Friday, 31 May 2013

The Disco.

We're having a birthday party at the house. Again. Unfortunately there's a six foot sofa currently stuck in the living room doorway, which is going to make things rather tricky when a load of 11 year-old children arrive.

I've ordered the sofa over the internet. This is because a previous sofa purchased locally, back in April last year, failed to arrive and we failed to get any of our money back for it, but that's another story, much too painful to get into now. Suffice to say we eventually moved on from that debacle and bought an almost identical sofa in January, much more cheaply, and sight unseen, and we've been waiting for it to arrive ever since - for six long months. It was meant to arrive on Monday and didn't and here it is today... Two hours before a birthday party.

We've had a few birthday parties at the house before. Wait a moment while and try and do the maths, not my strong point... 

So, that's three boys, Eldest now nearly 17, they've all had had a party every year since they were born until about three years ago when Eldest announced that he didn't want one anymore, but Middle One still has one, at least he did last year but we weren't allowed to call it a party, it was just 'hanging out'. Certainly Youngest has always had one, so, that's three children with combined ages of 41 years... I  make that 157 parties, at least.* 

But then, as I say, maths isn't my strong point and that might be just what it feels like, not the actual number. 

Anyway, here we are on Friday about to have another one. We have it down to a fine art. We're lucky to have a big basement, nothing fancy, exposed brickwork and no heating down there, but there is carpet and it's all painted white and there's a door/window thing for some daylight and spotlights dotted around. I've borrowed some disco lights and a party iPod from a friend who DJs part-time and we're all set. Looks great.

I've almost got quite casual about the whole thing. I know what I need - balloons, something for them to do when they arrive, a few more games to scatter between the dancing, some prizes, a piñata and a cake. That's it. I don't do party bags anymore because, a.) I am morally opposed and, b.) too stingy. They all get a Kinder Surprise
 to take home and a piece of cake. Like the good old days. Almost.

I've planned the party for after school, 5 - 7 pm, because it's half-term next week and lots of families will be going away for the week on Saturday. More exhausting on a Friday night, of course, with less time to prepare, but at least it will get it over with and then we can crack open a few beers and collapse. That's the great thing about having it at home and not carting 13 children off to a bowling alley or a swimming pool or something. We've done all that in the past and it's hell. The go-karting in particular is etched in my mind as a party horriblis - 10 boys, screaming tyres on tarmac, one kid who cried the whole time (why is there always one kid who cries the whole time?) and a windowless cell in which to feed them all pizza afterwards, which was 40 minutes late arriving. Oh yes, and then one parent failed to collect his kid so we couldn't drive home for an hour.

But this time I have the food (pizza) and I have the cake (not homemade this time, sod it) and I have the balloons and all I need now is to go out in the rain to the party shop at Clapham Junction to get the piñata that I've pre-ordered. It's a dragon. I just need these two clowns/delivery boys to get the sofa through the door into the living room because its current position is right in front of the basement door. 

"How about we take the packaging off?" I suggest. So together we tear and rip at the plastic and the cardboard protecting it. Then the 'delivery boys' haul it through the door, pulling half the paintwork off in the process, but at least it's through, and it looks magnificent. I'm thrilled.

We have the party and it goes like a dream. The kids are all lovely, they dance, they play all the silly games in good part, they bring lovely presents for Youngest and they leave on time, everything you could possibly ask for. Fab.

At ten past seven precisely we crack open the beers and collapse on the fabulous new sofa. 
Only problem is... turns out it's bloody uncomfortable. 

Well you can't have everything.



* This is a joke.

Friday, 24 May 2013


There's a cold wind blowing down Marylebone High Street, but I can hardly feel it because I have an appointment at Fired Earth to see a kitchen plan the lovely designer has done and so I'm excited.

We sit side by side on stools at a kitchen island in the basement of the shop. Its marble top is cool and grey and beautiful. She shows me a sophisticated 3D image of what the new kitchen might look like. I sip Earl Grey tea. We pore over the design and the catalogue. We look at colour swatches. We compare samples of wood. I feel the grain. She brings out a tile with a glaze so lustrous, it looks exactly as if someone has poured thick farmhouse cream all over it. 
The whole thing is total heaven.

After an hour and a half I come out of Fired Earth back into the cold wind. I cross the road quickly and dive into the Conran shop. I stroke a long wooden kitchen table top with a ludicrous price tag of £5,000. I take photographs of hanging pendant lights with my iPhone. I touch the soft, deep wool rugs that hang side by side by the wall.

I leave the Conran shop and pop along to Skandium. I leaf through wallpaper samples and ask them if they'll order me one, just to see. It has foliage in blues and greens with bright orange and yellow flowers in between. It's £75 a roll.

