Hit Me Baby One More Rhyme

Maternity leave. One day you’re a fully-functioning member of society, heading up meetings at work and studying Stylist magazine for your next fashion splurge; the next you’re watching Homes Under The Hammer in crumpled pyjamas with two-day-old baby sick in your hair. It’s frightening how quickly the descent can happen.

Fortunately, there’s no end to the amount of baby-orientated pursuits your days can be filled with: baby bonding, baby sensory, baby rap, baby massage, baby yoga, baby bungee.

Okay, so I made the last one up. But it’s got ‘baby’ in front of it so mums would probably pay good money to come anyway.

And if the tag line said something along the lines of: ‘Baby bungee has been proven to strengthen your little one’s core muscles; the increased blood flow to their head created by dangling upside down encourages accelerated brain development, while providing a unique mother and baby bonding experience…’, well, they’d be queuing out the door.

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But first up, how about something just for the moms…

Baby cinema

My first thought on hearing about ‘baby cinema’ was that it sounded horrendous. Why would I want to watch a film with hordes of rugrats crying in the background?

So it was with some trepidation that I headed down to Everyman cinema on Tuesday morning.

However, it wasn’t half as hellish as I’d thought. Everyman, in case you haven’t been, is a great cinema – all fancy furnishings and sink-into sofas (perfect for clandestine nappy changes). Coffee and cake is brought to your seat (Yep, more cake. I take issue with the fact that people feel the need to constantly feed women on maternity leave cake. It’s incredibly patronising, as if they’ve thought, ‘hmm, what can we give these frumpy mums? Yes, let’s feed them cake – that’ll keep ’em happy’. But still, I’m not one to pass up a slice of lemon drizzle…).

The only slightly unnerving part of baby cinema is the amount of interest the baby takes in the film. My own little pudding is absolutely transfixed and sometimes I feel like I should be shielding her eyes from certain Cert. 18. scenes. Forget Peppa Pig… She’s far more interested in seeing Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant and Tilda Swinton’s legs akimbo in The Bigger Splash.

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It’s the stuff of nightmares. But boy does she love it.

Then I figured that as our daughter had spent her early days being raised on back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, what’s a bit more gratuitous sex and violence during her formative months.

Baby sensory

I’ve yet to be convinced by baby sensory. Like all of these structured classes, the baby has to be actually in the mood for said sensory experience. This is tricky. If you sign up for a regular class like this, there’s a high chance the baby will be otherwise engaged in one of their main activities, namely feeding, sleeping or pooing. In the early days, the window of opportunity for any level of entertainment is preposterously small.

Baby sensory starts with a cheesy ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ song. It’s the kind of event that if – as a non-parent – you happened to stumble across it you’d probably run for the hills. I feel like fleeing the minute we sing, ‘I love the flowers because they gladden me’. Then I remember I’m actually here of my own free will. And not only that, I actually parted with money. I must have lost my mind. I probably HAVE lost my mind.

But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The pace is fast; the activities relentless. One minute you’re attempting to keep up with ‘Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you…’, the next you could be crinkling foil, blowing bubbles and learning the sign language for ‘milk’ – all at the same time.

Despite the baby lying on a mat right in front of you (part of the bonding experience), the reality is they’re always far more interested in the person next to you. Otherwise, they spend most of the session gazing gormlessly out of the window or strangely fascinated by the ceiling lights. Basically, doing anything that does not involve participating in whatever activity your £6.50 has paid for.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. Since our six-week sensory course, the baby has really excelled at chewing on her own foot.

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Baby rhymetime

Not set foot in your local library in the last decade? Nope, I hadn’t either. Now I’m in there several times a week. I’m pleased to report the slightly musty smell remains, the librarians are still largely sporting beards and Birkenstocks, and there’s the usual strange, greasy-haired people surfing the Internet for hours at a time.

The reason for my frequent visits is the library’s free ‘rhymetime’ sessions. Yes, note the ‘free’. You’ll be pleased to know your taxes are providing half an hour of light relief for frazzled mums across the country.

