Absence​ of the Normal, Presence of the Abnormal.

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absence of the normal, presence of the abnormal vanessa wilde

We are in the sitting room.  I am on the sofa with my notebook as Simon briefs me on what’s ‘going on’ with Fiona and General Smith. “I can’t give you details on the nature of the investigation but it is serious.   I need you to keep an eye on them during the week.  What you’re looking for, as with any threat, is an absence of the normal, a presence of the abnormal.” Simon puffs his chest out as he lectures me. He just needs a pointing stick, overhead projector and he could be giving one of his signature PowerPoint presentations ‘on why men fight.’ (which are meant to be riveting, by the way).

Me: “Right.  So…”

Si: “I’ll take questions at the end.”


Si: “We have eyes on them but any extra information you can give us may prove vitally important.”

And then I remember something. “Are you taking questions now?’

“Yes. Girl in the blue,” he laughs. We are the only ones in the room. He is such an arse but I can’t help giggle.

“We saw her – Fiona – on our Girls’ Night Out. She was at the bar on the Embankment, talking to a hot younger man, taking notes. We all decided she was moonlighting as a dominatrix. She didn’t look happy but then she never does. She sort of waved in our general direction and raised her glass. But then he was questioning her, he looked like the one in control.”

Simon is playing around on his iPhone. “Did you hear anything I just said?” He doesn’t reply, still absorbed by his phone. “Si?”

“What? Yes. Sorry, just trying to find the dictaphone app. Got it. Right, can you tell everything you just told me now? Just waiting for the app to download… And ready.”


I am peering around Sienna’s curtain, from where I have the best vantage point of the Smiths’ house.  Vita’s napping, Sienna’s at Nursery. Simon still won’t tell me what’s going on but I am beginning to put some fragments together. He almost told me something important in Italy and it’s driving me nuts.

So here’s what we know so far:

  • Simon started doing ‘some digging’ on General Smith after being made to rebuild his wall (which he didn’t knock down)
  • The General started causing trouble for Si after I stormed a live-firing exercise that Si was commanding on Salisbury Plain (to rescue Bunny, Tiggy and Taggy – the children’s favourite toys. A low moment for me.)
  • Si tries to tell me in Italy that, with help from an Mi5 contact, he’s uncovered something about General Smith (but we are interrupted by local musicians and waiters). He says it ‘goes all the way to the top’.
  • I try to question Si further when we are touring Amalfi in our Citroen 2CV but he won’t talk about it. All he says is The General “could go to jail”. Si is then ‘taken out’ by a wasp. (Or was it a tiny killer robot sent by the people who killed David Kelly, the Iraq sexed-up dossier guy? OMG. Go away thought. Shooo. And breathe, Nessa. Breathe. Oh my god. I can’t feel my face.)

I take a series of deep breaths and continue to jot things down in my journal. What else?

  • General Jeremy Smith and Fiona, his wife, are under covert investigation but we don’t know why.
  • They live opposite us on the Married Patch in Greater London.
  • They have one daughter, Fenella, aged 7 and an incontinent Dachshund, called Basil.
  • The General works in Whitehall as a Chief of Staff.
  • Fiona is a government PR manager, also working in Whitehall. (And how she got that job in the first place is a bloody mystery.)
  • Humphery, post heart attack, turns up to go for drinks at the A&E Club in Shepherd’s Market. (I googled it and there is no record of the club)
  • Fiona asks Humphery to sign papers giving her and The General alibis – one for last summer and one for December.
  • In return, she will do Humphery ‘a favour’. Undoubtedly sexual, although could be money?
  • He allegedly fakes a heart attack, doesn’t sign the papers and escapes in an ambulance.
  • She follows in her car with the papers. Does he sign them at the hospital?
  • They are involved in an elderly swinging-ring or circle.
  • Humphery has a frosted blue ‘glans’ or tip of penis. Fact.

I have a quick look through the curtains. 11.02am, no movement. I duck down with another jigsaw piece to note down.

  • Humphery has 100k in his safe from a Filipino polo ‘patron’. I write down, MONEY LAUNDERING??

“So, let’s look at the possible crimes,” I say out-loud. 1) Money laundering 2) Soliciting or prostitution 3) Fraud.

They’re not fiddling the school fees because they live here all the time – that’s a classic one for nice military families. In fact, Fiona’s causing problems most of the time, remember the nursery school teacher? I peek over the windowsill this time using Simon’ military issue binoculars I found in the cupboard. I scan the Close. Fuck, Fiona’s car’s gone!

I note down: 11.06 Smith’s BMW estate gone, didn’t see person leave.


The fact I missed Fiona’s car irks me for the rest of the day.  I need something to report back to Si.  I serve the kids’ lunch outside, even though it’s like an oven and one of the hottest summers on record. I repeat the exercise at tea time, ignoring Sienna’s pleas to ‘eat in the cool of the kitchen’ which is merely on plate warming temperature, instead of full broil mode outside. Dr Nick and his brood join us for our Death Valley style kids’ tea.

Dr Nick: “This is great acclimatisation training. East Africa, here I come!”

Me: “What?”

Dr Nick: “I deploy in two weeks.”

Me: “No. Poor you. Poor Anna.”

Dr Nick: “It’s only a four-monther.”

Me: “I guess, that’s not too bad.”

Dr Nick: “You don’t know where I’m going!”

When someone on the Patch deploys it brings it home that your husband or partner could be next. Si’s last tour (when we met) was in Afghanistan in 2010. He lost his best friend and 10 soldiers. I don’t want him going anywhere dangerous anytime soon.

Fiona returns in her car. Thankfully the children are still at the table and therefore safe.  She swings the car past the cherry tree and puts into reverse, backing up fast. She gets out. I try not to make eye contact but she’s walking over; she wants to talk. I try not to blush but my ‘rosacea’ or liver wind or whatever is making me beetroot with the guilt of spying weighing heavily on my conscience. I am a crap spy. Dr Nick – who doesn’t miss a trick – looks at me and then at Fiona, curiously.

Fiona: “Hi, hi. I need a favour.” I try not to nod but do it anyway. “Can you take Basil?”

Me: “Hmm.”

Fiona: “For a few days?”

Me: “A few days?”

Fiona: “Yes. I’ll pay you.”

Me: (lying) “I don’t need money.”

Dr Nick: “‘I’ll do it for money.”

Me: “You’re a doctor – you’ve got loads of wonga”.

Dr Nick: “That’s GPs”.

Fiona: “For god’s sake, will one of you do it?”

Dr Nick looks at me. I look at him. I can’t take her dog it will compromise my surveillance operation.

Dr Nick: “No can do, we’re off to ‘Shenter Parcks Amshterdam’ for a week before I deploy.”

I sigh and say as authentically as I can, “We’d love to have Basil, wouldn’t we kids? How’s Humphery?”

Fiona: “Not great thanks to you but he’ll live.”

Me: “He’s not answering my texts.”

Fiona: “You surprise me. He had to stay in for two extra days to get over the concussion.”

I put my hands over my eyes. “What did you do?” Asks the doctor.

Fiona: “She KO’ed Humphery just after his second heart attack.”

Fiona brings her poor dachshund over and plonks it on my lap. She walks off again returning with his cage, bowl and lead and barks instructions about feeding and walks. She then races off with a wave and a bang of her front door.

Dr Nick: “Lovely to see you too, Fiona. Always a pleasure. What a total and utter bitch.”

I raise my cup of tea to Nick. “I wish they were sending her to East Africa instead of you.” Basil pees on my lap. I grab a handful of wet wipes and clean my kaftan, unfazed.

Dr Nick: “Why did you K.O the old guy? I thought you liked him.”

Mandy walks over with Arthur and Mia who’s she’s picked up from Nursery.  “Prosecco?” Nick and I nod.  As Mandy pours the fizz, Fiona gets in her car and I speedily round up our feral children on all manner of scooters and bikes before she can run them over. She disappears around the corner in fifth. I covertly note down the time she leaves, clink glasses with my friends and that’s when we notice a strong smell of smoke.

Five minutes later we can see the smoke too, coming from Fiona’s back garden. This is a presence of the abnormal. I take the decision to enter Fiona’s garden for safety reasons, by scaling the fence using strong Mummy arms and know-how from a misspent youth. Dr Nick opens the gate by reaching over and unbolting it – he raises an eyebrow at me. There is a small bonfire blazing – a combination of garden waste and documents. I grab a bean pole and start flushing out the papers. Dr Nick turns on the hosepipe and douses the flames.

I fetch a bin bag from my house and shove as many papers into it as I can, I take it to our garage throw it to the back, behind the dusty boogie-boards and diving equipment. I wander back to the scene and there, standing with Dr Nick, is General Smith, wanting to know why the doctor’s in his garden. Nick casually explains that the bonfire is too close to the fence and, given the hot weather has made everything tinder-dry, he decided to put it out. The General is unimpressed. The doctor calmly suggests The General might like to Google the local authority’s guidelines on bonfires and smoke control. Nick looks at his phone and reads: “Avoid burning at weekends, public holidays and on sunny days when people are outside enjoying their gardens.”  He points at the sun without a cloud in the sky and over to The Close, where children are playing like a 1950s suburban idyll.

