Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Spinal Tap

Tiny beads of sweat are running down the back of Husband's neck. He's bent double, trying to get This is Spinal Tap to play as ten twelve year-old boys (and one thirteen year-old and a nine year-old) leap and twirl across the floor behind him. One boy picks up an empty plastic water gun and hits another over the head with it. Like a pair of clammy hands on a steering wheel, we are in danger of losing control.

I look at my watch: 5.10. Can the party really have began only ten minutes ago? The parents won’t be back to collect the little darlings for two hours and fifty minutes and I didn’t plan any games. (Middle One, whose party it is, says they are ‘way too old for games ’.) I always plan games. Lots of them. Usually back to back activities to take up every single minute. I have a great line in marshmallow and dry spaghetti sculptures. Now I'm beginning to regret saying they could, “just hang out, watch a movie, have pizza and eat pop corn…"

I ring Eldest, who has inconveniently gone out. “Where are you? We need you to get the DVD to play in your X Box.”

“I’m at D’s house. Surely one of those boys knows how to do it?”

“You would think so.”

He asks to speak to Husband. Husband says, “what the hell are you talking about?” and, “I already tried that,” over and over again down the phone. Then he abandons trying to get the X Box to play the DVD and tries to get the DVD player to play the DVD instead. We need a scarp lead, apparently (he is muttering this to himself). Or is it a scart lead? I have no idea. I dash over to friends, who live opposite. “Do you have a scarp lead?”

“You mean a scart lead,” says unflappable friend (he’s Australian). At this point I really couldn’t care less what the last consonant is, I have nothing with which to entertain ten 12 year-old boys and a desperate desire for alcohol.

When I get back with said scart lead the DVD is finally playing and order, of sorts, has been restored. Thank God. But then it starts glitching. “The DVD is glitching,” says Middle One, stating the bleeding obvious.

I ring Eldest again. “Now it’s glitching.”

He sighs."It only glitches if it’s an old or damaged DVD."

But the DVD is neither old nor damaged. It is brand new. It was one of Middle One’s birthday presents.

I run over to friend’s house again and stand, panting, in their hallway, noting how peaceful it is with hardly anyone around, only two little boys, quiet and motionless as freeze-frames, watching a DVD in their front room - ironically.

“Have you got This is Spinal Tap?” We start to look for it in their collection, then I realise I left our front door open so dash home to close it. Then friend’s daughter appears on the doorstep with the DVD and I scramble downstairs at top speed to the basement clutching it in my sweaty little hand. Half way down I am hit by an auditory wall of hooting and wailing.

“I have another one!”

“Another what?” asks Husband.

“Another copy of This is Spinal Tap.”


“Because it was glitching.”

“It’s not glitching, it’s fine. What are you panicking about?”

I look at my watch. Only two hours and forty-five minutes to go.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A Tale of Two Suppers

1. A rubbish meal

We’re on an economy drive, trying to use everything in the freezer. It’s one of Husband’s peccadilloes. He says we use the freezer as some sort of food purgatory until it’s too old and we throw it all away. And he has a point.

I go along with it for a quiet life (I go along with a lot of things for a quiet life), and now we’re down to the last few chicken breasts. Husband is getting ready to go to an evening work thing while I decide how to cook the defrosted chicken.

There are some vegetables kicking around but not much else so I decide to fry the chicken in red onions and peppers, then I lob in some tinned olives along with some stock and a bit of fresh thyme and some lemon and garlic and seasoning and it’s all coming together rather nicely. At the last minute I add a bit of leftover cream cheese I found lurking at the back of the fridge and have a taste. It’s bloody marvellous. I decide we’ll have it with pasta. I’m feeling pleased. Husband will love this when he get back from the do.

But as I’m filling a large pan with water I hear a strange popping/groaning noise coming from the hob. I ignore it (big mistake) and as I’m carrying the pan over there’s a very loud bang and the glass lid on top of my wonderful chicken concoction shatters into a million tiny pieces. I freeze, staring at my lovely dinner. The lid is still in one piece but now there's a fragile crazy paving barrier between us and the food.

Eldest and Middle One arrive. Eldest pulls gently on the metal handle and we all watch, horrified, as the shattered glass rises up and back again like bendy plastic. We can’t get the lid off like that so instead I use a pallet knife to gently slide it away as Eldest and Middle One, and Youngest too (who has just arrived to view the spectacle), bellow contradictory instructions. I manage to get the lid off and on to the worktop - but have any tiny bits of glass gone in the food?

Eldest and I run our fingertips across top and bottom: it feels gritty. I stare lovingly, you might even say wistfully, at the dinner... then throw the whole lot out and spend £26 ordering pizza. The boys are delighted, and at least there’s no washing up.

