Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Expenses Scandal

I just had an expenses claim for the last course I taught returned to me with a query attached.

The query stated 'I think there may have been some confusion. Is this really what you offered the parents during the coffee breaks?'.

I was expecting the receipt to read something along the lines of:

2 packs of custard creams
2 packs of Hobs Nobs
Some random slightly posher chocolate biscuits.
80 PG Tips
and a jar of Kenco

The receipt actually read:

2 bottles of Merlot
Various varieties of humus
A crate of Strongbow


58 pull-up nappy-pants.

Oh dear god.

Putting right receipt in envelope - FAIL. Even I am blushing. A window into the reality of my life thrown wide.

The woman in charge of the expenses had then kindly written:

'You have not enclosed any receipts for your lunch allowance. I did try to work out a lunch claim for you from this, but I just couldn't. Please advise'.

Well I don't know, I've seen worse looking lunches......

Now I just need to try and find the original, correct receipt.

I maybe some time.....

Monday, 25 January 2010

Travelling with Mother

Living near my mother means that I now get the pleasure of driving her around if we both happen to need to go to the same place at the same time.

In the last week I have taken her to pick up a prescription once and to Morrison's twice. I've told her it's good preparation for when she gets properly old and I take her on little outings to non-events such as the launch of a new sandwich filling at the Garden Centre, but as she's just told me that her and her friends are having a 'Grand Day Out' on Thursday and travelling 30 odd miles to witness the opening of a new Waitrose, I think she's beaten me to it......

Anyway, I am already noticing a pattern to our journeys and it goes something like this:

1. THE FEAR: Whilst seated in the car she feels the need to clutch something - either her handbag or the seat belt running across her midriff. She looks vaguely petrified and whenever the car corners or brakes she lurches in a terrified manner. As nobody else lurches or clutches whilst sitting in that seat, I have put this down to a combination of her small stature, nervous disposition and the psychological effect of being powerless as one of your offspring drives a car. My kids are a long way off learning to drive but I can only imagine the terror.......

2. THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD'S MISERY: She will make a comment about just about every house we pass and these comments rarely fill you with a sense of joy. No. In fact these comments seem to fall roughly into one of three categories:

Category A: Breakdown of a Marriage: As in - 'Her husband's left her because he was having an affair with a young Pole/she was addicted to on-line Bingo and lost their life savings/she was having an affair with a Lithuanian who came to do the garden'.

Category B: Terrifying Illness/Complications Of: As in -
'He's had 4 quadruple bypasses and a new liver. Can't speak anymore and his lost all his teeth', 'She went to Peru and caught a deadly monkey disease, they're raising money to find a cure and ship her to France', 'He was searching for a gas leak, lit a cigarette and was blown the length of the A38. Never been the same man since'.

Category C: Dogs: As in - 'They've got Cocker Spaniels', 'She has a Westie, called Willy', 'They have Red Setters, not the most sensible of dogs.....'.

Category C isn't too terrifying until you combine it with the above to form:

Category D: Dogs combined with marriage breakdown/terrifying illness: As in - 'They had a Black Lab but he took it when he left to live with a woman in Wookey Hole and broke her heart. She spends her days wandering the lanes clutching its empty lead....', 'They bred Yorkshire Terriers until they both contracted Ebola, lost all their limbs and couldn't walk them anymore.........'.


Funnily enough category E is 'Suicide' (or attempted suicide) by resident or relative of someone in that house. I can only figure that they've all given my mother a lift to Morrisons at some point and never got over it.

3. NICKNAMES: She knows many of the people we drive past but if I ask her who they are she never replies 'John' or 'Freda'. No. She gives me names such as (and this is a direct quote from this afternoon's conversation):

'Whose that guy with the Springer Spaniel you are waving at?'
'Mixed Grill and a bottle of Rioja'.
'No I asked you what his name is'.
'Yes I know. Mixed Grill and a bottle of Rioja. Well actually NO. That was his name until they changed the menu at the pub. Now it's 'Steak dinner and a bottle of Shiraz'.

Erm, moving on.......

4. DISAPPEARING IN SHOPS: One minute she's standing next to me tutting at the quality of the eggs, the next she's gone. It's a bit like the toddler only she's not known to slap random women on the arse of expose her 'ding ding'. Oh and she doesn't make shrieking noises or scream NOOOOOOOO which makes it harder to locate her. I have to wander the aisles looking for a smallish woman in a navy blue fleece (which narrows it down to about 1/2 the women in the shop and doubles my shopping time).

Is this how mothers pay their (adult) children back for all those times they drove them mad in Tescos?

