Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Banking on it

Eventually I had to fight myself out of the cosy embrace of the Dog Who Came In From the Cold and trudge to the Barclays &*$%£ Bank in the Village, to present myself in person to be chastised for forgetting my codes, my mother's maiden name and my full postal address - and also to beg for a cheque book so I could actually spend my own money on such essentials as Child One's bassoon lessons (Why? Why am I putting the neighbours, Child Two, the cat and the neighbours through this? Why??).

The door to the bank now has a special entry portal, like the transporter bay in Star Trek but much less interesting, so even getting in took some time and patience. I then joined a queue which seemed to be made of all the misfits in Dulwich - I had no idea there were so many - and I spent a while wondering if I was becoming one. We all shuffled round, and I thought I was nearly, nearly getting to the front of the queue, when the man before me produced a great sheaf of small plastic bags from his ruck sack, each containing, of course, a selection of one and five penny pieces with which to pay all his utility bills. I was sinking into a glazed-eyed, slack-jawed pre-coma phase by the time he seemed to have finished, having got through gas, electricity, water, phone, telly .....and it took some effort for me to regain enough consciousness to plod forward a little, when he suddenly got out a note, to which Blu-Tack had been pre-applied, and proceeded to stick it to the cashier's window. It is a measure of how deeply bored I had been that I was actually quite excited at the prospect that this might be some sort of hold-up. Did the note have 'put all the money in a bag - Unmarked Notes only!' written on it? All the dispirited queue perked up. Instead of dying of queuitis, we all now had an outside chance of getting on the London round-up at the end of the News at Ten. I had already pictured it all, the headlines in the Standard, 'plucky divorcee raises alarm at bank heist,' 'brave well-preserved 40-something mother of two floors armed robber,' even my acceptance speech as the Queen presented me with an OBE, 'it was just instinct, I did what anybody else would have done .....' I would only wince a tiny bit as she pinned the medal on my plaster cast ....

Alas, it soon became all too clear that the putative bank robber was just another nutter. The cashier peered hard at the note, then said, 'and did you just want the last two statements, then?' which rather rubbished all the customer's brave, though eccentric, efforts at discretion. He nodded, and we all sighed and went back to contemplating our shoes or the long list of not very exciting insurance services Barclays £$%& offers.

Mind you, by the time I finally got to the cashier, I had cheered up a bit. There's nothing like a display of bona fide oddness to perk me up, and I wondered whether the clerk would mention it. Of course, in true English style, she did not. She heard my tale of codes and surnames in sympathetic silence, absorbed my request for a cheque book, pressed two buttons on her computer and told me one was already on its way automatically and would be with me the following day.

So I needn't have abandoned my reading, my fireside or my beloved cupboards after all. But I'm rather glad I did, as it's not often you nearly participate in a bank robbery in Dulwich. Oh, and needless to say, the chequebook did not arrive in today's post.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Load of bankers

I'm settling down to read my next five chapters of The Dog Who Came In From the Cold, next to my cosy little fire, and right in front of my delectable alcove cupboards which are CLOSED and hiding the hideous telly. Things simply couldn't be much better .......except, of course, that as ever, a vile bluebottle has flown into the pale pink ointment of my life. This time, it's Barclays &*$£^! Bank.

I simply wanted to order some cheque books. Granted, I am probably the only person in the known universe still using these, and only because the girls' school continues to demand cheques for the most piffling sums (£3.50 for a Bollywood dance workshop! £7 for a trip to the British Museum! But doesn't it all sound bliss? And Child One is going on a visit to Cadbury World soon, I'm so jealous I may have to embarrass her terminally by stowing away on the coach and eating the place dry).

Ok, so there I am attempting to get a new cheque book, to keep up the steady stream of small payments to an educational establishment that clearly doesn't need them. First, I scrabble through the cheque book itself to see if there's a tear-off request stub, as in days of yore. Nope. Then I log in to my account online, no mean feat as Barclays requires a Krypton Factor-like row of hoops to be jumped through, including sticking your cashpoint card into a hand-held 'pinsentry' machine to get a unique code to key into the right bit on the computer screen ......yawn, the whole procedure seems to go on for days. And if you slip once on the keyboard, it's right back to the start with you.

