Wednesday, 5 October 2016


I still haven't set up the voice mail system on my new smartphone.

This troubles my husband, who fears I could Miss Out.

"Somebody could be trying to get in touch with you", he says. "It could be important".

The truth is that I hate anything to do with phones and/or leaving messages, but checking voice mail is the absolute pits. Checking voice mail is like opening up Pandora's Box, except that instead of sickness, death, turmoil, strife, jealousy, hatred, and famine, you just get guilt, guilt, and then, oh hello again, guilt.

The voice mail on the landline is bad enough.  All week, the message icon has been flashing at me like The Eye of Sauron.

"What have I done now? What? WHAT???" I scream. "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!"

Actually I don't scream, I just talk. To scream at the answering machine would be deranged.

Meanwhile, my mind runs through messages it might be harbouring. For example:

  • Is my mother worried sick about me because she hasn't heard from me in, like, 8 hours?
  • Did an elderly relative die, broken hearted, because I forgot to send her a thank you card for the birthday money she sent the kids?
  • Did I forget to RSVP someone?  Did I forget to pay someone? 
  • Are the PPI people still mad at me over my lacklustre response to the outstanding PPI claim I may or may not have? 
  • Or, does somebody urgently need to contact Mr and Mrs Twining, who used to live here back in the day and who, incidentally, managed to get themselves onto every fucking tele-marketing database in the known universe, useless tits. 
In the end, I check the messages, holding the phone away from me to reduce the impact.

The first two messages are from my mother.

"Hello? Hello? It's your mother (followed by her first name, in case I've forgotten)." And then, "Hello? HELLO? Is anybody there? ANYBODY?"

Immediately, I am overwhelmed by a sinking guilt feeling of the kind you'd only normally feel if you fucked up on a global scale;  i.e, if you broke the bit in the Hadron Collider that stops the Earth from being sucked into another dimension, or, if you triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty whilst trying to renew your passport online. I delete both messages instantly.

The third message sounds like it comes from the innermost circle of Hell, an atrocious mash-up of caterwauling and static. I start thinking it might be a curse, like the video in 'The Ring'. I worry in case deleting the message activates the curse. I save it. I delete it. I'm a mess.

I take a break to compose myself before tackling the last message, piling through the kids' stash of fun-size chocolate bars in what could easily come across as a frenzy of self-loathing. Eventually I hit play.

"This is a courtesy call from the dental clinic. From our records, we note with concern that your children are overdue  ....

This is the worst message of all. The receptionist at the dental clinic is the scariest mofo in all christendom, a master of the dark arts, the dentist's most loyal servant. Once, while we were at the clinic, she offered the six-year-old a bejewelled Frozen sticker, dangling it before her as though it were a fifty pound bank note impregnated with LSD.

"But first, perhaps you'd like to tell me how many times a day you brush your teeth?" she said, her voice combining sadism with pseudo motherliness.

"Twice a day for two minutes", said the six-year-old.

Unfortunately for the six-year-old, the eight-year-old was standing behind her, giving a big zero fucks.

"We SO never do it in the morning", he said. "And if we get in REALLY late, mammy says it's ok to go straight to bed."

The receptionist made a sinister sucking sound, before pulling the sticker away.

"How about you all have one when you're brushing your teeth properly. Isn't it mummy?" she said.

At the time, I wanted to tell that although my children might not be the most fastidious of flossers, at least they didn't go around with so much fake tan on they looked like evil oompa loompas, unlike her. And at least they didn't draw their own eyebrows on. But that would have been childish, and impolite. So I didn't.

I eat the last of the kids' fun-size chocolate bars and delete the message from the dental receptionist. Later, I'll have to return the calls, sort out thank you cards, RSVP everybody, lie about things going into junk mail and/or getting lost in the post, and generally apologise for being an irresponsible excuse for a human being. There will then follow a brief few moments of guilt-free tranquillity, before the message icon resumes flashing.

That said, I'm gonna set up the voice mail system on my smartphone tomorrow.  Honestly.

Friday, 16 September 2016


Dear Facebook Friends,

Please forgive me for not posting any pictures of my darling little ones in their Roald Dahl Day costumes this week.