Hmmm, in that case, I have a lot of planning to do......

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Well the chaos reigns on. If I'm not losing my balls or snapping my pump, I'm still sleeping on the living room carpet with a grand choice of two jumpers (and a hoody) as my 'wardrobe' (well it makes fashion choices easier - you just get up and go out in whatever jumper you slept in). I'm up to my neck in work, studying, kids and house renovations but it's all really good positive stuff so I'm trying not to let the '2 jumpers and a hoody' situation get me down.

Anyhow - amidst all this a rather marvelous moment has occurred.

The toddler has started pre-school.

As of last Wednesday I have time every week where (brace yourselves) I am NOT ACCOMPANIED BY A SMALL CHILD.


I went to look at bathroom floortiles yesterday (a whole new world that was) and I found myself sitting outside taking a deep breathe ready to deal with a '2 year old in warehouse full of towering tiles and forklift trucks reversing' only to realise - I didn't have to!!

How strange it was to actually have a conversation with the customer advisor without having to regularly bellow 'GET DOWN, COME HERE, HOLD MY HAND' and close one ear to the sound of howling.

Don't worry though - for the majority of the time (and of course all the holidays.....) I will still have him and his brother in tow so I'm sure there will be plenty more posts about nightmare incidents in public toilets and horrific scenes in M&S (if that is why you come here....).

In fact - since starting pre-school the toddler seems to have upped the ante when it comes to public humiliation.

You could describe him as 'outgoing and spirited with a cheeky sense of fun'. (perhaps if you were trying to sell him on Ebay).

Alternatively you could just call him 'a little sod'.

I made the mistake of taking him and his brother to Asda without putting them in a trolley (I do still cram them into a trolley if I can even though the elder one says it hurts and his legs go numb... The alternative is a dog lead each which might just get me arrested - although then again, I've seen stranger sights in Asda).

I was only nipping in with my mum who was stocking up on a couple of essentials (that'll be 6 bottles of wine and 2 litres of Scotch then) so didn't think anything could possibly happen that would be that stressful.

Anyway we'd only just entered the building when the toddler shot off at speed into the clothing department. He LOVES the clothing department - the thrill of the chase round the women's lingerie section with me in hot pursuit is second to none.

On this occasion he came across a lady, bent over examining the bras.

And do you know what he did?

With a look of sheer joy he drew back his right hand and......

...smacked her on the arse.


Dear god.

The poor woman (who to be fair had no idea the culprit was a 2 year old) screeched and shot about 2 foot in the air.

Fortunately (very fortunately) she was a young mum who was also accompanied by a 2 year old so she gave me a sympathetic smile and I skulked off (with a screaming 2 year old now wedged under my arm).

We (eventually and painfully) got to the tills to pay. The toddler was queuing quite nicely until we turned round to see he'd pulled down his trousers and was examining his 'ding ding' (I do NOT know where he got the phrase 'ding ding' from - certainly not me) in full public view, adjacent to the display of Cadbury's Creme Eggs.


We hustled him through the till area and then he was off again, racing away towards the door.....until he spotted a rather interesting looking woman sat at the entrance of the Cafe. Dressed entirely in red felt (I mean how? Why? Where from? Presumably it was 'bespoke'?) she was slumped against the back of her chair looking startled (maybe somebody has assaulted her and forced her into the red-felt combo?).

The toddler approached her at high speed, leaped jubilantly into the air whilst pointing excitedly and shrieked BOOOOO BARRRRRRRRR directly into her face.

Fortunately she didn't react (perhaps she was in fact entirely made of felt?).

When we finally made it to the car park I didn't know whether to laugh or cry (I will confess that I laughed, even though I probably shouldn't have).

Anyway - as I was saying - him staring pre-school is a rather marvelous thing......;)

The Red Felt Wearing Women of Asda Cafe can go out and stare into space free from his reign of terror (well as long as they are back home by noon and don't go out on a Friday).

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Pump it Up

OK this is a post about my balls as I got them out again this weekend but, before I go on ,I need to make it VERY clear that when I talk about my balls they are large, inflatable, gym balls that are used to help pregnant women find good positions to labour in.

With this fact in mind, would all the people who are finding this blog via googling ‘balls getting sucked’ or ‘naked balls getting sucked’ (naked as opposed to what? Balls wearing tuxedo’s and a bow tie?) please move on. My balls might be somewhat troublesome but they are not particularly erotic.

Anyway once gain my balls have been problematic.

This time I had difficulty even locating them. After moving house they were flattened in a box somewhere and it took quite a bit of rummaging until they were back in my hands.