I scan the whole of the online bank, and there's nowhere to order cheque books. Right, it's time to speak to a real person. I ring the telephone banking service. The automated voice asks for my 'five digit registration code.' What? Another code?? If I ever knew this code, it was in a different life. I'm a bit worried that I'll simply be cut off, as a substandard account holder, but I press on, and eventually get through to a genuine voice. But, as I have flunked the code test, I am treated like a naughty schoolchild who's produced inadequate homework, or possibly like a rather ineffectual bank robber. Two security questions are fired at me - my mother's maiden name and my full address. Well, finally, I think, I really can't go wrong now. I may be useless with codes, but I can certainly remember my own address and the maiden name which I had a lucky escape from.

'I'm sorry, madam, but you've answered one of those questions wrongly. No, I can't tell you which one. But you'll now have to present yourself at a branch. No, you can't ring in again, as you've failed the security test.'

Failed a test! Moi? The shame. I may never live it down. I shall have to slink into the branch in the Village and hope no-one sees me. I wonder what they'll do to me there? The dunce's cap? Standing in the corner for half an hour? Even, yikes, the naughty step?

So, yes, I am taking my mind off the ordeal in store by reading lovely Alexander McCall Smith's latest gem. Already, I've warmed to the MI6 agent, Angelica, as she went to my university, St Andrews, though of course I feel rather miffed that no-one, during my four year career there, ever once approached me to be a spy. Perhaps my well-known tendency to blab uncontrollably after half a glass of Leibfraumilch (these were the dark days before I discovered Chardonnay) worked against me, or perhaps it was simply that I wasn't studying Russian, like Angelica. But I manage to get over my chagrin at this snub by the mighty forces of Intelligence, and I read on.

I am loving the way that the cast of characters has already started to entwine a little, reminding me slightly of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music Of Time, though Dog does it with a sense of self-depracating humour and a slightly shuffling, snuffling, doggy gait, unlike Powell's stately, rather terrifying pavane. Possibly it's the reference to Poussin in chapter 5, A Nice Boy that's made me think of Powell. There is, as yet, no glimpse of a character as unique and truly memorable as Widmerpool or even of Pamela Flitton on the horizon, though it's early days.

Hmmm, Dog is proving a delicious distraction from care, just what we all need these days. Highly recommended. Do have a look online. And let's all keep our mind off bankers. Grrrr ....

Friday, 25 September 2009

A dream come true

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a dream.

It's not about peace and harmonee for the whole world, I'm sad to say, though I'm perfectly happy to get behind that as and when. No, it's a simpler, purer dream.

My dream is to shut my TV inside a cupboard.

I've always had a thing about the ugliness of tellies. When they stuck out a mile at the back and weighed four tonnes, I truly hated them. Now that they have gone all flat screen and slinky, I still hate them. When they're turned off, their dense blackness, usually framed in silver, reminds me of the sinister, matt nothingness of a Malevich canvas. When they're on, they dominate the room and it's impossible to look elsewhere.

I've always had a sneaking interest in those bits of furniture you can buy to shut tellies away in. While we were married, Mr X firmly quashed any notion of buying such an item, proclaiming them vulgar. I'm sure he was right, though nothing, surely, is as vulgar as a telly itself.

It's not that I'm pretending for one second that I'm not addicted to telly. Every evening I can be found, Chardonnay in hand, watching hours of crap, my eyes as big and round as Mia Farrow's at the end of Purple Rose of Cairo. I'll watch anything and everything - Holby City, To The Manor Bowen, Desperate Housewives, Neighbours .....really, I'm not fussy. It's just that I sort of want to pretend that I am, and having the telly in a cupboard would really help. A large part of me wants to live in a Jane Austen fantasy parlour, embroidering daintily away while engaging in sparkling repartee with, of course, Mr D.

Obviously, I am a sad, deluded woman, but luckily these days I am free to pursue my delusions to their logical conclusion. Oh, the joys of divorce! These are so sparse that, whenever I come across one, I know I have to celebrate it.

Enter Julian, of the London Fitted Wardrobe Company. Julian was recommended by a friend, after he built beautiful alcove cupboards in her sitting room. She said excitedly, 'he did a great job - and he's nice to have around!'

Five days into the job, I can confirm that she was absolutely right on both points. The house has been chaos, with books, dust, nervous cats, odd bits of timber and grumpy children lying about the place. Normally, for someone with my compulsion to tidy stuff away before even I have finished using it, this would involve sky-high stress levels. But Julian, with a lovely sunny nature, a way with wood and an attention to detail that makes even me look sloppy, has made it all so easy. I knew he was the man for the job when he prised a bit of paint off the wall (in a spot that wouldn't show!!) and took it to the paintshop to have the exact same shade made up.