The thing is, we suck at school dress-up days. In our house, school dress-up days provoke a level of emotional fervour normally only associated with nineteenth century melodrama. And in any case, a photo of a child going blue in the face because of breathing problems caused by an admittedly cheap Mr Twit beard, pictured alongside a child whose face is so puffed up from twenty minutes of non-stop crying she looks more like Jupiter than Matilda, is a clear breach of the Facebook Picture Posting Etiquette Guide.

Take last year's World Book Day.

It started well, as is so often the case, with the ten-year-old announcing she wanted to go as 'Gangsta Granny'.
"We can sort that in ten minutes!" I said smugly.

And so, grabbing a granny wig from the dress-up box, a cardie my mother bought me from the 'Per Una' range (ooh, thanks mum, I especially love the pearlised buttons and embellished trim), and other bits and pieces, I threw them over her, like a total pro.
"There!" I said proudly.  "Gangsta Granny!"
She studied herself in the mirror.
"Sick", she said. "Thanks mam."

But then, the following morning, with less than seven minutes to go before we needed to leave the house for the school run, and with me fannying about looking for the front door keys using a new beeping Trackr device that incidentally is only audible if you’re fucking Wolverine, there was an inhuman shriek from the dining room.
"I look ugly! Fat AND ugly!"
The ten year old was staring at herself in the mirror, wearing the Gangsta Granny costume.
"It's fancy dress", I said lightly. "It's not a fashion show."
"I look like a pig!" she said, her face morphing into The Scream face. "A disgusting fat PIG!"
"Go as Peppa Pig then" piped up the eight year old, who was only half listening.
"I HATE you, you're an idiot", she turned to him. 
"Quiet" I said, "Both of you. We've got to leave in SIX minutes!" 
But it was too late. The granny wig flew across the dining room towards the eight-year-old, knocking a cereal bowl full of coco pops out of his hand. 
"Clean it up, both of you!" I yelled. 

I returned to the kitchen to get kitchen roll. Finding another costume, now, was impossible. At the same time, I remembered how, one St David's Day, my mother had forced me to wear a traditional stove pipe hat to school, a tall shiny construction handmade by our cousin Winnie. The hat was the millinery equivalent of the Burj Khalifa, with scalloped frills that hung on either side of my face like humongous labia. The other girls, all of whom wore adorable bonnets bought from Tesco, giggled nervously when they saw me. The boys sang The Grand Old Duke of York. 

I didn't want my daughter to feel the same as I'd felt. 

Channelling Abraham Lincoln. An approximation of how I looked on that fateful St. David's Day. 
"Sweetheart. You don’t have to dress up in anything if you don’t want to", I said. "Just go in your school uniform. Loads of parents will have forgotten."
"No they won't", she said. "Only YOU forget stuff.”
"What about Veruca Salt then?" I said, trying to stay calm. "We've got all the stuff upstairs. I could bring it down to you in school."
"Noooooooooooooooo", she wailed.  "You're SO embarrassing." "You don’t care about me!"
"Of course I care about you. Stop being silly!"

I bundled the other two in the car, leaving the front door wide open. Because, you know, when you're THIS stressed, who gives a fuck about possessions. 
"Get in the car", I said to the ten-year-old, who was now weeping in a way that recalled a 'You Tube' video of North Koreans lamenting the death of Kim-Jong-il.
"We'll discuss it when we get to school." 

The next hour was a blur. At school, I headed for the classroom to tell the teacher about the Gangsta Granny debacle, leaving the ten-year-old wailing in the car. In Asda, I bought an Alice-in-Wonderland-type-thing, which was too small and cost a fortune, (although I'd have refinanced the house for a headband with the right fucking detailing), then drove my daughter back to school. And then, just as I was parking up at home, I remembered the 50p for the Infants' Section bastard book fair and drove back to school for a third time. And so, it wasn't until later, whilst I was wiping milk off the Gangsta Granny wig and making a mental list of the pros and cons of suicide vs home-schooling, I realised I'd forgotten to take photographs for Facebook. 