Rhymetime is like baby sensory but without the surcharge and none of the fanfare. Actually, what am I saying… it’s not like baby sensory at all. But the free part means scores of parents descend on the library every Thursday morning.

You’d think with this level of interest, the library would pull out all the stops – perhaps getting their best and most entertaining employee to lead the sing-along.

I’m afraid this isn’t the case. What we do get is a rather weary librarian, clutching a sad-looking teddy bear. She leads a few mono-tonal renditions of ‘Alice the Camel’ and ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and then she looks in desperation at the assembled throng of mums and babies and feebly asks for requests. Someone usually pipes up with ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ and then off we go again.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like a hearty rendition of The Wheels On The Bus at the best of times. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that the librarians are in any way trained in children’s entertainment but the half an hour rhyme time can often be a little, well, unimaginative.

That is until the Gruffalo came to town.

The Gruffalo made a guest appearance at the library three weeks ago and he was absolutely brilliant. He’s a theatrical 40-something year old with boundless energy and bags of songs up his sleeve. I have no idea where the city council found him.

He charged around the room booming out, ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Chocolate Bar’, occasionally tooting on his orange trumpet, and releasing bubbles from his special bubble machine.

Next up, he donned bunny ears and bounced on one leg for a round of, ‘Hop Little Bunny, hop hop hop…’

And at the end of all this giddy fun, he announced he would be coming back again next week. Hurray!

Who needs baby sensory when the Gruffalo’s in town?!

The following week he had a lot to live up to but he didn’t disappoint. Week 2 saw him lose his Gruffalo disguise and pad around in giant panda slippers, singing, ‘I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor’. Out of his special prop bag appeared a furry pink and yellow puppet called Rhubarb And Custard, which occasionally pecked people, à la Emu.

This was supposed to be his last week covering for his weary predecessor but then he announced he was coming back again for a third time… (goodness knows what’s happened to the original librarian – maybe the boa constrictor ate her!).

By week 3, news of the best library rhymetime in the country had begun to spread across Leeds.

The library was full to the rafters as the artist formerly known as the Gruffalo bounded around in a tiger onesie, complete with oversized spectacles.

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We sang ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ really, really fast and then again but this time really s-l-o-w-l-y. He pranced around in a floppy hat for ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’, led an uplifting rendition of ‘The Woman Who Swallowed A Fly’. before he announced he’s going to be back for one final hurrah next week (the final week again? Talk about dangling the carrot!).

Talking of carrots, he’s actually coming dressed as a carrot for the next session. No, really. It’s going to be the highlight of my week.

Now pass me some cake.

Baby Love

So the blog’s had to take a bit of a backseat for a while. Images of sipping a latte in Caffe Nero – baby in one hand, laptop in the other – haven’t quite materialised.

Turns out, having a baby is a quite a time-consuming business after all. Who knew?!

But here I am three months into parenthood: somewhat haggard, a tad greyer but willing to bore the socks off anyone who asks about our awesome little girl.

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Of course I still want to blog about nuisance neighbours, my peculiar parents and the local coffee shop crazies

But given that my life for the last 15 weeks has been dominated by our new addition, here’s my lowdown on the highs and low of parenthood…

1. It’s A Game Of Survival

There’s many different types of mums out there: attachment parents, Gina Ford militants, and breast-feeding evangelists – to name a few. Here’s my advice: avoid advice at all costs and just do what you need to survive.

Take the dummy for example. Before I had a baby, I’d never really given the pros and cons of using a dummy any consideration. Yes, ideally I would rather my daughter didn’t toddle around with a piece of plastic hanging out of her mouth (look what a hoo-ha it caused with Harper Beckham). Dummies, apparently, can cause problems with teeth and speech. And let’s be honest, no one wants a child with Ken Dodd gnashers and a Chris Eubank lisp.

But parenthood isn’t an ideal world. It’s a world of survival, where future dental plans count for nothing and all that matters is getting through the next hour.

When you bring the baby home from the hospital, they sleep a lot. You have 24 hours of feeling quite smug. They feed a bit and then sleep for several hours. Heck, you might even manage to settle down to an episode of Homeland while silently patting yourself on the back and commending yourself for producing an ‘easy’ baby.

