Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Senescent Charles Parsnip

It was my darling husband's 40th birthday on Sunday. As befits a man of his age, at 11am, Sunday morning, he was back in bed, snoozing until lunchtime as he cannot stand the pace. That's OK. I will never let him live it down, though, believe me...

It took me ages to plan his birthday weekend. It is always made much more difficult because I simply cannot keep a surprise to save my life and walk around with a cheesey, yet hopefully knowing grin on my face, as if to say, "I know something you don't know..." Then I ask if he wants to know what his surprise is, to which he always says, "No!", I gripe and wheedle, he gives in and I blurt it all out triumphantly and then have to do something else instead.

I decided that, as #2 was away at her father's, we'd make a weekend of it all. I started preparing on Tuesday night, baking his birthday cake, making a fantastic seafood pâté for his Saturday morning brekkie with home-made bread (which we had all scoffed by Thursday night), booking us a room at Cranage Hall down the road, blowing up countless numbers of balloons with #2 and organising a plethora of birthday cards ranging from a paw-painted one from Oscar (there are still green footprints in the kitchen) to a Happy 50th Birthday from the tortoises which are still in hibernation since last Autumn...

I was very kind to him yesterday. I allowed him to sleep in until 7.30am. I tend to wake up with the Dawn Chorus and stare at him until he rouses himself. He must find it a very religious experience as he often wakes up shouting, Jesus Christ!

I was ever so good, dear reader: I held my water for four days. I had it all planned out, to kick him out of the house, fill the conservatory with balloons and banners, pack the cards, chocolate and wine and then pretend to be taking him to Shakerley Mere for a stroll, yet secretly driving him to the hotel for the night. I'd packed our bags, fed and watered all the animals (apart from the tortoises which have probably dried up by now and will be my newest ash trays).

Friday night, he caved, wanted to know the plans and I 'fessed up immediately. I showed him the Hall's facade and he appeared delighted, as was I for getting the room half-price on a late-booking deal.

We set off for a walk and lunch at the Duke of Portland, a supposed gastro-pub which has won all sorts of awards. I haven't got a clue how they have won these gongs, because the food was that insipid and bland, that I complained and got the booze knocked off the bill. My leek and potato soup tasted like weak cabbage water and Mr P's macaroni cheese appeared to have been made with Kraft Singles. Nasty, skanky junk. We were glad to get on and get to the hotel.

And didn't it look posh?! Gosh, I was chuffed, driving up the long carriage sweep to the main entrance, where we checked in...and were then directed to the Travelodge annexe. Boo hiss! I was most disgruntled. I'd paid all that money and could have gone to the M6 services for the same quality of room.

My face fell. Mr P tried to make light of it all and said the main thing was that we could have some hot sex without waking #2. That wasn't good enough for me. I wanted a luxurious pampering session in the bath with all my unguents, a salubrious room and a view of the rolling Cheshire Plains, not the car park.

Mr P sank down into his chair, heavily, and picked up a brochure to scan. Inside, it contained pictures of people with their throats cut.

"What's that?" I asked. "Are they the people who have died here?"

"No. It's an advert for a murder-mystery weekend..."

I decided the only way to get through the weekend was to get drunk, but Mr P put his foot down and told me I wasn't allowed to. Yet another avenue of pleasure denied me. We had to smoke outside and the nearest exit was about ten miles away, down a veritable warren of different corridors. I got lost a few times and seemed to keep finding myself in the bar...

We decided to go and explore the hotel. The cleaning staff were out and about, and their trolleys, filled with bubble baths, soaps, moisturisers and shower caps were littered along the passage ways. I am a sucker for hotel toiletries and have come away with enough body lotion to moisturise a small hospital. Yes, I am a tea leaf: I never steal anything but hotel toiletries. I believe it is something to do with me wanting to get my money's worth...

We found ourselves at the Tempus Restaurant and were greeted by a wonderfully acerbic hostess called Gill. She explained that the restaurant was closed off as it was being taken over by a Beauty Pageant. I asked if it was lettuce and raisins on the menu and she raised a weary eyebrow. 

"They'll only go and throw that up, too..." she remarked astutely.

Sure enough, I have never seen so many anorexic teenagers before. But do you know what was so ironic? All their parents were massive. Clinically obese, some of them...There was also a wedding going on. I think Charles and I were the only 'normal' guests there to be honest.

We told Gill that we would be coming for dinner tonight and she winked at me - I'd already arranged for a birthday cake for Mr P to be brought to him and she told us she'd reserve one of the booths for us - which was very intimate.

We toddled off to the bar for a game of pool where I was mercilessly drubbed by Mr P, despite trying to get some advice from a young staff member who bore a strong Glaswegian accent. I could barely make out what he was advising me, and so it is hardly surprising that I continued to mis-pot the balls. I think Mr P was a bit jealous to be honest, but refuses to admit it. He claims it would never have future due to the language barrier...

The evening meal was jolly good, I must admit. And Gill brought out a birthday cake for Mr Parsnip. We only discovered the next day that she'd whipped down to the Co-op and bought one of theirs. The cavernous restaurant was practically empty and so we were waited on hand-and-foot - none of the beauty pageanters were in there for seconds, obviously.

We turned in pretty early, really, and were both out for the count when, at 2am, our hotel phone started ringing. I jumped out of bed in fright, started shouting, Where am I? What's happening? Where's that bloody phone? (I didn't know if it was on his side or mine) and then, Turn the bloody light on for God's sake. 