Julian used to be in IT in the City, but after a year off travelling with his wife, decided commuting was for suckers. He launched three potential new careers; IT consultancy, wedding photography and cupboard making. The cupboards have won out. In recession-hit Dulwich, which is now embracing the staycation and the idea that paying for a lick of paint beats shelling out thousands on stamp duty, Julian is suddenly more popular than eyebrow threading and is booked up till I don't know when.

We have had our moments. When I showed Julian the doorknobs I'd chosen, he lifted an eyebrow, 'girly knobs! Your husband didn't have much of a say, did he?' he said. I wondered for a second. Did I want to go into the whole Mr X/divorce/True Love business? Erm, no I didn't. But, as the week wore on, things came out ....Julian laughed and said it reminded him of the time he told a client her husband would be really pleased with the cupboards, only for the lady's lesbian lover to arrive home ....

As we speak, the last coat of eggshell in the precise shade of the walls is going on the cupboard doors. The girls hate the idea of a telly in a cupboard. So, probably, does True Love. Mr X would doubtless see the whole project as further proof of my utter insanity, not that he needs it, of course. Even the cat is eyeing me strangely. But I am very happy. I have a dream. It's not, perhaps, the dream I once turned my life upside down for, but who cares - it's my very own dream, and it's coming true.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

'And the winner is ............'

*Blush* The adorable Brit in Bosnia/Fraught Mummy has lavished me with the Zombie Chicken award. Dearest Fraught, you shouldn't have, but I'm so glad you did!

For the very few out there who are not yet aware of the true significance of the award, I reproduce its mission statement: "The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all."

Well, obviously I would not wish to antagonise a pack of zombie chickens. A very frightening prospect and, as I suspect they are not organic chickens, it could easily cause riots in Dulwich Village. I shall, therefore, as quickly as I can, pass on this tremendous honour. Who better to receive it than English Mum, who actually keeps chickens and (whisper it softly) also makes a delicious chicken pie? I would also like to award it to Rural Villager, who I'm sure has had a few brushes with chickens in her time, to Exmoor Jane, who has made a fantastic success of country life (unlike a few Mail on Sunday columnists we wouldn't dream of naming), to Hadriana's Treasures, who probably lives quite near a chicken or two (see my sure grasp of geography) and, lastly, but not leastly, to the fantabulous Linda, who could eat a live chicken for breakfast and I'm definitely not even going to mention plucking.

It was the lovely Linda her very self who sent me this "Call Yourself a Writer?" meme:

Which words do you use too much in your writing? Well obviously, I over-use obviously, obviously. And, of course, there's of course, of course.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read? I love other people's words.

What's your favourite piece of writing by you? Would have to be my novel, Hot Chocolate to be published in March in German by the uber-wonderful Ulstein, with the title Schokohertz. I don't believe I've mentioned it for, oh, a month ......other than that, I did do some fabulous interviews when I worked on the Daily Express, though I say so myself.

What's your favourite piece of writing by someone else? Nothing equals the first naughty sentence of Pride and Prejudice. That Jane Austen, she was a one. Otherwise, anything, any day, by my Disney 7 chums. Six different approaches to life, every single one brilliant.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written? Oh, gosh, yes. I'm a terror for replying in haste and repenting at leisure. Worst is pressing 'reply all'. Shudder. And that's just email. Many, many a text should never, ever have been pinged across to True Love.

How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing? If my writing has made a difference (which is a point for debate), maybe occasionally it's cheered people up when I've made a joke that has worked. Someone did once say they'd wet themselves after reading one of my tales and that did give me a very warm glow of pride. I may ask Tena to sponsor me.

Name three favourite words Can I please have four? Serendipity, sussuration, cellar door. ...And three words you're not so keen on 'But you promised ....' (accompanied by hours of whining).

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration? I had a fantastic English teacher at school, Mrs Lindsay, who had very thick, wavy dark hair and quite an air of mystery. I loved the way she would take great bunches of her hair and throw it behind her to emphasise a point. I've modelled myself on her ever since, with absolutely no success at all.

What's your writing ambition? To finish my second novel and get both books published in the UK.