2. Cauliflower cheese

It’s early Sunday evening and I’m making cauliflower cheese to go with the roast. Eldest has requested it. He loves cauliflower cheese. But before I start I have to clean up his pancake mess from earlier. I’ve asked him to do it three times and can’t be bothered to ask again as it will involve climbing three sets stairs to his room where he’s busy ‘doing his homework’.

I’ve forgotten what a faff cauliflower cheese is, there are so many processes. I get on with part 1: steaming. Eldest bounds in. “Where’s the Pritt stick!” he thunders. “There’s never a Pritt stick in this bloody house! I need one for Art.”

“It’s wherever you left it last time I gave it to you,” I say, looking for the flour somewhere in the back of a high cupboard.

“You didn’t give it to me, we had some old ones but they’ve all run out. We never have a decent Pritt stick.”

“No, I bought a new one, a big one, in W H Smith this week. You can’t have used all that already.” I’m well into part 2 now: melting butter…

“I have.”

“I don’t think you have.” Adding flour…

“Where is it, then?”

“It was in the Perspex pencil box on my desk last time I looked.” Some milk and a little grated cheese… “Where I keep it.”

“In the what?”

“The Perspex pencil box.” And now a bit more milk…

“What the hell is a ‘Perspex’ box?”

“Perspex is a type of plastic, you know what it is; it’s see-through.” I’m becoming increasingly frustrated as I stir the sauce. I season it and add more cheese. “I bet it’s still there.” I prod the cauliflower with a knife: it’s done. I take it off the hob and look for a large oven-proof dish to put it in.

“Well I can’t find it, “ he says, “and I really need it for my Art homework.”

“Oh God,’ I sigh, arranging the vegetable in the dish, “Just give me a minute and I’ll come upstairs and look.” I add more milk and turn the sauce down, very low, and stamp up to the office with Eldest behind me attacking the stairs several at a time.

He’s right of course, there is no sign of the Pritt stick in my Perspex pencil box. “Well it was here, ” I say, rooting around. “Someone has had it.”

“Not me,” says Eldest, folding his arms.

“Really?” I tramp up to Eldest’s room. He is hard at my heels, forcefully protesting his innocence. He hasn’t had it, he doesn’t know where it is; someone has obviously taken it... I push things around on his desk - it’s an absolute tip - all the while ranting and moaning and complaining about pancake mess and cauliflower cheese and things never where they should be and then I see it, the Pritt stick, large as life, the one I just bought in W H Smith last week, sitting under his art folder, the art folder he has just been using.

I yelp. I scream. I am so frustrated that I really want to hit him - especially when he says he didn’t put it there - but I mustn’t so I jump up and down and shout, very loudly (it hurts my throat) and he laughs. He actually has the nerve to laugh so that I have to laugh too, just a bit, despite myself.

Then I leave the room to go back to the kitchen, to my burning cheese sauce, and I hear him muttering, “You. Are. So. Mad.”

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


“Help!” Comes an urgent voice from upstairs. I can hear water running. “Help! Mum! Dad!" It’s Eldest in the shower. What’s happened to him? Is he scalded? Has he slipped and broken something? A thousand different disasters flash through my mind, I’m nothing if not imaginative when it comes to possible catastrophes to befall my children. Home a bit late from school? Obviously abducted by one of those drunks who hangs out by the dried up pond on the common - no matter that they don’t have the coordination to pee in a straight line, let alone to steal a child. Still asleep at an unnaturally late hour on a Sunday morning? It’s one of those rare older child cot deaths, or meningitis - like with Michael Rosen’s son (so unbelievably tragic).

No, I’ve guessed it: he’s got trapped somehow, like my father did all those years ago. He was just taking a shower at home prior to flying off somewhere to a conference. He was alone in the house and the shower door jammed. Imagine it: naked and freezing with a sheet of impenetrable glass between you and freedom. I think he remained like that for some time until he managed to scramble his lanky six-foot frame up and over the top, squeezing between the tiny space and the ceiling with the knowledge that it could all crash beneath him at any moment. It didn’t, thank goodness.

So, lying in my bed first thing this morning, clutching the cup of tea Husband has kindly brought for me (as usual) and listening to the whole world going to hell in a handbasket on Radio 4 (as usual) that’s what I decide has happened to Eldest. He’s trapped in the shower. But hang on a minute - it’s an over bath shower up there, there’s no door…

“Help!” Comes the desperate voice again, “I need help! It’s urgent!”

“What!” Husband calls, dashing to the rescue as I scramble from under the duvet, grabbing at the dressing gown strewn on the floor (can’t appear naked in front of eldest son any more, he’s 15). I get to the landing just in time to meet husband coming down again from the top floor. There's a grim look on his face.

“What’s the matter? What is it? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” he says. “He’s run out of shampoo.”