The General mutters something, marches inside and I sit at my picnic bench, coolly sipping prosecco with Mandy, texting Si. <<Have an important update on ‘Operation Pampas Grass’ and evidence in our garage.>>

Swings and Roundabouts

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“What was he doing on The Patch?” Simon asks again as we do another loop of the Kingston Hospital car park, still unable to find a space after 20 minutes.

Me: “I don’t know!”

Si: “But how does he know General Smith and the pitbull?”

Me: “He’s a neighbour in Monkton Deverill.”

Si: “Of course, he is.”

Me: “Stop saying he like that.”

Si: “Like what?”

Me: “Like he. (Beating the driving wheel) Come on, we need a space!”

Si: “Because this toilet of a man deserves my respect?”

Me: “You asked to come. You could have looked after the kids so I could come on my own but no, you wanted to hang out with my ex, too.” I wave at a man getting into his car. “Are you coming out?”

Man: “No, I’m eating my lunch.”

Si: “Why can’t he eat his lunch a table like a normal human being?”

Sienna: “Is it lunchtime?”

Si: “No.”

Sienna: “I’m hungry.”

Si: “No, you’re not.”

Sienna: “I am.”

Si: “You only had breakfast an hour ago.”

Sienna: “My tummy hurts.” Vita starts to cry. “See, she’s hungry too.” Adds Sienna.

Si: “Why are there no f**king spaces!”

Simon gets out. He’s probably going to go and punch someone in the face so we can get a space that way.  Ok, this looks promising – he’s found a Granny and is helping her into her car, mind your head dear, he shuts the car door and is now directing her out of the space. The old bat drives off waving at Simon and I park up, the children still howling. Humphery will have to wait, we need to hit Costa for cheese sandwiches, NOW.


I tap on the door of a private room. Humphery is sitting up in bed, look distinctly perky.

“How are you?” I say, still mortified I shouted ‘I love you’ in the throes of cardiac arrest.  I want to backtrack and say, what I meant was love in a nostalgic, vintage way, like savouring a time that has passed and can never be again. But I have Simon standing right behind me touching my heels with the tips of his ageing Hush Puppies. He has a child in both of his arms – they are his props.

“You went in the ambulance!” Says Sienna.

Humphery: “Yes. I’m fine now. It was nothing, just a blip.”

Me: “Well, it didn’t look like a ‘blip’.” Simon purposely treads on the back of my heels. I gesture to the men to do the introductions, too awkward to make them myself.

Humphery: “Simon. Humphery Hurtwood. So you inherited a handful.”

“Hi,” says Simon shaking Humphery’s hand. “I fell on that particular sword.”

Humphery: “Interesting way of putting it. It takes a real man to handle a filly like Vanessa. Totally cooked.”

Si: “A gentle hand on the reins and a bit of stick from time to time.” They both laugh in a forced way which makes me want to puke.

Me: “Can you stop comparing me to a bloody horse. Hashtag MeToo, hashtag TimesUp.”

Humphery: “Hashtag Yawn.”

Si: “Hashtag WhoStoleMySpear.”

Sienna: “Hashtag CanWeGoHomeNow.”


Simon and Humphery are getting on too well for my liking, but it dawns on me why, they are cut from the same cloth: chest- beating warrior types with traditional views and tastes. I run through my other former flames,  even my younger Australian man-bag, The Party Guy, is a modern version of a macho chest-beater.  Hard-bodied cave men make my fanny twitch; pasty computer nerds do not.

There’s a sudden and foul stench in the room. Si and I automatically look at each other in silent accusation but it’s not us, we both look at Humphery – is it him? Of course not, Humphery never did a single ‘Donald Trump’ in the time I knew him and I’d had four years of tummy ache unable to let my wind blow free. The culprit, of course, is Vita, which is excellent timing because now Simon has to go and change her nappy. He ums and ahs and says it’s my turn. I flash him a ‘pillar of salt’ look and encourage him to take Sienna as well but he refuses.

He looks at Humphery holding the ripe baby at arm’s length and shakes his head, “Who stole my spear?”

Humphery: “You shouldn’t be making him do that. It’s women’s work.”

Me: “And now I remember why I left you. As well as the fact you’re 105 and the tip of your penis was beginning to turn blue.”

Humphery: “No, it wasn’t. Isn’t!” He looks at Sienna who is now watching Cebeebies on my phone to see if she’s listening. “Not in front of the child.”

“Potential girlfriend?” I add, knowing he has a 20-year-old now under his spell.

He whispers conspiratorially, “I didn’t have a heart attack.”

“Yes, you did Humphery.”  I sigh, thinking he’s in denial.

Humphrey: “I faked the whole thing.”

Me: “What?!” I get up to go.

Humphery: “Wait. Hear me out. Fiona got me there under false pretences. I thought we were all going to this new club in Shepherd’s Market…”

Me: “Are you’re swinging with them?! And you tried to get me to have that ‘dark evening’ in Reading…”

Humphery: “No, it’s a members’ club, interestingly enough called A&E.”

Me: “Total Swingers Club.”

Sienna: “I like swinging. Granny’s got a swing in Wiltshire.”

Me: “That’s right, darling.”

Humphery: “I’m reformed, Doctor says only one woman at a time since my heart attack; the real one.”

Me: “Get to the point.”

Humphery: “Fi-fi said, we’re not going into town because I had to sign some papers and in return she’d give me a…”

Simon re-enters with Vita and a coffee. I want him to go away again but I decide Humphery can bloody well tell Simon too. I bring him up to speed with the fake heart attack and Fiona.

“What papers did she want you to sign?” says Simon eyeballing Humphery steadily.

“Legal papers claiming she was with me in Deauville last summer and they were both skiing with me in December.  Alibis. I said no and she threatened to expose our relationship.”

Me: “What relationship?”

Humphery: “We used to swing from time to time.”

Simon chokes on his coffee.

Sienna: “Daddy, I told him Granny has a swing.”

Me: “See.”

Si: “Fuck.”

Humphery: “She had me over a barrel, and not for the first time, so I faked a heart attack.”

Si: “You did the right thing, Humphery.”

Me: “What? The NHS is in crisis, it’s a waste of money.”

Si: “You’re now a witness in a covert investigation. I have to make some calls. I need you to tell the Military Police everything.”

Me: “F**k. What have the Smiths done?”

Humphery throws his head back on his pillow and closes his eyes. “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid.” Si exits, talking on the phone. “I’ve got over 100 grand in my safe from a bent polo sponsor who uses the Filipino national bank like his personal account, the last thing I need is the police wading in.” He starts disconnecting himself from various machines.  I know the old fox is going to make a run for it.

I open the door and shout down the corridor to Simon “Quick, he’s escaping!”  Humphery’s out of his bed, I can’t let him go, he’s Si’s key witness.  I stand in his way. He dances with me to get past. “No, you can’t leave.” He picks me up and places me to one side. And that’s when I shove him in the chest to stop him leaving. He stumbles backwards, misses the bed and crack…

Follow That Dream

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Follow that dream Vanessa Wilde Humphery Hurtwood ex boyfriends

Last night I had a dream about Humphery Hurtwood. I dream about him on and off, usually, intense sex dreams that make me yearn for my younger, freer years but last night’s dream was different. There’d been an accident on a winter’s evening with a horsebox, Humphery had stopped his BMW to help but now was implicated in a much darker mystery. The horse owner kept his black leather gloves in her safe. I open it and find them, along with many of his papers.  I smell the inside of his gloves.

There is some kind of cover-up because the girl groom didn’t call the vet straight away, fearful of him involving the police because she was wearing leggings (apparently, vets strongly disapprove of leggings).

I take Humphery’s black gloves to him and warn him something strange is going on.  I look in a mirror before I go. I am very fat, like in one of those Instagram apps. I tell myself it’s because I’ve just had a baby. We go for a walk down a steep, wooded lane. Baby Vita isn’t in the dream but Sienna is. She is trying to keep up with up in the wood above but Humphery is walking too fast. I lose sight of her and have to go back. I discover her hiding in the wardrobe.  I find a buggy and put her in it but Humphery will not wait for us. We are left behind.

But what does it all mean? It must be a sign. It must mean something. I need to befriend a Freud. I’m sure I have one on Facebook. Humphery’s not been well.  Fiona told me months ago and Cathy (my friend back home in Wiltshire) confirmed he’d had a minor heart attack. I have longed to contact him but what exactly is the etiquette about contacting your ex? Is it permissible after a heart attack? I really think it must be. But what about after a dream?

I think of Humphery most of the day; while peeling the skin off a large cucumber, opening up half a pitta and stuffing it with hummus and finally scrubbing the linoleum on all fours. Everything is reminding me of him. Of his big hands. Like dinner plates and collarbones the size of tibias. He is a mythical creature: weaned on buffalo milk and centaur-like on and off the polo field. He is. Was? A Jilly Cooper wet dream.

Oh, and the drama. Not mundane married drama like who shrunk my favourite jumper? Why didn’t you pay the accountant? F**k, we’ve run out of nappies! No. More: nobody understands our love (there were 30 years between us), the drama of him trying to do the right thing by ‘setting me free’, the drama of being mistaken for his daughter and telling them I was, in fact, his lover.

