Archive | May, 2010

Anniversary Eve

31 May

It’s a public holiday today here in Britain, the day before our wedding anniversary.  There’s a nice symmetry to it because twenty-five years ago there was a public holiday in South Africa, the day before our wedding.  We didn’t know that when we chose the date of the wedding; we looked at the calendar on the HubMum’s wall and picked a Saturday – without looking at the Friday.  Do other people pick their wedding dates more carefully?  We had been engaged for almost three years so we didn’t see why we should wait: we looked for a free weekend a couple of months ahead and that was it.  Then we told my parents, who very kindly used their visit-to-Britain-for-the-first-time-since-emigrating savings to pay for it, and who never once complained about not getting their holiday.

We had a honeymoon in Cape Town.  Have you heard of the Mount Nelson Hotel?

We stayed in a little bed and breakfast place just around the corner from it.  We put away R130 for our week’s food and ate out almost every night.  We did the touristy things like wine tasting and shopping.  The Hub bought me a silver ring and had my new initials engraved onto it.  We fed the squirrels in the Botanic Gardens and even stopped off to look at a nudist beach.  Well, the Hub did, for the novelty, he claimed: I think it might have been the only one in South Africa at the time.  He peeped over the wall and spotted a solitary sunbathing man of the elderly variety.  It wasn’t much of a show because June is early winter in South Africa and he was a bit, um, shrivelled as a result.

We went to the bioscope one afternoon and saw Eddy Murphy in Beverley Hills Cop; there were five of us in the cinema and we were the only couple.

We went up Table Mountain in the cable car.  We had lunch in front of a roaring fire in the restaurant at the top; it was the most romantic moment of our honeymoon. 

 We wandered around the mountain top – which is not as flat as it looks – and spotted dassies, or rock rabbits

We had taken a midweek flight because it was cheaper.   We went out most nights, to different places.  We found a little bar and the singer dedicated a song to us on the Friday night.  On the Saturday night he asked the Hub, ‘Where’s your wife?’  ‘At the hotel,’ was the sullen reply. ‘We had a row.’  I stayed in and watched Cheryl Ladd in a film about Grace Kelly’s life. 

Who’d have believed then that we’d last twenty-five years? 

Boys Moan

30 May

Spud Bud has left me for another woman: his friend’s mother, who makes edible mashed potatoes that he can stomach, though he can’t stomach mine; and who has gone off to exotic places for a week: Trearddur Bay in Angelsey.  This is the third time they have taken him away and I am very grateful, though they will insist on bringing him back.

I had hoped to have a break from his complaints – he’s fourteen: complain and sleep is all they do – but he had been gone only six hours before the first call came, complaining that I had not provided him with bedding (okay; I never said his complaints were unjustified).  I remembered the toothpaste; what more does he want? 

A Wonderful Moment

29 May

I came across this on parentdish and I just had to share it with you; it captures the moment a baby hears for the first time, after his cochlear implant is turned on:

This Site Is Experiencing A Little Technical Difficulty

28 May

Bits disappear until you click on them; the tags are not in alphabetical order (don’t worry; I’m going to my happy place); a frightening woman has mysteriously appeared in one of the photos.  I’m not sure what’s going on but I’m working on the problem and I’ll let you know as soon as I get a reply to my email to the wordpress techies.

Pigeons Everywhere!

28 May

I can’t believe the week I’m having; the good news just keeps on coming: I have a job interview next Thursday.  Better than that – it’s with my beloved Open University.

A little background history for my newer conscripts: I did a part-time degree with the Open University, from 2003 to 2008.  It was part-time only in the sense that I worked for it at home.  I attended tutorials and day schools and two glorious summer schools – the first one in Manchester, where I made some great friends who have stayed in touch to this day; and one in London, where I got to visit – I still get all wobbly when I think about it – Shakespeare’s Globe. 

One thing in particular that I learned at summer school is that it is not actually required to venerate the Bard: he had duff moments, and it’s okay to say so.  Mind you, I think I am one of the Few: one retired man in my summer school tutor group happened to mention that he thought Shakespeare was very much a commercial playwright but not necessarily an intellectual genius.  A roomful of students rose as one in outrage and there was almost a lynching in a third floor classroom of Queen Mary University.  While someone went in search of a rope, I had to admit that, though I didn’t completely agree with him, I thought he had a point.  Luckily for me, the heretic was at one side of the class and I was at the other, so the body of Outrageds between us didn’t hear me and string me up as an accomplice.  Our tutor that day acknowledged the ‘commercial playwright’ point (Shakespeare retired a rich man); but on the ‘not an intellectual genius’ point she looked as if she’d found a slug in her cereal.  Mr Foolhardy of Takinyurlifeinyurhands, brave man, was completely unabashed and even had the temerity to keep attending the lectures.

On the day of our visit I woke up feeling queasy, so I had cereal and fruit instead of my usual cooked breakfast (it’s not that easy to get a figure like mine, you know; I have to work at every sausage, bacon, beans, egg, toast, hash brown and pineapple breakfast to maintain it) because I was determined that nothing was keeping me from going to the Globe that day.  We had tutorials in the morning but finished early for lunch.  We were provided with a packed dinner of cardboard sandwich tasting of the plastic it came in (I hate those things, they are vile), a large packet of crisps (ready salted, so everyone could eat them – unless you suffer hypertension, of course), a Granny Smith apple (euggcchh), and a bottle of water.

