Sunday, 30 December 2007

The seasonal snap of heartstrings

Beth's thank you letter to my mother in law. Pass the mallet so I can drive a few more spikes into my heart.

Dear Granny,

Thank you so much for a really awesome Christmas - I spent the evening drawing with my new pencils.

Our house feels so much smaller and untidy than yours.

I got so used to the formal lunches and your wonderful cooking - by comparison when we got back today we had a measly lunch of a few sausage rolls and no home-made pudding, just fruit.

I can't wait to come and stay with you again.

Lots of love


Saturday, 29 December 2007

Putting the carp in carpe diem

To say I've always had a cautious approach to life would be an understatement. Take insurance. I loved the notion that whatever my worst fears - illness, death, hideously defrosted food, snow on the BBC weather centre, Jonathan Ross' contract renewal, somebody would take my money and bet me it would never happen. Finances being what they've always been, I never did anything about it, you understand, but it was a lovely notion.

In the same vein, I used to save up my pocket money diligently so when that special, once in a lifetime toy came along I'd be there, waiting, able to recognise it in an instant and snap it up.

It took me a long time to realise that there was no such once in a lifetime toy and to accept that I'd be better off throwing away my pittance on rubbish like all the other kids.

Now, I'm treating my life the same way. I hoard it, anxiously trying to predict the unpredictable, guarding against accidents, impulses, extremes of emotion so when 'IT,' the once in a lifetime 'do it now, throw caution to the winds' moment comes along, I'll be able to grab it with both hands.

Only problem is that I think I may already have missed it.

So it's no wonder I'm struggling with the prospect of 2008. It's such an in yer face event. There you are, meandering through the dog end of December, days that seem as unwanted as the remnants of the Christmas turkey when everyone starts thrusting a whole year at you. And as for all those predictions that come with it - they're as vague and ill-defined as the presents in a Christmas stocking.

For somebody who finds living for yesterday or even the day before ordeal enough, seizing the day is an utterly alien concept. Having an entire year to seize is almost more than I can bear.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Well Met

We're about to leave to stay with Francis' parents and preparations are, in their decidedly disorganised way, proceeding apace, albeit at a snail's apace.

Things aren't helped when I'm driven into. I've just obeyed one rule one of suburban motoring lore, which dictates that in slow-moving traffic, you should always let in the first car queuing to turn left from a side turning but only a) if you like the look of the driver and b) they make a bit of effort to win you over - a smile, an imploring look or hard cash will all make a difference.

This time the car behind the one I let in appears not to like my interpretation of the rules and drives straight out and into the bumper, like a dodgem car.

I pull in. The other car follows. In it is a cosy looking elderly couple, obviously married. He is jovial looking with a large red nose and a benign expression. She is small and neat, wearing a smart dark jacket with gilt buttons.

"What did you do, exactly?" I ask the man. He shrugs. "Don't know, really. I'm not sure how it happened. I don't think there's any damage, though."

"I think we'd better swap details," I say. "Just in case. Who's your insurer?"

"I'm with the Met," he says.

"The Met?" I ask, stupidly, wondering why I've never heard of this exciting, new name in the wacky world of big finance and monthly premiums and hoping that Michael Winner won't pop up to endorse it.

"Yeah. The Met."

The nice wife now helpfully pulls down her blind. "Metropolitan Police," it says, in large letters.

"And do you have a warrant?"

"Yup. Here's my mobile phone number. Get your husband to call me later if he thinks there's a problem." I note the time, his registration number, the road name and we part company.

There are times in my life I've been glad that I've exercised restraint. Now is definitely one of those moments. There may be a right time and place for road rage but this isn't it. Unfortunately, it doesn't last. Dying to tell Francis about all, I wait till he gets home and say, perhaps not thinking the words through for long enough beforehand, "Francis, you just need to check over the car. Somebody drove into me from a side turning today and -"

"JESUS CHRIST!" says Francis, who has obviously had a bad day at the office, with too much HO HO HO and too few sales orders, "NOT AGAIN. You just don't realise how much all these excess payments add up."

Feeling a tad aggrieved to be interrupted midway through a cracking story and, furthermore, accused of telepathically inciting cars to drive into mine, I snap my lips shut.

"Did you get their details at least?"

"No," I lie, and carry on typing, cartoon style, fingers jackhammering keys at random.


Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Kittens and rainbows

Thanks to Debio for passing this on. It'll add a much-needed cuddly touch to my blog. It goes on to Iota (Not wrong, just different) in the hopes of getting her blogging again but also for leaving fabulously amusing comments; Mya (Missing you already) for being consistently witty; Snuffleupagus (To Miss with love) for continuing address the great, big educational issues but always with style and humour (though I'm convinced that she'll either get a book, a column or a peerage out of it) Go, girls, go.

The point of it all

"You have three children?"

"Yes, that's right."

Marion, the travelling hairdresser, is having her seasonal allergic reaction to holly, ivy, crackers with miniature handbells in them (Lakeland do them, if you really want to know) and piped carols, and is taking a break from hair so she can get her whole head sorted out instead, perhaps teasing the brain stem nodes into a pleasingly assymetrical arrangement with a fringe and fixing it with a blast of hairspray.

I've resorted, instead, to the local barber's which is run by two brothers and, despite an astonishingly large pole outside (bastard offspring of one of those outsize pepper pots beloved by Italian resaurants and a range of 'Arrogant' brand hair gel (extra big tubes only) promises unisex haircuts together, though not advertised, with an interesting line in scissor-side chat.

"Your brother told me he has a daughter in Instanbul," I say, to break a silence that has now lasted several minutes.

There's a pause as the barber meets my gaze in the mirror. His expression is completely blank.

"If he told you, it must be true."

"You don't sound convinced," I say.

There's another long pause, then:

"I don't see the point of this conversation."

Point? Since when did the edict go out that conversations with your hairdresser had to have a point? On the contrary, I thought that they were an exercise in comfortable non-sequitors which would at some point include holiday destinations, rain or the lack of it, the political situation - though painted with the broadest of brush strokes to avoid offending anyone, and a celebrity or two.

The haircut is finished in silence.

The next day I bring Leo and Deborah; Beth, who has spent several hours washing, straightening and then pouting at her hair in a mirror, refuses to come.

"On holiday?" the barber asks them. They nod.

"Lucky, lucky, you," he says. "I wish I was a child again."

"Why?" I'm about to ask him, always fascinated by this sort of comment and keen to know if people really mean it and would, if given the opportunity, trade places in order to labour through their lives all over again.

But, remembering the previous day's exchange, I bite the words back.

"I hope I didn't offend you yesterday," I say later, after I've paid.

"No. I am.....a big softy," he says, looking straight at me, deadpan, eyes as dead as any I've ever seen.

If he's a big softy, I am the Queen of Rumania.

Freecycler in nightmare candlelit menu mix up

"Offered: White solid plastic surfaced table. height 2' 5",width 3' 7", depth
2' 5" This is a perfectly adequate table but the legs are scoffed."

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Felled by the feel good factor

By the time I reel into Deborah's nativity play, I'm not in good shape.

I've been knocked for six by Noel, dazed by Divinity, felled by the feel good factor. And as for the seasonal alliteration: my dear, it's definitely getting me down.

Forget the Ice Queen and the splinter of snow that pierced Kai's heart (Kai - half boy, half goldfish, presumably): mine's been immobilised by a small, wiry strand of tinsel.

My parental credentials have already been somewhat undermined by Deborah's nativity outfit being sent back home again, owing to lack of fitness for purpose.

"They asked for a white skirt, white shirt, white tights, and that's what I sent them," I say to Deborah, indignantly.

"But it's a ballet skirt, Mum. They said it looked too much like what the angels are wearing."


"Mum, I'm Mary. Mary doesn't wear a ballet skirt."

"And just show me your theological proof for claiming that angels do," I say, then realise that I've had one too many sledgehammer v nut moments this year and that it's time to pull back.

Deborah ignores me. "They said not to worry, they'd sort out my costume themselves."

This, coming from a resource-impoverished state school, has to be one of the most degrading bits of feedback possible. To be honest, though, I'm so thrilled that I've been let off the hook that, as long as they don't invite me up on stage and make other parents throw copies of the National Curriculum at me as a punishment, I decide I can cope with the humilation.

It's clear that I've made another fundamental gaffe when I get to the performance, depositing Deborah round the back of the hall first. The other children are arriving in their costumes. Deborah has been asked to leave hers at school - the only one, as far as I can gather. Perhaps they're worried that, in a fit of pique, I'll infest it with allergy-triggering dustmites.

All the other parents are waving tickets. Tickets? "We had to apply for these weeks ago. Didn't you get a form?" says a smug-looking mother. Short of shouting, "I'm Jesus' granny, let me through," it's hard to know what to do, until a kindly looking teacher manages to find me standing space by pushing and shoving the crowds until a suitable sized gap briefly appears, and shoving me into it.