PS: This year's Roald Dahl Day was not as calamitous. After hacking massive chunks off the Mr Twit Beard using a nail scissors found in my bag, (allowing the eight-year-old to breathe normally), and promising the six-year-old that if she stopped crying for just one second over the girl next door’s Veruca Salt costume (which was "prettier" than hers), I'd organise a colossal truckload of Starmix to be delivered straight to her bedroom door, everything was finally ok. So, you know, coolio. See you at the next dress-up day folks! 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


My husband has a condition called anosmia. This means he has no sense of smell. 

For the most part, this works out pretty well for me.

For a start, I never have to buy scented sanitary towels. (Although why any woman needs a scented sanitary towel, unless she has a) neglected to change her sanitary pad in, like, two days, and also happens to be in a heatwave, or b) recently noticed her vagina is exuding a pyroclastic flow of green slime, is beyond me.)  

Ditto any other feminine hygiene products. 

But there are downsides to having a husband who can't smell.

For example, deep down, my husband believes there is no such thing as a bad smell. He prefers the idea that bad smells are simply figments of my imagination, originating in deep-seated neuroses and hysteria. So, if I say, "Darling, the living room is redolent with the smell of shite", or, "Did you happen to tread in a bunch of dog shit when you went to get those logs from the garden and then smear it over the carpet like some FUCKING FUCK?", he'll usually mutter something about PMT under his breath.  

PMT? Moi? As if!!

Another phrase he won't tolerate is "I think I can smell gas." 

This is what would happen if I said I could smell gas: I would be hustled into a locked attic like Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. Anybody asking about me would be told I'd suffered a rapid and catastrophic descent into madness and been sent to the countryside.  (And all this because I once called out an emergency gas engineer when the actual source of the gas smell was some dead flowers.) So what! Sniffer dogs get it wrong four times out of five, and they still get given biscuits. I didn't even get as much as a thank you.

But the worst aspect of my husbands anosmia is that when it comes to the thing Chanel describes as the sexual allure of a woman's scent, I am beyond fucked. Whilst other women need do nothing except ovulate to be at the peak of their deliciousness, I have to 'work it' in other ways. All of which are a gazillion times more challenging. In other words, if I want to play mummies and daddies, I can't just waft the womanly bouquet of my armpits about the place, or douse myself in pheromones and then twat about Paris on a motorbike in a flesh-coloured catsuit, like Keira, or climb up a silk scarf ladder in full evening gown through a fucking skylight into some surreal Parisian landscape, like Charlize, oh no no no, I have to rely on, wait for it, The Way I Look!! And this after three children. And one good night's sleep. About eight years ago. Ha ha ha ha ha! *laughs grimly into the long, lonely night, like Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre*

On the bright side, I can fart whenever I like. Which is bloody excellent news. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


My eleven year old has become obsessed with the question of lady whiskers.

MY lady whiskers.

I catch her standing in the kitchen doorway staring at me as I cook dinner. She looks decidedly queasy.

"You ok?" I say. "Something wrong?"

She is staring directly at my face. Clearly, my face is the thing that is wrong.

"It's a stubble isn't it?" I say, finally.

Her concern over my chin hair has become routine. Terrified that I might be morphing into Gandalf, she has taken to scanning my face for deviant follicles. I give my chin a quick sweep to reassure her.

"Nothing there", I say breezily.  "I plucked them this morning!"

I see her gag and little and figure that "plucked" is one of those words, (like "moist" or "Michael Gove"), that revolts people.

"It's underneath. In the middle!" she says, with rising hysteria. "It's sticking out loads. It's totally black".

"I can't deal with it now!" I say, a little shoutily. "I"m cooking dinner."

Afterwards I feel bad for raising my voice at her.  I have already embarrassed her enough this year by posting pictures of my armpits on Facebook during an outburst of feminist defiance.

"It's still there mammy", she says, as I'm settling her down to bed later that evening.

"I'll sort it in the morning", I say. "I promise."

"I want to do it now", she says. "Please."

I hand her my emergency tweezers. As she bends over me, I can smell the rhubarb and custard bath bomb her best friend bought for her; the more grown-up smell of chewing gum. I can see the concentration in her eyes, less blue than they once were; a serious, sea-green colour now. I am painfully aware that she is projecting all her anxieties about growing up onto my chin hair.

