Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Why I don't read James Herbert

When I opened “The secret of Crickley Hall,” James Herbert’s latest ‘chiller’ – the publisher’s description - I was seized, like many of his characters, with a nameless sense of dread.

Ahead of me lay a chunky read, topping the 500 page mark. It wasn’t the length that frightened me, though, but an overwhelming fear that it would be full of formulaic rubbish.

My options were limited. Either I could hand the book over to a top-notch psychic for telepathic analysis or venture into its pages alone. With psychics thin on the ground in this part of the world, there was no help for it. I was on my own. Before I started, though, I jotted down some of the plot lines I was convinced I’d find. If wrong, it would reveal my prejudices in all their ignorance. If right……well, put it this way. I also left my family a farewell note just in case I sank into a non-reversible catatonic trance half way through.

The book, I wrote, will be about a family with a trauma meeting a house with a secret. OK, so the title was a bit of a giveaway – it obviously wasn’t about a carbon neutral executive home set on a gated estate in Warrington.

Despite being set in the present, the setting would appear to be untouched by contemporary life. The locals would all be local - nobody would ever leave, except in a box after a brush with the supernatural. There would be a shop cum sub post office untouched by the dead hand of government. Business would be booming, despite outsider-hating staff whose idea of stock rotation would be dusting the newspapers announcing the relief of Mafeking.(Evil spirits are obviously big users of the counter services when it comes to renewing the pitchfork license or sorting out PAYE for the many minions of hell on the payroll).

The family would contain a) one person pathologically incapable of seeing anything wrong until he or she was engaged in hand to hand combat with Satan himself, and not always then and b) a troubled person who would exhibit an extraordinary degree of sensitivity to evil but whose wounds/screams/strange noises would be ignored or rationalised.

On hand would be a neighbour who would make elliptical allusions to the past, which the family would totally ignore.

Then I opened the book, the heavy front cover creaking almost imperceptibly as it swung ajar………

And here they are, the family with a trauma, arriving at Critchley Hall. Clearly not themselves James Herbert readers, the husband, Gabe, has successfully rented a house that every family with two small children and not an ounce of common sense would opt for, given half a chance.

There’s the gardener who comes every few days to give heavy hints as to the nature of the mystery surrounding the place. Then there are features to die for – often literally – like the approach to the front door, a slippery bridge over a swollen stream, the unlockable cellar door opening on to a deep well that plunges down to the handy underground river, and the rusty swing that moves all on its own. And that’s without the battery of funny noises, shapes and smells from dead and undead who spring on to the scene at every possible opportunity.

Eve, the mother, is grieving her third child, a son, lost a year ago. He may be dead, or abducted. She thinks he’s communicating telepathically with her, possibly to let her know that he’s escaped through one of the gaping holes in the plot to a book with a better structure and is trying to persuade her to do the same.

By page 40, the family has settled into a natural routine, ignoring the enigmatic gardener’s sinister comments about the house, and dismissing the strange children’s voices and footsteps initially as mice, then, as they increase in intensity and volume, as rats and, finally, squirrels.

With the supernatural not so much manifesting as flaunting itself, it would have taken a troupe of performing badgers out on a stag night to have shouldered the blame. No triple mortice lock can ever keep that darn cellar door shut and puddles of water keep appearing on the stairs. The good ghosts are eleven WW2 orphan evacuees, presumed drowned in flood at Crickley Hall – but two bodies have never been found. They are victims of the murderous teacher appointed, with his sister, as their carer. He, too, is a ghost regular, appearing at one point completely naked and flagellating himself with a cane, something that would make him a popular guest at many an extreme suburban wife-swapping event.

It’s no wonder that Lili, the tormented psychic Eve attempts to recruit via a two-year old small ad in that flourishing village store, has second thoughts about accepting the case – it’s a toss-up as to whether her efforts will nail her a ghost or a bit part in an extreme makeover TV property programme.

With ghost activity in overdrive, the book ends in a pyrotechnic display of blood, flood and mud, with the past revealed in all the glorious detail that James Herbert can muster, including a generous dollop of titillation in the form of paedophilia and sadistic child killings. And if your idea of a happy ending is one where a troupe of child ghosts appears on the stairs in period costume, waving goodbye before setting out for heaven, rather like the Von Trapp children in the farewell scene of ‘The Sound of Music,’ then settle down for a cracking finale.

By the end, I, too, felt as if I’d died, but missed heaven and ended up in a state of numbing limbo. But then, I re-thought things. OK, I hated the book. But, as I scanned the papers, full of stories about Polonium poisoning, killings in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorist threats, I started to realise why people might turn to Mr Herbert’s chillers. They have a pleasant, reassuring feel to them. In real life, nobody seems to have the resources or will to sort out the nightmares that surround us. In James Herbert’s world, evil is real, touchable and, reassuringly, remains confined to a few cellars in rural locations, capable of being knocked out by a single family armed only with a bunch of clich├ęs.

And if his readers continue to find that comforting, frankly, who can blame them. Good luck to the man.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Baden Powell mon amour

We owe you, Baden-Powell, big time. Thanks to the Scouting movement centenary, we've been able to park all three of our offspring at camp. The older two are away for a week; Deborah for just one night. But it's time enough for the two of us to achieve a togetherness that isn't normally possible.

We take in a couple of exhibitions, drink vintage champagne in the garden and talk of every topic under the sun.

Then, this morning, we fulfill one of my dreams. We make up a breakfast tray - freshly squeezed orange juice, croissants and an enormous cafetiere of Fair Trade Arabica, medium roast - and go back to bed where we take it in turns to read to each other. Francis enjoys extracts from 'The Yacoubian Building' - a brilliantly observed study of the different forces at work in contemporary Egyptian society - while I thrill to 'Goldfinger', Francis' all-time Bond favourite, chosen to mark its re-release this week.

Well, it would have been nice.

The reality? We open several bottles of Rioja and discuss tax credits and the drawbacks of Ritalin to the gentle accompaniment of hinges falling from malnourished and under WD40'd kitchen units, while, outside, overflowing gutters rain duckweed and moss down the walls.

Next morning, we discover we've run out of coffee, orange juice and croissants and return to bed with black tea and hangovers. I read Francis our latest rave reviews from our latest utility bills ("Must close soon!" "Will become enormous!" ) and he shares the exciting news from the pension company that if we play our cards right and eat nothing but boiled pasta after retirement, it could take well over a year before we starve to death on the projected income our funds are likely to generate.

Then the doorbell rings. It's the plumber, bright and early, come to check whether the base of the loo really is swaying alarmingly when I sit on it, or if I'm a tragic victim of drink-related Wobbling all over the Place syndrome.

Well, it's a start. And next year, Deborah will be able to camp for THREE WHOLE DAYS. In that time, and with just a little bit of luck, I reckon Francis and I should be able to work our way through some more classic reading material: the complete Explanatory Notes of the 2007 - 2008 Tax Return, complete with corrections, for example. And if we book our home delivery now, we might even remember to order some croissants.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Crumhorns at dawn

"Please come," says Cultured Mum.

I say nothing. Cultured Mum doesn't so much ask favours as demand sacrifices with potentially life-affecting consequences. Last time I failed to say 'no' quickly enough I found myself drafted in as a last minute replacement for the cookery demonstration at Ladies Night, the annual bonding event organised by Deborah's school.