Deborah, diminutive and toothy, mumbles her lines to herself for several seconds before delivering them, like an old lady exploring the taste sensation of a custard cream, but delivers them, eventually, with apparent enjoyment. The real straw above the manger keeps falling down, the three kings arrive present-less and the pianist, I'm happy to note, loses her way in 'We wish you a Happy Christmas,' going on so long after everyone else has stopped that at this rate she'll be ushering us all into a Happy Easter and beyond.

I sit, feeling completely detached from it all, but applaud diligently. If I could just have a tinsel bypass, I might even feel quite proud.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Foiled Christmas Balls

A Christmas buying guide with Cultured Mum, Vicky and Bad Lindy.

Cultured Mum:"You can't do better than buy your loved ones that new DVD tribute to Jacqueline du Pre. There are some highly moving interviews that haven't been seen before. And, let's not forget, as her homage site says, the fact that she's arguably the greatest talent to ever play the cello, combining mind, heart, body and soul to produce the most expressive tones ever to emanate from the instrument. And her death at that tragically early age."

So that's one to have everybody collapsing round the TV with merriment on Christmas Day, then.

Vicky: "How about a labrador pup? In fact, how about mine? B****** husband presented me with him yesterday. Said just because I'd got rid of the Aga, it wouldn't stop him from instilling in us, and I quote, the sort of healthy lifestyle that is worlds away from my current wine and gossip based social circle. Bloody dog keeps retrieving. Retrieving things or vomiting. Sometimes retrieving things and vomiting at the same time.

"Just yesterday he retrieved the postman, an old lady and Bad Lindy, twice. Mind you, it was just as well. She needed retrieving from the gutter. She came to just as he was trying to push her in through the cat flap."

Bad Lindy: "One of those vibrating condoms. No - wrong order. Start with a fireman all round first. Then get the condoms. Why's my arm halfway through a catflap, anyway, and what's that licking my foot? If that's not a member of the emergency services, I'm going to kick it. Oh, God, I think it's just been sick on me."

As far as I'm concerned, Waitrose has summed up the whole thing. Foiled Chocolate Balls for all, and you can make mine a double.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

What's your daemon like?

I haven't yet seen 'The Golden Compass' - though I'm convinced that, however good the animation, nothing will live up to the unmissable combination of book + imagination which, to my mind, will always be one step ahead of script + computer programme.

I like the idea of the daemons, though - the creature that each child is born with and supposedly represents their souls, taking various animal guises until puberty, when its identity becomes fixed.

I'm convinced that I, too, have a daemon. However, its shape was fixed not at puberty when, as far as I was concerned, my identity was about as as clearcut as a lesser cloud formation, and with approximately the same clarity of thinking, but when my ideas became fixed, my views stereoptyped, my hopes for the future suddenly bounded, no longer limitless.

As soon the first middle-age appropriate cliche sprang fully formed from my lips, my daemon would have been given life. And unlike the main 'Golden Compass' characters, my daemon, were it to be visible, wouldn't be a snow-white and adorable furry creature (if it did have fur, it would either be of an ethically correct fun variety, or appear as enormous, peri-menopausal eyebrows).

It would, without doubt, be one of those choleric ex-Indian army majors much favoured as lesser characters and occasional murder victims by Agatha Christie.

It would harrumph its way round the corridors of my life, spending the majority of the day under the table, curled up at my feet in a semi-stupor and then wake up in the late afternoon after overhearing a remark it disagreed with, and set off to do battle against other daemons with its sword stick, stagger back 20 minutes later with an expression of supreme self-satisfaction and fall asleep again.

So if you've got one, too, what the devil does it look like?

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Away in a manger with the fairies

"Carols aren't that hard," says the vicar impatiently, as I chop my way laboriously through the rising sixths half way through "Once in Royal David's City," for the 19th time.

"They are if you can't play the piano," I reply, hands poised above the keyboard with about as much chance of hitting the right notes as a short-sighted bird of prey trying to locate a small, fast-moving vole.

He sighs. "If you play that again it'll be repeating all evening," he says, making my performance sound like a small, indigestible gerkin, and brings proceedings to a temporary halt by putting on a tape of carols at top volume.