There were the jealous rages if I spoke to another man, god forbid another polo player; his insatiable sexual appetite, his infidelities. Some of the best advice I was given was don’t get married; don’t get pregnant. I took the advice and the relationship, although it ended, remained perfectly tumultuous and intense, unspoilt by the everyday reality of responsibility. Of parenthood. Simon is husband material; Humphery was a lover.

I sit with the kids at the picnic bench outside our house picking at the leftover fish-fingers and baked beans. Arthur’s joined us as Mandy’s taken Mia for her jab’s at the doctors’. The children happily chomp away, oblivious of my inner turmoil.  Vita is throwing beans at the parasol. Arthur and Sienna chuckle mischievously. They hold hands at the table, friends since they were only a few months old.

I hang out the washing on the whirlygig. The back garden is north facing, right by the main road and, more importantly, hanging my underwear out here irritates Fiona who says it’s lowering the tone of the Married Patch.  I peg my silky pink knickers and decide I will contact Humphery – he’s in his sixties, had a heart attack, he’s hardly a threat and I would happily encourage Simon to contact Geordie Janey, his former love, if she were to fall ill.  In fact, I’m happy for him to contact her even in good health. I don’t like to deny the characters of our previous years, they remain part of us in our memories, habits and hearts.

But I don’t want Humphery to see me like this; chubby, in a shapeless shirt dress, hair thrown up, sensible sandals with a basket of washing. I will lose weight first. A BMW with blacked out windows drives into the close and I quickly round up the children – Vita in her walker, Sienna on her scooter, Arthur on his balance bike. The car parks under the cherry tree in front of Fiona and The General’s house. I carry on pegging my knickers until I hear the click of the driver’s door open and watch Humphery slowly raise himself out of the car. He is thinner on top, greying at the edges but still looking muscular and sexual. Like Robert Duvall or, for the younger audience, Jason Statham at 55.

Humphery doesn’t want to talk, he is rushing to get away from me, putting his hand up like the sports star he is and I am the paparazzi.  Dr Nick walks around the corner, back from the school run with his kids.

Dr Nick: “Afternoon.”

I want to talk to Humphery. I am following him.  “Are you okay? I wanted to call. Is your heart okay?”

He nods quickening his pace. “Yes, thank you. I’m fine.”

I want to tell him why I walked out, that we had four amazing years; that he haunts my dreams. “Please Humph, I need to talk to you – remember the New Forest and that thing you did with your thumb?”

He’s at the General’s door, banging and ringing the bell. Fiona lets him in, she scowls at me and Humphery hurries in, practically falling over the threshold. “‘Careful, I won’t always be there to catch you went you fall.’ You said that to me at treading-in just after the Edgington ball,” I shout, fully aware I am sounding like a nutter.

The door bangs shut.

I return to my picnic bench deflated. It’s because I’ve gone to seed. It’s because I’m fat and ruddy (the rash of death is back on my forehead probably because I’m drinking too much again. Although everyone says they can’t see it but I can see it. The dermatologist says it’s rosacea but I know it’s liver disease.) I look at myself in the hall mirror. Yuck.

I cuddle Vita and watch Sienna and Arthur now on the trampoline. I’m desperate. I need to tell Humphery about the dream. I need to find out if he’s okay. I need to find out what I’ve done wrong. Why won’t he talk to me?!

Dr Nick brings out his children’s tea and put them on his picnic table “Was that Humphery? The polo player with massive hands?” I nod. “Wow, he really is old. He looks like he could have started the sport in Victorian times.”

I break into a smile. He can see I am sobbing behind my sunglasses.  I remember the doctor’s package in his lemon lycra, flirting with me on the ladder, waking up spooning with him by accident. What is wrong with me? I love Simon, we’ve just had five glorious sexless nights in Italy together. And that’s the problem. Simon’s probably watching large amounts of porn at Staff College, while I’m checking out the neighbour and reminiscing about men his father’s age.

Fiona flings open the front door. “We need a doctor!”  Dr Nick and I run in. Humphery is supine on the sitting room floor, his body is jolting. Fiona is waving papers over his head. “I need you to sign, Humphery. Just scribble here and here.”

Me: “HUMPHERY! Why is he jolting?”

Dr Nick is checking his airwaves. “Has he had a defibrillator fitted?”

Fiona nods. “Humphery, wake up. I need you to sign!”

The defibrillator kicks in again and he starts to moan. I stroke his face. “Oh, Humphery.”

Humphery: “Get her away from me.”

Me: “I love you. I’ll always love you. Don’t die!” The defibrillator kicks in again.

Dr Nick: “Nessa, you are going to kill him at this rate.”

I return outside to the children and watch as he is stretchered into an ambulance. “Come on kids, we’re going to get in the car now.” I want to follow the ambulance. Someone has to be with him. It should be me, not Fiona.

Dr Nick: “Don’t. For his own sake. Go tomorrow.” He’s right, I can’t take the children there, especially not at bedtime, it would be hell on earth. And I don’t have a seat for Arthur. Fiona is getting in the ambulance, Humphery is wild-eyed shaking his head.

Me: “No, no, no. Not her.”

Dr Nick: “You stay here too, Mrs. Smith.”

Fiona: “I’ll do as I damn well, please. He’s my friend.”

Dr Nick: “You’re having a negative effect on the patient.” The paramedic agrees.

Fiona climbs out. “I’ll go in the car.” She gets her papers from the house, locks the door and jumps in her car.

The ambulance drives off with Fiona in hot pursuit. Nick stares into the distance. “You had quite an impact on him, didn’t you?” He turns his head to look at me. “So, what did he do with this thumb in your New Forest?”

I decide not to tell the actual story of how he trapped it in a sash window at a hotel and I saved him and it brought us closer together. Instead, I say saucily. “I’ll leave it up to your imagination, Doctor.” I really have got to stop flirting with the neighbour. And, lose weight.


Break On Through To the Other Side

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Vanessa Wilde Break On Through Locked In Kicking Doors Down

This is a RAID!!!!

It’s Monday.  Sienna (2 ½) has locked herself in her room, Vita (eight months) is on hunger strike and Simon, after almost succumbing to an Italian Killer Wasp, drove to work at five in the morning, still feeling horrendous but compelled by his British Army training ‘to man up and keep buggering on’.  Or maybe it was my nursing skills? Well, I didn’t know drinking Epsom Salts could make you sick. I was trying to expel the toxins.

Me: “Sienna, this is the last time. Open the door!”
Sienna: “I can’t.”
Me: “Yes, you can.”
Sienna: “No. I. Can’t!”

Still, at least the grandparents kept both the children alive while we were away. Although Shakin’ Stevens the bull has gone down with a mysterious bovine disease, which Edwin (Si’s father) is blaming on me and my ‘townie hands’. I didn’t even touch him, I just held a receptacle to catch the nut-juice.

Me: “Open this door right now, young lady!”
Sienna: “Noooooo!”

I pull the handle down repeatedly until something snaps inside and it droops like poor Shakin’ Steven’s willy.

Sienna: “What have you DONE, Mama? It’s broken!”
Me: “It’s okay. Mummy’s going to get you out.”
“Okay,” she says, starting to sob.

I scoop up Baby Vita, rush downstairs to the garage and rummage around in Si’s toolbox. I race back up and start to unscrew the door handle. I am impressed at how quickly I get it off. “Mummy to the rescue!” I push the door. Nothing happens. I push it again. Nothing happens.  “I am going to be in here forever,” wails Sienna.

I phone Leviathan, the loathed military housing contractor and listen to the muzak and ‘all calls will be recorded for quality and care’ nonsense on speakerphone. A broad Scouser called Tiger asks me for my name and postcode.  I give him the details.

Tiger: “What seems to be the problem there, Mrs Wilde?”
Me: “My two-year-old is locked in her bedroom.”
Tiger: “Has she locked herself in?”
Me: “Yes.”
Sienna: “No. I. Didn’t!”
Tiger: “Well, there’s nothing we can do today because it’s third party damage.”
Me: “She’s my daughter!”
Tiger: “Sorry wrong page, bear with me it’s my first day. Have you tried pushing it?”

I look at the phone in double disbelief. “Of course, I have. I’ve taken the whole mechanism off with a screwdriver.”
Tiger: “And the door still won’t open?”
Me: “No!”
Tiger: “And is your daughter okay?”
Me: “Not really – it’s like an oven in here.” Rivulets of sweat trickle down my inner thighs – it’s one of the greatest heat waves on record and the house is hotter than Andy Murray’s jock strap at the Men’s Wimbledon Finals.
Tiger: “Don’t worry we’ll get her out, Mrs Wilde. I’ve flagged it up as urgent so that means we’ll have someone to you within the next 3-6 hours.”
Me: “But she hasn’t had breakfast!”
Tiger: “Can you slide some toast under the door there, Mrs Wilde?”

I hang up before I can say anything rude to him. I am going to have to take things into my own hands.  “Sienna, I need you to climb onto Lamby (the rocking sheep) and open the window. Just like I told you not to do.”
Sienna: “Okay Mama.”

I pick Vita up, who sneezes ectoplasm at my coral sundress, bustle downstairs and open the front door. Standing in front of the house I watch Sienna climb onto the window sill, she is attempting to open the window.  I doubt she can do it but a small crowd is gathering, trying to work out what I’m staring at.

Mandy stands next to me.  “Locked in?”

Me: “Yup.”