I'd like to pass this on to other blogger/writer friends: Pottymummy Dulwich Mum Crystal Jigsaw Kate Morris Half Mum Half Biscuit

Whiffling Away

As we've come over all literary (and don't worry, I'm sure it won't last) did you see a little article in yesterday's Independent, entitled, 'Raise your brendice to a new lexicon'? It was all about a book called The Wonder of Whiffling, a compendium of quirky words from around the globe.

Obviously I am beyond sad, but it is the type of thing I love. Immediately one of the words, petrichor, meaning the smell of rain falling on dry soil, brought to mind Vermeer's beautiful painting, A View of Delft:

Can't you just smell the petrichor? I had the luck to see the original, nestled in the glorious Mauritshuis in The Hague, when I was still happily married about a million years ago. If you peer in very closely (risking the wrath of the curators) you can see that Vermeer has painted thousands of tiny pinpricks of white on the details of the buildings, which seem to break through the clouds and shine joyfully. I love the fact that he has caught such a subtle shift in weather, that moment after a shower when everything looks so dewy fresh and reborn. Storm clouds can, and do pass. I really ought to have that printed on a T-shirt. Maybe then I'd believe it.

On a more prosaic note, one of the other words in The Wonder of Whiffling was the blissful shubi, an Australian word for someone who buys all the surfing gear, but doesn't actually surf. We may not have the waves in Dulwich, but we certainly have an awful lot of shubis - chaps who brandish their squash racquets, yet are never seen on a court, and ladies, of course, who do the school run in their pilates gear but are somehow strangers to making that core connection. Not me, of course - I'm just off to my class. In a minute. Or two. Er .....shubi doobi do, anyone?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Booked Up

Very excited as I have been asked to join the Telegraph's online book club. I started my journalistic career, oooh, 400 years ago, on the Peterborough column of the mighty Telegraph. The paper had just moved to Docklands but had one foot still very much in Fleet Street. My colleagues on Peterborough, although all in their twenties like me, had the sort of surnames that fall with a mighty, whooshing thud when you name-drop them, whereas I would introduce myself and everyone would seem puzzled and say, 'sorry, who?' The boys looked as though they had been born in their three piece suits and one of the girls, it was rumoured, had left Oxford because her fellow students drank tea out of mugs, not cups and saucers. I thought this was probably untrue until I took a call one morning from her mother, who said, 'darling X won't be in today, it's very windy.'

It was a delightful, all too brief interlude and, as I adore book clubs almost as much as I love the Telegraph, I was thrilled to say yes to reading The Dog That Came In From the Cold, the second book in the Corduroy Mansions series by Alexander McCall Smith, of No 1 Ladies Detective Agency fame. Corduroy Mansions seems like an absolute home from home for Telegraph folk (though I suppose Tweed Mansions might be even better) and I am looking forward enormously to starting The Dog and meeting the whole cast of characters. A huge part of McCall Smith's genius seems to lie in creating these effortless worlds and populating them with people whose quirkiness is only equalled by their charm - so Telegraph it's not true.

I can't quite believe I've never written about book clubs before. I was in one for a few years in Brussels and then, as soon as I moved to the UK, I scouted around for another and found my current group. I did have the idea, over the summer, of making a little box with the book of the moment, so people could read it too, if they felt moved to. Now, though, I think we should all read The Dog That Came In From The Cold together. Let me know what you think .....

Friday, 18 September 2009

A good tagging

I have been tagged by the wonderful, irrepressible Linda of gotyourhandsful and havealovelytime. Linda is a great writer, and one of the kindest people I know, so I have no hesitation at all in nicking one of her best lines, to announce that I do love a good tagging.

This tag is all about favourite film characters. Hmm, it got me thinking. My favourite ever film roles? Naturally, my mind wandered to Bergman and the early works of Bunuel, while I pondered long and hard, of course, on the epic Fitzcaraldo ........but no, there was no contest really. I saw again, in my mind's eye, that fair expanse of English lawn, with a big house mistily in the background, and a certain someone striding forward ....

1.Yes, I'm afraid standing proudly at Number One in my list is Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, in that drenched shirt and those shiny leather boots, wading out of the pond at Pemberley and into the arms of Elizabeth Bennett. New Prides and Prejudices may come and go, and I did even quite like Bride and Prejudice and Lost in Austen, but no one does it quite like Colin. Sigh.

