- Break On Through To the Other Side
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!”
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?”
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?”
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?”
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.”
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.Advertisements
- Hard Boiled & ‘Over-Refreshed’.
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 xxAdvertisements
- A Sting in the Tale.
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.”
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?”
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?”
“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.
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.
VA. FAN. F**KING. CULO.Advertisements
- Woman versus Mosquito
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.”
Si: “Grazie. So this goes all the way to the top….”
Waiter: “Black pepper?”
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…”
Si: “You really can’t tell anyone about this.”
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?!”
Si: “The scrambag who planted 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?”Advertisements
- A Cock and Bull Story
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.
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!Advertisements
- Let’s Talk About Sex Baby
“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.”
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.”
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?”
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?”
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.
Me: “I know, he does one night and she ends up in A & E.”
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.”
Si: “Wish this one was.”
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.”
Edwin: “I’m after some publicity for my new Limousin genomics programme so I’m laying down a Country Matters challenge for you.”
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….Advertisements
- Twisted Sister
Simon still isn’t returning my calls 24 hours after I stormed Salisbury Plain. And I’m tired of apologising and crying. Granny and Roge have been lovely, but they are beginning to do my head in as only parents can. Honestly, if Granny tells me one more time I’m not eating enough I will scream. I need to get away from all of them, my parents, my children, everyone.
I speak to Roge in his office. “I’m going to disappear for the day. Can you and Granny manage with the kids?” His initial facial expression is one of extreme fear but he grins at me.
Roge: “Go, have a walk, get some air into your lungs, we’ll be fine. (pause) You’ll be fine.”
Me: “Tell Granny I’m doing one of my challenges for Country Matters.”
Roge: “Where are you really going?”
Me: “To see Steph.” I leave before he can protest. I need a big sister fix.
I draw on a Marlboro Red, take it deep into my lungs and exhale. It’s not the fresh air Roge suggested but it seems to be doing the trick. I guzzle my pint of wine and lay back on the plastic sun lounger in Steph’s overgrown garden, surrounded by a broken whirligig washing line, builder’s rubble and the stench of dog poo. I look up, Hoolie (short for Hooligan) the English sheepdog is doing yet another sh*t in the long grass.
Me: “I think that dog’s got problems. He hasn’t stopped pooing since I got here.”
My sister takes an extra long toke on her bifta (a cannabis cigarette, for the uninitiated). “He’s a dog. That’s what they do. They sh*t,” she says smiling goofily exposing her nicotine-stained teeth.
Me: “And babies, they do the same, but I don’t let them do it on the lawn.”
Steph: “That’s because Simon’s made you uptight.” She offers me the joint. I wave it away.
Me: “I’m not uptight”.
She sits up. “Hah! You’re uptighter than a cat’s a-hole. Your channels are blocked; I can feel it from here. You need to free yourself. The mind is its own place, it can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Me: “Milton? Bit Judeo-Christian for you.”
Steph: “I like Milton. Have done since school.”
Me: “The only Milton I know these days is the stuff to clean up sick with.”
I gulp another mouthful of sauv blanc and watch my stoned sister dance around the garden in her tie-dye harem pants trying to comically avoid the dog poo landmines. She has an incredible body – her tummy is toned and brown, unlike my white blancmange overhang. She stands on one leg and brings the other up to her hand. My parents think she is a loser but I think she is astonishing. I wish I’d run away to the circus with her. I always wanted to work with horses and she does every day, standing on their backs, jumping through hoops of fire and travelling the world. Of course, there is a downside to her Gypsy life, namely her dysfunctional relationship with Brian-the-Dog, but my marriage isn’t exactly in the best of shape these days. My husband’s not even talking to me. But I’m not thinking about him today.
Steph snaps me out my reverie with a scream. She’s stood on a landmine.
I bring a soapy bucket of water out of her dilapidated Georgian flat in leafy Cheltenham. “You’re right, I need to get this garden cleaned up.” As she steeps her sh*tty foot, we hug. I draw her in tightly, my big sister, who introduced me to raves and MDMA. “Grown-up life is really hard,” I say, the tears now flowing.
“You’re acing it, Ness. Look at me – I’m standing with a foot in a bucket covered in dog shit.” She cackles like a witch, which is appropriate as she is one.
Steph: “Come on, let’s do a spell to thank the Goddess for our blessings, for Sienna, Vita, for Hooli, for Simon.”
Me: “Not him. Not yet.”
Steph: “Okay, not Simon.”
She runs inside and returns with a candle, an orange, baking parchment, string and Brian-the-Dog, back early after his day job collecting refuse. He is still in his hi-viz jacket and green combat trousers. The waft of rotting vegetables pokes me up the nose.
Brian: “Nessa. Come on give me a hug.”
And he means it too. I jump up from the lounger and start to runway from this hulk of a brown stinky man. I jump onto the rubble. “Careful – landmines!”
Brian: “I don’t bloody care, I’ve had a 2 week old nappy explode in my face.” He grabs me off the rubble and hugs me, I want to be sick because of the smell and he’s tickling me to death.
“B*gger off!” I shout.
He goes in for a shower and returns in a white kaftan. “Did Steph tell you?”
Me: “That you’re a weirdo?”
Brian: “That I’m the High Priest of Cheltenham.”
Steph is smiling nodding and I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about but I am smiling and nodding too. “That’s Great. Well done, Bri.”
Brian looks at me and searches my eyes. “She’s ain’t got a f*cking clue what I’m on about! So posh, so well mannered.”
Steph: “It means he’s head of our coven and the local chapter.”
Brian: “So I can perform special rituals.” They exchange glances and smirks. I decide I don’t want to know the details. He lights up, inhales deeply and cuts the orange in half with a golden dagger and then Steph lights a candle and drips wax on it or something else but I’m so battered I don’t know what’s going on or who I am. I stare into the flame vacantly.
My next memory is being in a Chinese Restaurant. Quite a smart one. Everyone is looking at us, Brian is back wearing his hi-viz jacket and we are sitting in a side room away from the other customers, drinking beer out of bottles, eating dry shredded beef – my favourite – when suddenly I have this idea to throw rice at Brian, and then more rice at my sister but these tiny act of rebellion cause Brian to go ‘proper mental’ and he starts throwing the whole meal at me, beer hits me like a wet slap in the face, a spring roll smacks me on the forehead and seaweed, loads of seaweed rains down like confetti. So I do the only thing I can think of, I throw the sweet and sour prawns at him.
Steph and I race outside leaving Brian to deal with the irate Chinese management. He is laughing saying ‘calm down, calm down, just have a larff.’ He tries to speak Chinese in his broad Gloucester accent, bowing at them, his hands pressed together but the diminutive manager is shouting, ‘Get Out! I do not want you back, ever.’ Brian insists on paying the bill and gives the man a crisp fifty.
Meanwhile, Steph sparks up another fruity rollie and then decides she needs a wee. She hands me the joint while she disappears to crouch down in a side alley, while I am left standing dazed, leaning against the restaurant, listening to the Manager now calmly chatting to Brian, because he ‘knows he’s not a bad man, it’s the bad women he’s with’.
Manager: “Double Trouble.”
Brian: “Both my girlfriends….”
Manager: “No way.”
The joint is burning away as I notice a car pull up to the curb. The window goes down. Oh God, they think I’m a hooker, I think as I look down at my stained orange sundress, flecked with strands of seaweed.
“Is that marijuana?”, comes a familiar voice. I look into the car more carefully.