Mandy: “It’s those bloody cheap doors. Mine have been stuck twice. Almost rights of passage.”

Sienna tries to unlock the window. She is struggling but then she does it! She pushes the window open, which stops with a clunk at the safety catch.

“You did it! Well done, Sienna!” I shout proudly.

Doctor Nick (who still hasn’t burnt our fence down at this stage) adds his two-penneth. “Not very health and safety conscious, Nessa. And for her next stunt, Sienna will abseil off the roof.”

“Can I borrow your ladder?” I ask the doctor, looking at him for the first time. He’s sporting his all-in-one lemon lycra again, which is vile but I can’t help but notice his snug ball hammock which makes me smile at him inanely and now he’s smiling back. Oh god, we are flirting, which seems particularly inappropriate given my husband’s brush with death and my toddler’s current imprisonment.

Nick fetches his telescopic ladder and props it against my roof. I hand Vita to Mandy. “Ness have you tried really pushing it?” She asks. I ignore her stupid comment and, armed with rice cakes and a sippy cup, mount the ladder.  I ascend two rungs and Dr Nick is right behind me ‘just steadying the ladder’, almost pressing his package into my bottom. As I climb the next two rungs I can feel wetness start to soak into my dress. Oh god no, he’s not that hot. Or have I had a pelvic floor quake? I realise the sippy cup is leaking. Dr Nick, helpfully, turns it the right way up, which causes me to lose my balance and send rice cakes and the sippy cup to go flying. Dr Nick has his hand pressing into my back to steady me. “Let me go up,” he says.

“No. I can do this.” I say, taking some of Si’s imaginary ‘man up’ pills.  I may have the body of a post-natal Mummy who likes wine but I have the stomach … of a post-natal Mummy who likes wine (and cakes). “Please.” He says touching my hand.

“It looks like you’ve wet yourself! Doctor get a bit close?” shouts Mandy, laughing. I dismount the ladder and hand over to the doctor. “The view’s much better from down here,” says Mandy joining me on a ‘perve’ of our neighbour. “I totally get it now,” she says. The sun bounces off his buns causing us to put our shades on. “Shame he’s dressed as Bananaman!” We both howl. The doctor’s on the roof now, unhooking the window latch. He jumps on to the rocking sheep and is in. We all cheer. He holds Sienna up at the window triumphantly.


One hour later and we now have one A&E doctor and one toddler stuck in the bedroom. Nick throws his feather-weight at the door but he can’t break it down from that direction.  He yells out of the window that he’s, “going to pass Sienna down off the roof” but all the Mummies have decided that is far too risky.  But Nick wants action, he’s ‘sweating like a paedo in a playground’ (or a toddler’s bedroom) and is ‘bloody late for work’. Mandy helpfully throws bagels at the window and a bottle of water. They all miss.

I call Leviathan. I want an update on the locksmith but ‘Angela’ has no record of the job. “But I booked it with Tiger,” I wail.

Angela: “There’s no one by that name here.”

Me: “Tiger. Scouse guy.”

Angela: “We’re all Scouse, the call centre’s in Liverpool. Hold on, there’s a Tyrone.”

Me: “That’s him!”

Angela: “He said you hung up before you confirmed the job. I’ll book it again but it’ll be another 3-6 hours.”

“But my little girl’s trapped,” I say my bottom lip trembling. I haven’t had breakfast either and can feel my blood sugars plummeting.

Angela: “You do what you need to do Mrs Wilde – I would.”

Me: “What about the door?”

Angela: “Your little girl’s trapped. Sod the door.”

Me: “So I won’t get charged? Because I broke this vintage car on a holiday …”

Angela: “Knock it down.”

Me: “OK.”

I walk up to the bedroom door and remember the time when I was at a ‘Fun Loving Criminals’ afterparty with Captain Dick and Crazy Cath, and the burly black manager of the bar was in the Ladies’ doing loads of coke with some groupies and I suddenly had this really good idea to pretend I was the police. So I kicked the door down and shouted: “THIS IS A RAID!”

And the door flew off its hinges, and the groupies are flushing the gear and suddenly the manager has me by the neck against a wall and is shouting in my face – and I’ll never forget this curious arrangement of words – “You f***ing c*** a** b****!”

It was the poncho-wearing bassist who got him to calm down and let me stay because he said I was just ‘dicking around having a British larfff’. And I strongly agreed with because it was true. I asked him if he was hot in his woollen poncho in mid-August and he said in a smoky rock and roll voice: “Baby, I’m only hot because I’m talking to you.”

I zip up the same thigh high boots I wore that night, don the biker jacket (which will no longer accommodate my bazookas), take a breath and shout. “Stand back Sienna! This is a Raid!” And bam! I kick the door down. But to my horror no-one is there.

I follow a rope made out of sheets down to the ladder and watch as everyone is slapping Dr Nick on the back and cuddling Sienna. This was meant to be my moment and it’s all ruined.

I totter downstairs in my thigh high boots, out into the sunlight. Sienna runs into me with a flying cuddle. “Doctor Nick saved me! And I went on the roof!” I cuddle her tightly.

“You were meant to be in there,” I tell the Doctor.  “I just rescued you. I just kicked the bloody door down and you all missed it.”

“I’d like to have seen that,” says Doctor Nick.

“Why the f***are you dressed like that?” asks Mandy.

The Leviathan van pulls in.  The locksmith follows me up in my sexy boots and I show him Sienna’s door. He’s not sure if I’ll get charged but it definitely seems ‘excessive force’ to him.

The words c*** a** b**** float into my mind again.

Hard Boiled & ‘Over-Refreshed’.

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I don’t know about you folks but my brain has gone from lightly coddled to hard-boiled in this epic heatwave because our house is hotter than a hot box on Love Island.

Simon and I take hydration very seriously so I have been drinking all weekend – mainly Pimms, pink and Prosecco and I accidentally got a little ‘over-refreshed’ yesterday at Henley where, incidentally, I didn’t see a single horse all day.

When Si saw I had ‘stroke-face’ I was swiftly evacuated from the Stewards’ Enclosure because apparently, that’s when ‘I started to act up’. (Such rubbish) And I’d already had a stern warning from some village matriarch about using a mobile phone and threatened with a lifetime ban…

And then when we arrived home at midnight, via a purveyor of delicious kebobs, we found the fire brigade in The Close, extinguishing the fire Doctor Nick had started after putting his hot coals against my back fence.  Owff.  Apparently, the flames were seven feet high but his hose just wasn’t long enough to tackle the job.  But that’s all for another time because I’m off to wallow in an ice bath and recover my form like Andy Murray.

Normal service will resume next Sunday at 19:00 BST.

Love, Vanessa xx


A Sting in the Tale.

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I want to get going. But Si is chatting away to the hotel manager, complimenting him on his wonderful rose garden, which is lovely, it really is, but it’s already 11 and this is our last full day to explore the Amalfi Coast. The first 20 minutes of the conversation I enjoyed, but he won’t let the poor man go and he’s obviously got things to do but Si is not a receiver of subtle social cues.

After coughing, swinging my handbag around, yawning, shifting my weight from foot to foot, sighing and tugging at his sleeve, I give up and leave them to it.  The cream convertible Citroën 2CV  is waiting at the entrance of the hotel. I jump in, sit in the passenger seat and apply my garish coral lipstick, attempting to wait patiently for Simon, like so many other wives I’ve seen. Five minutes tick by v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and that’s it, I’ve had enough. I go to round up my husband again.

And he’s still talking to the bloody owner! But now he’s got a glass in hand too. That’ll take at least another half an hour and I want to GO!  I march up to Simon, my flashing eyes hidden behind my aviators, my floral skirt billowing in the breeze.  I absorb the scene before shooting my mouth off.  The signore speaks first.

Hotel Manager: “Simon was telling me about his Lady Jane Hamiltons when he was stung by a wasp.”

Me: “They smell amazing. (To Si) What is it with us and the local wildlife?” I say scratching the mosquito welts on my arms and resisting the ones on my bottom that are now begging for a quick scratch.

Si takes his middle finger out of the glass of ice cubes and sticks it up at me. “Ow.” He says putting it back in the ice.

“It’s just a sting love,” I say, echoing the Yorkshire nurse in Swindon hospital the day before our wedding. I had zero sympathy from Simon, only jokes about my fat hand and that he had special exercises to bring down the swelling down.  I thank the hotel owner again for the loan of his car and drag Si off, with the ice.

We walk past the saltwater infinity pool overlooking the bay and the town below. He tried to take my hand as we cross under the bougainvillaea arbours to the grand staircase. We descend linking arms. “Hold my hand,” he says. But I don’t want to because it hurts my shoulder because he’s shorter than me.

“I don’t want you to drag my knuckles on the ground,” I say grinning.

Si: “You are so bloody rude.”

“Thank you,” I say, infuriating him more by taking it as a compliment.

Our 2CV chariot with HOTEL POSEIDON emblazoned across the doors is now blocked in by a taxi and several abandoned cars; Piaggios squeeze past and a coach honks angrily.

Si still insists on driving in spite of his sting and five minutes later after more honking horns, lots of Italians shouting at each other, we are away.  The breeze, the freedom, no tots wailing in the back, just us on the Italian coast. Bliss. The cerulean sea on our right, the opulent villas in the hills on our left and the crazy Italian drivers all around, we grin at each other like lobotomized goons. THIS IS THE LIFE.