We then had a lecture on Shakespeare and the London Stage, which was interesting, before dashing for the coaches.  To be fair, I was the only one dashing; I could have given Linford Christie a run for his money (I was going to make a joke about lunchboxes there but it came out too rude): I was so desperate not to be left behind that I abandoned all the friends I had made that week, and dived head-first into an empty bus seat, strapping myself in before the rest of my tutor group had even left the classroom.  I hope I never take part in a flood here in Stockport because my poor family will clearly be on their own as far as I’m concerned.

The journey cut through London and took about twenty minutes.  We passed half of the Monopoly board, and the Tower of London.  There was a pub across the road from it called The Hung, Drawn, and Quartered.  What a great name!  When we arrived, I was amazed to see that not only was the Globe not round or anything like all of the pictures I have seen, but it was also right on the Thames (well, not right on, obviously, because it would sink; but on the riverside).  The river was brown and yukky and it was horrible to think that I once swam in it as a child.  The Globe looked like an ordinary city building and I can’t tell you how crushed I felt, but I was puzzled by the pictures and models of a twenty-sided ‘O’ that were everywhere on display.  However, I was soon distracted by being herded into a lecture theatre with everyone else.  We were privileged to be given a hilarious lecture on the Globe by Patrick Spottiswoode, the Director of Education at the Globe.  When Sam Wanamaker (the American actor and father of Zoe Wanamaker, who plays Susan in My Family) envisioned its rebuilding, he insisted that it be a place of education as well as entertainment, and it had to be accessible to all, which is why there are 700 tickets at £5 each available for every performance.  If you ever find yourself in London, you should go.

After the lecture, Patrick conducted an interview with the American director of Othello (the play we saw), Wilson Milam.  He once directed an episode of the old Dr Who series.  He was as tall and lanky as they come, and, coupled with his laconic speech and in contrast to the energy of Patrick Spottiswoode, my abiding memory is of a large paper man draped over an uncomfortable chair.  Finally, we were split into three groups and carted off to different rooms, and an actor led us in a very physical session exploring Shakespeare’s language.  Our actor was Yolanda Vasquez (who has appeared in Holby City, for those of you who watch it) and she was excellent.

Once that session was up, we had a break until the evening performance.  Unfortunately, no-one had actually said so to us, and consequently there were 150 supposedly intelligent mature students milling around in rising panic and lowing, ‘What do we do?  Where do we go?  Is it a break?  Can we leave the theatre?’  I’m convinced it was the result of the sheep mindset that sets in when you are given a timetable that tells you when to study, when to eat, when to drink tea, and when to listen.  As nobody came to tell us what to do, we eventually figured out for ourselves that we were free for ninety minutes, and many of us made our way to the gift shop.  I had intended to buy souvenirs for everyone but it was so expensive that I came away with only two 50pence bookmarks for the boys and a pencil topper of Shakespeare’s head for me.  DVDs that I had bought in the pound shop in Stockport were going for £19.99 each at the Globe.  After the bookmarks and pencil toppers, the next lowest price of anything was a fiver, and there wasn’t much stuff available even at that price.  I understand that the Globe gets no government funding and has to be self-supporting, but they really could have done with a few lower-priced items for hard-up visitors like me; they’d sell way more stuff.

However, coming out of the gift shop, which is upstairs, my disappointment disappeared, because there in front of me through large windows was the wooden O.  Idiot that I am, it never occurred to me that the theatre would stand separately from the box office and educational and shop and everyday business part of the Globe.   And once we went back out through the front entrance and round the side, it was clearly visible from the street.  In fact, I and those of my friends who had caught up with me, had our packed dinner sitting on the steps next to the Thames and gazing up in adoration at the Globe (actually, I think that last part might just have been me).  To be honest, I was so excited I could barely eat (yes, you did read that last sentence correctly), so it didn’t matter that my sandwich was inedible. 

While sitting there not eating, two smartly-dressed women and a ditto man gave us some money and asked us to give it back to them.  They were on a treasure hunt of sorts, and had to be videoed doing all manner of strange things around London, including singing on the street to passersby and being given money for it.  They hadn’t had much luck, so decided to cheat, which is where I came in.

After not eating and pretend-paying total strangers to sing, we went through the wrought iron gate entrance to the courtyard, where we were able to rent a seat back and two cushions for £4.  The seating is all benches and not very comfortable, apparently.  I can’t say I noticed. 

On the way to the loo round the back, I stopped to chat to a fellow student.  I say ‘chat,’ but it was more of a high-pitched gabble on my part, because I was in a frenzy of anticipation by now.  Fellow Student was standing with some people who turned out to be BBC crew, filming for The One Show.  The presenter, Adrian Chiles, is from Birmingham, and the following Friday was something like ‘Be Nice to People With Brummie Accents Day,’ so they were asking visitors to the Globe to quote Shakespeare in Birmingham accents (Shakespeare was from that general area, so he’d have had that sort of accent).  I tried to decline but they wouldn’t believe that I am rubbish at accents, so they filmed me in a state of total giddiness, not speaking Brummie.  I kept telling them they were wasting their film, but they asked me to say ‘My name is Adrian Chiles from The One Show on BBC1,’ or something like that, so I gave it a go.  I couldn’t get past ‘My name is…’  It was like my mouth wouldn’t work, but I eventually burst out in a cockney accent, ‘My name is Michael Caine!’  Don’t ask me where that came from.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be appearing on telly that Friday night after that performance, and I was right; but I obviously gave the BBC crew a good time, because they were shaking with laughter by the time I was done.

