Wednesday, 22 October 2014

How to Spice up a Marriage

I'm discussing reliable waterproofing with a dog walker on the trudge back from school and suddenly we veer on to conjugal thrills. He tells me how a friend was dumped by her partner because he no longer found her exciting. Because of that, he says, he and his wife resolved to inject daily excitement into their marriage.

I smile politely and make to flee, but he's still in full spate. 'So what I do first thing in the morning,' he continues, visibly invigorated by the memory of it, 'is make her a cup of tea. Another day I might do the washing up. Today it will be dusting. That's what we call excitement - we don't need no swinging from chandeliers.'

As I listen I feel my own pulse quickening. The thought of the Vicar assaulting our black mould makes me dizzy. I picture him running the Miele nozzle over neglected crevices and gouging the remains of last night's supper from the plug hole in the sink.

I stumble home in my mud-slimed wellies. The Vicar is shut in his study. He glances up courteously as I burst in, his fingers still poised over his keyboard. He looks the embodiment of a man who needs marital excitement. I decide not to discompose him mid-sermon. Instead I shall stimulate him when he's least expecting it with techniques for which I've never before found the energy.

I shall, with my own unpractised fingers, fasten the new Harpic blocks that have languished for weeks atop the bread bin on to the lavatory rims. I shall squeeze globs of Felix into the cat bowls before we turn in at night without waiting for him to ask. I might even dig out the iron and smooth his clerical shirts.  

But tonight - tonight I shall start big. I shall look out the latex that I keep for emergencies and the miracle potion that prompts such fizz and steam.  And, by the time he comes to bed, I shall have descaled our ailing kettle in readiness for that morning thrill of Tetleys.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


We modern women expect far too much from marriage says Rosamund Pike in the tabloid I'm squinting at over a stranger's left shoulder. We require our spouses to be our lover, mentor, playmate and best friend, whereas our corseted predecessors expected no more than a dress allowance and an annual baby.

I am in complete agreement. There can be no finer husband than the Vicar, but he is not someone I would turn to when I crave a game of aeroplanes on the hearth rug or consult over the latest worrisome sproutings on my chin.

This month marks 15 years since we pledged to be all and everything to each other till death parts us and, 15 years, on there's noone I'd rather sip tea beside in the marital chamber. But those 15 years have taught me that friends are a vital ingredient for a contented marriage. Our relationship would have been sorely taxed without friends to indulge my addiction to mud walks and garden centres. Friends shield the Vicar from my fascination with petrol price comparisons on local forecourts and from the burden of childcare when I'm detained from school pick up.

It's the finding of these friends that's the challenge. When you relocate often, you need to identify soulmates with speed because you never know when you'll need an all-night babysitter after your mother is run over, or a competitor to spit cherry stones with on balmy evenings.

I've learnt not to waste time on small talk. Months you can fritter at the school gate discussing core curriculum without learning whether your fellow mothers are characters you'd want to to be harnessed with up a 30ft sycamore at Go Ape. No, the promotion of new acquaintance from a scrawled phone number on a Post-it note to an indelible inked entry in my address book is an incisive process that my several house moves have honed to an art. And it's an art I feel I should share so that you too can secure kindred spirits in your first week in a new home.

On meeting a likely stranger you start with obvious preliminaries - their name, age and preferred brand of garden compost. Then you cut to the quick with this failsafe test:

Invite them to play Crack the Egg on your trampoline after morning coffee. Do they:

a)  Protest that vigorous activity will dislodge their new hair extensions.
b)  Recall an imminent appointment with their financial adviser.
c) Hurl themselves through the net and attempt a backward flip.

Suggest an evening gin picnic armed with a waterproof mat from the 99p shop, a thermos of Gordons and a brolly in case it rains. Do they:

a) Declare that they only drink organic prune juice.
b) Insist instead on a bottle of Prosecco in a city wine bar.
c) Don their wellies with gusto and bring an extra tube of Pringles.

Serve them up a squidge (irresistible nourishment usually involving noodles, peanut butter, spinach and poached egg). Do they: 

a) Inform you they are on a macrobiotic diet and never touch animal proteins
b) Claim there's been a misunderstanding and they're due at Cafe Nero as soon as they've got their coat on.
c) Plunge their fork in fearlessly and announce that they've never tasted anything like it.

Produce a pack of cards and request a game of Violent Snap to revitalise your spirits. Do they:

a) Declare themselves handicapped by their acrylic nail extensions. 
b) Observe that their six-year-old grew out of Snap two summers ago. 
c) Slam their hand shriekingly onto a matching pair and beg a second game.

If your new acquaintance scores mainly a) they are self-oriented and high maintenance and you would probably not wish to dangle from killer heights in their company.

If they answer mainly b) they are self-oriented and high maintenance and their contact details can remain on that Post-it note in the kitchen drawer.

If they answer mainly c) you have struck gold. Embrace them rejoicingly. For priceless rarities like that it's even worth figuring how to programme contact details into the mobile phone you'd forgotten you owned.

With appreciation for my friends. How do you identify your kindred spirits?

Thursday, 9 October 2014


I am squatting in the garage trying to dislodge cobwebs and mouse droppings from my cycle helmet with a leaf. The 9-year-old is watching me. 'You,' he says as I cram it onto my head, 'are the most undignified person on this earth!'

I am consoling an ailing check-out assistant with a jelly bean from the pot I carry in my handbag for emergencies. 'Mum!' hisses the 12-year-old, 'don't you realise how embarrassing that looks?'

I am watching Downton Abbey with an all-day breakfast on my knee when a poached egg drops into my slipper. The Vicar glances up. He is too kindly to pronounce judgment, but his eyebrows say it all. I am undignified.

Middle-age and motherhood rob you of many assets - your rainy-day savings account, for instance, and reliable bladder control on the trampoline. But there is one loss that I do not mourn and that is dignity. Dignity, and the exhausting maintenance of it, dogged daily life in my younger days. When a stranger handed me the squished egg sandwich that had slithered from my handbag onto the pavement, I  avoided that route to work for weeks in case I should meet him again. I'd grin clamp-lipped at parties for fear that spinach was dangling from my incisors and I'd lurk in the Ladies rather than compromise my decorum on the dance floor.

My 12-year-old suffers similar agonies. Mufti days torment her at school in case she wears the wrong kind of denim and, after vainly trying to ban me from her class Meet and Greet, she issues me with a list of proscribed topics of conversation lest I impair her image.

I, however, have shed such shackles. The company of small children erodes ones dignity so completely that I have long since ceased to take myself seriously and nor do I expect others to. It's a wondrous liberation. I'm comfortable carrying a bumper pack of loo roll up the street from Co-op. I readily agree to jive at the school gate so someone's mother can experiment with a new phone app and I'm unperturbed when, strolling genteely through a shopping mall, I'm grabbed by a saleswoman and told I need bottled sludge from Japanese swamplands to cure my blackhead problem.

Sundays are different, though. On Sundays I defer trampolining until I've washed up the lunch-time roast. On Sundays I wear my most inspirational wool garments and keep my jelly bean pot at the bottom of my handbag. Despite the toddler brawls as I instruct my Sunday school, despite my son testing paper aeroplanes during the sermon and despite an unintentional conversation with a new worshipper about haemorrhoids, I maintain an implacable decorum on this one day a week.

Or I thought that I did. I'm dressing myself for the church service in celebratory hues and telling myself that I wear middle-age with aplomb when the 9-year-old walks in. He surveys me for a moment, then beams. 'You look,' he concludes mirthfully, 'like Father Christmas's helper!'

Do you still have shreds of dignity? If so, get rid of them fast!