Parents still talk in hushed voices about my sushi making demonstration. It was going well until Bad Lindy, who was bending over backwards to show everyone exactly which bits of her body were double-jointed, discovered a super flexible section and the shock made her fall on top of my food prep area just as I was talking about the importance of selecting the correctly balanced filling, and overturn it.

It was her idea to pick up the grains of rice from the floor. It was my mistake not to knock her out with the mixing bowl when she started reshaping them into little balls.

Personally, I thought the PTA over-reacted. After all, the salmonella outbreak was limited to just a few teachers and they only had to close the school for a week.

So this time round, I'm extremely wary.

"I've been asked review to review a concert for this music site. Colin's going to be there, and I don't want to give him the wrong idea."

"Colin? Anyone who's called Colin and has a whiny voice qualifies for some sort of disability benefit,"I say. "Anyway, if you're worried, just take your bassoon with you and honk at him if he gets frisky."

"You don't understand," says Classical Mum. "He's a world crumhorn authority. He'll probably take it as a sign that I'm keen. No, I need you as well. Tom refuses to come. He says he'd rather risk his marriage than listen to anything Radio 3 is prepared to do as a live broadcast."

Five hours later I'm sitting in a concert hall between Colin and Cultured Mum who are exchanging remarks about Early Music over my head.

"It's a real antiphonal exchange, isn't it?" laughs Colin. Cultured Mum is right. He definitely has a whiny voice. Perhaps it's all that crumhorn tongueing.

The concert features Shostakovitch, and lots of it. To my mind, it's a classic example from his prolonged, 'I wonder if I should put a recognisable tune in here. Oh, bollocks, can't be arsed. Let's have some more percussion. Oooh, isn't it loud," period, which probably explains my limited success as a music teacher.

Judging by the heartfelt sighs on either side of me, this is a minority opinion.

“I liked the saxophones,” I say, afterwards, trying hard to come up with something penetrating yet original. “Mmm,” says Cultured Mum. “I don’t think there were any saxophones in that piece. In fact, I’m not sure they’d even been invented.” She and Colin exchange indulgent smiles.

"My gooseberry days are over," I say to her, on the way home. "I am not doing this again."

She smiles. "Don't worry," she says. "I expect I'll manage."

I may not have that good a musical ear, but even I can sense a nuance. And if things develop and Tom finds out, will it be crumhorns at dawn?

All awards and no knickers......

.....but aiming to add fur coat to the ensemble very soon, courtesy of Bad Lindy. Thanks, DJKirby of Wild Hippie Child and Exquisite Dreams.

Wolfgrrrl and Orchidea, would like to pass Inspirational Blogger on to you because you both offer a consistently interesting way of looking at life - though you're very different in approach.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

All in the mind.

'Am on way to meet man who may be mad axe murderer at concert. Tom says he couldn't care less but to let him know if I'm not coming back so he doesn't wait up'

Cultured Mum is clearly in a bit of a state. Not content with the impact of Nordic walking on her body, she's decided to give her brain a work-out, too. Where others might make synapses swell and flex with back copies of 'The Puzzler' magazine, Cultured Mum has started swapping thoughts on The Arts with a man who runs a classical music website.

They've got quite an intense e-mail relationship going, and now things are moving on. He's asked her to go to a concert with him, with a view to commissioning some reviews. To her own amazement, she's said yes - it's on a Saturday night, too - and is now suffering agonies of conscience as a result.

"Stupid cow," says Bad Lindy who is round at Vicky's, drinking wine and picking through the crisps to see how many have been pre-gnawed by rodents. "She probably gets her thoughts laundered so they're all pure and white, let doing anything to be guilty about."

Bad Lindy snatches the 'phone and stabs out a reply.

'Atta girl. Am proud of u. take studded condoms and ky jelly. i think it's great that you're going 2 makle fker Tom jealous. Hope ure really dressed up with plenty of make-up and huge cleavage.'

There's a long pause. Then the reply:

'Think may have killed jealousy by telling Tom the man has small, whiney voice.'

'Wot's rest of him like?' texts Bad Lindy. 'foto would be nice as proof. Tell him Bad Lindy insists. We're waiting, innit.'

Two hours later;

'All fine. I even told him that was a little worried he was rapist or killer and he said that was a mad axe murderer but this was his day off as otherwise runs out of axes. Phew! And think I've got reviewing work out of it, too.'

'Reviewing is a piece of piss,' texts bad Bad Lindy. 'Just put 9 out of 10 - phwoarr. Works every time. Tell him I'm I'll be on the next train to give him a full critique. Reasonable fees. Instant feedback.'

Still rockin'

But in green, this time. Thanks so much, mid-lifer. Am thrilled.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Pig in clover.

Francis may not exactly be in employment, but I can't stand it any longer. I want to spend, spend, spend or, more accurately, borrow, borrow, borrow.

A local shop, part of a chain, has a super duper fitted kitchen sale, offering massive reductions. Like a wasp in jam, a pig in clover or a drunk in charge, I'm there, propping up the counter and desperate to be sold something.

Or, there again, maybe not.

"What size is this cabinet," I ask the assistant, pointing at a brochure.

"120 cm. Wait. They've got it wrong. They've put it as width. Of course, they mean length."

"I'm not sure they do. Width is across. Length would be height. This is the measurement across."

She gives me a look of loathing.

"Let's just write the number down, shall we?" she says. "We can take it from there."

"Shall I write it down on this catalogue?"

"NO," she says, snatching it away."That's our copy. It's our Bible."

"So where can I write it down?"

"On your sheet of paper. We're out of catalogues."

I scribble on an old overdue notice from the library.

"So do you have any of these 120 cm cabinets left?"

She sighs.

"The sale has been going on for a week already. I know we haven't got any with doors. We might have one with baskets."

"Could you check?"

There's a pause, then the tappity tap of a keyboard, following by a well-regualated curse..

"The computer's showing we've got four in Exeter and five in Aberdeen. Only baskets. There's no way that's true, though, because they'd have been inundated with calls. All you can do," she says, lowering her voice as if about to impart a piece of immense wisdom, "is to go round from store to store and see what they have left."

I start to point out the drawbacks of this idea but her eyes are already glazing over.

"So that's the 120 cm unit," she says, with an approximation of brightness in her voice. "Is there anything else?"

"Actually, yes," I say. "I'm talking about a whole kitchen, remember? We won't get far with a single 120 cm cabinet which isn't in stock anyway."

"Actually," she says, in her turn, leaning forward, "You're going to have to decide quickly. We're going to be moving right out of kitchens. It's so difficult to meet consumer demands."

"I think that's a wise corporate decision," I reply."And what having no units in stock to move out of, I'm sure it won't take any time at all."

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Blindingly obvious flood tips? We've got 'em

No electricity? No running water? Swimming around like a headless chicken?

No need to worry. Fortunately, the Department of the Blindingly Obvious, relocated to one of our leading national newspapers for the Silly Season, is only too keen to help out with hints and tips to put you right:

These include the following:

"If you can get to the shops, buy batteries and torches." It says nothing about what to do if you can't. Dive for flints, dry them out and pray for sparks, perhaps.

"Tune in to a local radio station for the latest news." Not tuning in severely impedes the quality of news on offer. Oh, and don't forget to turn it on first. Unless you've forgotten to get to the shops and buy batteries and torches, in which case go back to the top and start again.

"Get to a friend's or relative's house for a shower, or for washing clothes." Be honest. Would you ever have worked that one out on your own?