I go into Divertimenti and look at the hand painted crockery like the set I have at home. Azure paint strokes, fat red plums, swirling chicken motifs - it's as if the warm Italian sunshine is bouncing off each plate and cup and bowl. The largest bowl is £75. I head back for the Tube.

It's so bitter that I stop to do up both my cardigan and my jacket and get out my scarf and gloves. Then I walk briskly, as all the while cosy images of my possible future New England-style kitchen play out in my head.

At Bond Street Tube I dodge the milling crowd at the entrance, heading for the left-hand side to descend, just where the sharper gusts of wind catch there on the corner, and nearly trip over something on the ground: it's a boy. 

He's young. No older than my Eldest who is, right this minute, still tucked up in his warm bed at home recovering from his exams and from having a nasty infection.

The boy is huddled. I can almost feel the cold unforgiving ground creeping up through his bones. He has an empty, upturned cap in his hand and a sign that says: 'Hungry and homeless, please help'.
 He looks utterly frozen and so pale that as he looks up, it strikes me his face is the exact same colour as the beautiful creamy tile I held in my hand a short while ago. 

I give him a pound coin from my pocket as I whiz by, and I feel completely ashamed.



Friday, 17 May 2013

Things you shouldn't say out loud.

You need to be careful about the things you say out loud. I'll give you two examples.


On Saturday night Husband and I went out. I know! Very unusual. I think he doesn't dare object when I suggest something now and some talented musician friends of ours were playing at Kings Place, near Kings Cross, so we got tickets and went.  We had to meet up with our French friends first, who were visiting London for the weekend, and ended up having a very speedy drink with them in the cafe upstairs at The London Transport Museum but, as the Americans say, God bless 'em, that is a whole other story.

We arrived at Kings Place in the nick of time to see the 'band' who were playing before our friends. I say band but that's possibly giving you the wrong impression. They were the New Radiophonic Workshop and they were playing (and again that's possibly giving the wrong impression) in the dark. 

Their set consisted of a series of random sounds accompanied by a group of lightbulbs, suspended on strings on stage, which came on and off to the 'music'. To say it was challenging is an understatement. I was worried Husband would be cross with me for dragging him all the way across London to listen to a series of random noises with accompanying lightbulbs and that he would want to get up and leave but luckily he was fine about it, but only because he was asleep.

At the end of this performance, before our friends came on, a woman behind us said very loudly what those of us remaining in the audience were merely thinking: "I just can't believe how bad that was!" And then she said it again for good measure. 


Afterwards we met up with our friends in the bar. I was introduced to someone I had been told a story about that has stuck in my mind like glue ever since, probably because it's about sex. This is the story -

Heartbroken woman is being pursued by male friend - the male friend in question being the man I was introduced to - but the girl is in pieces over a love affair that has just ended and can't contemplate starting another relationship and doesn't fancy this male friend anyway. Not one bit. But somehow he persuades her to go camping with him and while camping they somehow have the most amazing sex in a tent. It is so amazing that she immediately and completely falls in love with him - the man I am currently being introduced to - and they have been together ever since, in fact they are married, and she was there with him, smiling, a lot.

Good story eh? Actually it reminds me of another good getting-it-together story that involves a friend of mine who was also recently heartbroken (what is it with people who are recently heartbroken?) who went to a play and saw a handsome young actor up on stage and thought, 'oh my God, that is the man I must be with' and so wrote him a letter to say so, and then they went for a coffee and now they have four children. I love that story, both because it's improbable and romantic. The best sort.

Anyway, I digress, back to the couple in the tent. So, on Saturday night, after the challenging random noises and the lightbulbs in the dark and listening to our friends play (they were SO good, which was a blessed relief), I was introduced to aforementioned man and suddenly it all clicked and I remembered the story...

"Oh yes! I've heard all about you!" I say, and I am about to add, "You're the guy who gave that girl the amazing orgasm in the tent!" because I have just had two beers and a large glass of red wine in quick succession in a desperate attempt to forget all about the New Radiophonic Workshop. But, thank God, the edit fairy was actually on duty for a change and I didn't say that. I thought it, oh yes I thought it, but I merely said, "Yes! I remember all about you!" 

And so Orgasm Guy looks me straight in the eyes, holding my gaze with his piercing blue peepers for slightly longer than is strictly necessary and there is definitely, most definitely, a little twinkle in them. 

Well, there would be wouldn't there.



Kitchen news: fallen in love with Fired Earth kitchen. Probably can't afford it.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Neighbours from hell.

"You won't get anywhere shouting your head off," I say to Eldest, "that would make us as bad as they are and will only antagonise them." He wants to scream at the people in the garden backing onto ours, the people who have kindly wedged their stereo speaker into their window in order to blast House FM straight at us. 