But soon, I’m afraid, the beast will awaken. And in our case on the fourth night, our beast decided to reign merry hell. It was 1am in the morning. She was fully fed, changed and it had been several hours since her last sleep. Her screams had reached fever pitch, while we sat rocking hysterically in the corner. What could she possible want?

‘I’ll tell you what she wants’, said the husband. ‘She wants to suck.’

I stuck my finger in the crib to test out his theory and she nearly sucked it off. The suck was so strong that I was terrified she was going to suck my nail polish off (not least because I had no idea when I’d be able to get my nails done again). There was only one thing for it: time to reach for the ‘dodi’. The transformation from screaming to sleeping was instantaneous.

From that night on, we vowed only to use the dummy in emergencies, when all other methods of placation have been exhausted.

Let’s just say, we’ve had quite a few emergencies…

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2. Your Home Is Overrun With Stuff

If you’ve got a minimalist apartment and happen to be a tidy freak like me, from Day 1 you will begin an all-out war with stuff. There’s no getting away from it: babies need stuff. Great bulky, cumbersome amounts of it. You try and conceal it behind the sofa, cram it under the bed, shoehorn it into every available cupboard.

My previously show home-tidy lounge is currently strewn with: a vibrating chair (soothing essential), an activity mat (eyed with suspicion), a Moses basket (daytime napping necessity), and a spare changing mat (for emergency poo-namis – see below for details).

And the kitchen is another sorry story: a Tommee Tippee prep machine (the dream machine for any bottle feeders out there) has replaced the stylish Kitchen Aid mixer (because let’s face it, rustling up a batch of cupcakes is the last thing on your mind) and a sterilising unit is currently clogging up my microwave.

You can just about cope with the necessary stuff but it’s the unknown stuff that makes it even more stressful. When you arrive home with the baby, an avalanche of gifts descend. And not just from friends and family… Everyone buys you presents – from long lost Aunties to your mum’s next door neighbour’s cousin. People are incredibly generous and it’s a little overwhelming.

Right now, I’ve got 27 stuffed toys in various shapes and sizes taunting me from a box wedged under my bed. We’re not quite sure what to do with them.

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3. Your Brain Turns To Babied Mush.

Harbouring an ambition to one day plough through War and Peace? Forget it. These days even half an hour of EastEnders is too taxing on the brain. The husband and I settled down to watch Inherent Vice the other night. The film didn’t start well as I kept anxiously listening out to check the beast was asleep. (Sometimes you’re convinced you can hear them crying, yet it’s just a figment of your imagination).

However, my eyes kept flicking to the piles of laundry languishing in the corner and the myriad bottles waiting to be washed. On the screen, Joaquin Phoenix was mumbling inaudibly. After about 10 minutes, I glanced at the husband, lolling on the sofa in his favourite David Gandy pants (see previous blog here). Was he asleep?

‘I have absolutely no idea what is going on.’ I said, poking him. ‘I can’t tell a word old Wack-in’s saying.’

‘This is too taxing for our sleep-addled brains,’ said the heavy-lidded husband.

‘Shall we just watch The Undateables instead?’

4. Your Social Life Takes A Nose Dive 

Before I had a baby, I thought I might become one of those cool parents, who would continue drinking cocktails with the baby attached to my hip. You soon realise this is completely impractical; bars and babies are not a good combination.

Instead, you find yourself cracking open a bottle of wine with frightening regularity. Friday nights involve inviting a friend round and drinking wine in the dark while shushing the baby to sleep.

And if the baby’s catching zzs by 7pm and you’ve somehow found half an hour to read Grazia magazine in the bath, well that’s as good as it gets.

5. You Will Check The Baby Is Breathing

You seem to spend half your time trying to get the baby to sleep, deploying a variety of methods: Ewan the white noise sheep, the YouTube hoover sound, the Tomy Light Show… When they are finally asleep, they usually make cute little grunts and snorty piggy sounds.

But just occasionally, they sleep so silently that you actually wonder, ‘are they still breathing?’ Your rational brain knows they must be but still, you find yourself crawling on your hands and knees into the darkened nursery and listening intently at the cot for signs of life.