2. I adore the film Some Like It Hot and, in it, Marilyn Monroe is at her most incandescently beautiful - and she's very, very funny.

3. Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. What can I say? I'm just a sucker for a strong man. Harrison doesn't even have Pemberley to whisk me home to but I'd still jump up into the cab of his truck at the end every single time ....

4. Natassja Kinski as Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I saw this film when I was very young and the perfidy of Angel Clare still shocks me, even though I've now seen worse in real life. How could he abandon his Tess? Interestingly, I quite recently came across this poem by Thomas Hardy which has quite a different view of fallen women ....

5. Marisa Tomei plays a brilliant cameo in the film My Cousin Vinnie, as the world's most unlikely - but most convincing - expert witness. A real 'you go, girl' moment.

6. Audrey Tatou in Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain. A quirky gem. When I first settled down to watch this when I was living in Brussels, a large rat ran across the floor, signalling a huge infestation which took months to quell, and a very unpleasant chapter in my life. Despite this, I have a soft spot for Amelie's optimism and wish I possessed it myself.

7. Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient. I found the book very annoying but the film, from the first shots of the undulating gold of the desert, is beautiful and moving. And, of course, it's the story of a doomed love affair. I'm like a moth to a flame.

8. Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Okay, I know I'm not supposed to admit to liking stuff like this, but yes, I am a hopeless romantic and I find this simple Cinderella tale curiously compelling. Of course, some of its messages are rather curious - become a hooker and meet the man of your dreams, for instance - but who could resist Julia Robert's watermelon smile? And Richard Gere is delish.

9. Richard Burton in Anne of A Thousand Days. Another alpha male, this time one with a murderous glint in his eye. I just fall for them every time. I saw this as an eleven year old and fell madly in love with the Tudors and history in general. Plus is that a dagger in his codpiece, or is he just very, very pleased to see us?

10. The Lion King. There are a lot of Disney films which I adore, but I've always particularly loved this one. The idea of the circle of life is so pleasing and helps children to understand and come to terms with a lot, the wildebeest stampede is edge-of-your-seat scary and Timon and Pumba are irresistible. What's that you say? Mufasa is yet another alpha male? You know, that just hadn't occured to me at all .....

Part of Linda's instructions were to pass the tag along, so I now hand the baton to some lovely bloggy friends:

Chic Mama
Hot Cross Mum
Angel Bluestocking

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Signs of improvement

I do feel guilty for inflicting my last whinge on you. Blimey, I shall have to do double the blessing counting if we're to get through even the beginning of autumn in any sort of shape. Thanks for all your kind words and I'll try not to do it again. I was going to counteract all that yucky self-pity with some lovely pictures today, of the roses blooming in my gorgeous little garden, but of course it's lashing with rain and gloomier than Gordon Brown.

Instead, I'm presenting you with this chirpy list of advertising hoardings from my dear friend E in Brussels. I believe I'm right in saying that she, or her spies, have seen every single one of these signs with their very own eyes.

Sign over a gynecologist's office:'Dr. Jones, at your cervix.'**************************
On a maternity room door:'Push. Push. Push.'**************************
In a podiatrist's office:'Time wounds all heels.'**************************
On a septic tank truck:Yesterday's Meals on Wheels**************************
On a plumber's truck:'We repair what your husband fixed.'**************************
On another plumber's truck:'Don't sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.'**************************
On a church's bill board:'7 days without God makes one weak.'**************************
At a tyre store, 'Invite us to your next blowout.'**************************
On an electrician's truck:'Let us remove your shorts.'**************************
At an optometrist's office:'If you don't see what you're looking for, you've come to the right place.'**************************
On a taxidermist's window:'We really know our stuff.'**************************
On a fence:'Salesmen welcome! Dog food is expensive!'**************************
At a car dealership:'The best way to get back on your feet - miss a car payment.'**************************
Outside a car exhaust store:'No appointment necessary. We hear you coming.'**************************
In a vet's waiting room:'Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!'**************************
In a sestaurant window:'Don't stand there and be hungry; come on in and get fed up.'**************************
In the front yard of a funeral home:'Drive carefully. We'll wait.'**************************
And don't forget the sign at a radiator shop:'Best place in town to take a leak.'**********************

Friday, 11 September 2009

No Fun Mum

Tough talking at Divorce Towers yesterday. I was having a chat with the girls about life, growing up and stuff, and they were entering that fantasy realm, which I love, planning their future lives. Child Two used to say she would live next door to me but I notice she's thinking of the other side of London these days. They have very different views of what they want to be when they grow up, both with quite plausible career paths mapped out, though neither, sadly, wants to keep me in the luxury I so clearly deserve by becoming a plastic surgeon or a lawyer. Probably just as well as I am right off lawyers at the moment and I'm not ready for surgery yet. Well, not quite.