We have no idea where we are going so Si takes a right at a fork and we keep with the coast road. He says his finger is throbbing and it’s visibly swollen, but I tell him to man-up (just as he told me when I broke my collarbone and he cancelled the air ambulance after a horse fell on me.)

I smile at him.  God, he’s annoying as f*ck but then I am a total liability – thank god we found each other. I wonder if anyone else would have us. I flick through a few contenders in my mind – Doctor Nick? Maybe. He does have tremendous patience. How about Buck (Mandy’s hubby)? I quickly discount him as not my type. The General pops into my mind and I decide he’d put up with anything as long as I stuck things up his bottom.

Si asks me what I’m thinking about. “Putting things up the General’s bottom.”

Si: “What?!”

I want to know more about the information he’s gathered on The General but he says he’ll tell me another day. He shouldn’t have mentioned anything.  I ask him for a hint.

Si pauses. “If my sources are correct, he’s going to jail.”

Me: “Oh my god.”

Si: “You need to keep an eye on him and Fiona and say nothing to no-one.”

“Anyone.” He’s never really grasped grammar but then he is from Devon, I think.

We reach another fork in the road.  Si is now reaching his limits of spontaneity and would like to know where the hell we are going. I tell him to go left. I have a vague idea there is a restaurant in the hills.

Si drives on. “My goolies are composting,” he says, shifting uncomfortably on the hot leather seats. I thank him for the information.

At the next crossroads, he uses the opportunity for me to itch the middle of his back. “There are no signposts – where now?”

“Right,” I say with confidence.

Si: “Are you sure?”

Me: “No.”

He stops the car. “Listen, I’m hot and I don’t want to go on a wild goose chase today. Is there a restaurant up here?”

Me: “I thought we were going to ‘just go where the roads take us’.”

Si: “Yes and we are but I know you and everything always turns into an epic unless we have a plan.”

Me: “Oh, because we’ve never ended up on a survival mission after one for your rambles to the pub?”

Si: “That was a faulty compass! You make one mistake…”

Me: “Do you want me to drive?”

Si: “No, I’m perfectly fine driving.  I just want to know where I am going!”

Me: “I don’t know – that’s the point of an adventure.”

“F**cking fine,” says Si accelerating at speed.  And off we go wiggling and winding this way and that until we arrive at a hilltop hamlet, inhabited by locals and a few animals. An old woman stares at our ‘Hotel Poseidon’ deckchair car.

Si: “There’s nothing here.”

Me: “Is the General visiting prostitutes?”

Si: “Drop it.”

Me: “Am I right?”

Si: “No.”

“Damn,” I say pointing at a faded wooden sign with Ristorante on. I look at Si in triumph and we keep driving down an even narrower dust track on the edge of a sheer hillside for a few miles.  And, right at the end, is the restaurant I had hoped to find. “See,” I beam.  Si is now sweating profusely.

“Why didn’t you bring a hat?” I ask, getting out to take a look. As I walk over I already know it’s deserted but I feel the need to double check.  I’m also hoping I can open a set of double gates into a courtyard so Si can turn round. They are padlocked.

I get back in the car. Si is now expelling water like a human fountain and looks lead grey.  I break the news that the ristorante is no more and we need to reverse all the way back to the hamlet.

He says nothing and starts to back up but he’s all over the place, dangerously close to the edge. I jump out to assist, encouraging him to stay ‘closer to the cliff face’ and I am reminded of ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’, a film of my childhood.  “Well done,” I say. “You’re doing really well.”

But Si is not doing well at all and soon his reversing is increasingly erratic as he overturns the steering wheel this way and that. “Stop!” I shout and walk round to see what’s going on.  Si is now even paler and struggling to breathe. “How much further?” he wheezes.

“A f*ck of a long way. Get out!” I order him.

“No,” he says defiantly.

“Get out and strip, Simon!” I haul him out by his arm.

Si: “Not here, I’m not in the mood.”

I rip the buttons of his check shirt and my suspicions are confirmed – he is covered in a rash. “Urticaria,” I say, my hypochondriac voice coming to the fore.

Si: “Urti…?”

Me: “It’s a reaction to the sting. We need to get you to a hospital. F*uck.”

Si: “I just need a little sleep and I’ll be right as rain.”

“Stay the f*ck awake!” I say bundling him into the passenger seat. I get in the driver’s side and take a deep breath – if I can reverse tractors WITH trailers (one of my Country Matters challenges), I can reverse this car without falling off a mountain. In theory.

I put the gearstick into reverse and slowly gather pace until the car is whining on full lock. ‘Clonk’, the back wheel clips the cliff face. I adjust my line. A few more clonks and bangs later and I am spinning the car round in a driveway of goats and tearing off, wheels spinning at breakneck speed.

Si is fighting for breath.  I grab my handbag at his feet, still driving with fury, and take out one of the four bottles of water I cannily brought with us.  “Drink,” I order.

A car is coming the other way on this single track but I am not slowing down. I try to flash my lights but put the windscreen wipers on. I drive on.

Si: “F**king hell!!”

The car pulls over and I zoom past, tooting. Si is now covered in water.

“There’s a hospital in Amalfi – I saw the sign on the way.”  I drive full speed, the 2CV rattling and, after getting lost in a one-way system, I hum the Marseilles – which is as good as any tune to head down a ‘no entry’ road – humming louder as I narrowly miss a moped and two pedestrians. I swing into the newly tarmacked hospital car park, abandon the car by the entrance and drag Si out, channelling the strength of a rugby player. Perhaps a French one?

“Aiuto,” I shout (thanking my lucky stars I lost my virginity to an Italian). But I don’t know the bloody Italian word for wasp.  “Bzzzzzzzz.” I say. They look at me poleaxed. “Bzzzzzz. Ow. Ow.” I say miming a sting on Si’s arm but pinching him. “Ow!” he adds.

And then I shout the universal magic word of, “Anaphylaxis!”

And four nursing staff jump into action, shove Si on a bed and wheel him off, by the time I’ve parked the car he’s been pumped full of adrenaline, steroids and antihistamine and is breathing normally, with the help of an oxygen mask.  I hold his hand, watching his legs jerking like a post-Ibiza come down.


A few hours later, I am able to take him away and he feels strong enough to check the 2CV for dents and dinks. There is no damage and he seems disappointed. I want him to tell me I am a legend, that I saved his life but we drive silently back to the hotel. I enter the underground garage (where I am to leave Herbie) and back the car slowly into a space and eeeoiiitttcccchhh!  I catch the back panel on a concrete column.  I look at Si in horror and let loose on the Italian swear words: “Vafanculo testa di katza, bastardo dentro. VAFANCULO!!!”

The last word echoes around the garage. I repeatedly bang my head on the steering wheel, before noticing the owner, watching from the shadows, showing another guest a blue MG.  He has seen the whole thing.

Si grins at me, somewhat smugly.


Woman versus Mosquito

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woman versus mosquito italy vanessa wilde blog

And Relax.

We’ve had a busy day visiting Ravello (Italy) in the mountains near Amalfi, because action-man Simon refuses to ‘sit around by the pool all day doing nothing’.  But he is finally winding down and does want an early night. I, however, do not. I want to go out for dinner and a few drinks, okay lots of drinks and a bit of ballare. We only have four nights and five days and need to get our money’s worth. For me just being in the sunshine, with Italian food and men is like a shot in the arm of meth-amphetamine, but Si is dog tired from working so hard and all that bloody cycling. (I know I say he’s does sweet f*** all at Army Staff College in Wiltshire in the week, whilst I have the kids, alone, but my holiday-self will admit that he is actually being thrashed by General Jeremy Smith who pulling out all the stops to break him and his promising career.

At dinner at a small family restaurant, Le Tre Sorelle, near our hotel in Positano, he tells me the extent of the General’s vendetta and, well, it seems it’s a little bit my fault.  Not totally though, Si assures me. Ever since I stormed Salisbury Plain to retrieve the children’s favourite toys, The General has been trying to have Si court-marshaled, but Si has been gathering evidence on him too and what he’s found is weighing heavily on him.  Si looks at me, holding my hands across the table. I love this romantic version of him: he’s softer, kinder and more attractive. Maybe the light’s different in Italy? Everything, including me – with the help of fake tan and spanx, looks better. Why is that?

Si: “What I’ve uncovered is…”

A Italian band of musicians suddenly materializes and starts playing ‘O Sole Mio’ at full blast by our table. The violinist winks at me and I blush. God I LOVE this country.  It’s the first time I’ve been winked at since having kids and it makes me feel 18. I wink back and I expect Si to give me a death stare or threaten to ‘bang him out’ but he smiles, wearily but contented.

They stop playing, the diners clap and Si continues his story….

Si: “What I have uncovered…”

The waiters rush to the table and start banging down plates.  “Il pesce del giorno, per la signora.” (I miss being a signorina) “E linguine vongole, questo.”

Me: “Grazie”

Si: “Grazie.  So this goes all the way to the top….”

Waiter: “Black pepper?”

Si: “Si”

The band start up a gentle number as they promenade around the al fresco tables. Waiter: “Bouno appetito.”

Si: “With a bit of help from an old mate in MI5…”

Me: “MI5?”

