Saturday, 26 July 2008

Fashion on the mind; hurricane lamps on the chest

"Honestly, it's getting worse," says Vicky. "Look at this magazine."

She thrusts it across the table at me, open at the fashion pages. I leaf through them.

"Nope," I say. "Can't find anything out of the ordinary."

"Just read the headings. Slowly," says Vicky.

"'How to make the latest looks work at any age'," I read, out loud. "20s, 30s, 40s -"

"Exactly. That's it. That's what I mean. It's age apartheid. Look at the pictures that go with it."

As I concentrate a little more closely, I begin to see what she means. Each spread is lavishly illustrated with photographs of luscious models. At least, that's the theory. Because, come the relentless march of advancing years, it gets harder to make out the women. As the decades tick pass, the flesh on show declines and the clothes take over.

Check out the double page spread on clothes for 20 to 30 year olds and there are body parts on show, and then some. It's a skinorama special.

Hit the section on 30s to 40s and while, at first glance, it all looks very much the same, close inspection reveals that knees and elbows are conspicous by their absence. The volume of material used in the outfits mounts like a rising tide. Cleavages are suggested but never seen. Uncompromising sun-kissed backgrounds fade into crepuscular gloom. There's so much vaseline on the lens you could annoint the bottoms of a thousand infants.

And, as for 40s to 50s -

"- I haven't dared turn the page," says Vicky. "It's the future, Spock, and horribly as we know it. Go on - you look at it. It wouldn't surprise me if all the models are wearing Millett's family size tents with optional groundsheet accessories."

I take a quick look, then close the magazine again, wincing.

"Look on the bright side," I say. "Remember Millett's teamed up with Cath Kidston? At least you can look sweetly floral while being completely rain-free, as long as you spray yourself with waterproof coating once a year."

"Yeah, right," says Vicky. "Play my cards right and I'll probably find they've included a hook for a hurricane lamp just below my right tit."

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Schrodinger's clothes

We've embarked on the long, slow cruise of the summer holidays. No, not a cruise. More like a spell on a desert island and endless repetition - Robinson Crusoe crossed with Groundhog Day.

Every so often, as if in a dream, I pick up armfuls of dumped possessions, convey them to another room for sorting, then redistribute them. There are shoes (always single, never in pairs); discarded exercise books, small plastic toys, nail polish, invariably missing the lid.

But worst of all are the clothes.

Schrodinger's cat was a theoretical beast locked, unseen, in its box, awaiting a randomly administered blast of strychnine. Because unseen, to the observer it was both simultaneously alive and dead.

But that was just the beginning. My, children, whose undoubted talents as theoretical scientists have yet to be fully appreciated, have evolved this principle into a modus vivendi that is providing endless family entertainment.

I am surrounded by Shrodinger's clothes. We have Shrodinger's hoodies, shirts and trousers. All are simultaneously both clean and dirty. They curl up on chairs like sleeping cats. They lurk behind curtains like burglars. They coil on stairs like pre-diet serpents.

The nub of the matter is that they are too clean to be added to the dirty laundry baskets that I have provided in such liberal quantities that they adorn every corner of the house like art installations. But they are also too dirty to be put away.

Of course, there are exceptions. You can't have Shrodinger's socks - or pants - at least in our house. Their status - always fully dead, often for some time - proclaims itself a mile off.

But with the rest it's science, experimental bloody science all the way.

And my maternal treat is to enjoy those few moments of their unique dual-natured, clean and dirty state before I pick them up and yell, like a fishwife, for my darling little physicists to get down the stairs, now!, and come and clear them away. Or else. And what that 'else' is, only Shrodinger knows.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Ou sont les eyebrows d'autan?

"It's happened again," moans Vicky, on the phone. "You've got to help me."

I know where my priorities lie so, pausing only to advise the children on ad hoc chemical castration techniques should any Big, Bad Paedophiles knock on the door while I'm out, I head for her house.

When I arrive, she's staring into her mirror with a look of bitter resentment.

"What's happened?" I ask. "Did it tell you you're no longer the fairest of them all and, if so, can I go halves on the evil woodcutter after he's polished off Snow White in the forest?"

"The mirror's beyond speech," says Vicky. "And no wonder."

She gestures to her face.

"I just don't know what's happening. One moment I'm gorgeous, vibrant and sexy. The next, something has stolen all my body parts away and replaced them with someone else's. It's like Frankenstein in installments. Take my eyebrows. They're straight off Dennis Healey. There's one, right in the middle that's growing so fast I've had to repot it twice this week. I tried to use tweezers on it and it was like a thrush wrestling with a worm on steroids. I haven't seen them since. I think it ate them.

"And there's my lips. They're so thin that they're losing the power of expression. I'm having to hold up a card to show when I'm smiling. And as for pouting....."

She turns an anguished face towards me. At least, I think it's anguished. After what she's just said, I'm afraid to ask.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Music and movement

"- so I hope you'll all take great care of it as it's a very special instrument that's been in my family for a very long time," says Sasha. "Don't you agree, Mrs Philistine?"