"It's gone all curly" she says, after a couple of attempts. "It's worse than before! LITERALLY!"

"Adele had a beard", I say. "When she was pregnant. Loads of women have facial hair. It's totally natural."

I want her to know facial hair doesn't matter half as much as she thinks it does - that you can be totes awesome WITH facial hair. (Although possibly not a humongous chevron moustache like our ex-neighbour Barbara). I want her to know that the people who love you, will love you anyway.

"There" she says, completely ignoring me. "I got it out for you."

She offers me the tiniest brown hair.

"What shall we call it then?" I say.

"You're super gross!" she shrieks, but then, a few minutes later, as I'm scratching her back, she turns to me giggling.

"Larry" she says.  "That's what Adele called her beard."

"Larry it is then" I say.

Thursday, 3 September 2015


It's been a while since I blogged. The reason, dear readers, is this: 

DAISY. (No relation of Kiss lead singer Gene Simmons, in spite of the tongue)

Yes folks. A couple of months ago, we acquired a dog. A two-year-old boxer called Daisy, whose role was to shake our family out of its iPad-induced inertia, and get us out and about. Like the von Trapp family. But with poo bags.

But what we hadn’t quite accounted for was the sheer magnitude of Daisy’s walking habit.  
The fact of the matter is that Daisy likes walking.  Daisy like walking more than Lord Sewel likes to wear orange bras and leather jackets whilst snorting coke off the chest of a prostitute. Daisy likes walking more than Gwyneth Paltrow likes to give her nether beard a good old steam clean. Daisy likes walking even more than she likes the smell of asshole, which, my friends, is saying something. All of which means I now spend seven hours a week walking Daisy, when I could be blogging, in addition to the other three or four hours I spend walking her on weekends, with the family. Who now loathe me. 

But it’s not just the walking. In fact, the other day, following an epic walkathon around the village (think Reese Witherspoone in the film 'Wild'),  I experienced a renewed sense of purpose that lasted for at least several minutes! So, you see, the walking is almost invigorating. No, when it comes to Daisy, the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or in my case, the increasingly obvious dowager’s hump, is the extra cleaning.  The hallway, once a welcoming reception area with original feature tiles et al, now has the kerb appeal of a fucking squat. And every time we leave the house, which is never for longer than a couple of hours, we return to a river of glistening dog phlegm, the remnants of what was once an elegant Edwardian front door, floating through it, post-apocalyptically.

The front door. Absolutely fooked.

And then there’s also the smell that greets us on our return.  The smell of Daisy's separation anxiety. A putrid, gamy smell underscored by what can only be described as a lurid bass note of fear. Or, as Shakespeare might have put it were he to come round for a cup of tea, "Christ love, this is the rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril". 

"Get a grip Daisy!" I say, grabbing the mop, which I may as well wear around my neck on a chain, like old folks do with spectacles. "We were only gone for three bloody nanoseconds!" 

She looks up at me lovingly, her whiskers festooned with chips of vintage anaglypta wallpaper, the masticated remains of period skirting boards glued to her lip.

"Oh what's the point", I say, patting her head. 

On the plus side, the kids secretly love walking into the woods with her, even though they weep with a kind of biblical hysteria whenever I ask them to pause 'You Tube'.  They love, too, the deranged lopsided way in which she runs, and then runs some more; the excitement she demonstrates if you show her a ball; her ridiculously cute outsized tongue. And as a family we have gone to wild, remote places that we would never have usually gone to. Dunes. Forests. Mountains. Abandoned quarries. In short, she has forced us to see the world through a dog's eye, as a place of joy, and wonders, and immense possibilities. And for that I cannot thank her enough.

And if it means fewer blog posts while I get used to everything, then so be it … 

Monday, 27 April 2015


A contagious strain of hypochondria is sweeping through our house, thwarting all attempts at physical activity.