All quotes courtesy of The T****s.

Tomorrow's special promotion: Guess the weight of a typical reader's IQ

Post traumatic squirrel

"How are things?" I ask Vicky.

"Fine," she says. "Apart from the kitchen."

"It's not rats again, is it?"

"They weren't rats," she says firmly."They were squirrels. Quite definitely."

"I thought I heard you mention hairless tails."

"Probably squirrels with stress-related baldness," she says. "It's all that moving home."

I'm still not convinced.

"Just think what it's like for little furry squirrels, breaking into somebody else's kitchen, always worrying that the enticing-looking crumb isn't leftover Christmas cake but warfarin. It all gets too much and one day - bouf - no tail fur. Anyway, that's not the problem," she adds, hurridly.

It turns out that her elderly washing machine has become incontinent. It can no longer be bothered to use the drain but, unknown to her, has taken to relieving itself down behind the kitchen units, which are beginning to smell distinctly cheesy.

Dave the manic decorator is coming to have a look at it. He arrives minus a toolkit but wielding a large axe.

"You've caught me on a manic day," he says. "Lucky you." He hefts the axe from hand to hand as he speaks. "I think you've got a blocked drain."

"And the axe?"

"It'll be vegetation growing straight into it. It's all that rain. The plants are going wild. It's like the Triffids out there. I had to fight off two of my own giant marrows before I'd got five feet into the garden this morning. Good thing I had my axe."

Vicky lets him into the garden and gets on with a little light squirrel spotting to pass the time.

Ten minutes later, there's a gigantic crash and the sight of a mass of green falling from the sky. Vicky rushes outside. Dave is standing proudly atop a pile of leaves.

"Got the bugger," he says, proudly.

"That was my wisteria," says Vicky. "I was training it up the house."

"You'd never have trained that," says Dave. "Not in a year of obedience classes. I saw the look in its face. It was heading straight for your drain."

"Well, it hadn't got there yet," says Vicky. "Have you actually looked at the drain yet?"

"Not as such," says Dave. Together, they investigate. After a while, they haul up something sodden and furry. It turns out to be a very, very dead rat. Or a squirrel, so traumatised by its lack of tail fur that it's drowned itself.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Sheherazade and the Big Packets

It's a toss up as to who is more deluded, Francis' old employers or his new ones.

The old company is still inviting him out for farewell meals apparently unaware that he hasn't been there for three months now, while the new one thinks he's just handed in his notice and is having to fend off inducements to stay.

And to add to the confusion, he's still going to interviews.

Today, he's off to a food company. To impress this lot with his enthusiasm he's spent several hours putting together a presentation that features photographs of the company's products on display in a range of supermarkets. Apparently this makes for riveting interview material, though I'd have thought that the striking absence of production values would make it pall almost immediately as edge of the seat entertainment.

"There's one of the big packets on a high shelf," I imagine Francis saying. "And look - there's one right next to it. And what's on top of it? Another big packet. Oh - look. There's a gap. But there was a big packet there. Wake up, everyone. I'm just about to do the next shelf down. And you'll never guess what I've spotted....."

Pictures like this come at a price. Yesterday, Francis was almost thrown out of a branch of Tesco's for taking photographs of their shelf displays. No wonder. Pointing a camera at cartons beats train spotting hands down for anoraknophobia and it's probably contagious.

"What happens when you run out of photographs or the interviewer wakes up?" I ask.

"I tell them what I plan to do over during my first 100 days there," says Francis.

"So what are you going to say?"

"Well," says Francis, dreamily. "I think they could do with a really good photographic library."

It's not exactly Sheherazade. But if that's what passes for the magical art of the storyteller in packet food land, who am I to break the spell?

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Thoughtful blogging

Thanks, Mother at Large, for awarding me 'Thoughtful Blogger' status. I'm getting more praise from blogging than from any other aspect of my life. How sad does that make me? No - wait, don't answer.

The mid-mouse approach

Marion the hairdresser is back, accompanied by Janet, the colourist. At least it's taking my mind off the piano.

Marion doesn't do colouring. "If I so much as look at those chemicals, I get this allergic reaction," she explains, pulling up her trouser leg for a more graphic demonstration, at which point seasoned customers tend to shut their eyes, though nodding supportively.

So Janet's the one for colour me beautiful hair. Not that she's that good an advertisement for her products. Her own locks are distinctly patchy. "Flyaway," she says, stroking the thinning pageboy cut. And repeat business tends to be confined to a handful of clients who are either too apathetic to care or, like us, haven't got the heart to say 'no' - at least, not every time.

Unfortunately, Janet has a cautious approach. If she could, she'd colour everything mid-mouse and given a free hand, I suspect she wouldn't confine it to hair. If there's such a thing as a mid-mouse approach to life, she has it.

Most people somehow resist the minor slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Not Janet. Every new pinprick of a setback brings her to her knees, emotionally speaking, to the point where, were she ever invited to play Maria in 'Sound of Music', there'd be no option but to change the Mother Superior's rousing song to, 'Climb every molehill' - and even then you can guarantee that Janet would be demanding back-up oxygen after the first few inches.

Every day dawns on a landscape of sadness. Some might suggest it's nothing a good slap wouldn't sort out, but Marion, kind-hearted to a fault, just isn't the sort of person capable of administering one.

Today, though, even she is getting fed up.

"Yesterday she arrived with her eyes welling," she mutters, combing my hair with slightly more enthusiasm than is comfortable, while Janet is sorting out the tools of her trade - tissues, mid-mouse colouring and more tissues.

"She has to have the same lunch every day - a triple cheese sandwich from the petrol station round the corner. Yesterday they'd run out. 'I particularly like my triples. I went in three times and each time they weren't there,' she said.

"Then I suggested trying Marks and Spencers. She got one, then virtually cried because it didn't taste the same.

"So to cheer up her up, I gave her this candle. It's one of those great big church ones with pink and purple flowers. It's lovely but not really my style.

"Anyway, she just looked at it, her eyes welled up again and she said, 'But I haven't got any matches,' in this tone of genuine misery. So I went round the corner and bought her some. Honestly."

"I thought you made her go on that life course you were telling us about," I say.

"I did," says Marion, grimly.

"What happened?"

"She refused to get up on stage and share her traumas with the audience," says Marion, in a voice of outrage. "Then she told the organisers she thought it was making her feel worse and demanded a refund."

Janet reappears. I look at her with a new respect. Mid-mouse on the exterior, core of steel on the inside.

"So, what are we doing today?" she asks.

"Pink?" I say. "Bright red? Purple?"

She stares at my hair for a moment. "I think," she says, finally,"that what would suit you is a nice, mid-tone."

Sunday, 22 July 2007


Thanks, Gwen for nominating me (and for telling me how to post the picture). Now this one I think I can quite safely pass on to Stay at Home Dad for being constantly entertaining about day to day life - and giving an alternative perspective. Well, alternative if you're not a bloke, that is. Look at those muscles! Phwoarr!

Kissing slugs

I return after a day out, first checking the house for pentagons (now available as a colourful stencil set), packs of jackels, stray pieces of glass sticking out of passing clerics. Fortunately, apart from what sounds suspiciously like the piano playing bravura exerpts from 'Carmina Burana' all on its own, we're clear.

Next, it's time to see who, if anyone, can sort out those broken pedals.