And if they miraculously sleep through (‘sleeping through’ is the ultimate aim in early days’ parenting – it’s all new mums talk about), then you wake at around 5am panic-stricken as to why they are still asleep and ruing the fact that you’re now awake when you could be catching up on some much-needed slumber.

6. You Will Use An Inordinate Amount Of Nappies

There’s a malodorous whiff in the air. It can only mean one thing: the baby needs changing. Down on the mat she goes and off come the nappy. Bingo. There’s a poo – scrambled egg in both colour and consistency. There’s something strangely reassuring about the sight of a newborn’s poo – it signifies a ‘healthy baby’. Better still, daytime poos means there’s less chance of a nighttime poo-nami (nightmare incident where a tsunami of runny poo travels up their back, requiring a full clothing change, one hell of a mess and an inevitable torrent of 2am tears).

As you’re wiping up this eggy mess and strategically placing a new nappy in position, there’s always an outside chance she will choose that precise moment to do a wee. Best case, the new nappy will have contained this unexpected gush; worst case, it will travel in rivulets all up her back, soaking both her babygro and vest, requiring yet another full outfit.

Change complete, you’re just lowering the baby into the pram ready to depart, when there’s a loud parp… followed by familiar odour. Drat! Repeat all of the above.

If you’re lucky, you may be rewarded with a wry smile.

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And suddenly, all is forgiven…

7. I Never Knew How Much Fun It Would Be.

And here comes the cheesy bit… You brace yourself for the sleepless nights, the numerous nappy changes and the fact you can never really leave the house post-7pm. But you never realise just what a little personality they would have from so early on.

From Day 1, the baby regarded us with the utmost suspicion. She would suck away hungrily, while all the time peering suspiciously at us with one half-opened eye. It was as if to say, ‘Who are you? And what do you know about parenting?’

She treats bathtimes with bewilderment, observes her surroundings in wide-eyed wonderment and seems to wear an expression of perpetual shock.

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Our inquisitive little meerkat has developed a dislike of hats and reserves a special cry (the hat cry!) if you attempt to wrestle one onto her bonce. And if it falls over her eyes, well, all hell breaks loose.

She chortles at funny faces, frowns at silly toys and studies books with serious intrigue.

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And when you lean over the cot in the morning, she beams back at you like you’re the most important person in the world.

The husband and I now spend our evenings talking solely about the baby. We coo over pictures of her and gush about her latest achievements.

When we got out for dinner, we actually have to wrack our brains to remember what we talked about pre-baby.

We’ve basically become THOSE parents: fully signed-up, unapologetic baby bores.

Oh help…

Far From The Maddening Crowd

Picture the scene. We’ve just arrived in the beautiful hills of the Algarve for a much-longed for mini-break, settled down with a book in a secluded grassy spot away from the hustle and bustle of the pool area, perhaps looking forward to a quiet snooze… when all of a sudden a bunch of raucous Essex folk descend.

‘Babe, babe,’ shouts the korma-coloured woman in the bejewelled bikini, wheeling a pram. ‘There a good spot here. Get Dave.’

‘Daaasvvvvve,’ yells Babe. ‘Get Filipo to bring us four sun beds. And get the beers in!’

Larger-than-life Dave, who looks and sounds just like James Corden but with none of his affability and a belly the size of Mount Vesuvius, bellows for Filipo.

Filipo dutifully trots off and returns, trundling the loungers behind him. Despite being twice his size, larger-than-life Dave doesn’t offer to help but merely jabs a chubby finger to where he’d like his loungers – namely within 30cm from us.

We are surrounded.

‘Oh no,’ grumbles the husband, whose tolerance levels for loud people are generally much higher than mine. ‘TOWIE have arrived!’

We thought we were safe here. It wasn’t by accident that we ended up relaxing on this grassy knoll. After a tour of the available sunbathing spots at the hotel, this particular location was carefully chosen for its quiet ambience: a safe haven from the highly-populated pool area – a mass of reddening flesh and squawking pool splashers – yet with views of the surrounding hills and a soothing babble of water in the background. How wrong we were.