The minute I answered it, it went dead. Boy, was I annoyed...but not enough to lose any more sleep and I started sawing logs pretty much instantly. Mr P took much longer to get off. Probably because I was keeping him awake.

I was half-tempted, next morning, to get my own back on our anonymous caller, and randomly play knock and run on the bedroom doors when I went for my 5.45am fag over on the other side of the world. There were a few Sunday Papers shoved outside doors, too, and I considered swapping them around just to confound the guests...but that would have got staff into trouble, so I decided against that pretty sharpish.

Charles treated himself to a Full Monty Fry-up of sausages, eggs, beans, mushrooms, toast, bacon and hash browns.

We have not heard the last of it since. He is now so constipated that he has had to take two of my laxatives. And still there is no joy. I have offered to give him a suppository of soap, but he has passed on that magnanimous gesture.

Mr P spent the rest of his birthday gardening. We have turned a large area of scrub land over to vegetables and Mr Parsnip, as befits his name, is nurturing all sorts of vegetables and cat shit. To date, we have spent about £50 on cat deterrent gizmos. One is a sonic thingummy-jig which just seems to set next-door's dog off on a frenzy, and the other stuff stinks of garlic and pepper. #2 loves it and inhales it readily, like a Coke addict. So, I am most dismayed to find two fresh dollops in my newly hown plot this morning. 

Mr P loves his veg plot. Indeed, I think he loves it more than me nowadays. In his constipated, poorly state, yesterday, he even got his dressing gown and wellies on and went to inspect it. He was pleased to report a cat shit-free zone. And so it is to me to dash his ebullient mood today when he returns from the library, replete with SF novels, Photography guides...and How To Grow doubt.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Love Thy Neighbour...

As our other reader may be aware, I live in a large village in the heart of Cheshire. I believe, a few years ago, the local County Council voted to re-term it as a 'town', but the residents kicked up such a fuss (probably something to do with taxes), that the idea was shelved and 'village' it remains. It's an eclectic mix of demographics. At both ends of the village are the Knobs' Hills - enormous country piles; thatched cottages; elegant 1930s townhouses - and then in the middle, there are two rambling 1950s housing estates, built by the Council, for the large chemical works, ICI, which has since closed down. Workers were given the chance to buy their houses, and many of them did, only to sell them on later. I live in one such house - it was owned by a Mr John Langley, an original ICI worker, who bought the property for £5000, raised a son, and died here a few years ago. A builder then bought the place, ripped its guts out, did it up, and I toddled along, made him an offer and moved in six weeks later.

This housing estate's roads and closes are all named after trees. For example, there are Walnut Avenue; Hazel Grove; Ash Grove; Rowan Road; Laburnum Close (which on the other side, reads 'Laburnam Close' - a schizophrenic Town & Country planner, obviously). And, thankfully, there are lots of trees about, which is always a delight to me, although not to Mr P who suffers terribly with hay fever, and whose eyes look like pickled eggs in the summer months. The houses range from those designated for the elderly to townhouses to semis (such as ours) and a few detached. Due to the wildly varying prices, there are people from all walks of life living around here.

To the rear of our property is a row of shops. I have mentioned the colourful characters in the past, but it never ceases to amaze me who you can bump into over there (not Jonny Depp, most unfortunately...). On Wednesday, I visited the Post Office to withdraw some money. As usual, there was a queue of blue-rinsers who fumble with surprise into their bags once they reach the window, as if they are shocked to find themselves there and have suddenly forgotten what on earth they have come for...

As I stood patiently, a young 'lady' (and I use that term very loosely) entered the shop pushing a buggy containing a snot-nosed baby, and dragging a 7-year old boy and toddler. I knew she was coming to the post office because I heard her telling her child a mile away. She stopped traffic. She was the inspiration for the Fog Horn. She genuinely was not shouting at her children; she simply yelled instead of talking. 

Everyone in the shop stopped, aghast, at the noise which emenated from her vocal cords. My ears started to bleed and I got a fit of uncontrollable giggles. To try to stem my hilarity, I stared at the CCTV cameras and attempted to look as though I was about to stage a stick-up, imagining the hurly-burly of Cheshire Constabulary coming to take me away...It didn't work. I had to cross my legs as I thought I might wet myself. The faces of the other customers were pictures.

As I arrived at the window, the female teller rolled her eyes at me and shook her head sadly. She asked me for my request and I waggled a finger in my ear, and asked her to speak up as I had gone a bit deaf...By this stage, the woman had left the shop (and an audible vacuum). Had she still been there, I wouldn't have cracked this joke, as she was a big bruiser and would have snapped me in two. I quite like the arrangement of my body as it is, to be frank.

I got my money and then moved to the shop counter to purchase my cigarettes. An old bloke was in front of me, spending his pension on Lucky Dips, Thunderballs and Scratch Cards. He was taking forever, but he ponged of Famous Grouse, so perhaps he was just half-cut. Suddenly, the 7-year old boy returned, barrelling down the shop to the counter, picked up a Twirl and waited to be served. He was only there for about ten seconds when his mother 'said' from the door.




Mmm. Nice. I was thrilled to have been treated to that gem of information. At least it was a Number One. I shuddered to think what she might have divulged had her bowels been moving at that point...

There was a tangible sigh of relief went around the other customers as she left the premises. Half an hour later, as she arrived at home, a mile away, I heard her exclaim, "AAH! F*CKIN' 'ELL, THAT'S BETTER..."