Piano technicians are a strange bunch who appear to need little sleep and work round the clock. We get one e-mail at midnight on Saturday evening from a man in Cambridge. On the phone, the next morning, he treats me just like Vicky reporting yet another car accident, interspersing his questions with tooth sucking so violent that I anticipate the ping of molars hitting the mouthpiece at any second.

I become, inevitably, apologetic and am hard-pressed to avoid wittering.

"Honestly, guv, I was just taking it out for a spin through a simple C major prelude, not exceeding the suggested tempo - and I've got the metronome evidence to prove it - when, blow me down, I got my sostenuto mixed up with my accelerando and ker-boom, ker-plunk." Or something.

The next blow is the cost. His solution is to send down two technicians to see me, one, no doubt, to inspect the damage, the other to tut loudly and say things like, "I had that Mozart in the back of my orchestra pit, once."

And the cost? We're talking hundreds. Well, he's talking hundreds. I'm running down to the garden to find a few frogs to kiss or, failing frogs, a couple of slugs. Look, I'm not proud. For all I know, they'll turn into a brace of enchanted hedge fund managers.

To add to the fun, the piano was a gift from my mother in law, passed down from her mother. Both, of course, were wonderfully talented musicians who managed to ship the piano round Europe without the loss of so much as a hammer felt.

Now, I may have to send it out, pedal stumps wrapped in filthy bandages, to beg for the money to pay for the repairs.

Expect a roadside concert coming your way soon. Requests to move on a speciality.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Pedal power

Vintage piano pedals have a robust iron core, coated with brass. Not that I had any idea of this until an hour or so ago, when I had the chance to cradle one of our pedals in my hand, because it had been broken off so cleanly that it looks as if somebody has sliced through it with a knife.

And it can't be metal fatigue, because it's not just one pedal, it's both. No more forte, no more piano. Both pedals have been cut with one clean swipe. They're lying on the carpet, stump ends still attached to the fiddly looking wooden levers inside the piano case.

The children deny all knowledge of having interfered with them. So does Francis. And, indeed, it's hard to see how it could have happened. You would have had to wade in with a heavy weight, supporting the pedals while you dropped it to ensure a good stress fracture.

As we stand round the piano, there's a crash from the next room. Francis' favourite picture has just hit the ground. Its extra-strength hook has sheered through.

It could be worse, though. Just imagine if I believed that invoking Bad Lindy's name could release powers of a magnitude beyond all human comprehension. And I don't........do I?

Bad Lindy - invoking the Power

One morning, the cat appears, one eye slitty and swollen and trailing strands of pus like a refugee from a poor quality face painter.

"Time to call Bad Lindy down at the vet's," I say, reaching for the phone. Very furry cats don't do facial emotion - no wonder the RADA admittance figures for felines are so low - but I could swear that this one makes a passable, though fleeting attempt, at total horror.

Then it disappears for the rest of the day, leaving me cast as Pathetic Pet Owner, attempting at intervals to call it back by rattling its food bowl in a voice oozing so much affection that not even Helen Keller would have been taken in.

It returns in the evening, eyes clear and bright, no sign of infection and stalks past me, tail aloft and twitching.

A week later, it develops a sudden limp in one leg. This in no way impairs its ability to savage me with the remaining three when I attempt to check it.

"It's another Bad Lindy moment," I caution it. Again I get the look.

This time it reappears two days later, limp gone, pace even and high-stepping and all but sticks its tongue out at me.

I try it on a dying house plant. "I'm calling Bad Lindy." If plants could produce beads of sweat, this one would. Within weeks, there's fresh leaf growth and even an embryonic bud.

Bad Lindy. Name of power. Invoke it....if you dare.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Road 2 nowhere

Vicky is picking up some of her son's friends to take them to a football match. They stare at the car.

"It's a loan car, isn't it? So where's yours?"

"Being mended," says Vicky.

"Is that because of the tractor you crashed into?" says one of the friends.

"That was months ago," says Vicky.

"No - it's because of that removal van which you thought was waiting to let you out onto the main road - only it wasn't."

"Don't be silly," says Vicky. "That was weeks ago. No. It's because of the fire."

The boys get in, reluctantly. Vicky drives to the sports field. She's just inside the entrance when the school bus ahead of her starts to reverse, trapping her car between the electronic gates, which close slowly on the wings.

Next day, car sporting brand new matching dents, she picks up another load of boys to take them to a swimming gala. One of the friends from the day before is passing as they get in.

"Put your seat belt on, guys," he shouts. "Vicky's a really crap driver."

She smiles, a little, but later that day I get a text from her.

"OMG just had road rage. This woman in Sains. van dropping off shopping in my road stopped so no 1 could pass. Waiting ages so did little polite peeps. No response. One car turned round, i waited with cars behind me. when eventually she left i shouted, R U allowed 2 just park like that? Yes, she said rudely. I said i've got ure number plate. She said do u want my fone number 2 & i said i'm not a lesbian. Kids laughing hysterically behind me. Have never done that before. Grr xx."

That evening, she's supposed to be collecting me to go to a school concert. I suggest we both walk.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

A no brainer

Rodents don't normally make great dads. They mate, they leave, they show scant interest in their offspring, except as an occasional snack.

Not California Mouse, though. Maybe it's the climate; maybe the liberal attitudes to parenting, but California Mouse Dad is the recently discovered exception that proves the rule.

He meets his partner, falls in love, takes an equal share in raising the kids and never eats them (unless he really can't be bothered to do yet another late night supermarket run and they're out of Doritos - well, even perfect mice have their weak points).

And his reward for his paternal devotion?

Why, death and brain analysis, naturally. Scientists love California Mouse Dad. His brain grows more neurons because of his more evolved social interractions, making him so much more interesting to dissect.

The message? Stay a carefree, unreconstructed, offspring-eating rodent or evolve into something more caring and have your brain chopped up by scientists.

What would you choose? As they say, it's a no-brainer.

Try explaining that one to the kids.

Crumbling battlements

I don't need fortune cookies to sum up my life to be. Or horoscopes. As for soothsayers - consigned to history.

These days, if I want pithy comments about the now and future me, I just consult my latest batch of e-mails.

As I will myself to open the latest demands from fuel companies, the council and the bank, a new message flashes up. 'Buried in paper and clerks?' asks Pocket Lovelace.

Spot on, Pocket, at least as far as the paper's concerned. And I can think of several people (notably Bad Lindy, assuming you count her twice, which most people automatically do, so stunned are they to find such an overwhelming personality contained in just the one body) who would be more than thrilled to find themselves up to their chests in clerks. Or higher-ranking administrative staff, come to that.

I check my inbox a few hours later for the solution to my next pressing problem. Some of my clothes are so old that they merit conservation status and I have to seek permission from the Heritage people before replacing the buttons. But can I really justify increased bank rage by replacing them?

Lacy Villareal is in no doubt. 'Ungodly cleavage' is her brusque analysis. I check in the mirror. She's completely right. I head for the shops.

Later on, after a bad-tempered evening where I manage to shout at everyone, including the dog, I log in for a final word from the experts.

It's Lacy again. "Sullen and sad with crumbling battlements," she says. I've been described in various ways over the years, but there's no getting away from it. Lacy has got me absolutely to a T.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Nature notes

In National Parks round the country, breeding efforts have clearly been hugely successful.

Newly hatched clusters of grannies huddle together. At this stage in their life cycle they're almost defenceless, and without eating their own body weight in custard creams every day will quickly die.