Having finally dragged them out into the harsh light of day, I then transported them to their destination (200 miles away) un-inflated (you don’t want balls banging off your gear stick all the way down the M4) with the intention of pumping them up when I got there.

Unpacked them, got my pump out….. 3 thrusts later – CRACK. The pump snapped clean in two.

Oh. Marvelous.

I wasn’t expecting that.

At a loss at to what to do next (I was being assessed by an examiner and she would be keen to see me facilitating use of my balls) I went down to (once again) bother the young man on reception. He is German and struggles a bit with some English words but is possibly the keenest and most helpful receptionist I have ever come across so I felt if there was ever a man who could help inflate my balls, it would be him.

‘I’m really sorry but I was trying to pump up my big ball and I’ve snapped the pump, I don’t suppose you have a bicycle pump or something do you?’.

‘Ahhh no I have no pump. Zis ball – it iz alwayz giving you trouble – is this the same ball that we had liberated from zee sub-station?’.

‘Erm, yes ‘(good god – he’s remembered!? Slight panic he might read my blog and also be able to recall the facts that I have piles, a bladder problem and once stole a Christmas Tree from a church hall).

‘Ahhh we ALL remember that one! Crazy times huh!'.

'Errr yeah, crazzzeeee times indeed' (said with huge fake smile).

'I have no pump but I have glue!’.

‘Riiiiighhhht’ (bicycle pump/tube of glue - easily confused I often find.....).

‘I will glue your pump!’.


(He liberally applies glue to my pump).

‘Okay, now we just wait for glue to do setting. We need it to go hard’.

‘Erm, does it say on the packet how long that will take? The hardness?’

(he reads packet carefully and then raises his head in triumph to utter…..)

‘6 HOURS!’.

‘We don’t have 6 hours’.

‘Okay, we will we do our best!’.

(At this point he blows enthusiastically onto the glue clad joint. Clearly he thinks his breath is like that of Superman or similar and able to prompt chemical change within milliseconds.....his breath fails. The two parts hang limply together, vaguely joined but in no way cemented).

Shrugging, he got me to hold the two broken ends together while he used the pump. The problem was, what with the limp joint between the two parts, he couldn’t push very hard or very far – thus he had to do about 40,000 ‘mini’ pumps to get the ball inflated.

And that, my friend, is how I ended up spending my Saturday morning crouched beneath a young German receptionist as he pumped away and got rather breathless, whilst repeatedly muttering 'is it firm enough yet or do you want it harder?' (I seriously wish I was making this up - I'm not).

Even I was blushing.

I’d like to tell you that at this point the examiner (who would be marking me on how well I met the needs of men) walked in….but she never showed up so I can’t (that’s a WHOLE different story).

When he finished I thanked him profusely and apologised for ‘the odd things that he has to do for me’.

‘Oh this! This is not odd!’ he shrugged.

Intrigued I raised an eyebrow.

‘No – the odd people – they are the ones who come here to cry’.

‘To cry?’.

‘Yes, there are people at the end of the corridor. They have mattresses they lie on. They lie together and hug. Then they roll around and cry. That is why they come. I find this odd’.

‘Erm, yeah, so do I (at this point I wonder about glue fumes and how much he's inhaled). What is this group called?’.

‘The Crying Mattress People’ he shrugged, ‘well that is what I call them’.

I nodded (I didn't actually know what to say).

‘They bother me some because I have to drag all the mattresses out for them and the mattresses are very heavy and must come a long way. I wish they would bring their own’.

With that he went back to arranging the crisp packets in the little basket on his desk.

Intrigued, but slightly sure that something had been lost in translation, I ventured down to the room at the end of the corridor and, sure enough, the floor was covered in mattresses.

I’ve never felt so sane.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Climate Change

Some of you, those that reside in the British Isles, may have noticed that we have had some snow.

And it has been rather cold.

I would like to apologise for this.

You see last Monday we started building work and had part of our roof removed......on Tuesday the big freeze set in.

The plan was that whilst the building work happened:

a) my eldest son would be at school all day.
b) my OH would be working away.
c) I would stay out all day swanning round the shops or something.
d) it wouldn't snow........

In reality:

a) the schools are shut.
b) my OH can't go anywhere so is working from home....from the same room we are all living in....where we sleep on the floor beneath a million blankets. Every time his boss phones I have to silence the children. Ha-bloody-ha.
c) I can barely get the car out, let alone go 'swanning round the shops'.
d) Yeah, yeah, snowed. And apparently it will again tomorrow.

It's Ok though. I have a safe haven.