At least it feels as if it's straight at us because we are directly behind them but it's nothing personal, they are also kindly blasting House FM into ALL the gardens in the vicinity, spoiling the day for loads of other families as well. 

These wonderful and considerate people (I'm using my sarcastic voice here) live in the middle flat of the large house behind us. They have a piece of garden to which they don't have direct access because it's beyond the garden belonging to the ground floor flat. 

The volume is unbelievable and it's not the first time they've done this, they did it last Sunday as well. It was so bad that Youngest ended up in tears and we all came in from the garden, shut the doors, and Husband and I took a trip to the Council dump via a beer joint on the way back to drown our sorrows. Now it's bank holiday Monday, a lovely day, and we are out on the decking contemplating having a barbecue later on. 

Right, I think, time to nip this in the bud. I pop my head over the fence and smile. Eye contact, eye contact! And be nice!

"Hi!" I say. They look up at me. He has a pinched little weather-worn face, shaved head, no shirt, tattoos. She is wearing a strapless boob tube dress straining across her lumpen form. And if that sounds snooty I don't care, it's true.

"Any chance you could turn that down a bit?" I chirp, when really I want to say, "Any chance you could turn that off and we could all sit in peace in our pretty gardens in this beautiful sunshine and listen to the birds?" But I don't dare do this.

"Oh!" Exclaims Boobtube Woman, "Is it too loud? We weren't sure." And they look at each other. 

Was that a smirk? Are they taking the piss? They turn the volume down. But not much. We can still hear every beat and, worse, every single word the DJ says (he's hot, he might have to pour a whole bottle of water over his head in a minute, he's got a great line up of House music for us for the whole afternoon! Radio 4 this is not). We all go in the house.

Husband and I have row. I think he should say or do something. He thinks I'm over-reacting but really he just doesn't want the hassle. 

Youngest says he can't go on the trampoline because their music is too loud (Middle Class problem!) and goes off crying. 

Eldest goes to play his guitar in his bedroom at the front of the house where he can't hear the racket.

Middle One goes out, to Herne Hill, to play his guitar with his band, thank God, because he is the one who gets the most incensed by it all. 

I contact the council.

To my amazement someone at the noise abatement department actually answers the phone. He rings me back within the hour and then he sends two very nice people round to the house. These two very nice people quickly agree that the noise nuisance is out of order and say they will send a letter. Result!

Unfortunately two teenage boys do not agree that this is a result. They do not think letters are the answer to very much at all and by the time we all go back outside again in the late afternoon to start the barbecue, and the music is still blasting far and wide across the gardens for miles around, they are beside themselves. 

Middle One wants to set up his amp on the decking and play Jimi Hendrix "turned up to 11". He is as enraged by their choice of music as he is by how inconsiderate it is. I try to persuade him that if he does this we will be as bad as they are, but teenagers don't appreciate this kind of logic. 

Eldest is just as bad. He wants to shout/kick the fence/throw a rock/swear at them/blast music back at high volume. Again, I tell him this is NOT the answer.

We all end up bickering about what we should do, then we stand on the bench at the back fence and look over. There's nobody there. They have gone back in their flat leaving the music blaring out of the window. We feel like Gromit in The Wrong Trousers when he finds the evil Penguin wasn't in the house playing terrible lift music all evening after all.

All of a sudden someone shouts: "SHUT THE F*** UP!" at the top of his voice. It's Eldest. The music very briefly gets louder and then is switched off. Completely. For good.

"You see!" says Eldest triumphantly, "why didn't you just let me do that in the first place?" And I have to concede that he has a point. Trouble is now Boobtube Woman and Tattoo Man will be getting that arsey letter from the Council as well. 

Think we might have to lie low for a while...

View of our garden from office window with the offending house behind to the right.

Kitchen news: Two appointments with kitchen designers this week so far, two more organised for next week. Went to Grand Designs Live! by myself last weekend, which was two parts hell to one part useful and have started a Pinterest board!



Thursday, 2 May 2013

If I were a man, I would get so much sex.

If I were a man, I would get so much sex. That's what I pitched to a newspaper this week. I'm not going to say which one but perhaps you can work it out for yourself: tabloid, right leaning, has popular women's section. 

Surprise, surprise they went for it. Funny that. If you want to work as a freelance feature writer for the national press, I'll give you a top tip: put the word sex in the subject bar. Works every time. Problem is, of course, that you then have to WRITE about sex. Ah! So, how much do you want to give away? There's the rub.

So, the crux of my feature was a survey out last week that said 10.30 pm on a Saturday night is the time most couples say "I love you" to each other. 