This year, fortunately, there's been a bumper biscuit crop, though the rain has turned the gypsy creams soggy in the middle, making dunking a lonely and messy business. But every cloud has a silver lining - the rain has led to an unexpected benefit: the formerly rare call of "Ooh, you do look nice," such a characteristic part of the mutual grooming ritual, has now become relatively commonplace.

The grannies must also be taught the essential skills that will give them the camouflage that's vital if they are to dodge their natural predators - the muggers and rogue tradesmen. Several of the tamest grannies have been lured into the visitor centre by trained scientists calling, 'One pearl, one plain,' - a cry they're genetically programmed to recognise before birth. To see them manipulate the knitting needles - hesitantly at first, then with increasing speed - is one of nature's marvels. Starting with a small mitten, they quickly graduate to scarves. And by the time they fly off to establish their own territories, each one is sporting the shapeless, indeterminately-coloured cardigan that allows them to blend invisibly into any typical suburban street scene.

Bad Lindy, too, has been harvesting her own crop of men. They seem to have responded well to the rain and this year, the harvest is quite outstanding. Some haven't developed quite as well as she'd like, some have developed almost too well but the end result is the same. There's a man surplus.

She does her best to cope. She takes a couple on holiday and then, as the weather is a little unpredictable in the caravan park, packs a couple of spares to use as blankets for extra warmth.

But one woman just can't deal with them all, and confusion is setting in.

One afternoon, on the way home from the playground, Deborah's bike develops a flat tyre.

A car hoots and slows down. Bad Lindy is in the passenger seat, a man beside her. She is two bottles cheerful.

"Something wrong?" she shrieks. I explain. "Oh, it's no problem. He'll take the bike and drop it off home." She gestures to the man beside her. "Won't you, honey," she says, patting his cheek. He nods, then gets out, and together we load the bike into his boot.

Deborah and I wave as they screech off into the distance.

"Mummy," says Deborah. "They're going the wrong way."

Two hours later, we're home, the bike isn't, and Bad Lindy isn't responding to her texts. I can only assume she's going for a bit of crop rotation.

Go to work on a flute, says Megadik

You've got to hand it to Megadik. What an organisation for keeping its finger on the national, throbbing pulse.

As the Proms start and concert goers flock to the Albert Hall, surging climaxes a speciality on Wagner nights, Megadik is hard on their heels, a scary notion if ever there was one.

A few weeks ago they were promising the world a piano in every pill. Then their e-mails died away to almost nothing. Now, the summer push is on, with waves of communication to my inbox building with a emotional urgency redolent of late Romanticism at its best - all Sturm und Drang and no trousers.

Some might suggest that it's homage to Sir Edward Elgar. Others might, with justification, tell me to try getting out more.

The message, though, is clear. Piano shaped parts are so last season. Megadik customers are voting, though not necessarily with their feet.

So, instead, the company has broadened its musical remit.

Their message is simple. 'Take Megadik and get a bigger flute," is their latest promise. But why stop there? Oboe envy is probably rife amongst woodwind players.

And for those people worried that they might be blowing their own trumpet - and that's probably something Megadik regulars can do in their sleep, though let's hope not - they've also started circulating testimonials.

I don't know about you, but, "Sometimes the effect is still noticeable the next morning! I've even tried a third of a pill once (I didn't split it very well) and I still felt the desired effect," is incredibly convincing, though very slightly lessened by discovering that its author is one Samantha Bledsoe of Apalachin, NY.

But my mind's made up. Francis is definitely getting a bassoon for his birthday. I know he'll get a lot of fun out of it. One way or the other.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

A rush of desire

I'm scrubbing the vinyl floor in the kitchen. It's a place where ingrained dirt and faded pattern fight for supremacy and it's impossible to tell who's winning. This morning there's the added fun element of mysterious patches of water which appear like joke shop mirages all over the floor.

It's no good. I can't stand it any more. Buoyed by the thought of money - even less money - coming in again, I start sneakily scouring the Home and Garden section of Ebay, my consumer bible, 'The defaulter's guide to loan sharks,' on my lap.

Within seconds, I'm doing a Burglar Bill on the merchandise on offer. My head starts to spin with the sheer over abundance of it all. My desire is sharper than a knife. I experience a rush of blood to the head and saliva to the mouth.

Everything, it seems, can be built in. Washing machines, dish washers. Presumably somebody's come up with handy little nooks and crannies where you can pop the children, pets and husband on convenient, load-bearing hooks.

Soon the descriptions blur in my head. Freestanding Victorian dresser with in-line descaler? I'll have that. Self-sharpening knife drawer with lime-washed spare tyre? Oh, go on then. Butler's sink with pivoting, slightly waxed previous owner? It would be rude not to.

I show my list to Francis, with not a little pride. He studies it. "Well, you've certainly been thorough," he says. I beam with pride. "Now, all we've got to work on is the cost and the kitchen dimensions."

I wait, expectantly.

"To fit this lot in," he explains, patiently, "would need a kitchen 100 feet square and cost a fraction under £86,000."

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Honoured as I am

....to accept the award of Rockin Blogger from Mother at Large, I'd like to thank the friends, neighbours and close relations whose exploits have been recorded here, so far without any libel damages changing hands.

No animals have been injured in the making of this blog, with the exception of one lamb. (That's probably enough lamb references).

I'd now like to pass on the Rockin Blogger award to To Miss with Love - because she is invariably entertaining and eye-opening. I would award it to Stay at Home Dad because he's so good at turning the detail of parenting into a moving read, but I guess the 'girl' business might be a bit of a problem for both of us.....so I'd like to award it to Brillig, for stirling services to laughter and sanity.

And I have now overcome the technical problem of the logo. At first I couldn't get it up, as it were. Now I can. From 'phobe to 'phile in just 30 minutes.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Core values

Vicky is on the phone in her kitchen when a little old lady passes her back door on the way to the garden. Naturally, this comes as a bit of a shock. "For all I know, there are master criminals out there using little old ladies as bait," she says to me later as she tells me the story.

So instead of yelling, "What the hell are you doing in my garden?" she raps politely on the window, then calls, "Hello - are you all right?"

The old lady looks slightly surprised. "I thought the house was uninhabited," she calls back through the glass. "It looks so dishevelled from the front. I didn't realise anyone lived here."

Vicky explains that, on the contrary, she's been there several years, and points out the presence of possessions and people - both normally considered a pretty failsafe sign of occupation.

"Can I come in?" says the woman, as though sailing into other people's back gardens were neither here nor there. "Can you come round to the front?" Vicky says, thinking again of the desperate rapists and murders who could be tiptoeing down the side passage behind her, carrying unmarked swag bags.

"Why - does this door not open?" says the little old lady, rattling impatiently at the handle. Vicky lets her in. She asks if Vicky has an apple tree. Nature is not one of Vicky's strong points, especially now Dave's thunderingly vast purple carrots are taking up all the available gardening space in her brain.

"I'm not quite sure," falters Vicky.

"I was in my garden late yesterday evening when a whole host of apples came pouring over the fence at great speed. I think some youths had come into your garden and were throwing them."

She makes Vicky go back into the garden with her so they can look for evidence. Eventually they find an apple tree, without a single fruit on its branches.

"Oh, perhaps it wasn't you," says the old lady. But Vicky has been thinking back to last night, when the children were playing so beautifully outside while she unpacked the holiday luggage.

And she knows full well that the only reason there are no apples is that her children have picked every single one and hurled it at the neighbours.