Then Child One rather surprised me by saying, '.....and, of course, I want to be a fun mum.'

I should have known, from her tone, not to follow this particular conversational hare but I crashed forward. 'Am I not a fun mum, then?' I asked brightly, obviously expecting a torrent of reassurance.

Dead silence.

Eventually, Child Two piped up. 'Well, you can be a bit fun. Sometimes.'


Then, probably because I was quite hurt, though I was trying to be brave and not show it too much, we ended up in a big argument and I shouted rather a lot, which I never really do. So then they felt they were justified in stomping out, yelling back in delightfully sarcastic teenage tones, 'yeah, you're so much fun, Mum.' Harrumph.

Obviously I've been thinking about it all since then and I have to say they are right, I am no fun. It's partly circumstances - the divorce, though I brought it all on myself, or on everyone around me, was the absolute definition of No Fun At All - squared. Relations with everyone concerned (ie Mr X, though of course I never mention him now that this blog is squeakier clean than a jumbo tub of hand sanitiser) have been, at very best, frosty ever since. The fall-out from the divorce and subsequent two years of psychotherapy have also been zero fun, involving me facing up to the fact that I was depressed, analysing the causes of the depression (deep shudder) and then, trying to do something about the depression, with mixed results. Unfortunately, I wasn't even brought up myself to have fun - my childhood was horrible (though whose wasn't?) and fun was definitely something other people were having, somewhere else, a long way away.

Child Two once said, when asked if she had had fun seeing a close relative, 'Oh no, they don't approve of fun,' which rather sums it up. I, on the other hand, do approve of fun - it's just that I'm not sure how to get it.

Of course, there are problems with the relentless pursuit of fun. As the parent who does all the crap - the homework, the music practice, making a borderline sick/malingering child go to school, forcing the writing of thank-you letters - I can't be the girls' best friend as well as the slavemaster-in-chief. And I don't want to be one of those sad 40-somethings who tries to be taken for their daughters' chums or, worse, desperately wants people to say, 'oh, I thought you were sisters.' I am their mother and, much as I sometimes want to put my feet up and let them do what the hell they like, I can't. I am the one in charge, and that's that.

Mind you, though they may well think they endure endless suffering, I do manage to sneak the odd bit of sheer, senseless pleasure into the girls' lives. Tomorrow, we are off to the wonderland that is the Glades shopping centre in Bromley, to try on every single thing in Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and New Look. If that's not teenage fun, then I just don't know what is.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Horrible Tooth

Off to the dentist again for more torture. On the plus side (I am constantly counting my blessings now, in order to retrain my sad mind into a new, joyful bower. Blimey, there are so many pluses to count it's as bad as maths homework. Ooops, methinks that is not the right attitude) this means I get another chance to read the article in Red magazine which has set me on the path to eternal cheerfulness. On the minus side (there we go again!) I have to be at the actual dentist to do it.

Once I'm there, I'm in such a state of nerves that I can barely concentrate on the article. Three other friends lost jumbo fillings over the holidays, and the talk at the school gates has been of little else but crowns, onlays, injections and really enormous drills. I am the last to get my tooth fixed and am, frankly, all of a quiver.

Strange, because I spent forever having dental treatment as a child. I had a horribly overcrowded mouth and, because my parents didn't want me to have teeth out, it took seven years to drag all my recalcitrant tombstone choppers into vaguely normal positions in my head, using such methods as a strange head brace with metal wires fitting into my molars, train-track braces and a retainer I wore nervously for years, just in case everything moved back the moment I wasn't looking. On the plus side (there we go again), I used to go to the Royal Dental Hospital, which was then in Leicester Square, as yet uncolonised by winos and addicts, and glamorously Up Town. I never hung around or did anything even vaguely interesting there, but did love the idea of being in central London, where something exciting was so much more likely to happen than in the sleepy suburb where I lived. Anyway, as a result of all that laborious toothwork, I thought I was completely immune from dental nerves.