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This year has turned out less about The Battle of the Sunbeds (previously documented here and also here… oh, and here too – I’m clearly OBSESSED!) and more about The Battle to Eschew the Essex Crew.

‘Wouldn’t they be better in one of those cabanas down by the pool?’ I whisper. ‘They’d love it down there. Tell Dave!’

‘I’d even buy them a round,’ says the husband, as Filipo meekly scurries over with a tray of beers. ‘Just to get them out of earshot.’

‘Come this way, Dave,’ mimics the husband, in a soothing tone. ‘I’ve found you a lovely spot down by the lower pool, quite some way from here. I’ve even thrown in a bucket of Coronas!’

Larger-than-life Dave obliviously takes one sip of his beer and curls his lip.

‘Filipo,’ he booms. ‘Can I have another one of these but this time make it a cold one, would ya?’

Babe 1 appears to be grappling with a baby. ‘Babe,’ he says to Babe 2, holding up the baby and sniffing at its nappy. ‘Chantelle’s got a full package ‘ere.’

The husband lets out a long sigh.

That night, we decide to venture out of the Conrad compound and head to a restaurant recommended by a friend.

We ask the concierge for a taxi and – bizarrely – he offers to drive us himself. Before we know it, we are ushered into a luxury saloon and are soon purring down the immaculate driveway of the hotel, listening to the croon of Chris Martin.

‘The concierge certainly goes the extra mile – literally!’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Is this normal taxi rates or are we now paying for a private chauffeur?!’

‘No idea,’ says the husband. ‘But I like it!’

Quinta do Lago, famed for its golf courses, is like a colonised version of the Truman show: palatial homes peek from behind perfectly-pruned palm trees, while pearly-toothed families pound down pristine pavements. If it’s culture you’re after, you won’t find it here.

It’s very hot in Portugal and the husband appears to have a shortage of shorts: dressy shorts, that is – the kind of shorts you might wear to visit a restaurant of an evening, perhaps teamed with a pair of… (ultimate middle class horror)… loafers.

The husband has one pair of such dressy shorts; they are a light blue Reiss number and could stain easily, if he is not careful. He is under strict instruction to cover them with a napkin at all times.

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We arrive at the restaurant. It’s terribly refined and overlooks a picturesque lake. King of the pearly teeth Philip Schofield is on the table next to us, holding court with a group of TV exec types  – and a gaggle of girls straight out of Chelsea clink glasses opposite. Ex-footballer Graham Souness is apparently at the bar.

The husband orders a black cod broth. He takes one mouthful and somehow manages to douse his shorts in splodges of soy sauce.

‘Something bad has happened,’ grimaces the husband, peering down at his lap, the protective layer of his napkin nowhere to be seen.

‘How bad?’ I ask, craning my neck. ‘It it salvageable?!’

‘Really, really bad,’ says the husband, sliding his lower half further under the table. ‘It’s too distressing for you to even see.’

I throw my hands up in a signal of mock despair and as I do so, I somehow manage to knock a whole glass of wine straight into the husband’s lap, dousing his ill-fated shorts even further.

The husband gasps; waiters rush over… even Schofield stops his patter and turns to stare.

But it’s too late to save them.

I think the husband will be wearing trousers from here on.

The next day, I peer out of the window to check out the state of play on the grassy knoll. The Essex crew’s loungers from the previous day are still there, dominating our quiet spot. Those loungers had never been there previously, I note, but overnight Filipo has failed to move them back to wherever they had came from. This was troubling; Dave and co. had effectively SEEDED the area.

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‘I’m going to go down and bagsy our loungers,’ I tell the husband. ‘But I’m also going to move the additional loungers out of the way to discourage any further TOWIE invasion.’

‘Fine with me,’ says the husband. ‘But please let it be noted that this is not the behaviour of a sane person.’

I furtively scamper down to the pool area. By the time I have carted off six loungers (some double ones- who knew?!) and restored the grassy knoll to its original half crescent sunbed formation, I have worked up quite the sweat.

