Footballers’ Wives: Holidays (2)

20 05 2013

I’d always fancied the idea of a villa holiday. When I was married, it never seemed too important, but blended families need more privacy. At least, that’s what we told ourselves when the subject of the next holiday came up. There was some money from Jen’s house sale and we thought, why not? 

I leave these things to Jen, because she’s much better at it than me. She not only found us a villa in Spain that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an episode of Footballers’ Wives, she also managed to bag a deal on British Airways Business Class there and back. That was something else – my one and only non-economy flight. It wasn’t just the first-class lounge, with as much pop and crisps as the children could manage, or even the champagne top-ups during the flight. No, for me, it was the quick check-in. Oh, those interminable check-in queues … with four children …

The fun started the night before we flew, when we stayed at a hotel close to Gatwick. It had a waterfall. That was enough to get the kids’ heart racing. And it was a big, open-plan affair,  offering them a chance to explore. In Vinnie’s case, this meant ‘run riot’. There was a song in the charts – I don’t know its name or who it’s by, but it has a very catchy hook. It goes something like ‘Mia-hee, mia-ha, mia-ho, mia-hoho.’ Forgive me for that, but it’s etched on my brain because Vinnie had adopted it as his anthem for the holiday. He was seven by now, and knew how to make people laugh/get their attention. We went to the restaurant for dinner that evening and every now and then this high-pitched voice would launch into the Mia-hee thing, followed by a very cheeky grin.The other three loved it. We were on holiday … We loved it, too.

Back to that first-class lounge – the only problem with this particular blended family was that only the adults of the party recognised that there are certain behaviours to observe. Too much pop makes you burp (doesn’t it Vinnie?) and when burping long and loud is a bit of an occupation, it can raise eyebrows or cause copies of the FT to flutter and twitch. As nice as the lounge is, it was a relief to be called.

So … we knew this villa was nice before we went, but pictures can be deceptive. We’ve never really struggled with the idea that if something isn’t as perfect as you think it’s going to be, you just make the best of it. Especially on holiday. But how do you react when it’s better than your wildest dreams?

We’d hired a car and followed the very clear instructions to the letter. The villa owner met us at the bottom of the, well, mountain side? All I know is that the track she led us up was treacherous and you probably wouldn’t send a goat up it. Alarm bells started to ring, of course, but soon we arrived outside the door of a villa that looked perfectly nice from the exterior. It was in a row of newly built villas, each very individual in design. I noticed the owner take her time in letting us in … she waited until we were all ready … she smiled, a knowing kind of smile, then opened the door. We trooped in and, one by one, we stopped dead.

The sea-facing part of the villa had opened out to us like panorama – it was a picture window, and it delivered a view that could stop your heart. I’d never experienced anything like it before. The whole of Salobrena seemed to lay before us … mountains … sea … roads … I know, it sounds stupid, but the effect was indescribable. And that view, which was just as dramatic at night as it was during the day, stayed with us for the fortnight we were there. What I mean by that is that it defined our time there, as if we had the world at our feet.

Add to this the two balconies, huge patio and barbecue area, lovely pool, sunbathing spot, massive en-suite and a family bathroom, lovely big room for the girls, lounge and dining area and you have something I’d only seen on TV. What have I missed out? Oh yes … the boys’ sleeping area. They had a room, but it was almost a cut-out, windowless. It wasn’t airless, though, because it appeared to have been cut out of an area next to the stairwell, and this meant if you stopped at a certain point and looked over, you could see the boys from above. Our boys were seven and nine, they still had teddies, they weren’t yet blessed with teenage boy hue, they were cute. Well … when they were asleep.

After the initial whoops of delight, we settled in. It soon felt like we’d been there for years, even though I’d had to make a phone call to a taxi company in phrasebook Spanish so that we could just get down to the town to eat (I’d had a drink). We managed it, although the driver had to point out to me that in Europe, nine o’clock is morning time and he wrote down what I should be saying (21:00). I thanked him for his help.