It's the last day of term and the first parents are filing into the church to get the best seats. Jesus may bid the children shine with a pure, clear light, but it's an injunction that doesn't apply to pianos. This one is fitted with a very small clip-on beam that keeps the keyboard in deepest darkness and illuminates only the first few notes of the hymns, which is great if it's metaphors about the state of my soul I'm after but of limited use when it comes to belting out the music. I point this out to the vicar. "Did I tell you about our really excellent new director of music?" he says. "Really first class. Nothing's too much trouble. Marvellous man. He always has this light. Doesn't seem to have a problem with it."

It occurs to me, belatedly, that really competent pianists like the director of music probably don't need sight of every note at least half a bar before it's played, whereas visual clearance is an absolute necessity as far as I'm concerned.

The result, inevitably, is a sort of race, where my hands, plunged into darkness, take on an independent existence from the rest of me during the service, and I can only listen, often aghast, at what they come up with as they attempt to translate my woolly instructions into notes. As a result, carols with a lot of repetition - 'O come all ye faithful' a particular favourite for this reason - get faster and faster as my confidence levels rise, while others ('In the bleak midwinter' a prime example) are executed at the broken canter of a novice jockey confronting the hurdles of the Grand National for the first time.

Amazingly, we all finish the carols together, although the vicar, who spends much of the service cast down in apparent gloom on a seat next to the choir stalls, casts contemplative looks in my direction from time to time, especially when I attempt to add a fifth verse to the four perceived to be perfectly adequate by the rest of the congregation at the end of 'O little town of Bethlehem'.

The final chord rings out, then rings out again, this time minus the three extra sharps that had somehow crept in and I stop abruptly. The blessing is done and the children and parents leave, to the sound of five pound notes rustling into the collection plates like dry leaves.

For one terrible moment, I thought I'd never see my lovely hands again. But here they are, back in the light again, ready to come home with me for Christmas.

So let's hear it for the arrival of Jesus - not once, not twice but six - yes, SIX times. I've welcomed Him twice on the piano, once on the violin and three times as a spectator. My father would have been proud of me. Though, as he was Jewish, maybe not.

And what could possibly be nicer than those favourite old carols? After careful consideration, I’d say a double brandy would do it every time. Five renditions of Away in a Manger is enough to tip the bi-polar balance of the toughest brain cells into deep depression.

I decide to skip the staff lunch, pleading death, and leave home, trailing brain cells, spare notes and a palpable sense of relief in my wake.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Ivy F treatment (not to mention Holly)

Two exasperated new posters near the Year 2 classroom ambush me as I pass.


I look, without success, for a third poster which, if I read the rising mood of irritation correctly should read, "SO FOR GOD'S SAKE, WHY CAN'T YOU BLOODY WELL LEARN IT?" but it has yet to be added.

The mood of exasperation is echoed elsewhere in the school.

"Mrs Philistine is going to look after the children who are trying hard because I'm a little bit busy getting a little bit cross," says the Year 1 teacher, as I wait to take her class into music.

She is propelling 5 year olds across the floor like skittles in her desperate attempts to choreograph the class into an approximation of a Christmas tree shape, the finale to the song which they will be performing later this week at the carol service - the final event of the term.

Soon, with only a minimum of shouting and child hurling, she has achieved a series of graduated rows, smallest children at the front crouched into root-balls, tallest, at the back, standing precariously on tippy-toes with hands held high.

She heaves a sigh of relief, turns away from them to demonstrate the final pirouette and takes an unplanned step backwards, treading on much of the first row which falls backwards in surprise, bringing down the rest like dominoes.

They say Christmas comes only once a year. Not in this neck of the woods. For an aetheist, I'm spending an awful lot of my waking hours with Little Lord Jesus, and it's hard to believe that the experience is doing either of us much good.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Stop me if you've heard this before

Can't remember if have previously posted this. If so, accept my apologies. It's not new, but it scarcely matters, as it happens in slightly modified form, every year.

At break, no doubt as an antidote to the stress of the nativity play, the staffroom is full of sentiment. Five or six teachers are watching the computer slideshow another teacher has e-mailed.

A reinterpretation of 'The Seven Wonders of the World,' it consists of 'to hear, to see, to feel, to taste' (but never bile at the back of the throat) , 'to laugh' (though never ironically), finishes with 'to learn' and 'to teach' and is copiously illustrated with pictures - a smiley baby reaching up to its mother's face, a labrador puppy sharing an ice cream with a little girl, ("I'm sure that's a health and safety issue," someone murmurs), lovers leaping through poppy-filled meadows. "It's really humbling," says one of the Year 1 teachers.