And then it was time to take my seat.  The OU must have bought whatever seats were available, because we were spread all over the theatre.  I was in a £26 seat on the middle tier; some students were in £19 seats up at the top at the back.  Some people were in the most expensive seats on the bottom tier.  I’m not complaining, because I had a fantastic view.  My seat number was A1, so I was at the front of the box looking down onto the stage.  I believe the view is excellent wherever you are, though.  The play was wonderful.  Othello is a tragedy (no offence intended to those of you who knew that) but the way it was played there were lots of laughs in it.  Tim McInnerny (Lord Percy and Captain Darling in Blackadder) played Iago, and he was good.

Apologies in advance for the scary woman in this next photo:

The £5 tickets are for a place with the groundlings, who stand throughout the performance.  There are no allocated places; it’s a free for all, and it was interesting to see them milling about throughout the performance.  The cast often made their entrance through the audience, and addressed us directly during soliloquies, so that the audience is part of the whole experience.  In the interval I went down to the ground floor to take photos, and there were lots of empty spaces because people were taking comfort breaks, so I watched the second half as a groundling, leaning on the stage and looking up at the actors.  It was fabulous.  There were some disgruntled teenagers next to me, who had to squash up to fit in the friend whose space I had pinched (I assume), but I didn’t feel guilty because they talked and texted all the way through the performance, and didn’t seem too keen to be there.  Tim McInnerny gave them a dirty look at one point, but a look from Lord Percy wouldn’t bother this generation of teenagers, would it?

The Globe is an open-air theatre, and we were incredibly fortunate because it had rained or been cloudy all week, but on that Wednesday afternoon the sun came out and stayed out, so we were able not only to eat on the pavement but to enjoy the play without discomfort.  All in all, it is in my top five life experiences.  And I speak as a woman who knows the value of a Malteser.


Today is Big Tent poetry prompt day; the prompt is ‘aphrodisiac’.  I post my senryu with an apology to the Hub, who it is NOT about.  My inspiration came from my moaning friends (who won’t be my friends much longer if they find out what I have just called them):

The Housewife’s Aphrodisiac

You want me trembling
with desire for you? Offer
to wash the dishes.


Reminiscing about summer school reminded me of this senryu I wrote way back; it is almost verbatim the instructions found in the student information booklet:

From the University Book of the Bleedin’ Obvious

Action in case of
fire: on discovering a
fire: please shout FIRE


27 May

I have two anniversaries coming up this month. On 30th June thelaughinghousewife will be one year old. Look forward to an exciting post: I’ll share my statistical analysis with you to celebrate.

That’s the last day of June; on the first day of June I will have been married to the Hub for twenty-five years. Look forward to a…umm…post: I’ll share my autopsy with you to celebrate.

Today, however, is a real anniversary: it is seventy years since the evacuation of Dunkirk began. I don’t know if this story is known anywhere except in Britain, so let me give you a brief summary:

In 1940, the Germans forced British and French troops back onto the beach at Dunkirk in France. British Navy ships couldn’t get in close enough to rescue them so Churchill sent out the call for everyone with a little boat on the coast of Britain to sail over the English Channel and help out; around 900 responded. In just over a week, almost 340,000 men were saved. We consider it a victory, despite losing all of our heavy equipment. Whenever Brits pull together in a crisis, we call it ‘Dunkirk spirit’.


Wikipedia has this interesting fact: The St George’s Cross

flown from the jack staff is known as the Dunkirk jack and is only flown by civilian ships and boats of all sizes that took part in the Dunkirk rescue operation in 1940. The only other ships permitted to fly this flag at the bow are those with an Admiral of the Fleet on board.

I was privileged to once meet a Dunkirk survivor. As a teenager, I went to visit my Nan and she was out. Her neighbour invited me in for a cup of tea while I waited for her to return; I spotted a framed certificate and he told me he got it because he was at Dunkirk, and proceeded to give a first-hand account. I was fascinated but this happened thirty years ago and I very much regret that I don’t remember anything of what he told me; I wish I had kept a notebook in those days.

Sky News is showing the flotilla of original Dunkirk rescue boats setting off for France this morning to commemorate the anniversary. Sky News is getting on my nerves at the moment. They need to sack the person in charge of the news ribbon at the bottom of the screen because their spelling is dredfu. I almost lost it yesterday when it came up with, ‘Should there be more academies?’ I started to write a snotty email to them saying, ‘Yes, there should; then you might be able to employ someone who can spell “acadamies” properly…’ and I realised that the Sky spelling was, in fact, correct. I have sworn the Hub to secrecy and after twenty-five years he knows better than to disobey me, so I think my error will remain unknown to the world. If it does get out, he better hope somewhere there’s a little boat waiting to take him to a safe harbour.