This time, though, I really felt the full force of the unpleasantness of being helpless in a chair while someone sticks a whining metal probe into your face. It was partly that it was obviously the first day for the dental assistant, who alternated between hoovering up my tongue with her suction thingy, or dripping something nasty and cold (presumably my own collected drool) down my neck and right inside my jumper. It was also partly that this was the largest filling in the western world that had to be removed, as I spent my childhood drinking concentrated orange juice and don't remember owning a toothbrush until all the brace stuff started when I was 11.

On the way out, thank God I popped into the ladies, where I noticed the dentist had left a rim of the dental putty used to make impressions for my lovely onlay all round my face. As the putty was blue, it had created an intriguing Bluebeard effect which I wasn't that anxious to parade around the mean streets of Herne Hill.

Just in case you think I have slipped back into my naughty negative old thought patterns on all of this, let me tell you that I am counting a very large blessing indeed. While my schoolgate chums have been bemoaning the expense of their porcelain veneers, I am getting my own rather more basic silver falsie via the good old NHS. True, it will be a big shiny lump of metal and will probably make me look like James Bond's least prepossessing nemesis, Jaws, but in these straitened times gratis lumps of metal are blessings indeed.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


Child one was at a sleepover last night. Sigh. Sleepovers are so different, now, from days of yore. Then, it was all Barbie nightdresses, watching Postman Pat and all in bed by a, gosh, it's so late, 9.30, with a giggling outbreak of 'midnight' sweetie eating at about 10, followed by loud snores until breakfast, which alas was always at the crack of dawn. Now, my daughter, newly transformed into a glamazon who is barely a whisker shorter than me, wafts into a charmed circle of willowy, daunting young women, all beautifully made up, wrinkle-free, destined for high-powered careers at the bar and all looking at me in a mildly pitying way. I suddenly realise I haven't looked in a mirror since early this morning and my natty new Orla Kiely handbag clashes with my jumper. It's clear they will be up all night gently critiquing my outfit and every garment owned by their own mothers. I also know that the hosting mother will have to put dynamite under them to get them up by ten. Then a particularly beautiful girl drifts across to me and says the dread words,'my mum reads your blog.'

Yikes! Though this is rather thrilling and flattering, for some reason, it makes me feel as though I have been caught behind the bikesheds, doing something unspeakable. Which is ridiculous. I was never caught and, besides, of late this blog is as fully sanitised as a scalpel in a hospital without MRSA, swine flu or C difficile. Erm, so that's a hospital outside the UK. Oh, but you know what I mean. You could absolutely eat your dinner off my blog these days. I never moan any more about Mr X, TL, his offspring, my offspring, the horrors of divorce or even my washing. No, absolutely not. From now on, it's full on gratitude all the way.

Speaking of which, I am slightly being held up in my quest for total happiness and inner peace by my inability to fix on a notebook to fill with my lists of blessings. I could use an old one, but somehow I feel only a really special new one will do. And, if I go to the special notebook shop in the village, I will inevitably end up buying armfuls of things which Mr X and TL would unite in condemning as useless junk but which I, and all womankind, recognise as essentials without which no home can truly function. Scented candles and cushions, obviously.

In the meantime, I am idly listing my gratitudes in my head, which is pointless, because it gets all blurry and confused. Instead of my children, the health of all my loved ones, my wonderful friends, my beloved catty and my garden, it ends up as the health of my garden, my beloved loved ones (a tautology, surely) and my catty children. In any case, my affections are so changeable these days that if I did ever commit a list of loved ones to paper, certain names would keep on getting crossed out. Names beginning with T, I expect.

Oh, it's a tricky business, life. I might just put a little list in a shady corner of my blog so that we can all keep an eye on it.

The idea of lists reminds me, there are loads of lose ends I must tie up, to get all sorted and ready for the autumn. Yes, I know it's already started, but at least I am trying to get organised, all right?

So, in no particular order:

Huge congratulations to the beauteous English Mum on her rewedding, I wish I could have been there and know you will live happily ever after.

My lovely friend Erica at Littlemummy is having trouble with her links - go and see her fab interview with author Kathy Lette of Mad Cows fame

I have so far managed one go on the Wii Personal Trainer and must now be officially recognised as untrainable. So sorry, lovely Wii people. The girls enjoyed it though.

Would anyone like a Pampers Golden Sleep kit? It comes with a lovely soft blanky with lots of labels on, apparently babies really like them, plus money-off voucher and CD of incredibly soporific tunes. Just say in the comments section. I'm not sure how many are available so first come, first served.