Still later, she and the children go round to the little old lady's house and present her with a box of chocolates. Immediately after that, and as soon as the front door has shut, the children roll around on the pavement, clutching their stomachs with laughter, totally unpenitent.

"I think the lamb incident has unleashed their inner psychopaths," said Vicky."Surely they're supposed to be feeling upset by now. Little bastards."

"What is it with me?" asks Vicky, "Things just happen."

As she says this, she puts the finishing touches to the children's tea. I realise that it is a very small rack of lamb.

She catches my eye."What?" she says, in the tone of someone spoiling for a fight. I decide to change the subject.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

No more worries for a day or two.......

Text from Vicky:

'Had great day out with kids. Took them go kartin then 4 a walk up a hill.

'Then all ruined cos they chased a lamb, son caught it, they all stroked it, he picked it up, it weed on him so he dropped it and it died, we think its neck was broken.

'All feel awful. I feel like shit. Hard 2 know how best to punish him.

'Ashamed to say we walked away. Know its illegal. F*** it.'

I read it to Francis.

"Well, at least they didn't barbecue it," he says.

There's the beep of another incoming text. I scan it. "Francis," I say, "You're not going to believe this........"

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Gagging for it

Received via Freecycle this evening:

'I really want to change my life for the better. i've read tones of self
help books, but i am looking for a person who is highly experienced in
life matters for email advice.

'Does such a person exist? I dont have money to pay but i am a talented
person who feels their life is going to waste.

'You could make a difference, to help guide me in the right direction. I consider
freecycle my virtual family, can you help?

'Eternally grateful.'

I think this may be just what Jim needs. Somebody who will value every scrap of advice he has to offer without even a hint of retching. It's a marriage made in heaven.

Unless, of course, it was secretly placed by Francis..........

Toady of Toad Hall

Former colleague Jim has taken on the role of unofficial job coach. He starts by rating each job that Francis is applying for. Then takes to ringing for a post-interview debrief. Francis is somewhat baffled. "Obviously I'm grateful," he lies."It's just that he's starting to make me feel nervous."

Things take a turn for the worse when Jim decides that Francis' follow-up strategy needs a bit of a helping hand.

After every interview, Francis always sends a few words of thanks, opting for a tone that he hopes conveys dignity over desperation, and manly gratitude over grovelling. But Jim isn't happy with Francis' efforts:

"The problem, old son, is that you're just not sounding keen enough. Here," he says. "Use this. Always works a treat for me."

Francis reads out Jim's effort:

'Dear Chap
'I have just returned from our meeting and wanted to thank your for your attention & hospitality; and to express confirmed interest in working within your team. I enjoyed meeting with you again, and taking you through the outline of how we could approach your business.
'I was interested to hear of your plans - it's certainly an exciting initiative.The opportunities to work on your brands are compelling, and offer interesting and exciting challenges that play to my strengths. I would be delighted if I were to be appointed to the role and would look forward to working with you, both on a professional and personal basis.

'I look forward to hearing how you wish to progress.

'Best regards


"What do you think?" asks Francis. After several seconds of mature consideration, I stick two fingers down my throat and make a gagging noise.

"Any interviewer with my mature emotional response will feel the same," I assure Francis. "And remember, retching is nature's failsafe way of spotting a toady."

"I suppose so," says Francis."It's just that the toadies seem to do fantastically well."

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Parallel lies

Francis receives his formal job offer by e-mail. His potential employers want him to start straight away. He doesn't. "I'm going to say that I'm on four to six week's notice. Then I can keep looking round for a bit."

There I was, thinking I'd got the hang of employment basics which I had pegged as follows:

Get job. Go into office.
Lose job. Stop going into office.

According to these simple definitions, Francis is now employer, job and notice period free. Yet he's managed to overturn the established order by losing his job while simultaneously still managing to be at work.

I ask him how he's managing to juggle a duel existence in a parallel universe when I'm struggling to keep just the one life ticking along.

He invites me to look at his e-mail address. After over a decade of marriage, you take your pleasures where you can, so I go off for a good stare. Its properties (which in this case must be supernatural ones) state, categorically, that instead of being francis@redundancynightmare.co.uk he's emphatically still francis@oldemployer.com

"It's still on their server," he says, proudly.

It turns out that all the nicer headhunters know he's left, while the nasty ones think he's still there. "Of course, it can be tricky remembering who knows what," he says.

Then, adding significantly to my sense of confusion, he heads off back to the old company for yet another farewell lunch.

Monday, 9 July 2007

All badged up

The childen are out doing socially useful things.

As Deborah is presented with a friendship badge for inviting a mate to Beavers, I'm overcome with envy. Where are the badges for my sterling contributions to motherhood?

There's 'Drunk' - well, I'd sail through that, though seeing straight enough to sew on the badge might be a problem - 'Shrieker' (demonstrations a speciality) and 'Shirker' - PTA cake sale testimonials available on application.

Leo, meanwhile, spends a day doing sports in bite-sized chunks. The structure, 40 minutes per activity, could have been designed with the hyperactive child in mind.

He flirts with rugby, revisits his old love, football and essays cricket, all topped and tailed with a good run.

As we drive home, I asked him how the day went. "I hurt my hamstring and learned a new song," he volunteers.

"Would you like to sing it to me?" I ask, imagining something with a suitably boisterous outdoor theme - rude, rough, and indubitably masculine.

"OK," says Leo. He clears his throat with some preliminary giggles and we're away.

Sung to the tune of 'This old man', it goes:

'I like drugs, drugs like me
Crack cocaine and ecstacy
With a sniff, sniff here and a jab, jab there
Now I'm in intensive care.'

Is this proof that the government's pro-fitness, anti-drugs message is getting through? Or exactly the opposite?

And what sort of Beaver's badge would I get for singing it with him second time round, beating time on the steering wheel? Say what you will, but I reckon that 'Irresponsible' is definitely in the bag.

Coming soon: The Dangerous Book for Mothers.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Music and the food of love

They say you should never judge on appearances.

That's not always true. In the case of Bad Lindy, for example, flight or fight options should be coursing through your mind within nanoseconds. And, for men, the price for failure is high. Hang about for more than a few seconds and she'll have brought in her own verdict and have you in the armlock of death.

Today, though, is a different matter.

I'm at a school picnic. There's the usual cast of characters. A large dog that careers through the food, trailing its lead and saliva through the ham sandwiches. "It's a pointer," says the owner, tracking its progress with slight dismay but greater pride. "It's supposed to range. But it keeps on coming back. Scott! Scott!"

There are the boys, friends and strangers, who find a ball from somewhere, make goalposts from branches and have no need of further introduction. The girls, who perch on surrounding fallen tree trunks, giggling and eying the boys, and occasionally making forays into the middle of the match and returning with trophies -football boots, sunhats.

I talk to one of the mothers. She is in her thirties, beautifully dressed and self-assured, a pianist with qualifications up to her well-shaped eyebrows who is almost as adept at the violin.

The first thing I notice is that she finds it hard to look directly at me. Either I've done something so unusually dazzling with my makeup that I have the aura of a divine being, or, more likely, recreated the authentic Medusa effect (there's nothing you can't do with a good selection of Clarins and a couple of pythons, my dear). Or she's not quite self-assured as she looks.