PostScript: You can read all about it here:

I Am Still The Pigeon

26 May

I got two pieces of good news yesterday: I passed my interview and I start my work placement on Monday; and I won £100 worth of shopping.   I am a little relieved about the interview because it could all have gone horribly wrong: I went to freshen up beforehand and there was an incident in the public toilet.  I can’t give you details because I have embarrassed my sons enough and Tory Boy is still hoping for a career in public service; it all worked out for the best in the end, is all I can say.

The competition was run by my landlord, Stockport Homes.  A woman phoned to say I had won for this area in their ‘shop local’ competition.  I had to say in 100 words why I use my local shopping centre in Castle Street; it was part of the ‘use them or lose them’ campaign, as independents are being squeezed out by big business.   Think about it: you can buy your groceries, your furniture, your clothes, your pet needs, your insurance, your lunch, and pretty soon your bank services from Tesco; and you can get it cheaper than any single shop can offer you.  Sounds good, but will you think that when the next general election is sponsored by Asda?  The candidates will have to start the day with a group hug and a yoghurt.  Makes me queasy just thinking about hugs that early in the morning.

I have to spend the money in the local shops and claim it back.  I’m not sure how it will work because the lady promised to send me an email with the details and I’m still waiting.  Could it be cat-and-mouse, Stockport Homes style?  We promise you something great – money, a kitchen – and then you never hear from us again.

It is ages since I last won anything.  At least I do occasionally win stuff: the poor Hub has only ever won one competition, and that because the odds were stacked in his favour.  He put petrol in the car one day and went to pay for it, when he noticed a sign above a box inviting him to put his name in for the chance of winning an England shirt; the date showed it was the last day of the competition.  As he dropped his entry form in the attendant said, ‘You’ll probably win that.’  ‘Really?’ the Hub replied.  ‘Yes,’ she said; ‘You’re the only person who’s entered.’


I still miss napowrimo so I am going to take part in some weekly poetry prompt exercises.  This first one is from We have to write a poem inspired by Feet Beneath The Table  by Charles Blackman, 1956.

\Here’s mine:

Feet Beneath The Table by Charles Blackman, 1956

Alice – louche, right-eyed and pushy.
Nailed by the artist.
There are no shivarees at this party.

Carroll quivers in his grave, unveiled
to 21st Century eyes as
Charles Dodgson, paedophile.

Truth huddles, sad, like long-held pain.



‘Shivaree’ was yesterday’s Word of the Day from and I just had to use it: 

1. A mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple.
2. An elaborate, noisy celebration.


This prompt is from  We have to write about an imaginary friend.  My poem is based on something that happened with my boys when they were younger; I have to find a better title:

A Tale Of Friends And Brothers

Two brothers, eleven and six.
Six – being six – had John
and Michael living in his head.
John and Michael and Six
were inseparable until the day
Eleven – being eleven – ate John.
Six wailed; Mother bellowed,
‘Eleven, sick him up at once!’
Eleven feigned retching.
John was returned
to his rightful mind.



Pillow Fight

25 May

I haven’t been sleeping well lately.  It’s not the warm weather – I lived in South Africa for fourteen years and carried a monster baby through several months of an extremely hot summer, so the occasionally sticky night doesn’t bother me.  It’s not the mattress: we bought one of those foam topper things and it’s fabulous; no more waking up and finding myself impaled on a spring making a bid for freedom.  I think it’s the pillows.  It’s time we had some new ones, but we spent all our money on mattress toppers and chocolate (the Hub didn’t know that last bit until just now).

There’s one pillow I won’t part with: I sleep clutching a feather pillow for support, otherwise I wake up in a foetal position with back ache.  Last time I did that it was because the Hub had taken away my pillow so that he could get into bed: I have a habit of taking up the middle ground in my sleep.  One night he came to bed to find me occupying three-quarters of it, but he gamely tried to get in.  I must have stirred like a dog guarding a bone because he touched my pillow and I distinctly recall the malice with which I snatched my pillow to me and flung myself over onto my other side.  Semi-conscious, I remember lying there needing to go to the toilet but not getting up because I wasn’t letting him get his hands on my pillow.  I can recall how aggressive I felt: poor darling, he could feel it radiating from me.  After what felt like an hour of my bladder impersonating a leaky dam, I suddenly had the answer; it was obvious: I took my pillow to the bathroom with me.  I can’t imagine why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. 

I don’t remember getting back into bed but the Hub tells me he couldn’t sleep because he was shaking with laugher.  He says that at one point I turned over in my sleep but left my pillow there and clasped it to my back with my arm uncomfortably behind me.   Conscious or not, my husband wasn’t getting hold of my pillow.  He won’t want it now, anyway: it’s covered in toilet germs.

Don’t Read This If You Recorded The Last Episode Of ‘Over the Rainbow’ And You Haven’t Watched It Yet

24 May

This weekend was all about the tv: first we had the last-ever episode of Ashes to Ashes, a show which never lived up to its predecessor, the joint-first-best programme ever made (as decided by me in my poll of me): Life on Mars (its co-winner being The West Wing) – and I mean the original Brit version, not the Harvey Keitel abomination.  All the more surprising, then, that it was one of the most satisfying conclusions to any tv series I have ever watched.  