Feeling like a mad axe murderer let loose among a room full of tiny lambs, I lurch over to the coffee machine, to see if a jolt of caffeine will remove the feeling that I am having a near death experience, only to recoil at the sound of Mary, the deputy head, making running repairs to her latest bandwagon.

"Graves need to be tended," she's saying to the head. "I'm funny about things like that." Sickened, I turn away, and come face to face with a prayer bluetacked to the whiteboard. It's designed for 'all those involved in education'. "Make us more apt to teach but yet more apt to learn....with humble and thankful hearts," it says.

Just when I think I've entered a parallel universe made entirely from saccharine, with no way of escape, I hear the welcome, acerbic voice of Sally, the teaching assistant, coming up the stairs from one of the reception classrooms: "If another child sneezes on my hand, I'm going to go mad," she says, and immediately the atmosphere reverts to normal.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Not much on top

It's not hard to know when Francis is almost home. For starters, there's the sound of the car engine, a friendly chug chug, rising to a slightly asthmatic 'chug-cough-chug,' when he puts his foot down for the last 100 yards to try to give our neighbourhood slugs a run for their money, and usually loses.

The sound is a reminder of more innocent times when climate change and morbid obesity weren't natural word partners, and the doomsday scenario that exercised us all was the Millennium Bug - remember how it was going to cause global meltdown? Computers round the world would all fail to recognise the year '2000' and go mad, automatically sending Danielle Steel's entire back catalogue in triplicate from Amazon to everyone on your Christmas card list except in nuclear bunkers, where warheads would be dispatched instead, though with optional gift-wrapping.

Sweetly, perhaps, we all believed that the cancer generated by diesel fuel was of a nicer, kinder, slower-acting kind than the robust 'kill you as soon as look at you' petrol powered sort.

So, taking advantage of the cancer-lite lower duty, my parents bought an old saloon, drove it and then, shortly afterwards, died. Given that Francis inherited the car, it would be nice to think that it was in no way responsible for their deaths, but only time will tell.

This evening, though, there's no friendly panting as the barely out of breath slugs hurl themselves through the letterbox and celebrate their victory with a quick gnaw on the underlay - the signal to me to snort that last line of cocaine, hide the lover under the stairs and get the children lined up in order of cleanliness - often right way up - by the front door.

The first I know of Francis' arrival is a long, low roar and a throbbing vibration that shakes the house to its foundations, rather excitingly, then stops abruptly. I open the front door. Francis is sitting outside the house in a car that echoes his male-pattern baldness but takes it several stages further by having absolutely nothing on top at all.

He is sitting behind the steering wheel, a look of beautific happiness on his face, paying me no attention at all.

"Like it?" he asks, when I've finally brought him out of his testosterone-fuelled trance by dashing a glass of water in his face.

"What's happened to the old car?" I ask. "Is this yours?"

"No," he says, with evident regret. "One of the directors left last year and it needed driving around a bit so they let me borrow it for the weekend. It's a convertible. And look at all the extras. Heated bum-warmers, sat-nav, heated bum warmers, fabulous sound system, heated bum warmers, and a roof that goes up and down. Watch this."

He presses a button. Nothing happens.

"That's funny," he says. "It's supposed to go up automatically."

He presses it again. The roof stays obstinately down.

"Never mind," he says, almost nonchalantly. "I'll try again later."

"Francis," I say, "It's started to rain."

Two hours later, we've used the last of the bin liners, sellotaped together to create a makeshift roof or, depending on your perspective, an art installation which sweepingly conveys the deep insecurities of a generation ruled by its possessions.

The rain is gradually dripping into the car while we wait for the man with a special wrench to arrive and raise the roof manually. Then there's a small explosion from the dashboard.

"There go the heated bum warmers," says Francis, gloomily. "Rain's got into the electrics."

"Never mind," I say.

"I know it's telling me that it's pathetic for a man of my age to be driving something like this, and that it makes me look like a total w***** , and that I should just be grateful to have a car at all, even it if is 12 years old and only capable of keeping up with a hearse, but it is wonderful to drive."

We link arms and stand together in the rain, a mid-life couple watching a mid-life dream fill slowly up with water.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Intestine times

"Do you know what the word 'disembowel' means?" says the head, kicking off her pre-play motivational chat with the Year 2s.