First she talks about her work. She's clearly a first-rate performer and teacher capable of inspiring even the least promising, who has seen her most elderly pupil - a widow in her 80s - through the loss of her husband, several fingernails, and the acquisition of considerable amounts of facial hair. "She says it's only my teaching that gets her through," she says, shuddering slightly.

Then she talks about growing up with her three solid meals a day parents who couldn't play a note but were determined that their daughter would swallow their dreams with her beef and roast potatoes, and steamed pudding and custard for afters. As the plate emptied, the time for practising came closer and with the last mouthful came the order to open the piano lid and get out the music.

They sacrificed everything for her, they told her. Now, as they wished, she makes her living from her music.

"Every time I get a cheque," she says, "I think it should have my father's name on it. And I have never enjoyed playing the piano. I don't even see myself as a musician."

She's marking time, the most accomplished non-musician in the music business, playing her heart out because that's what she's trained to do. Her father is 82. "When he dies," she says, "Then....then, I'm going move on. I don't know where. But it won't always be like this." And this time, she looks directly at me.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Below the belt

There’s a time and a place to catch up with your friends. Standing in line at the local chemists to buy threadworm pills, though, isn’t one of them.

Vicky and her children are midway up the queue of prescription-clutching oldsters when Bad Lindy pushes the door open.

"Blimey. It's the statin set on their day out. Mind if I join you?" she says, barging her way in next to Vicky, a tube of toothpaste in her hand. "What are you doing here, anyway? And what's with the dark glasses."

Vicky mouths something. "What?" says Bad Lindy. "I'll text you," hisses Vicky, tapping away on her phone. "There. Should show up any minute."

Bad Lindy reads the message. "Yuck! Threadworm" she says. "No wonder you didn't want to say it out loud."

By this time, the cholesterol queens are all turning round for a good peer at the parasite-ridden family in their midst. Vicky keeps smiling until she gets to the front of the queue.

“HELLO! HELLO!” says the cheery pharmacist, speaking entirely in block capitals and exclamation marks. “WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?”

“I need a family pack of threadworm tablets,” whispers Vicky.

It's at this point that an elderly woman, just behind, senses that this is a golden opportunity for a no holds barred public forum about public health.

“Threadworm pills?” she calls. “Have you got worms, then?”

The queue falls silent. Vicky's children try to climb into their sunhats so they can curl up quietly and die of mortification. People looked at Vicky, then away again.

“Well………” says Vicky, desperately.

“How did you get them, then? You’re very brown, have you been abroad? I expect you got them there.”

Temporarily satisfied, she relapses into silence until Vicky is about to leave the shop, clutching her pills, when she fires her parting shot:

“Did you get fleas as well, while you were away?”

"You know what, Vicky," says Bad Lindy, as they leave the chemist's. "You really should learn to be a bit more discreet. You don't want everyone knowing about your threadworm."

"Threadworm?," says the postman, who's just passing. "You need to nip into the chemist and get some pills. It's just behind you."

Vicky darts a look of hatred at him and Bad Lindy and rushes off with her children.

"Only trying to help," says the postman.

Bad Lindy lays a consoling hand on his arm. "And I'm sure you're very, very good at it..........." she says.

Friday, 6 July 2007

It's a job. But not as we know it.

"I've been offered a job," says Francis, with all the enthusiasm of somebody who's just been presented with a large slice of pizza with sick topping. It is, sadly, the wrong job.

The job he really wanted with the two merging companies - vision statement: 'we're very much in love' - has opted for incest and appointed somebody who works there already. But that's the way with romance.

Instead, he's been offered a role in a dynamic organisation selling men's beauty products. Though, being men, they're nothing to do with beauty - God forbid - but substances so innately virile that pores don't just spring open with just one application but bubble over with Vesuvial amounts of testosterone.

There's only one problem. Not only is it a pared down, six-stone weakling of a job with a job title to match, but the salary is substantially less that the one he was on.

"I'll be turning it down, of course," he says, matter of factly, opening a beer. A lot of thoughts course through my mind at this point. Particularly the urgent need to check how much his life is insured for, followed by a swift call to the insurance company to see if being arrested for murder is invariably a bar to receiving the payout.

But I have to be good. I have to be supportive. Though, let's be honest, I have very little choice. "You must decide what you want to do," I say, while the words, "It's a job, take it. It's a job, take it," roll round and round in my head.

Our money is dwindling rapidly. I am taking on more teaching work from September but it's not enough.

So does Francis open the box, accept the job - because it's a job, after all - or hang on in there because he's got more interviews over the next few weeks? I only wish I knew.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Vultures in stilettos

Down at the sports centre Leo is at a party in the main hall and I'm nursing a coffee in the bar, dodging the competitive mummies who circle the place like vultures in stilettos, skewering the weaker parents with killer questions.

Maybe it's me, but "Does Leo have special needs?" is a question I'd accept with equanimity only from my mother (though, as she's dead, I would be very, very surprised) or a close friend, and not always then.

But it's asked by a woman I scarcely know and not even prefaced by 'How are you?' or 'Nice to see you.' Call me Mrs Picky, but I reckon that curiosity this naked needs the decent covering of an opening conversational gambit, no matter how flimsy.

I make a non-commital answer, which in the hands of a good translator would almost certainly win the 'Best use of epithet' national award with a strong chance of sweeping the board in the world finals, and shoot her dead with the small, pearl-handled revolver I always carry with me for just these sorts of emergencies, together with a Get out of Jail Free card and a suicide pill.

Well, I would shoot her dead, but for my last minute gun for Pak-a-mak trade. It's a decision I now regret, though it was based, entirely logically, on the shortage of handbag space and the local forecast, which predicted persistent heavy rain but only sporadic outbreaks of casual violence, dying away from the West by early evening.

So instead, I'm sitting on the plastic banquette, wondering how long it would take to passive-smoke the other mother to death, or disembowel her with a coffee stirrer, assuming she stayed still for the several days that would be required to make the initial incision.

We're all victims now, old and young, big and small, carrying round our traumas like open sores, pointing out the particularly good suppurating bits to whoever will listen, and I rather assume that's what encourages relative strangers to ask whatever question they damn well please on the basis that whatever the hurt, it's better out than in

Well, bollocks to that. If I want to show off my sores, I will. In the meantime, I'll keep them well bandaged. And Leo's problems will be known only to me, you, and the schoolfriends of Beth's who have linked via her blog to mine and told their mothers.

And that leaves........Do stop it, Mum. I've told you before. Spin in your grave that loudly and you'll wake the kids up again.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Old school pig heads

Interview of the Week is with a publishing company, which has decided to shake off its old school tie image and concentrate on building a new, hard-edged sales team with a non-book background.

Briefed by the headhunter, Francis arrives prepared to deny reading anything except job descriptions, and so determinedly hard-edged that it's a miracle his elbows don't leave dents in the boardroom table.

His presentation, "How I saw off the combined forces of evil and saved the ozone layer with a buy one, get one free promotion," goes down a storm.

He does another psychometric test. "You come across not suffering fools gladly yet a likeable manager," says the interviewer. "There's just one anomaly. You had to agree or disagree with this statement. 'Some people think you are pig-headed,'" yet you chose to answer 'don't know'," He sounds genuinely baffled.

"That's because I don't know," says Francis.

Later, the headhunter rings. The publishing company has seen five candidates who between them offer more hard edges than a dodecahedron wholesaler but has opted for a sixth - a brandy-swilling, old-school tie merchant who'd take second place to a marshmallow in hard-edge contest and has a solid background in......publishing.