The ten-year-old points to a cluster of tiny spots on her forearm and informs me she is allergic to sunlight. Her eyes shimmer with the kind of longing I recognize from my own teenage flirtation with exotic maladies.
“I don’t have ANY allergies”, says the five-year-old, developing a pronounced limp as she approaches us. “But the back of my knee hurts a lot.”
The five-year-old has acquired a range of issues that affect her mobility.  The back of her knee is a total bastard, but there is also an itch under the nail of her big toe, and a surface scratch on her calf, which reminds her of the vulnerability of human flesh.
“Such a drama queen”, says the ten-year-old.
The ten-year-old has a short memory. Last year, she was THIS close to putting “crutches” on her wish list for Father Christmas. Also, those who don’t have to walk anywhere, i.e. amputees, paraplegics, and the wheelchair-bound, still give her the hump.

Pitiful grunting noises now accompany all trips to the kitchen, whilst those familiar with the TV series Ninja Warrior will know what I mean when I say that the sounds my daughters make as they go upstairs is EXACTLY the same sound Ninja Warrior contestants make when they scale Mount Midoriyama.
“Why can’t we get an elevator already?” protests the ten-year-old.
“The word is lift”, I say, pointlessly. “Elevator is an Americanism.”  
“Me and Annie are getting houses with glass elevators. Like the ones in shopping malls”, she says, lingering over the word 'mall'.
Annie is one of my daughter’s best friends. She and my daughter hope to commission an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with jelly beans, which not only says a lot about their attitude to exercise, but confirms my suspicion that 'Water Babies' was, in hindsight, an even bigger waste of money than baby yoga, baby massage, and FUCKING. MONKEY. MUSIC.
"Carry me mammy!” wails the five-year-old, languishing on the third step.

This is a photograph of somebody else's daughters. Obviously. 
I worry that they get it from me. When I was a teenager, I watched a film called The Man With Two Brains, in which Steve Martin’s character falls in love with a living brain stored in a jar of liquid, with which he communicates telepathically.  I longed to be the brain-in-the-jar woman. The brain-in-the-jar woman never had to endure the ritual humiliation of rounders. The brain-in-the-jar woman never had to stagger around the yard like a penguin, thanks to constantly twisted ankles. The brain-in-the-jar woman never had to adopt the posture of a hunchback to conceal her height. Nobody ever looked at the brain-in-the-jar woman and thought, “OMG. A gigantic hunchbacked fucking penguin.”

But I digress. 

The fact is that nowadays, I’m definitely more committed to the idea of exercise and wellbeing than my family. 
“Why don’t we do some of the Wales Coast Path?” I say to my husband, as we are on a family holiday in West Wales recently.  
My husband looks at me with a blend of horror and bewilderment, as though I have suggested we douse ourselves in urine and go on a naked looting spree of nearby historic towns.  The girls, who are sitting on the sofa salivating over You Tube images of The Person With The Most Verrucas Ever, look up from their iPads, stricken.
“I was awake all night. I didn’t sleep until it was light”, says the ten-year-old. “This is the MOST tired I’ve ever been.”
“My pants has gone up my bottom”, wails the five-year-old. “It’s REALLY ouchy!”

The situation is so dire that I have capitulated to getting a dog, which we pick up this weekend; an energetic two-year-old boxer called Daisy, who promises to be the cure for our collective hypochondria.  Inspired by the dog’s infectious energy, my daughters will shun their iPads in favour of hopscotch, skipping ropes, and ball games. (Although when I say ball games, I don’t mean hockey. Hockey sticks contain an iron core forged in Hell. Hockey also has the effect of turning girls into cold-blooded handmaidens of Satan. It’s true.) No, when I say ballgames, I mean donkey, or piggy in the middle.

I test my theory out on the ten-year-old, as we are walking home from school the other day.
“Are you looking forward to going for walks with the dog?” I say, hopefully.
“Yes. But only when my ankle’s better”, she says. "I think I twisted it." 
“Owww”, says the five-year-old, from behind.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


Did I tell you the one about the werewolf, the cul-de-sac in suburbia, and the courting couple?

Well, the story starts one weekday evening, back in the Eighties, with my mother furiously attempting to rid the lounge window of the coating of dust produced by the crematorium opposite.

“Ych a fi” she says, her face like a cat's bum. “No self-respect.”