Over the Rainbow ended with an okay winner who was the only one of the eleven finalists to hit a bum note when singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow at the end of a show – watch her face when she realises her last note is flat:

I liked Danielle but I’m still sulking because Steph wasn’t in the final.

Britain’s Got Talent threw up this gem:

Thinking about reality tv and the transience of fame – and seeing Stacey Solomon hiding in a corner of Michael Bublé’s Audience With – reminded me of this poem I wrote last year:

Stars In Their Eyes 

After the door shuts,
the footsteps die:
no wife to swap;
no champagne pop;
adulation stops:
you’re a flop. 
Paparazzi don’t pap;
you fall through the gaps in the schedule. 
X-Factor marks the spot,
vacant for the next big thing, brother.
It won’t be you:
don’t bother. 
Fame – long wait;
short sell-by date
(fifteen minutes, tops). 
Don’t open that door.
Walk away; don’t try. 
You’re not a celebrity,
get out of there. 
the great TV lie.

Talking of Michael  Bublé (as if I ever needed an excuse), here he is being fabulous on ITV last night:

Of course, the big tv event of the weekend was the last-ever episode of Lost being simulcast around the world; it was on at five this morning in the UK.  I watched the very first episode and it lost me at the sunbathing plane crash victim, so if you want an informed opinion, I’ll have to tell you to get lost.

Why Is It Warm At Last?

23 May

The hot weather was almost my undoing this morning.  It is so muggy, I decided to wear a strappy summer top; it is inappropriate for church so I put over it a pretty, sheer blouse that I can never wear because it is see-through.  Having agonised about my hair for too long – up? down? up high? down low?  clip, grip or slide? should I give in and dye it last? I need a hair cut, especially if I’m going on intervie…crumbs!  I’m late.

I ran all the way to church, which is fortunately just across the road from my house; dived into the toilet; washed my hands; checked myself in the mirror…and found one side hanging out, a la Page One and a Half Girls.  That was soon fixed but what gave me cold sweats was the thought that I was reading in church today and if I hadn’t gone to the loo….

The Hub says I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own; I’m beginning to suspect he might be right.

It’s Warm At Last!

22 May

Three weeks into the fifth month of the year and we finally get some sunshine; I thought it was never coming.  I’m sitting here all sweaty and smelly and it’s lovely. 

The English have already started complaining that it’s too hot, of course.  We English – and I say ‘English’ instead of ‘British’ because you never hear the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish moaning about a bit of sunshine – like our weather mild and our problems weather-related.

There are two types of English in the summer: those who complain at the first sign of melting frost that they can’t stand the heat; usually women.  And the belly-barers: always wobbly; usually men; and roasted like a red pepper at a barbeque.  Actually, that goes a long way to explaining why the complainers are usually women.

To celebrate the advent of summer – long may it reign; please don’t let it rain –  and summer whiners, I dug out a couple of senryu for you:


Thought about writing
a senryu, then  I just
couldn’t be bothered.


Dog Day Afternoon

Spring day; a walk in
the park: the triumph of hope
over effluence.

Saturation Point

21 May

SATs are taking place at the moment in primary schools up and down the country.   Actually, that’s not strictly accurate: some headteachers have banded together and banned them.  I used to think they were a good idea but I don’t anymore: they don’t take into account a child’s personal level of achievement, just how well they can sit tests.  I have helped out in a Key Stage 2 class every year for the past four years and I know that the children are not learning so much as learning how to pass exams.  It’s not the teachers’ fault: they have to teach the children to the SATs requirements.  In my school, the teachers do rather well, tying in projects to the theme; I imagine it’s the same in most primaries.  But the teachers hate it because the children have to be so focused on tests that they come to loathe learning.

If it was up to me, I would pare down the National Curriculum to its essentials: reading, writing, arithmetic.  Let them do those three things properly and then we won’t have whole generations of children leaving school unable to read and write or multiply in their head.  Amazing fact: it is much easier to learn new stuff in high school if you first learned to read in primary school.  

Apart from anything else, it’s the stress we are loading on our children: Spud was a mess before his SATs.  One day, he couldn’t go to the park straight from school because he forgot to take his phone, so he couldn’t call me to ask if he could go straight from school; when he got home he decided to go up on his bike.  We then had a long argy-bargy about his phone, which he was not allowed to leave in his jacket on the floor while he played football in case it got stolen, and which he didn’t want to keep on his person in case he fell over and smashed it, football being a contact sport with the hardest grass in the world, apparently.  Tiring of his prima donna performance, I sent him into the garden to lock up his bike because he was no longer allowed to go to the park.  Five minutes later I walked into the kitchen to see my last-born strolling nonchalantly in front of the house.  It seems he had scaled our six-foot fence and dropped to the pavement in an effort to scare the heebeejeebies out of me as a punishment for punishing him.  He got off lightly because I was so angry I sent him to his bedroom before I could wallop the heebeejeebies out of him.  Initially, I was going to make him stay in there forever, but the Hub got me to compromise once I had calmed down, and Spud was told he could come out of his room when he was in a better mood, because that way he set the terms of his own punishment.  He came down about a half hour later, bearing a handmade card on which ‘I’m sorry’ had been written in every available space, and, inevitably, ‘I’m sorry for being a brat.’  Then we had a long, long cuddle with much tickling, and we both felt better.  Until he had a tantrum about mince & chips vs cheese & chips which resulted in an ultimatum: Hub told Spud he could lay over his father’s knee face-down and have a good hiding, or he could lay over his father’s knee face-up and have a good tickling.  He opted for face-up and we never had a naughty peep out of him again that night.