I still love my HP printer, though it took weeks to get the right refill cartridges - I tried to do this like a normal person to see how efficient the system was, but stupidly filled in the wrong cartridge type. The cartridges arrived the next day but I couldn't use them. I sent them back and never heard another thing. Weeks later, I confessed my blunder to the lovely PR people who gave me the right cartridges. I would say the printer is quite heavy on ink usage, but in all other respects a winner. I am rather the dreading the inevitable day when the lovely HP folk will notice I still have it and demand it back.

I think that's it, I'm all squared off now. Just got to do my gratitude list ...well, maybe later. Not that I'm prevaricating, you understand. I can't prevaricate now, I just haven't got time. I'll do it tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Happy Families

Well, my dearest ones, I am back. The holiday tally:

Mosquito bites on my face, causing me to swell up like a pekingese, two;
Enormous fillings which fell out while eating a chip which I lovingly cooked myself (don't you just adore self catering?), one;
Rows with stepchildren, one (but a vicious one and the children are tiny and cute as little buttons);
Spats with own children, too numerous and exhausting to mention;
Dirty washing to wrestle with, 84kg (the original 42 kg belonging to the girls, my very own 21kg of filth plus mysterious extra weight caused by toxic vapours in the suitcases).

First stop now I'm back was the dentist, to repair the cavernous whole in my upper-left-molar-D3-occluded, or whatever mumbo-jumbo it is that they always chant to their assistants when doing a check-up. Luckily, I have to wait ages for my appointment and chance upon August's copy of Red magazine in the waiting room. An article called 'glass half empty' catches my eye. I can't remember the name of the author, but I thought it was jolly good - probably because it echoes my own occasional attempts at positive thinking. Apparently, you see, the brain wears itself into grooves, rather like our feet, when we are forcing them to become accustomed to those evil Birkenstock sandals. There are the Birkenstocks, with cunningly attractive straps to lure you in, looking so wholesome and comfy. Yet walking in them is always, at first, like the poor Little Mermaid treading on knifes. Remind me again why they are trendy?

Anyway, I digress. Back to the article. The more you think downcast, depressive thoughts, the more the brain gets used to those, it says. But fear not! Before you become downcast and depressive about the very idea of having downcast and depressive thoughts and start the spiral of doom, there is hope. You can retrain yourself, and it only takes 21 days.

Twenty-one days of cheery, sun-sparkled thought, and I shall be a new woman.

Life is what it is - it's the way you look at it that makes the difference. In the article, our intrepid reporter tries various methods of getting happy, discards some, but sticks with two in particular - a Gratitude Book, in which she writes down her blessings, and the Thought Leap, where you jump from a stressful, no-win way of thinking into an alternative view. Her example of the latter was rushing to do a million things at once and ending up pretty frustrated. Instead of yelling or sobbing, she took herself out of the situation and said to herself, 'what a busy multi-tasker I am', and gave herself a smug little pat on the back. With the gratitude book, though she admitted it was pretty nauseating writing down all her blessings, she did end up feeling all grateful and happy, and reading the book afterwards had the same effect as writing in it. Meanwhile, stray sad thoughts were vanquished simply by looking at pictures of loved ones.

Right. Here I go. Let's reassess the holiday in a cheery new light. I can't pretend the mosquito bites were fantastic, but the swelling did have the lovely effect of smoothing out my angst-ridden features. It was, in fact, free botox, courtesy of two little winged beasties. Cracking my filling resulted in the trip to the dentist, the finding of the magazine and the new life of radiant happiness which is going to be mine in 20 short days' time. The row with the cute little stepchildren was a frank exchange of views which has helped us understand each other better (er, kind of). Discussions with my own offspring are a vital part of the letting-go process (letting them go a long, long way becomes newly tempting) and totally necessary. And the vast mountain ranges of malodorous washing currently flobbing about all over the kitchen? Erm, erm, they are a lovely concrete reminder of the way that I am currently putting my own thought processes through a 90 degree boil wash, with an added scoop of Oxy stain remover for luck.

Ok, that's better. Now I just have to find a Gratitude Book, arrange my face in a jolly but not too frightening smile, and prepare for happiness to burst upon me. I will play happy families - even if, sometimes, this family seems to be not so much blended, as liquidised.