Si: “You really can’t tell anyone about this.”

I nod.

Si: “We’ve found…..”

A trumpet sounds loudly behind my left ear and the band cranks up the tempo, playing Le Macarena. I want to hear Si’s revelation but this cheesy number is really making me want to dance and down cocktails but I look at Si’s exhausted face and realise I need to take him back to the hotel and soon. The Energiser Bunny has hit a wall and for the first time in ages I am worried about him.


As we climb the 200 steps back up to our boutique hotel, I ask Si about what this MI5 guy knows but he deftly changes the subject to an amusing stories of our girls, Vita (8months) and Sienna (2.5). (The latter named after the Tuscan city for entirely inappropriate reasons but that’s for another time)

When we unlock the door of our high ceiling Baroque-style room, the Limoncello has gone to my head and I am feeling amorous. I also need the loo and one of the best things about going on holiday without a baby and a toddler is going to the loo ALONE. In fact doing everything alone showering, shaving my bush and not having to explain why I have a hairy bottom in the first place, changing a tampon – Mummy a mouse! I saw it’s tail.)   Whilst on my Italian throne alone, a place of great plans, I decide we should throw off our English prudishness about my unfortunate ‘time of the month’ – I will slip on a silky negligee and seduce my husband.

I flush the loo and return to the bedroom full of sexy plans to discover Si is passed out on the bed, fully-clothed and snoring. FFS. I go to wake him but he looks so tired I decide not to, however, I am now very awake without anyone to play with.

I start to read a book – I haven’t read a whole book in over three years – but I can’t settle. I look in the minibar, then at the price list and my brain bleeds. I go out on to the balcony and gaze out over twinkling lights of Positano – I want to be out there, drinking a crisp white, practicing my Italian and breathing in MS cigarettes.

I remember when my childhood best friend and I hit Italy aged 18 – we had the most epic two weeks of our lives, breaking the heart of a concierge, a carabinieri and a hot, but toothless, stone mason called Massimo, whilst crashing a moped into a lorry, being arrested at a rave and hitch-hiking back across Tuscany with two octagenarians. Those were the days. The old, unmarried me would have run back into town and by the end of the evening had a whole host of new Italian friends. I resist my old wild urges, pick up the phone and order an Aperol Spritz instead. I will listen to Basement Jaxx, look out over the moonlit bay and recall the wonderful memories of my scandalous past until it’s time to sleep.

It takes another two Aperols.

And by now I am dancing in my silky red negligee on the balcony to the electronic soundtrack of my youth. “Whenever I’m down I call on you my friend,” I sing and swaying my pelvis, quietly enough not bother our neighbours, but provocatively enough to court the attention of the Manager who is watching me from the poolside. He bows and blows a kiss up to me; I bow and dart inside.  It’s time for bed.

I climb under the sheet next to Si, still sleeping on his back with his mouth open. It is the most relaxed I have seen him, given he usually slumbers on his elbows ready for action.  I turn the light off, stretch, yawn and hear the high-pitched zzzz of a mosquito.  I switch on the light and jump up. FFS.

I need to get this mosquito because I have already been bitten five times the night before and the bites are itching like crazy. I search the white-washed walls like a special forces operative. “I will find you,” I say picking up the book I couldn’t be arsed to read. By the time I have looked at every nook and cranny, and searched the bathroom, I give up. However, I am unarmed against another attack, having no bug spray. I look at the balcony and close the doors. I don’t need this SOB inviting his friends to have an all-you-can-eat buffet on my arse as I sleep.

I turn the light off. Zzzz.  I switch them on again and grab a shoe. It will die, it will die, it will die! And now I can hear it flying away, but I can’t see it. There’s not enough light in this f***ing room so I turn on the main lights; Si sleeps on. I need to get this f***er, that is my mission. After another 10 minutes I have failed and go back to bed.

I stay alert for what seems ages, but I am now slowly crossing no-mans land to the valley of sleep when zzzz. I jump into action, switch on all the lights and I see the mother-f***er just floating up to the corner of the ceiling on Si’s side of the room and I know I can kill it, I know I can make the leap so I jump up, carried by rage and Scottish warrior genes and I f***ing spatter the disease-spreading critter over the wall, along with my A+ blood.

And then Newton’s theory takes over and I land hard on Si’s face and he jolts like he’s being defibrillated from the mains, shouting, “argh” and is suddenly up on his feet in a karate stance, arms and eyes ready for a fight.

Si: “Where is he? Where is he?!”

Me: “Who?”

Si: “The scrambag who planted the bomb?”

The bomb?

And from the middle of Afghan plains of trauma, he suddenly awakes behind his open eyes and says, “What the f**k?”

And I say triumphantly pointing at the blood-spattered wall: “Look! I got it!”

Si is unable to return to sleep and I, after many grovelling apologies and attempts to soothe his ragged nerves, pass out cold in 10 minutes flat, snoring hard to add insult to injury.


At breakfast I apologize again to a now very pale Simon and I suggest we sleep and relax by the pool today but he isn’t very good at staying put, particularly now I have triggered some kind of serious stress response.

The Manager bids us buongiorno and dangles some keys above our heads. “As the owner of the hotel (who knew) I would like to give you the keys of my vintage Citroen 2CV for the day.   He then says to me in Italian. “Your dancing last night was spectacular, your husband is a lucky man.”

Si: “What did he say?”

Me: “He said you are a very lucky man.”

Si: “After having a mosquito-killing Aperol Spritz lunatic, jump on my face at 1am, yeah, lucky me.”

Me: “And because of my lovely balcony dancing he has given us the keys to his Citroen.”

Si takes off his glasses to reveal a black eye. “What could possibly go wrong?”

A Cock and Bull Story

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Shakin' Stevens the bull | Vanessa Wilde

I light up a cigarette next to Shakin’ Stevens (the other side of an eight foot, 10 bar reinforced, galvanized steel gate). Wanking off a bull isn’t as bad as I thought. It’s worse. Much worse.


I realise the magnitude of the task when two burly men turn up to help from local farms.  Because Limousin cattle aren’t like your chilled Highland coos or your huggable Herefords they are insane in the brain. Probably uptight because they are French. Although, according to Simon, all continental cattle are psychotic.

I’m in overalls and rubber boots trying to see through my bleary eyes after two hours sleep and a six-hour journey from London here, via Wilshire to drop off Sienna with Granny and Roge.  I’m hoping this isn’t going to take long (as with many other assignations in my life) because I have to catch a flight from Heathrow to Naples at 18.30 and it’s a long drive from Mid-Devon.

I lean against the steel cattle crush where the heifer on heat is waiting to receive Shakin’ Stevens.  My diminutive father-in-law, Edwin, calmly leads the gigantic ginger bull to the heifer, he snorts in anticipation (the bull), having had the smell of her up his nostrils most of the morning.

I have the semen collector ready. The bull is brought into the entrance of the steel pen containing – I didn’t catch her name but let’s call her Cindy Lauper to keep with the 80s theme. She stirs with a swish of her tail and bam Shakin’ Stevens raises himself onto his hind legs in a display of tremendous power. I try to get the container onto his astonishingly small penis, given his leviathan proportions, but it slips off. He dismounts and gets into a better position using the back of the poor Cyndi to steady himself. I plug into his willy and that’s when he goes nuts, rearing, snarling and backing into the burly men. One has his foot trodden on; all the men wince. But not for his foot, for the bull’s willy. Apparently, I need to be more gentle.

When the bull is calmer he wants to try again. This time I slip the collector onto his sheath and he beefily blows his load into the tube. Cyndi who seemed up for a bit of action can’t understand what is going on. “Is it in yet?” She moos.  Mercifully I get my arm and container out of the way as a ton and a half of meat crashes back down onto four legs on the concrete floor.

Edwin takes the container, screws on the top tightly and hands it to his lab. man who places it into a cool box containing liquid nitrogen, ready to take back to the laboratory to be stored. Mercifully they took samples from Adam Ant and Boy George last week, “Or you’d have more work to do,” says Edwin seriously.

“Boy George?” I say barely stifling a snigger.

Edwin: “Aye Boy George, he’s my best bull. It’s Adam Ant firing the blanks.”


Back at the farmhouse, Edwin has a lot of knowledge he wants to impart and if I’m not writing it down he isn’t happy. I assure him I have all I need for a 900-word column but Edwin thinks he’s commissioned a weighty tome on his life and Limousins.

“Note it down,” he says telling me about the history of the breed. We have another cup of tea; the third. But I really need to go because I’m still in Devon at lunchtime and I need to get to Heathrow.

Penny offers me a ham and cheese sandwich, I eat it hurriedly. “I really will have to go after this.”

Edwin: “But I haven’t shown you the new pastures.”

Me: “No I don’t.”

Edwin: “Nonsense, if you do a job, do it properly,.” He narrows his eyes at me. He thinks I am one of those slack Alices – whoever she was, poor girl – who just fannies around the edges of things. Well, that maybe be true but fannying around the edges is very important, underrated occupation.

Edwin sits back in his vast oak chair at the head of the table, as Penny brings yet another pot of tea to the table.  How much tea do these people drink? And I can tell Edwin intends to take his time over lunch. I look at the clock.  I have to leave now in order to be there two hours before my flight. I am going to stand up to him and be firm.