When it all gets too much I go and sit in the toilet, lean my head against the cold, damp wall and practice the art of visualisation.

Anyway it makes blogging rather hard - so apologies if things are rather stilted over the next couple of weeks!

Monday, 4 January 2010


Well here we are.


I hope it treats you as kindly as it possibly can.

Now let's get on with this year's insanity.......

Today was the last day of the school holidays so I decided to end them as they started - i.e. with a day trip out somewhere memorable which would live with my kids forever.

On the first day of the holidays I took them to the sub-zero, sleet-blown, deserted seaside on a clapped out diesel train with no heating (which was running 50 minutes late, got out the station, got stuck on frozen points, came back into the station, waited10 more minutes and set off again.....) where we were befriended by a train-nut (like attracts like) who spent more than half the journey filling me in on fascinating facts (e.g that those particular diesels are named after Thunderbirds characters. I was on the edge of my seat....), spent an hour in a steamy Cafe getting dirty looks from old ladies (well up until somebody came in with 6, yes SIX, boys - never have I been happier to see a half a dozen unruly lads descend on an eaterie), bought a (subsequently found to be) potentially deadly (for that read NAIL FILLED) toy in a charity shop that stank of smoke and (for the finale) got a very slow, uncomfortable train home.

It was the highlight of my eldest son's Christmas. I have a photo of him standing on the freezing platform, clutching his ticket and appearing to pray. His eyes are alight with the kind of magic usually reserved for visions of Saints.

Anyway - where can you go from there?

I felt we had perhaps peaked too early but then today (when I was booted out of my own house on the grounds that a fleet of builders arrived and started knocking down walls.... yup we are doing building works and living in the house at the same time. More on this to come....I'm sure), we found ourselves at something of a loose end.

It was too cold to spend long periods outside, many roads were inaccessible due to ice, I couldn't really afford (or bear) something like a 'softplay' centre, I'd had it with ice-delayed trains so that left.............

....going to look at a nuclear power station!

Well of course it did.

You see the one thing my son loves (almost) as much as railways and railway paraphernalia, is pylons and all things electricity related. So a nuclear power station was potentially IDEAL. It is impressively large, it is surrounded by various electricity-transmission 'things' and (very important this one) it's at the end of a gritted A road.

Yup it's at the end of a gritted A road indeed.

It IS the end of the gritted A road.

You sweep round the bend and that it is it - you are going through the razor wire surrounded gate and being informed (numerous times) that you are now in a BRITISH NUCLEAR FACILITY and if you haven't got a right to be there you need to go, NOW, and not come back or you will be in a whole load of trouble. I have since found out that the site is protected by the country's only permanently armed Police Force - known as the Civil Nuclear Constabulary - and it can easily take 2 or more hours to gain access even if you've been invited.


Ok we'd better turn round.....Only we can't. There are a few small gateways but they are shiny with frozen ice and I don't have a 4x4 and can't risk getting marooned inside the gates of a 'Nuclear Facility' (that really would send my dad 'nuclear').

Now the nuclear power station has always given me the fear (funnily enough). We once had a school trip there (shortly after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown....) and such was the hysteria amidst our class, that I think several of us tried not to breath during our whole tour of the facility (even though we knew enough to know that 'not breathing' is no defence against Gamma rays......).

Being back there, amidst the ice, with 2 small children and nothing else but scrub land and sea as far as the eye could see, I wasn't feeling great about it all. In fact I realised that there was a fundamental floor in my use of a 'Nuclear Facility' as a day out. Under, normal, post 9-11 circumstances, you aren't going to be able to rock up and have a jaunty look round the control room followed a slice of Swiss Roll in the Canteen.

No Siree.

You are more likely to be arrested. Or shot.

Just as I was stealing myself to approach the checkpoint and impart my story about 'a small boy obsessed with pylons' I spotted an overspill car park, manged to turn round and fled. My numberplate is probably currently being logged in some kind of government database.

I then had to drive the whole way home battling a barrage of moaning about not being allowed inside the nuclear reactors and attempting to answer 3,000 ridiculous questions about power stations (example: what would happen if the power in the electricity cables started to flow backwards and went back IN to the power station? And let me tell you now, providing the answer 'I don't bloody know now please just listen to the music' is not the right answer.....).

Seriously I would rather spend every day of the next holidays riding the ancient, wee perfumed, slightly damp rail network than EVER attempt to gain access to a British Nuclear Facility again.

If any of you were thinking about putting it on your 'Things to do in 2010' list then I'd seriously advise you don't.

There isn't even anywhere for a nice cup of tea.......