Happy days, when every problem could be solved by a tickle.  Apart from appendicitis, that is.  The first day of his SATs, Spud felt anxious but was looking forward to his free breakfast.  The school provided free breakfasts all week to ensure that the children performed at their best.  They offered cereal, toast, fruit, bacon butties and sausage butties.  Naturally, Spud preferred to have breakfast at school that week.  Monday, anyway: he didn’t get the chance again.  He had to write his science exam in the staff toilet.  He was feeling unwell on the Monday morning and the teachers jollied him along through the day.  They kept a bin handy in the afternoon, and it was just as well.   Once he’d been sick, they put a table in the staff toilet and the Head sat with him, door open, so that he could run to the toilet when he needed to.  He was sick five times.  As soon as the exam was over, the school called us.  He was copiously sick all Monday night, falling asleep about ten, and then waking early to start again.  We decided to fall back on Plan B: the Head and another teacher (to observe her and ensure there was no cheating) were to come here, so that Spud could sit his exams at home between throwups.  He was to take all three exams in the afternoon.  

I had made an appointment for him to see the doctor on Thursday, because this was two vomiting sessions in two weeks, and about the ninth in six months.  I had taken him to see a doctor once already; he couldn’t find anything wrong and said Spud had just been unlucky that year, catching everything that was going round.  I had made notes of what he had eaten but each meal was different, so there was no common trigger.  He had some dry toast about seven-thirty on Tuesday morning, but couldn’t keep it or his drinks down.  Around ten-thirty he complained of a pain in his chest, which I put down to wind as he had nothing in his tummy.  It quickly spread to the whole of his tummy, especially his right side.  He got into bed with the Hub for comfort. Hub voiced what I was thinking, and got me to look up ‘appendix’ on the net.  The NHS Direct site must have been spying on us, because it had word-for-word what Spud was going through.  I phoned my doctor for advice, and she said to get him to A+E immediately. 

We were at Stepping Hill for 11h45 and the board said it was a 2 ½ hour wait, which was worrying, but unavoidable.  Just shows how little faith we had in the NHS – by 12h15 Spud had been triaged, admitted, and given pain relief.  He had been seen by two nurses, a doctor, and a surgeon.  Another half an hour and he was up on the children’s ward.  Another surgeon saw him, and then the first surgeon came back and inserted the cannula himself, because the nurses qualified to do it were all busy, and he wanted to ensure the blood tests were done asap.  There was quite a long wait after all that activity but Spud was given pain relief, so it wasn’t too dreadful for him.  He went for his operation at seven-fifteen that night.  We accompanied him to surgery, but only one parent was allowed in while anaesthetic was administered, so Spud chose the Hub.  Just as well, really, because I was ready to break down by this point, and I knew Hub wouldn’t.  Spud was worried that whoever he chose, the other’s feeling would be hurt – how sweet, when he must have been feeling so miserable.  We assured him there’s enough love to go round and all that mattered was that he felt happy. 

A kindly nurse grabbed my hand and rubbed my back when I had a little weep – out of Spud’s sight – and the Hub came out about ten minutes later.  The anaesthetist had told Spud to concentrate when counting backwards, and he concentrated so hard, it was apparently the longest he’d known a child to last before succumbing to oblivion.  I then went back to the ward for something to eat (I was starving!  I’d had nothing for twelve hours and I wasn’t the one who couldn’t keep anything down), and the Hub went home to collect pyjamas and stuff for me.  He was fit to collapse by this stage, but he had promised Spud he would be there when he woke up, and he never reneges on a promise.

Getting food was a bitter struggle.  As doctors and nurses were in and out all day, dribbling information, neither of us would risk leaving Spud’s bedside in case we missed something, and it wasn’t until five-thirty that we knew he’d be operated on at seven-thirty.  There is a parent’s room in the Treehouse (Stepping Hill’s children’s ward, which is actually four wards; Spud was in Rainforest Ward), so I was able to grab a cup of tea at least.  No hot drinks were allowed on the ward at all, however, so the Hub didn’t get one because he didn’t have the energy to walk all the way round to the parent’s room.  I did get him a cold drink from a machine that stole my change, and that had to do him.

As I was going to be the one staying overnight, the Hub insisted I went down to the restaurant, which had just closed when I got there, naturally, as had the WRVS station.  I had to leave the hospital and walk over to Sainsbury’s for something, so I was gone about forty-five minutes and of course, that was when the surgeon came to give us details about Spud’s op and I missed it all.  Still, I had a very tasty lasagne to heat up in the microwave later.  Cloudy linings and all that.

The Hub got back about ten minutes before we were called to the recovery room.  Spud was disoriented and woozy but glad to see us.  Once he was in bed, hooked up to a drip and antibiotics, the Hub was able to go home and I settled down for some much-needed sleep, having been assured that Spud would probably sleep through the night as he had been given morphine, etc.  Fold-up metal beds are provided next to each hospital bed so I didn’t have to leave him.  Which was just as well, because he woke up about every thirty minutes and at midnight was brightly telling me all about his op, or the bits fore and aft that he could remember.  Apparently, reacting like a cannabis muncher is a normal side-effect of the anaesthetic.