Again, funny that. I wonder why that could be? Precursor to something perhaps? Which reminds me, I once read in some other unreliable newspaper survey that the most common time for couples to have sex is a Saturday night after Match of the Day, in bed, with the lights out. But I am going back a few years here.

Anyway, this same survey, the one just out, revealed that many men NEVER tell their wives or partners that they love them, either because they think they should know already or because they do stuff around the house to help out and think that should suffice. 

This got me thinking. And by the way that's my second top tip for if you want to work as a feature writer for the national press: read the national press, a lot, and then sit down and do some thinking. It's harder than it sounds.

So I pitched an idea. It's easy, I wrote, if I were a man I would be able to get as much sex as I wanted because all you have to do is follow ten simple tips and Hey Presto! Bob's your live-in lover, or rather, your lover is your live-in lover. 

1, Look her in the eye, A LOT, but particularly when she is talking to you about her day and how that woman in Sainsbury's (or Waitrose, depending on your demographic) pissed her off. 

2, Make remarks to indicate that you are listening. A simple 'Uhu' now and then will suffice. 

3, Always notice what she is wearing, especially if it is new, and always say it looks great. ALWAYS. 

4, Ditto hair. Notice that is has been coloured/cut/blow dried/shaved off. 

5. Talk to her about her feelings. And your own feelings. And everybody's feelings. A LOT.

6, Combine this with trying and stay awake on a Saturday night long enough to say the regulation, "I love you" at 10.30 pm before... Well, you know what before.

7, This bit is crucial, you MUST actually stay awake on a Saturday night long enough to actually have sex.

8, Say, "I love you", be romantic, do big gestures, book tables for dinner and weekends away. Notes on the pillow telling her you think she's beautiful would be good. That's a free special tip from me that will GUARANTEE sex, I promise. I know it sounds cheesy, but really, we are THAT easy.

9, Buy exciting and personal presents (nothing for the house and certainly NOT for the kitchen, unless it's a Kitchen Aid) for every single birthday/anniversary/Valentine or, best of all, for no reason at all. 

10, Do not think that unloading the dishwasher or hanging up a bit of washing is a substitute for any of the above because although very nice and much appreciated YOU SHOULD BE DOING THIS ANYWAY. 

A bit of all of the above - as listed - combined with trying not to fart in her presence ALL THE BLOODY TIME and picking up your dirty pants will work an absolute treat. Really, it's not Rocket Science.

And don't come telling me I'm being sexist and why shouldn't men get any of the same treatment because men don't need any of the same treatment, they just want IT. Full stop. They are almost always in a state of high alert looking for a bit of action. Unless they are ill. They don't even mind farting. Honest. Well, not in my experience anyway.

That was my pitch. An absolute gem. How many other women might relate to this and give me some juicy/funny anecdotes to go in the piece? (anonymously of course). Loads! 

For example, I remember a girlfriend (not that sort) telling me that the way into a woman's knickers is through her head. Sounds nasty, but I knew exactly what she meant, and she wasn't being anatomical. (Just to clarify, she meant that women like to be wooed into bed.) 

Another friend told me that she always knows when her husband is after a bit because he suddenly and uncharacteristically asks, "So, how was your day?" before bedtime.

Conversely all men need is; "So how about it big boy?" and then they're off. 
Actually, who am I kidding? They don't even need that.

Sadly, after a discussion with a lovely editor at this national tabloid newspaper with a right leaning and popular woman's section, that shall remain nameless, I had to turn the work away because she (or rather 'him', upstairs, the overall dreaded EDITOR) wanted it to be about my own experience ONLY. In other words, he wanted it to be a piece in which I slagged off my husband.

No, I said. This is a piece about EVERYWOMAN. I want to write GENERALISATIONS about how most women feel about sex and love and relationships: that for women - most women - sex is part of a package involving intimacy, a feeling of connection, appreciation and being told they are loved once in a while, hence the survey. That was my angle. 

I was happy to write about myself a bit, to kick off, and then include lots of lovely funny anecdotes from other women - and maybe some men too, and top tips.

But no, they wanted it to be entirely personal, so I turned it down. I had to, didn't I? Bye bye work. Bye bye money. Not a good feeling. But I did the right thing. And not for the first time, damn it.

I did do the right thing, yes? I mean, I love my husband and he's a good man and I know it sounds like I'm saying that HE doesn't do these any of these things, as above, the romancing and the complimenting etc, but he tries his best, as I guess do 
most men, so I'm not going to write something that sounds like a massive whinge about him. I'm just not.

So, here is my third and final top tip about being a freelance feature writer for the national press: DON'T DO IT. 

Just put it all in your blog instead.

Comments please! On the blog. On twitter. On the Facebook page.

P.S. And for those of you on tenterhooks for news of the kitchen, I think I just may have found the builder - hooray!