An hour later I am in his Land Rover doing a tour of the fields so he can show me how he’s under-sewn his pastures with a clover and herb mix to give his stock the best conditioning possible, which is commendable and interesting BUT I HAVE TO GO.

He finally drives me back to the farmhouse by which time it’s quarter past two. I kiss Vita and hug Penny, running through my lists with her: “Car seat, dummies, bottles…”

Penny: “Yes, got all of those.”

Me: “Everything is on the ‘baby manual’ (I have created separate child operating manuals for each Granny). Call me if any problems.”

I awkwardly shake hands with Edwin.  “Thank you for looking after Vita.”

Edwin: “Don’t thank me.”

Me: “Okay, I’m not.”

Edwin: “Not good with babies.”

Me: (bravely) “Or people in general?”

Edwin: “Animals never let you down.”

Me: “I really need to go! Oh, but now I don’t want to leave my baby!” I shower Vita in kisses. Oh god, all I’ve done is fantasized about leaving my children and now I want to take Vita with me. And Sienna, I miss her so much already. I well up.

Edwin: “Stop dithering, girl!”

I suppress the urge to punch him, jump in the car and drive off, waving madly at my baby.


It’s now 14.25. F*ck! As I return up the valley to the digital world my phone starts pinging with texts from Simon wondering where I am. I put Heathrow into the sat-nav and, Jesus, it’s going to take me three hours.  I’m never going to make my flight.

I dump my car at Purple Parking and it feels like I have held my breath the entire way. I certainly have held my bladder. I take the minibus shuttle to terminal three, we get stuck in traffic for 15 minutes, I finally get there, run into the airport with my wheelie and backpack, I drop my bag at the check-in (with no queue because I’m so late), go straight through to security, shamelessly queue jump my way through pretending I’m looking for a small child, have my water and perfume confiscated, manage not to set off any alarm bells (they once thought I had an Improvised Explosive Device in America because I’d chucked phone chargers and laptop cables on top of my SLR camera, packed it with books and a mirror, which on screen made it look like a text book IED.  Alarms sounded, glass safety doors closed and I was taken aside by the Head of Airport Security and grilled about what was in my bag so hard I wasn’t even sure if it was my bag anymore.)

I burst onto the duty-free concourse and shout ‘Simon’ across it. People stare but don’t care how bonkers I look because I am not going to miss this flight. Si waves and points in the direction we need to go. We run side by side but my bladder’s sloshing to bursting, after three hours on the road and all that bloody tea. “I need the loo,” I shout.

“No time,” he says, which is rich coming from someone with a toddler’s bladder.

Me: “Simon, stop!”

I run into the Ladies, dive into a cubicle and pee for Britain. Our flight is called. “Last call for flight BA329 to Naples.” It’s okay, I think, I’m going to make it. We are going to have our Italian holiday, with loads of fun and sex and spaghetti. I take a big breath and relax. Then I look down and see the crimson water.

Not now. Not bloody now!

I wipe, stuff my knickers with half a loo roll and walk out like John Wayne.

Si: “Quickly.”

Me: “I need to go to Boots.”

Si: “No, you don’t. Look,” he says showing me a bumper pack of condoms in a plastic bag.

Me: “Keep the receipt.” I say, already mincing over to the pharmacy.


We are the last passengers on the plane.  Si stares out of the window, silently mourning his sex life, while I sit *tight* until we are up in the air and I can go and spend some quality time in the restroom. I sit on the loo and am about to cry because everything is ruined until I realise, we have made it. We have made it. No kids. Just the two of us. For five days. In Italy.

I return to my seat, where Si has already ordered G & Ts.

Si: “We did it.”

Yes, we did!

Let’s Talk About Sex Baby

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Let's talk about sex baby vanessa wilde

“Have you phoned your parents yet? We need childcare,” I say surfing babysitting websites in bed, still unable to drag my sorry hung-over carcass out of it. My head is throbbing and my breasts feel like they’ve done work experience at Yeo Valley.

I look at Si. He still can’t quite look me in the eye, having found me spooning with Doctor Nick in the small hours, after returning with Sienna from A&E.

“You never do that with me,” says Simon sitting on the bed, Vita in his arms.

Me: “Do what?”

Si: “Cuddle up like you did with Doctor Nick. You don’t.  I try to spoon you and all I get is thanks, now f*ck off and goodnight.”

I laugh.

Si: “It’s not funny. I’ve done my best to be sensitive to your needs but you’ve shut up shop and I need sex. We need sex.”

“That’s why we are going on a two and half thousand pound holiday to Italy – doh – to have SEX.”  Sienna walks in and looks quizzically at us both. We hold our breath waiting for her to say the s-word. She doesn’t. Instead she climbs into bed with me for a cuddle.

Simon is pole-axed. “Two and a half grand? TWO AND A HALF GRAND?! We don’t have any money!”

I cuddle Sienna a little too tightly. “Ow!”

Me: “Lower your voice, Si.”

Si: “Lower your expectations.”

Me: “That’s why I married you.”

Si: “Cheap.”

Me: “Unlike the holiday which is about us being together and reconnecting.”

Si: “I get that but why does it have to be so expensive.”

Me: “Because I think we’re worth it but we’re not going anywhere unless we can find someone to look after the girls.”

Sienna: “Mummy, my arm really hurts.”

Me: “My poor little poppet.  What else is Daddy going to do? You put athlete’s foot cream on her fandango, take their toys to a war zone, lock us out of the house, don’t put her bed rail up so she falls out and now you begrudge us our first holiday in nearly three years.” I say, tears welling up as I move myself with my own heartfelt words.

“Naughty Daddy!” Shouts Sienna and Vita trumps on his hand.

“Jesus! Of course, Mummy’s perfect even though she went binge drinking with her friends and was found cuddling the bloody neighbour!”

I try to stifle a snort. Si and I look at each other, our eyes twinkling. We burst into laughter. “Bring on Italy,” he says clambering onto the bed to kiss me. “You’re right – sod it. How many days?”

Me: “Five.”

Si: “What for two and a half grand?”

Me: “Let it go.”

Si: “Where are we staying – a palace?”

Me: “Yes. Call your parents. We need childcare,” I say handing him the phone.

Si: “Okay, okay. But what about your Mum?”

I shake my head. He sighs and dials his parents’ number. It rings out so he leaves a message.  “I’m not holding my breath,” he says.

“And I’m not taking the girls to Positano,” I say.

Si: “Well, you’re going to have to work on my Dad.”

I groan, putting a pillow over my head.  Sienna jumps on top of it.  I will do anything to get to Italy. Anything! Even sweet-talk Simon’s father who Si would describe as a straight-talking, paternal Jock (Scot). I, however, would suggest tricky and reminiscent of the Dickensian patriarch Mr M’Choakumchild in Hard Times is more accurate.

Habitually I am able to charm the elderly into submission (having dated a few Saga-louts in my twenties, including Humphery Hurtwood, a naughty equestrian with hands the size of dinner plates), with a little saucy humour and the heave of my ample bosom it’s been enough to make any sanguine crusty crack a smile, but not Edwin Kettle. He has a steadfast immunity to my wiles and is deeply suspicious of anyone who hasn’t put their hand up a cow’s backside. And I’ve done a lot of things in my time but that particular pleasure has eluded me.

“Right, I’ve left a message; your turn. Try your Ma again.”

I call Granny and Roge who been angry since the Salisbury incident (not Nobuchok, the other crisis involving soft toys on The Plains). In fact, it’s more that I left them alone to cope with the children in order to go drinking with my wayward older sister, which they find unforgivable.

“Hello Granny,” I say upbeat.

“Hello,” she says coolly.

I tell her about Sienna’s green-stick fracture to her wrist and Granny defrosts in seconds, wanting to know how her little sunbeam is.  I tell her I was out with some girlfriends at the time.

She groans. “Did you drink too much?”

Me: “Yes.”

Granny; “You’ve got to stop this, you’re nearly 40.”

“I’m 34! Si was looking after them and forgot to put up her bedrail.” I say, throwing him under the bus.

Granny: “Typical.”

Me: “I know, he does one night and she ends up in A & E.”

Granny: “Men!”

Si rolls his eyes and leaves the room. I imagine he’s sneaked off for an hour visit to the loo with the newspapers but miraculously he returns having folded the washing.

“We’re not all bad, Granny,” he says loudly.

I tell her he’s folded the laundry.  She says I don’t know I’m born, Roge hasn’t lifted a finger for the past 49 years, which I know isn’t true but it makes me laugh.  Si is laughing that now Roge is getting it in the neck instead of him.  I am glad to be back on good terms with Granny, we clash from time to time but it’s never for very long because we love each other dearly.

I’m just about to ask about next week when she reads my mind, “Listen, your father and I have spoken and now we’re feeling a bit stronger – we think we can manage the little ones.”

And instead of saying thank you, I say. “I think it might be a bit much so why don’t you just have Sienna and I’ll ask Edwin and Penny if they’ll have Vita in Parracombe (the farm in Devon).”

Granny likes the sound of this plan very much. “Because Sienna doesn’t wake up as early as Vita, does she?”

Me: “No, not ’til 7.30.”

Granny: “That’s still very early but Roge can do the morning shift until I’m ready at 10.” (Granny doesn’t do mornings).