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‘All done,’ I say to the husband, who is patiently sitting at the breakfast table, engrossed in his book (Wonder by R.J Palacio).

I turn back just in time to see feeble Filipo wheeling the sun loungers BACK to where I had moved them from, with larger-than-life Dave swaggering brashly behind him.

‘There. Is. No. Escape,’ says the husband.

Cock Robin

I realise there’s not been much of an update on the Caffè Nero soap opera for a while.

In all honesty, it’s been pretty quiet: Porridge-Loving Pensioner is long gone, sadly. I suspect he might have been carted off to an Old People’s Home and I doubt we’ll ever see him again.

Weepy Widower Peter is still moping around and is even more forlorn than usual, after being dumped by his wholly-unsuitable love interest. Peter spends a lot of time lamenting his lost love, banging his fist on the table and saying, ‘I’ve been a damn fool.’

I don’t like to tell him that the 30-year age gap might have been a problem.

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‘Back in the day, I was Cock Robin,’ he told me. ‘I had a 50 inch chest and 18in biceps.’

Peter believes that the reason for being dumped is that his love interest already has a boyfriend, who according to Peter is a controlling psychopath.

‘He’s a bad bastard,’ Pete told me. ‘I can sniff out a rotter a mile away.

‘The problem is she’s being controlled by that man. All these women are. I know because I watched a programme on Panorama about it.’

In the background, Loopy Linda is still stomping around, tutting at small children and falling out with Peter (‘he’s a petulant child’). She has also developed a fixation with the fact I’m from Lancashire, where she spends a lot of time dealing her antiques.

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Yesterday, she came up to me and said, ‘I was in Last Drop Village yesterday and I thought of you.’

I stared blankly at her for a moment as she stood smiling at me intently, awaiting some acknowledgement of this.

‘Ah, Last Drop Village,’ I said, weakly. ‘I only know it vaguely.’

‘Well, it was a complete dump,’ she said savagely and turned on her heel.

Enter Mad Malcolm stage left, resplendent in his best suit. Malcolm has been schmoozing with a younger woman, who he sips lattes with. I think this is a bit dodgy, given that he has an ailing wife cooped up at home.

‘Malcolm thinks he’s the oracle,’ observed Peter bitterly. ‘He rocks up in his flashy overcoat. It’s all one big ego trip for him. He just wants the attention.’

I’ve developed a bit of a fixation myself… with Ginger Colin Firth, who I’ve renamed ‘Frazzled Firth’.

Frazzled Firth is usually in Nero at the weekend, attempting – and failing miserably – to control his two sticky-fingered children who seem to spend most of their Saturday morning hurling bits of cake at him.

Meanwhile, his glamour puss wife breezes around in the background, with perfectly blow dried hair and ruby red lips.

I also vaguely know Firth from the gym. He’s part of a crew of men who do a rowing session at 6am, including previous blog stars, Big Grey Man and – perversely – my old Nero nemesis… Legs!

Yesterday, Firth was sat with his head in his hands on the sofa, while his two unruly children were using him as a human punchbag.

Glamour Puss Wife was hovering somewhere in the background, perfectly made-up as ever. She dropped off a tray of coffees and muffins, and then went and sat on the other side of the room to enjoy a civilised coffee with her friend!

‘You look like you’ve got your hands full,’ I said to Frazzled Firth.

‘Tell me about it,’ said Firth, wearily.

‘Our house it too small, the kids are hard work and I’m trying to get my business off the ground.’

I looked up to see the Glamour Puss Wife shooting daggers at me.

Peter told me that Firth’s wife is a high-maintenance career woman who leaves all the child care to him. Their marriage, he claims, is being held together by a thread. Blimey!

But back to Peter. After his latest love disaster, he’s back on the prowl. Sometimes, he dines alone in his favourite Italian, looking for people to talk to.

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‘You’d think dating at my age would be easy but it’s more complicated than ever,’ he sighs.

‘The thing is I’m just looking for friendship.’

He gives a wink.

‘Well, that’s what I tell them,’ he says, adopting a suggestive tone.

‘But never say never!’