I follow her gaze to the lay-by outside the cemetery gates, where two teenagers are busy sucking each other’s faces off in the front seat of a green Ford Cortina. I am almost fourteen at the time – but my experience of open mouth kissing is limited to the time Great Auntie Maud launched her tongue into my mouth thinking I was her dead husband, the great big lezzer - so I lean into the window to get a better view.

“They’re only snogging”, I conclude.

For my mother, however, there is no such thing as “only snogging”. Snogging involves EXACTLY the same level of risk as eating your dinner straight off the toilet seats in Castle Gardens where the tramps live, or injecting yourself in the face with pure, molten AIDS. It is also signals that you are probably *said in a low whispering tone audible only to bats, god, and The Neighbours* "LOOSE".  

“God only knows where you’ve come from”, she says, shaking her head at me.

She turns to the window to attack the dust again, but the scene from the car is too much for her.  Already, first base has given way to second base; to a degree of teenage flesh-mongering and upper body fondling that is, frankly, unpalatable. 

“David! You need to do something!” she yells. 

My father hurries into the lounge, the look of guilt on his face suggesting he has been indulging his all-time favourite pastime of standing in the hallway, staring into the middle distance.

“Get rid of them”, she says, pointing at the Cortina. “It’s disgusting!”  

Ten minutes later, my father reappears in the lounge, this time wearing the white laboratory coat he wears to work. This if baffling enough as it is, but the fact he has accessorised it with a BIG FUCK-OFF WEREWOLF MASK means that for a few long minutes, nothing in the world makes any sense. 

“Why are you dressed like that?” says my mother, finally. 

“I tried the vampire one”, says my father. “But this one looks better with the coat."

The werewolf mask, gifted to us by a cousin who runs a fancy dress stall in Carmarthen, is an all-over latex hood, with wrinkled cadaverous skin, a muzzle that is matted with stage blood, and lifelike strawberry-blonde hair backcombed to within an inch of its life. In a certain light, you'd be forgiven for thinking, "What in the name of cowing fuck is Bonnie Tyler doing in that lab coat?" 

My mother is as yet unconvinced. "It’s getting dark though”, she says. “You won’t be able to see properly with that thing on. Just knock on the window and tell them off!”

“I’ll be fine!” he says. “It’s just a bit of fun!”

Werewolf mask

Bonnie Tyler mask. (Image by Jack Mooney)

We watch from the lounge window as my father emerges from the back lane that runs the length of our houses. He looks in our direction for approval, before crossing the road towards the cemetery.

“He’s going to trip on the paving”, says my mother. “Bloody idiot.”

Meanwhile, things are stepping up a gear in the Ford Cortina. The boy in the driver’s seat is covering more ground, though when I say ground, I mean tits. My father creeps towards them along the cemetery's perimeter walls. When he reaches the nearside of the Cortina, he ducks down. Knocks on the driver’s side window. For a moment, nothing happens. Maybe the mask isn't good enough. Maybe they’re both thinking, “Bonnie Tyler looks like absolute fucking shit tonight.”  But then, in the next instant, the girl’s jaw drops, her pupils spread. She looks like the guy on the bridge in The Scream - but with a scrunchie. And although I can’t remember the boy’s face, I do remember the panicky revving tones; the lurch of the chassis as it stalls; the way the car finally hurtles past our window towards the junction.

“Bloody well done”, says my mother, when my father lets himself in through the back door.
"Sweating buckets", says my father, tearing the hood off. 

His shoulders are angled downwards, hinting at dissatisfaction. I can tell that he’d wanted them to see through the whole vigilante lycanthrope routine and recognise it as a sidesplitting example of suburban pranking.  

“I’ll have to wash it. I don’t want the rubber perishing”, says my mother, grabbing the hood from him.  
“It was funny though, right?” says my father, looking at us.

We nod. Because we love our dad, and he IS funny. In a what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-now-you-absolute-mentalist kind of way.  

“The look on the girl’s face was priceless!” says my mother. “Priceless!”

My father draws my mother towards him. Within seconds, they are frenching it, playing tonsil hockey, snogging; celebrating their moral victory with an ironic pastiche designed to introduce the notion that the proper context for snogging is, in fact, the kitchen, under a twitching fluorescent strip light, in front of your appalled children. Obviously.  

Either that or the teenagers have given them ideas.