A wonderful Scots nurse called Margaret – the only person ever to detect from my accent that I had once lived in Wallasey – checked on him through the night, even finding out, after his 3a.m. query, whether his stitches were dissolvable or not (they were).  He thought she was wonderful, and was sad that he never saw her again, as her time off coincided with the rest of his stay.  Between us, Spud and I only got about three hours sleep that night, which was okay for him because he caught up next day, but left me, who didn’t, feeling totally drained.

Wednesday, he couldn’t bear to be left alone, and he was unsurprisingly niggly.  We played board games and card games; I read to him when he didn’t feel like reading himself; and the play staff brought a PS2 and a tv/video to his bedside.   He complained that he wanted visitors, and no sooner had the words left his mouth than my friend Alison arrived, with puzzle books galore.  She was parked where she shouldn’t, so it was a brief visit, but Tory Boy arrived as she was leaving.  He had come the previous day bearing gifts for Spud – a Sponge Bob Nudie Pants poster and a chocolate chicken – and he squeezed in a visit between exam revision sessions the next day.  Fortunately, his college is fairly close to the hospital.  He was amazingly helpful and uncomplaining about taking on Spud’s (and some of my) chores, and at being virtually abandoned for three days.

And then Helen (t’vicar) appeared; she reckons a dog collar is very useful sometimes, as it gets her into the places other collars cannot reach.  All three stayed only briefly, but they cheered up Spud.  To be fair, he was an excellent patient, just bored.

The Hub came in the afternoon, having struggled to sleep the night before, and then waking at six and staying awake to phone to see how Spud was.  Once he knew he was okay, he got four solid hours, and then cooked me some sausage butties for my dinner.   He also brought the toothpaste I’d forgotten to put on Tuesday’s list, and it was then I understood why Spud’s visitors had left so quickly.  I grabbed a shower and my food and many cups of tea while the Hub stayed with Spud.  He and I got a better night’s sleep on Wednesday, apart from being woken seven or eight times because of the comings and goings of nurses, doctors and patients…I never knew hospitals were so noisy at night!  No wonder they drug the patients.

On Thursday, Spud had recovered so well and had been such a good patient that they let him go home once he had walked around a bit and had a bath.  We got home about three, and he was tired but glad to be in his own bed.  His wound healed well and he has the neatest scar.  The hospital staff complimented him on being a model patient, for he had no complaints and a ‘thank you’ for every horrible medicine.  The doctors said his appendix was inflamed but they got it nice and early.  People complain about the NHS, but we had as good an experience as you can have when your son’s insides are being ripped out by strangers.  The info on the NHS Direct site was specific; the receptionist at our doctor’s put me through to a doctor as soon as I mentioned suspected appendicitis; the doctor was right to tell me to take him straight to A+E; we didn’t hang about in A+E, and he was up on the ward within an hour of being admitted; all of the staff (including office) in the Treehouse were as helpful, kind and friendly as could be; the wards were spotless; the staff regularly washed their hands or used the hand stuff on the ward, to avoid MRSA, and firmly encouraged parents to use it also.

I only have good things to say, apart from complaining about the dreadful food, which appalled me.   I guess schools are so concerned with healthy eating that I expected the hospitals would be too.  They’ve got a looooong way to go.  And there was nothing for parents staying on the ward, of course, except toast or cereal at breakfast, but back to that cloudy lining – I lost 2lbs in three days.  I’ve put twenty on since then; maybe I could do with having my own appendix out.

I Am The Pigeon

20 May

Yesterday was a good day and, incredibly, there was no chocolate involved.  First, I received an email to say that one of my poems has been accepted by puppywolf for their Best of Manchester Poets collection.  Then the Hub received an email to say we are back on the list.  What list? you ask.  The new kitchen and bathroom list, I reply.

You may remember that I embraced a stranger bearing kitchen plans last January.  It is now May and there is no new kitchen in sight.  Someone told me that they had received their new kitchen and bathroom within two months of the plans being drawn up, so I sent a querying email to Stockport Homes.  The reply stated we were not on the list and not likely to be on the list until 2012.  The puffaHub expanded to three times his normal size and emailed back in polite outrage to say that it wasn’t good enough; to question why they would have someone draw up plans two years before necessary; to complain at their shabby treatment of us; and with a promise to contact our local councillors.  Guess what?  We’re back on the list.

I need the work to be done so I can get on with the hall decorating: I’m panting to get painting to release pent-up paint expression but there’s no point painting until the work is done.   To keep me quiet, I have started peeling off the downstairs toilet paper.   I mostly do it while I’m in there, if you get my drift.  It’s painstakingly slow work, though, so I’m thinking of posting a sign: Guests should feel free to strip to pass the time.