Later, I come across some personal ads placed by job-seekers.

One is from a freelance crossword/word game compiler who finds himself 'left behind in the business race due to lack of email, fax or online facilities'. Is there a potential employer out there, he wonders, 'able and willing to forego this computer-obsessed society and get down to good old-fashioned sensible business communication?'

You can only hope.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. A friend has elderly, increasingly vague parents. Her mother has had a fall and her leg is in plaster. She, and my friend's father, can't remember why:

'In the evenings, when they're getting ready for bed, Mum will say, "This is so uncomfortable, when am I going to get rid of it?" and Dad will say, "Where did that plaster come from." Then he'll get scissors and hack from the bottom end. Fortunately he never gets very far. So I wrote on the plaster, ‘fractured kneecap’ with arrows in both directions so Dad would know how serious it was and Mum would remember. Then I hid the scissors. Last night, the carer found Dad walking down the hall with a large carving knife and asked him what wanted it for. He said: "I can’t find any scissors. I’m going to cut off the plaster on Jean’s leg." Now we'll have to hide all the knives, too.

2. Message from woman with troubled marriage:

'I ask if OK when I'm cheerily cooking family supper. He says yes fine, thank you. I am very happily engrossed in my Times crossword. He is odd and I'm not. Should I leave the mismatchoddbod? Dare I? Do the fk I!? I daren't. Fkit.

3. Reading buddies
Deborah, 7, to me: Mum? What if you fall in love with your reading buddy?
Me: I should enjoy it
Deb: I never know his name.
Me; What if you ask him?
Deb: He just says it too quietly. At first I thought his name was Duncan, but I think he said, 'Lincoln'. I'll just forget it again and again.
Me: What's he like?
Deb: He has ginger hair and small eyes and freckles and he's sweet. But how can I think he's sweet if he's in Year 5 and I'm in Year 2? And he'll always be three years older than me. When I'm 8, he'll be 11. When I'm 11, he'll be 14. When I'm 12, he'll be (pause) 17?
Me (I can spot a soft learning opportunity when I see one) Think of your three times table
Deb: 19?
Deb: I'm not going on a date when I'm 7. But I might.........I might.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Mind over matter

There are times when I am convinced that, not only does my body takes second place to my mind, but it resents the unequal partnership.

My brain gets daydreaming and Higher Things: my body gets lumbered with the routine, low grade, day to day stuff, with just a small part of the brain stem nagging it on: "Keep the lungs going. And how many times do I have to tell you - you can't do the lungs and just forget about the heart. And look - that liver's got a lot on its plate. Keep that bile production up. And, no, you can't be excused intestine duty."

Then it's doors to manual once something exciting starts to happen and the bigger, grander brain bits step in to take control.

"Sharp corner! Brake! Brake! No - we need full consciousness here, thanks very much."
"Foreplay ahead. I'll take over here, thanks very much. Just remember, the way to a woman's satisfaction is via the brain. No, you can't start without me."

But, for the most part, I feel as if most of my brain is spending its entire time on autopilot, using what we're told is an almost infinite capacity for thought, conjecture and originality to ponder such deep, earth-shattering issues as:

Did that shirt really look better in pink?

If I go to the post office now, will I have time to do the shopping as well?

Where did I put the name tapes?

It all works pretty well until you hand over too much control and your body takes full advantage.

Which is why I spend days trailing myself, like an inadequate detective, wondering what my body has been up to while my brain was otherwise occupied. It can strike at any time. I start thinking about Leo, for example, and my body promptly sets off to mystery locations at a great rate. What makes it worse is its lack of judgement when it comes to quality destinations.

Finding myself in Paris wouldn't be so bad, but it never is Paris. My body is much keener on treks to front door or the boot of the car. The airing cupboard is another favourite choice, giving me the opportunity to survey the immersion heater in minute detail while wondering a) how I got there b) what I'm doing there and c) how much longer it's going to take to find out, until my synapses return from lunch break and start the afternoon shift.

Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot made much of his little grey brain cells. I bet he didn't have to count them all out and back again before he was able to put them to use.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Moderate support

So far, Francis has met fifteen headhunters and ten prospective employers. In adddition to Mr Tosser, he's been turned down by two companies for being over-qualified; one vinyl flooring company for being under-excited, and by Posh Headhunter for not having enough hair - at least, in the right places.

This week, he's going back to see the merging companies which are now so involved with each other that they're almost ready to consummate the relationship with a candlelit announcement for two and a short but moving exchange of ringtones by the chairmen. But, like dippy lovers everywhere, the sheer excitement of the thing - should the new logo feature both the bride and groom's names? - is making them horribly indecisive, especially about the sort of employee they should be hiring together. Senior....or not? Experienced ..... or not? Oooh, it's so difficult to choose, they giggle.

While they mull over the candidates like a box of assorted chocolates, Francis' nerves are a little strained. I try to keep my questions light but supportive, wondering just when it was that a sports bra became the best role model available to me.

"So, what's the toughest question you've been asked so far?" I say.

"This one," says Francis.

Forget sports bras. I think we may be talking hernia trusses.

I know how to please my man. In a matter of seconds, I have transformed myself into a miracle of erotic desire and he has forgotten all his troubles, at least during the sultry half hour we spend together.

As if. This is mid-afternoon weekend reality with three children and two pets, all of whom see the remotest sign of tenderness as a challenge to their attention-seeking abilities that must not go unanswered. And the only way I'm going to achieve transformation into an erotic anything is with a blowtorch and a large crate of miracle filler.

Instead, the phone rings with a litany of things we've forgotten. In seconds, I've knocked back a few Dylithium crystals and am preparing to cross the universe via an intricate network of wormholes so that Leo can be delivered on time to the football training session that started half an hour ago; Beth can be at the other end of the galaxy to listen to a friend charming the locals with her wind band and Deborah can open channels of communication with alien lifeforms by cross-universe screaming.

Having triumphantly negotiated the time/space continuum, thanks to graduating with distinction in module three of the Government's enlightened new training scheme for mothers, "Your child remains government property and must be surrendered upon demand," I am a few miles from home when smoke begins to pour out from underneath the dashboard.

We're passing a government building at the time. Because of the bomb fun of the last few days, police are everywhere, checking cars and noting numberplates. Mindful of Vicky's recent car-burning exploits, I pull in, wondering if the car has Al-Quaeda sympathies. Either that, or it resents the new ban on smoking and has taken to consuming 40 a day in public places just to get its point across.

I get out and am completely ignored. I call Francis who arrives, opens the bonnet, checks the wiring and re-starts the engine, looking both weary and slightly disbelieving. This is the point when I want the car to belch one more tiny, but conclusive blob of smoke from under the dashboard so I can yell, 'Exhibit A'. Nothing happens. Fortunately, the smell of old burning remains.

"Hmmm," says Francis. "It's got a plastic aroma, with undertones of rubber." He sounds like a wine taster. "I think it's simply something that got caught on the manifold."

He sounds so authoritative that that some weak, feeble heroine of yesteryear, all I can do is simper up at him like a girlie weed.

Vicky replies to an earlier text.

"Is ure car ablaze? Honestly, that's sooo last wk! And its my job. Get a disaster of your own, u tight bitch."

I show it to Francis and he laughs as he drives us home. It's clear that the whole incident has made him feel a lot better, if only for the fact that I still have no clue exactly what a manifold is.