‘Hey,’ he suddenly says. ‘You won’t tell anyone about any of this, will you?’

‘Of course not!’ I say, innocently.

‘I mean, who would I tell?’

Mother… And The Londoners

Blog star mother – aka student landlady extraordinaire – hasn’t been caught on camera for some time.

But here she is… rhapsodising about meeting two new London students straight off the Megabus for an unscheduled guided tour of Preston – and recalling the time her and my father stumbled across some alternative characters at Camden Lock…

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/127398789″>Mother&#8230; and The Londoners</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Groundhog Chalet

Help! The husband and I are trapped in a ski chalet in the middle of nowhere, forced to socialise with strangers for four nights.

It’s like a bad episode of Come Dine With Me meets Big Brother.

We did, of course, bring this all on ourselves. We should have done the sensible thing and booked into a hotel for our Easter getaway. I had managed to find a lovely hotel on the slopes; it came with an indoor swimming pool, roaring fires and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to converse with any other guests.

However, I’d also been tempted by the last minute offer of a room in this remote chalet, which can only be accessed by James Bond-style skidoos (I’m a sucker for a gimmick). The owner said there was only four other people staying – a couple with their daughter and boyfriend. Could it really be that bad?

‘There’s two options for the mini-break,’ I told the husband. ‘We can stay in a relaxing ‘ski-in, ski-out’ hotel where we can sip a glass of Chablis by a crackling fire and read our books in peace – or we can plump for a chalet where we will probably be forced to make small talk with four other strangers every night.

‘Let’s try a chalet again,’ said the husband. ‘After all, how bad can it be? Let’s be honest,  they can’t be any worse than Carol and Martin.’

Oh yes, Carol and Martin. Our previous and only taste of chalet-cationing was with quite an eclectic mix of characters in January 2012.

They included: a pair of fun-seeking lads from Chorley, a man and wife from Birmingham with a 9-month old baby, a chain-smoking couple from Geneva, and our party-loving pals who we’d invited along (they also proved the perfect social shield when we inevitably sloped off the bed early).

And then there was Carol and her hen-pecked husband Martin. Carol was a preposterously posh, slightly-bonkers housewife, bordering on parody. She actually claimed – hilariously – to be working class yet lived in a 6-bedroom manor house in the middle of the country, skied about four times a year and sent her daughters to private school.  She wore her hair in strange, little-girl plaits and had a permanent look of disapproval about her. This might just be that she was unfortunate enough to have quite a long, banana-shaped face.

Carol was incredibly feeble and only seemed to managed a couple of hours on the slopes, before staggering back into the chalet and crying, ‘I think I need a large G and T urgently.’

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To be honest, Carol was quite fun dinner company for an evening or two but after several nights of her plummy drawl and constant references to her manor house back in Somerset, it started to get a bit wearing.

The husband and I developed a daft little obsession with Carol and Martin. After the holiday, the husband would occasionally cry ‘Carol’ to me in a silly psuedo-sexual voice and I’d breathily gush ‘Marrrtin’ back.

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So, three years on, it was with some trepidation that we finally arrived in Morzine on Thursday to be greeted by a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in a green Landrover (the skidoos unfortunately being out of action due to lack of snow). He really did look like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. See evidence below:

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‘The other guests have already arrived,’ said Young Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the Landrover bumped and bounced us into the wilderness. ‘They’ve agreed to hold back dinner until you get here. They’re really looking forward to meeting you.’

‘Great!’ I squeaked, while simultaneously looking wide-eyed at the husband, and thinking, ‘this is far more intense than I ever imagined’.

‘WE MAY HAVE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE.’

We pulled up to the chalet and the hostess was waving at us a little too keenly from the front door. All thoughts of sitting in solitude in the corner and reading my book were rapidly evaporating.

‘They’re here!’ cried intense hostess over her shoulder. She held out her outstretched hand. ‘Come on in.’

The other guests were sat cosily in a circle around the fire, two empty seats awaiting us. But as they rose to greet us, I froze in abject horror.

Two familiar faces – one particularly long and banana-shaped – were smiling politely back at us, without so much as a flicker of recognition.