The third bit of good news is that our Beloved Job Hunt Leader called to offer me a work placement at Base Camp.  It is four weeks of part-time unpaid work with no job at the end of it but it is something to put on the cv and I would be on the spot to hear about the latest vacancies.  I would be working in admin and I am under no illusions: several times in the past four weeks, she mentioned that the admin guy who left was not replaced and the work was handed onto her, on top of her normal job, so I’d be doing her a favour; but I’ll get a reference from it and some up-to-date work experience.  I have an interview with the Boss on Monday and, so long as he doesn’t read this, I think it will be fine.

It’s like the old saying: you have to accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue.  Today I am the pigeon.



Pardon My French

19 May

I’ve been updating my poem folder this morning after last month’s writing orgy and I came across one that I didn’t publish for napowrimo:

The Heralding Smell

Flies alight on dog

shite.  Their mess is everywhere:

spring is in the air.
Apologies for swearing; it’s not something I normally do now that I have learned to ignore my husband’s one or two hundred imperfections; but it seriously annoys me when I have to clean my dog and my shoes after walking him.  I pick up my own poo; why can’t other people do the same? 

This is a recurring theme in my life.  Just yesterday, a little girl spotted the plastic bone on Toby’s lead that holds the poo bags and she told me I was ‘a good lady.’  I think I am; in this instance, anyway.  I don’t know how dog owners can be so lazy; it’s disgusting.  I lost count of the times that Spud would toddle beside me when I took Tory Boy to school, then topple over into a steaming pile of irresponsibility.  Fortunately, there was a large bin on the way so I was able to strip off his keks and chuck them in.  Not so bad in summer, but his little legs turned blue in winter.  In case you think I’m cruel, I always had his pram and blanket with me but he would not get in and covered up.  That child loved to walk everywhere.  At less than two years old he spent fourteen hours in Blackpool on a family day trip and we used his pram to carry the junk people always buy/win in seaside resorts because he refused to be wheeled.  Except for one larcenous half-hour at the fun fair: we walked through the shop, looking at tat, and it was only when we got back to the car that we discovered he had snaffled three sticks of rock from one of the low shelves.  He did a similar thing in Mothercare when he was eighteen months old, but that time it was a pack of plastic ducks for his bath.  I’m raising a villain.

It is at this point that you must leave a comment telling me what a great mother I am, in spite of my reprobate offspring; I read this quote from Trackle the other day: Everyone needs recognition for his accomplishments, but few people make the need known quite as clearly as the little boy who said to his father: “Let’s play darts. I’ll throw and you say ‘Wonderful!’


Ladies And Gentlemen, Please Be Upstanding For The National Anthem

18 May

I was looking for a You Tube clip of Steph on Over the Rainbow – I’m gutted she’s out; it’s my fault for not voting because I taped it and watched it the next day – when I came across this clip from the SABC, the broadcasting arm of the Rainbow Nation:

I love the South African national anthem; talk about a coalition: two minutes, two tunes, five of the eleven official languages.  It was an inspired piece of thinking from Nelson Mandela.  In case you don’t know the history, I’ve copied this from Wikipedia:

For decades during the apartheid regime it was considered by many to be the unofficial national anthem of South Africa, representing the suffering of the oppressed. In 1994 after the fall of apartheid, the new State President of  South Africa Nelson Mandela declared that both “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and the previous national anthem, “Die Stem van Suid Afrika” (“The Voice of South Africa”) would be national anthems. While the inclusion of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” rejoiced in the newfound freedom of many South Africans, the fact that “Die Stem” was also kept as an anthem even after the fall of apartheid, signified to all that the new government under Mr Mandela respected all races and cultures and that an all-inclusive new era was dawning upon South Africa. In 1996, a shortened, combined version of the two anthems was released as the new South African National Anthem under the constitution of South Africa.

I like a good national anthem.  My favourites are the South African; the British (naturally): 

 The American:

And the French:


I find it amusing that three of my favourites celebrate republicanism and the fourth monarchy.  I guess it’s all down to their rousing tunes, which is the point of a national anthem, after all: they are a rallying cry set to music. 

I had a quick look at the different lyrics.  It was inevitable, I suppose, that the French anthem would ramble on for five minutes, but they are complaining about bad soldiers slitting their throats so we’ll forgive them that.  Their anthem says

…that the impure blood
Should water the furrows of our fields.

The Americans thunder about 

…the rockets’ red glare
The bombs bursting in air.

Before peace descended on South Africa, Afrikaaners

…always, always say yes:
To live, to die.

And the British?  Why, we

confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks.

That told ’em! 

I guess it’s why we have a constitutional monarchy system that still works; we are far too polite to change it.  Even our radical new political system is just two groups agreeing to disagree on a few points and rub along on the rest.

An interesting fact about Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika: it is also the national anthem of Tanzania and Zambia and was formerly the anthem of Zimbabwe and Namibia.  It was written in 1897 as a Methodist hymn.  The title means God bless Africa.  A nice little irony is that it was the rallying cry of the exiled and Communist-supported ANC.

The reason for the SABC video of the national anthem is to teach the South African population the words in time for the World Cup.  Not everyone speaks five languages, though most South Africans speak at least two and often three.  As the host nation, it would be embarrassing if the people didn’t know the words to their own national anthem; just ask the British: our footballers all speak the same language, but most of them lip synch like a bad dubbing at international fixtures.  Still, we don’t pay them obscene amounts of money to be literate, do we?  Just as well, really.






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