularly famously, got onto a pillow during a sleepover and pooped all around the tousled locks of the child sleeping there.

B, understandably, is losing patience with Dill, but has thought of a brilliant way to utilise his unique talents. She is going to hire him out to parents whose offspring are hankering after pets. He will then effortlessly confirm all the parents' worst fears but, much more importantly, will also put the children off the whole idea too, by pooping madly and eating all their favourite stuff.
If you would like to avail yourself of Dill's services, let B know via my comments section.

Dill is already booked to come to us for half term. Child two has longed for a rabbit for years - since the last one pegged out, in fact. She did veer towards tortoises recently, and was not impressed when I suggested that she paint two eyes on a rock and have that instead, as a more interactive pet option. But now I can't wait. In little Dill, it looks as though I've finally found a male I can rely on to get the job done.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Dog rage

Ah, summer. It was balmy and warm like this in those far off days (two years ago) when I was house-hunting in Dulwich, with True Love at my side. The tales he would spin me of the life in store! The things we would do, the places we would go .....actually, there was none of that even then. He really only wanted to go to one place with me, which was absolutely fine at the time. Now that he prefers to be in a completely different spot, enjoying plenty of solo contemplation apparently, I must admit I am staring rather crossly at the park's beautiful rhododendrons as though it were their own personal fault that my life is such a mess.

Still, there is nothing like being out and about to open up one's perspective - or so everyone assures me. This morning, the sound of furious barking, so out of place in this park where even our canine friends are well-mannered and restrained, was enough to make me jump out of my skin. I rounded the corner and came across my first Dog Rage incident. It was all wonderfully Dulwichian. Two pink-cheeked Dulwich ladies, both wearing regulation Juicy Couture jogging ensembles, were tugging ineffectually at leads, at the end of which snarled, respectively, a King Charles spaniel and a chocolate Labrador. I must admit I've never seen a Labrador snarling before, so it was worth a gawp just for this. The spaniel, though, was really going for it full pelt, with bared teeth, furious yaps and the occasional low growl.

In the normal world, someone would just have poured a bucket of water over the dogs, and we would all have gone on our way. This being Dulwich, there was nothing as vulgar as water to be had, though I did gamely offer to pop to the cafe for a bottle of lightly sparkling mineral brew flavoured with melon. Alas, my kind proposal was scarcely heard over the frantic apologies of the women, 'I'm so, so sorry,' 'No, I'm much, much more abject, really ....' I left them to it, realising the whole thing could go on for hours.

And what were the dogs fighting over? Simple. The ladies were wearing similar jogging suits. But the dogs were wearing exactly identical leads. Big mistake. I blame the owners.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Go Faster Stripes

True Love assures me of his eternal devotion, from the safety of his bachelor pad on the other side of the South Circular, but I confess I have spent the past days musing more and more often on the interesting topic of Lamborghini Dad at school.

I've never been the type to show even a moderate interest in cars, probably because I've never had the money to buy a nice one. I've always, even, looked down my button nose rather at those who spend forever discussing the wattage and circuitry and so forth of their vehicles. A car, I always held, is just a means of transport, and it would be silly to spend more time worrying about it than one spent thinking about a bus or train.

I now see that was a bit sweeping. A car, really, is just like a travelling house, and I completely see the point of having a nice house. Not that I am suggesting one should get curtains or cushions and install them in one's car - though a nice red gingham check would look fresh and appealing - but one can spend time and trouble getting a pleasant car and looking after it, without being a total dork.

Which brings me to Lamborghini Dad. His car might be stretching the description of 'nice' a bit - it is a low-slung, shiny beast with a thunderous exhaust - but it certainly cuts a dash in the dusty streets around the school. Best of all, despite the fact that it is a bare inch above the ground and looks as though there is scarcely room to stow one leg of an anorexic supermodel, there seems to be a tardis-like amount of space for his two adorable little girls and their assorted swimming bags, violins, book bags, a trumpet and other school thingybobs.

Of course, there is hardly anything on the planet more appealing to women than a man who takes good care of his children. And a rich man, however unattractive physically, need never find himself short of company. Need I say Donald Trump to you? A Lamborghini, my kind friends tell me, retails at considerably more than a Ford Escort. You can see where I'm going with this.

Mrs Lamborghini need have no worries, though. My homewrecking days are so, so so over (naturally, TL did tell me there was no home to wreck, but I suppose it was stupid of me to believe him). The point is that I think it's a very good sign that I am showing a flicker of interest in the outside world, in cars, and in life outside my own sorry tale. Progress!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Life Replacement Therapy

Off on a school trip with my adorable child number two, who is still, bless her, of an age to be enthusiastic about my accompanying the class - though she did, at one point, turn to me and say, 'Mummy, you're shouting.' After that, I know that my days of 'helping' the teachers (by chatting with the other mums and scoffing all the snacks) are sadly numbered. While this knowledge comes with a great stab of pain - my baby girl is moving off into the vortex of teen hormones which has already claimed so many others - there are also advantages. I think Dante would have struggled to describe the very special circle of hell created by thirty-seven children in a closed off lunch room.

Still, these trips are always educational. Obviously I don't mean in the sense that anyone learned anything about the Tudors yesterday. The girls rushed past all the exhibitions at a dizzying speed, the better to get to the few crumbs of snack we'd left, and run about whooping in the grounds. The teachers pretended to be discussing who was going to get a star for the best question, but they had that glazed look of people allowed out of prison for a day. The mummies and I had hard-core discussions about life.

I can't divulge a lot of this stuff, as it's on a need-to-know basis. I will just say, though, that I never thought I'd listen quite so breathlessly to a description of the benefits of HRT. Forgetfulness banished, irritableness soothed, aches and pains wafted away, skin cleared up and hair crackling with health. Why aren't I old enough yet? Mind you, it doesn't seem a minute since I was dithering about my outfit for my first ever disco - rather nice grey and black dress, a lot nicer than it sounds, teamed with, gulp, bright red over the knee socks, a lot more horrible than they sound, and that's saying something. Now it's quite the other end of life looming up. Never mind, just give me the drugs, I say.