We organise the drops off plan and I hang up. “One down. One to go.”

Si: “You lied and are going to hell.”

Me: “If I told her Sienna gets up at 5 she wouldn’t do it.”

My phone pings; it’s Mandy WhatsApping me: “I just drank your f***ing b milk in my coffee!!!!! I didn’t put it on Buck’s cornflakes cos I realised it was gross but he used it in my coffee (he takes his black). Just made myself sick. Hate you – all your fault. [PUKE FACE]


Some hours later, Simon’s father calls.  Si spends 15 minutes buttering him up and I am supposed to close the deal.  “Well, I’m glad the bull’s performing well, Dad.”

Edwin: “Yes.”

Si: “Wish this one was.”

Edwin: “What?”

Si: “Just handing you over to Nessa.”

I take the phone and he says: “Now let’s not beat around the bush I know why you’re calling. Penelope and I will have the children on one condition.”

Me: “Okay…”

Edwin: “I’m after some publicity for my new Limousin genomics programme so I’m laying down a Country Matters challenge for you.”

Me: “Right…”

Edwin: “I want you to collect semen from Shakin’ Stevens and I have a feeling you’ll be very good at it.” Bizarrely Edwin names all his bulls after 80s pop stars. I accept his challenge and hang up.

W*nking off Shakin’ Stevens – talk about taking one for the team.


 Si is still chuckling about Shakin’ Stevens at bedtime when we fall into our love nest, me, dog tired from my hangover, Simon, dead, from looking after the kids for a whole 24 hour period. Weak.

We cuddle up and start to kiss. My phone pings and we break apart. It’s Mandy on What’sApp. Si sighs. “Parking Nazi is back on Facebook.” And the sad truth is, instead of having sex I swipe to the page and read out the latest missive from Queen Fiona, more excited by Miss Julie calling The General a ‘pr*ck’ and ‘giving him the middle finger’ than the prospect of sex with my husband. Poor Simon.

Still, we’ll always have Italy….

Girls’ Night Out

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A few Weeks Later…and it’s Fizzy Friday.

The warm weather has brought The Patch alive. Dr Anna and Mandy have placed their picnic tables next to mine and the kids are all having big communal tea with Maz and her brood from ‘the other side’ of the patch, joining us.

We hover over the children stealing crisps and slices of pizza, already on the prosecco, planning our big night out.  Maz, a dentist and resident aesthetics guru, who does botox on the Patch with a military discount (I haven’t had any – botulism and hypochondria prove unhappy bedfellows. I can’t feel my face!!!! etc) is excited about hitting the town.

“I’m going to dress like a total slut,” she exclaims in her soft Brummie accent.  But we all know she will look chic and beautiful, making the rest of us, as always, feel frumpy and fat.

Me: “I’m going to wear whatever I can get into with the help of several hoists and industrial strength Spanx,” I declare.  Mandy clinks her glass with mine. We are on the same page or on the same hanger, as it were.

The husbands fly into the close on their road bikes like colourful drones. Si dismounts, followed by Buck and there is a clatter of cycling shoes.  Dr Nick speeds in, back from a typical night of gunshots wounds and stabbings at Charing Cross hospital. The men greet each other and stand, crotches thrust forwards, in a ‘ride’ of blinding lycra. We, a ‘muddle’ of mothers, avert our eyes and continue planning our night out.

“Hello ladies,” says Simon attempting a seductive voice, but sounding more like Alan Carr. “So this is what we get up to all day – drinking fizz, chilling in the sunshine?”

We all roll our eyes like defective 1950s housewives. “It’s just one social blur,” says Mandy sarcastically. I hand Simon baby Vita’s spoon and tell him I am done, it’s over to him now.

Si: “Can I at least get changed?”

“Nope, it’s time you got to know what it’s like to not have a shower or a sh*t in peace.”  We all cackle. “Yesterday Sienna flushed the loo, with me still on it!”

Maz says,” Yep, Deepesh gives me a bidet most mornings. (pause) Enjoy your night, Simon,” she winks flashing him her pearly whites.

“Piece of cake”, he says. “Stand down ladies, the men are in charge.”


All our husbands are looking after the kids tonight except for Maz’s hubby, Lal, who is away on a mission in Africa.  Maz’s mother is down from Bromsgrove to babysit. “Honestly she’s doing my head in,” she says as we walk to the train station. “It’s like I’m 16. She keeps asking what time I’ll be back and I’m like I don’t know? 12, 2? Totally depends what kind of night we have.”

Dr Nick, Buck and Si have all joined Daddy forces to ‘watch each others’ six’ at bedtime and then sit outside with a clutch of monitors, drinking beer and eating Deliveroo. What could possibly go wrong? But it’s not our problem because we are GOING OUT!! Hitting the city we have been living in for two years, but unable to visit because of children, chores and work.

And tonight I am officially giving up breastfeeding and drying up the boobs because Vita is on formula and food so I can get ‘tight’ both physically and alcoholically.  I’m already feeling like Katie Price in my LBD but I’m not complaining, the bigger my boobs, the smaller my waist *seems*.

Mandy is leading us to a fav. place of hers on the Embankment near her office and very soon we are already on our second round of cocktails in the funky outside bar, not far from the Savoy. Or the MoD. Which I guess is why I am now locking eyes with f***ing Fiona across the sea of summer drinkers.

I kick Mandy. “Ow, why did you do that?”

Me: “Fiona, at 3 o’clock, be subtle.” She swings her head around and Dr Anna and Maz stand on tiptoes by our high circular table to get a good look.  “Really subtle, guys.”

Mandy waves and to my horror gestures her over. Fiona shakes her head and raises a glass in our direction, her face stony and grey. She is with a chiselled younger man who is taking notes as she talks and sips wine.  We all decide unanimously he is hiring her for after-hours work as a dominatrix.

Dr Anna: “I can’t believe someone with such appalling judgement is working in Government PR.”

We get another round in. And another. We don’t notice Fiona leaving, or her having a quiet word with the manager – we don’t care. Mandy has had an idea to snort brandy like we used to in our 20s. Maz and Dr Anna missed out that particular pleasure and are not up for trying it now. Then eminently sensible, and now fast changing from lightly coated to battered, Dr Anna wobbles and says, “Oh god it’s so bad for the mucous membranes but f**k it.” And she snorts a teaspoon throwing her head back. “Jesus! My nose is on fire!” She says, now resembling a sectioned Fiona Bruce.

More time seeps away until now my breasts are rock hard and even copious amounts of ethanol can’t mask the pain. I need to milk myself.  Now. We all go down to the loos together, drinks in hand, the girls will help me if necessary.  I hug each of the women I now love as much as my own children, before popping out a boob and squeezing out the milk into the sink.

“You look like Lolo in Eurotrash,” says Mandy.

Maz: “Oh my god – she died.”

Dr Anna: “Why?”

Maz: “Her boobs were too big, like Nessa’s, they exploded.”

We all start to laugh, knowing we shouldn’t because it’s tragic and wrong but this only makes it worse.  I can’t squeeze, I’m laughing so hard and my boobs hurt and then I get a crazy let-down, a release we are all experiencing because we are us again, we are out, we are laughing! And now I am spraying the mirror like Jackson Pollack, Maz is snorting like a little piggy and Mandy has wet her knickers again and….

BANG! The door almost flies off the hinges as the manager and two security men enter.

We stop laughing. I stay still like a statue, my boob hanging over the basin.

Manager: “Get out all of you or I’ll call the police.”

She suddenly sees my naked breast and the scene begins to make sense to her. “Oh. Right. Sh*t. That is not what I expected.” She pushes the two meatheads out of the ladies toilets, both of whom are still trying to get a good look at my boob.

Maz: “Er, what the actual?”

Manager: “I thought you were doing coke.”

Dr Anna: “What?? No way!!”

Mandy: “Why have you got any?”

Dr Anna: “Shut up Mandy!”

Me: “I think I’m expressing Kaluah!”

Manager: “Carry on, take your time. Got two at home – seven and five. Been there.”


After all sharing photos of our beloved children with the manager, we finally reemerge from the ladies to discover our bill has been significantly reduced.  In fact, it’s free.  Everyone toasts my aching mammaries with the remnant of their drinks and the night continues, until we somehow find our way home, fall in through our respective doors and I terrify my husband by mounting the stairs like the SAS.

I know I am pissed because Simon looks much taller, skinnier and greyer than usual but before I can fully process the picture I paw at him, exhaling toxic fumes before letting out ‘a ripper’ and passing out fully-clothed under the duvet.

As I come-to in the morning I begin to remember the actual nadir of our night out: going back to someone’s house god-knows-where and filling up a milk jug with my ‘Jersey cream’, ready for an unsuspecting flatmate’s cornflakes in the morning.🤢🤢🤢 Poor chap. Still, think of all the antibodies! I am giggling to myself under the duvet (still half drunk) as Si walks in with Sienna. Her arm is in a blue plaster cast. I sit up.

The man I’d got into bed with was Doctor Nick. (Holding the fort whilst Simon took Sienna to A&E.) And now he thinks I routinely fart in bed. My mystery is shattered! I can never face the neighbours again.

And then a blurry polaroid slides into my mind from last night. The house was Mandy’s; the cornflakes, Buck’s. 🙈