There's a pause as one of the teaching assistants, under instructions, prods me with the business end of a yellow and black HB school pencil, jolting me abruptly out of my sun-drenched, Sasha-less reverie and back to the grim reality of assembly.

I nod, dumbly, while the word 'instrument' - the only one to have reached me, conjures up visions of Sasha admiring her heirloom collection of various torture devices, all mellow wood and gleaming metal, buffed up with nowhere to go.

"What instrument?" I hiss.

"The piano, silly. Haven't you noticed it's different? Sasha's donated it to the school," the teaching assistant hisses back. Given a heavy drinking session with Vicky and Bad Lindy last night, causing every object in my line of vision to splinter agonisingly into zig zag lines - something that, in Sasha's case, can only be a blessing - it's as much as I can bear to open my eyes at all, let alone get them to focus.

"And now, let's have our hymn," says Sasha. "Something really uplifting. I think 'Morning has broken,' would be nice. Sorry - what was that, Mrs Philistine?'

"Just a bit of dry retching, Sasha. Nothing to worry about," I think of saying, but instead stifle my groans as I shuffle cautiously and agonisingly over to the piano.

It's during the opening verse that I begin to suspect that it's not just the morning that's having problems.

The piano normally cowers against the wall as if terrified, though, given the treatment it receives at my hands, who can blame it?

As my right foot aims, optimistically, for the loud pedal and, as usual, misses, thumping the wooden base instead, there's a juddering, creaking sound as if the piano is attempting to join in. Suddenly it's pressed up close against both my knees, like an attention-seeking labrador. "Down, Spot," I mutter - but it has no effect. Blackbird may indeed have spoken, like the first bird - but he's clearly not the only one.

And it's only just started. At 'Praise for the springing, fresh from the word,' I pump up the volume and the piano shifts a foot to the left. I follow it, lagging two beats and several keys behind.

'Sprung in completeness where His feet pass,' and there's a jolt to the right. I lunge again, hitting a random, though nicely arranged, bunch of black notes.

'Born of the one light, Eden saw play.' I can only be glad Eden isn't around now, as the piano hits the back wall again, though only temporarily and I fall on top of it.
I'm just getting the hang of what's coming to resemble a slightly unusual take on 'Simon Says,' when the hymn ends, after a third verse that sounds as if the Musique Concrete movement, acting en masse, has taken out Christina Rosetti with a length of lead piping and then fired the various body parts from a series of cannons.

"You seem to be struggling," says Sasha, after the school has filed out.

"Not at all," I say, wondering if there's a way of luring the piano back to the wall by using a particularly attractive little glockenspiel as bait. "It's just that the piano's particularly lively today. It's got a fine range, hasn't it. I'd say it could be as much as 20 feet."

There's a pause, during which I wonder whether I can get away with asking her to sign a request form to fit 360 degree castors to the piano stool together with sat nav.

"I see the problem," announces Sasha, inspecting the piano base. "The lock hasn't been applied to the moving wheels. I'll call the site manager and we'll get it sorted out within the hour. Obviously you'd worked that out."

"Obviously," I echo. "Mind you, leave it like this and it could add a whole new dimension to music and movement."

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Chariots of belch

"Why weren't you at my choir concert/prize-giving/form assembly?" Deborah now asks me every day at home time, while I scuff my shoes along the ground and look guilty.

It's the time of year when so much is going on at the children's schools that, with minimal effort, I have only to blink to turn myself into the sort of unreliable mother who elicits much tutting in the staffroom.

"It's my brain," I say. "I think it's stopped working. If you put your ear to the side of my head all you can hear is the 'snap, crackle, pop' of synapses giving way. I'm thinking of calling in the builders and having the whole lot demolished as an unsafe structure."

There's a pause.

"Anyway, I did come to sports day," I venture.

"Huh! Only because I reminded you," says Deborah, grimly, "And you refused to do the mother's race."

"God - that mother's race," says Vicky, who has caught us up. "Dontcha hate it? And talk about pressure to do it. I only just padlocked myself to the car steering wheel in time, and even then I had to fight off that class rep with the blowtorch."

"It wouldn't be so bad if they didn't have that new teacher pirouetting round the place like a jack in the box on steroids."

"Miss Carter," says Deborah, a look of hero worship lighting up her eyes. "She's very young."

"Young?" says Vicky. "She's about 12. If that."

Miss Carter is the newest teacher at Deborah's school, apparently recruited in an effort to boost levels of suicide and anorexia amongst the mothers. She is so petite that if she curled up on a sofa, you could easily mistake her for a smallish yet perfectly formed scatter cushion and squash her. Not that she'd stay still long enough to give you the chance because in addition to her looks, she also has a pre-teaching career behind her as a top level gymnast.

"I don't think she broke sweat when she won the teacher's race - or anything else, come to that," says Vicky.

"And when she won, she turned that cartwheel," says Deborah, dreamily.

"Cartwheels, schmartwheels," says Vicky. "But can she burp the alphabet? Now there's a true test of sporting ability, not to mention literacy."

We look at Deborah, triumphantly.

"You're pathetic," she says, and marches off ahead.