"No? It means pulling all your insides out, bit by bit," she adds, demonstrating with a majestic hand over hand action that has the entire class goggling at her. "And, Bertie, if you sit with your legs akimbo so everyone can see up your king's gown again or fiddle with your crown during the performance today, I'll be strongly tempted to disembowel YOU."

Later on, as I triumphantly crash down my hands on the final chord, getting three out of four notes right - well above average - there's a collective sigh of relief from the teachers.

"The lovely thing," says the chair of the governors, after despatching a small child to present a seasonal basket of flowers to me and the deputy head, who wrote the thing,"is that the children were obviously enjoying every moment."

Little does he know that from my concealed position - right at the back of the hall, hidden by the children standing on rows of benches, I have long since mastered the art of hissing "SMILE! LOOK HAPPY! NO - HAPPIER!" out of the corner of my mouth while playing the introduction to 'Away in a manger.'

After the performance, we go round the school hall, collecting the parents' debris - used tissues, coffee and burger packaging. I'm half expecting to find a used condom in the back row.

"They might at least leave a tip," I say to the head. She sniffs. "A few inches of intestine stapled to the next letter home might help to reinforce the message that good manners maketh man."

Bertie, passing on his way back to the classroom, flinches and glances down at his robes, presumably praying that his mother had the good sense to make the bottom layer out of Kevlar.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Thanks, Brian Aldiss

From the Sunday Times (Bryan Appleyard)

"'The truth is,' (Brian) Aldiss has written,'that we are at last living in an SF scenario. A collapsing environment, a hyperconnected world, suicide bombers, perpetual surveillance, the discovery of other solar systems, novel pathogens, tourists in space, children drugged with behaviour controllers - it's all coming true at last,'"

On behalf of all those parents whose children are on behaviour controllers, thanks for crediting us with shaping a small part of this glorious future, Brian. May I call you Brian?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Dot comms.

"We've got a busy weekend," I say to Francis.

"We have?"

"Yes. We've got Vicky and her family round on Friday - I bet her that she wouldn't be able to taste the difference between this meal and the last one I cooked for her."

"Why - are you cooking the same thing?" asks Francis, momentarily diverted.

"No - it's just at everything I cook tastes identical to everything else. I think it must be those super-strength stock cubes I'm using.

"Anyway, on Saturday your brother's ex-wife is bringing the children round for lunch."

"She is? Why didn't you tell me? I didn't know."

"You did," I say. "I e-mailed you a list of dates."

"Oh, an e-mail. Well, I'm not going to read that."

"Why not?" I ask. "We both work. And what with all the school events - the children's and mine, your work things, the Christmas socials, it's the only way either of us can keep track of what's happening. And it's easy to update."

"I just can't get my head round the idea that our prime method of communication with each other is e-mail."

"It's not," I say. "I'm communicating with you by e-mail, and you're not communicating at all."

He looks anguished.

"I don't want to hear about what's happening from my wife in an e-mail. I want you to come and tell me face to face."

"I think you're spending too much time in the office, darling," I say. "Because that's not a wife you're talking about. That's a secretary."

Then I disappear back to the computer, dignity intact, like the high-tech, low-life bitch I am. Or not.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Dishing the dirt

"You asked for it," says D, inserting the tip of her little finger as far into the hole puncher as it will go.

"If we end up in Accident and Emergency you won't be able to go to the Advent fair, and then you won't be able to buy sweets or sing in the choir."

"Suppose I make holes in something of yours?" says Deborah, seizing one of my letters from a wobbly pile and dangling it just out of reach.

"Then you won't go to the fair at all, injured or not."

"I will. I'll just let myself out of the front door and go on my own."

"You won't, because I'll ring your head and tell her you're on your way...."

Damn, blast and hell. Yet again I've been captured by Deborah's cunning conversational ploy, starting off as a grown up and then seamlessly being dragged back through the years as we argue until, within seconds, I end up as another 7-year old, though not one that Pippi Longstocking would recognise.

"I'll behave! I'll behave!" says Deborah, possibly frightened by the towering toddler now sitting, snarling next to her.

"All I want you to do," I say, "is change your clothes. They've got tomato ketchup all over them."

She scowls at me and disappears upstairs, rummages through the secret stash of favourite clothes that huddle in dirty togetherness under her bed and arrives back, sporting a whole new range of food debris.

"You know," I say weakly, "Perhaps the ketchup stains weren't that bad after all."

She leaves, sporting a smile of triumph to coordinate with the food stains.

I eye the hole puncher. You never know. With a bit of effort and some WD40, I might just be able to force one of my fingers into it.