‘Meet your fellow guests,’ said the intense hostess in her sing-song voice.

‘This is Carol and this is Martin.’

The Old Faithful

There comes a time in your 30s when the sad realisation of, ‘I’m just not that cool anymore’ suddenly dawns on you.

That moment came for me a couple of years ago, when I was teaching an English lesson and one of my pupils mentioned they liked Nicki Minaj.

‘I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of him,’ I said, to a chorus of incredulous laughter (yeah, yeah, I know, Nicki Minaj is a woman).

Last night was another of those moments; I’d bought the husband tickets to go and see Paloma Faith at Leeds Arena for his birthday. Due to the fact I eschewed Radio 1 for Radio 4 some years ago, I’m unashamedly out of touch with popular culture.

Still, the husband once mentioned he liked Paloma Faith. And given that he’s the most difficult person ever to buy birthday presents for, I immediately pounced on this small nugget of information.

Tickets procured, I casually mentioned to the husband one evening, ‘You really like Paloma Faith, don’t you?’

‘Not particularly,’ he yawned, looking up from his copy of New Scientist.

Drat.

Anyway, off we trundled to Leeds Arena last night… basically thinking, ‘We’re off to see Paloma Faith… Aren’t we cool? How down with the kids are we? (Tip from a teacher: if you actually want to be down with the kids, never, ever utter the words, ‘Aren’t I down with the kids?’)

Now, I envisaged arriving at the gig and being greeted by a sea of young hipsters. I’d even rummaged out my old Vivienne Westwood coat from the mothballs for a bit of Paloma-esque quirk factor.

So imagine our shock to rock up to the 13,000-capacity stadium to be greeted by…. vast hoards of old people. There were people in their 40s, 50s, and scores of grey-haired pensioners. In fact, from our seat in Block 104, I couldn’t locate a single person under the age of 30.

For one insane moment, I actually thought we’d stumbled into a Barry Manilow concert by accident – before realising there was only one arena in Leeds.

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‘Why are all these old people here?’ said the husband, as he took his seat next to a particularly irascible looking 60-something-year-old, whose bespectacled wife had her foot in a plaster cast jutting out into the aisle.

‘I don’t know,’ whispered the husband. ‘But I’m sat next to The Incredible Bulk; he’s spilling into my seat.’

‘I think we’ve woefully underestimated the demograph,’ I whispered. ‘I thought Paloma was cool – we’ve been hoodwinked!’

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‘This is a nightmare for Paloma,’ said the husband. ‘How can she possibly have any street cred when you’ve got Brenda and Beryl behind us bobbing along to the beats. It’s really bad for her brand.’

The arena darkened and on bounded Paloma.

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I glanced behind me to see some of the oldies on their feet, singing along to her opening number and doing what I could only describe as an embarrassing ‘Dad dance’.

‘You may mock Dad’s Army over there,’ I said to the husband. ‘But I tell you what, they know all the words to the songs.’

Meanwhile, Brenda and Beryl behind us had been getting increasingly drunk and raucous, waving their hands around and sloshing white wine down the back of my neck.

The husband was looking increasingly annoyed and kept glancing irritably over his shoulder, as did The Incredible Bulk.

‘Do not engage with Beryl,’ I whispered in his ear. ‘She is volatile and could turn violent. I repeat, DO NOT ENGAGE!’

‘Stand up,’ yelled Beryl. ‘Everyone stand up.’

She reached out and grabbed hold of my shoulder as I shrank away in fear. Losing her balance, she toppled forward on top of the husband – who was instantly doused in more Pinot Grigio!

‘Be quiet!’ growled The Incredible Bulk, who up to now, had been watching the show impassively, without so much as a flicker of excitement. His invalid wife pursed her lips in disapproval and clutched her injured leg protectively.

‘We’ve come to here to have a nice time and listen to the music.’

‘Shut up yerself,’ snarled Beryl.

From out of nowhere, a security man arrived. I silently pointed at them and made a discreet throat-slashing motion with my hand.

Beryl and Brenda were escorted out, staggering as they exited. They were never seen again.