Meat sizzling on brick slates was the next curiosity, and it’s funny how things like this stick in your mind. We went to the area again a couple of years later and that was the first thing the boys wanted to do again. Eating would be followed by walks along the sea front, perhaps a drink, before getting back to the real fun. Holiday was the villa, and everything it had to offer.

Yes, you can pack up your holiday gear and transport it across Europe to an amazing place, but you’re still you. So the kids, who had had the presence of mind to bring DVDs with them, still wanted to spend an inordinate amount of time watching them. Not only that, they wanted to spend an inordinate amount of time watching the same two. These are two films I’ve never seen, largely because I feel I’ve heard them enough times to know what happens. Pirates of the Caribbean was played about eight times during the fortnight, if not more. Along with Mia-hee, Vinnie’s new jingle was ‘Hello Poppet.’ Charlies Angels (the first one) was the other. I just don’t need to see these films. Ever. 

The pool was always going to be a clear winner in the activity stakes, and it took on something of the trampoline (see earlier post) in that it provided another context for those make-believe games where they adopted alter-egos. We had to keep an eye on Vinnie because he’d only just started to swim, but was a water baby by the end of that fortnight. We had to keep an eye on Max because he was a sensitive soul and wore his heart on his sleeve. No … I’ll rephrase that. He was difficult, and by ‘wearing his heart on his sleeve’ I mean that he ranted, screamed, shouted and swore whenever the mood took him. Apart from that, he was lovely. We had to keep an eye on Erica because she’d broken her wrist by falling off her bike a few weeks before flying. And we had to keep an eye on Ella because her periods had just started. It wasn’t that we were worried about her well-being, it was that we’d never quite know where she was going to leave her used sanitary items. It took some persuasion to convince her that, just because she had other things to do, it wasn’t appropriate to leave whatever it was on the outside dining table. We found this one out when we caught Vinnie walking around with it in his hand, a look of delight mixed with horror on his face (but nothing like the horror on ours …).

Lots of swimming, of course, can lead to ear problems, which we discovered when both Ella and Max entered the bedroom at four in the morning, both in tears, both in abject agony, both thinking they were dying, both thinking there was something we should be doing. ‘Go and watch Charlies Angels,’ was all I could manage after pouring teaspoons of aloe vera gel down their ears. I should add here that I can’t swim, and this has provided those four children with a wealth of opportunity to wreak revenge on me for any kind of punishment/neglect I’ve handed out to them during the year. But more of that in a later post.

It was a fantastic holiday, over all too quickly. The Malaga first-class lounge is quite nice, too. I’m not sure its patrons thought that much of our boys’ propensity for four cans of Fanta each at seven a.m. I was glad that our flight was called just as the Fanta made its escape and Vinnie’s burp rang out in the early morning quiet. I’m sure we could still hear its reverberations as we raced down the concourse towards VIP check-in. 


‘Eat your ice-cream, Erica,’ …. Holidays (1).

20 04 2013

It’s hard work blending families, getting to know one another, realising the full extent of what you’ve done and navigating all of the unexpected pitfalls that come your way. Pitfalls such as friends, or, I should say, people you thought were your friends. The ones who whisper, when you’re out of earshot, ‘Where does your mum sleep, Ella?’ Remember – we weren’t ‘out’. Just two women who had separated from their partners and begun sharing a house. Whatever you might think of that, it’s the way it was. And friends were the biggest surprise. A couple of close ones told me to be careful or I could lose my kids. They also thought it was okay for me to keep their secrets (that bed in the front room actually being slept in by the husband; secret business plans; mental health issues) but not to keep mine. There were, of course, the friends who saw nothing at all unusual in what we were doing and as a result disagreed heartily with us keeping it quiet. And then the real surprises – the people we’d never really ‘clicked’ with before, coming out in support and ending up being the kinds of friends you’re glad to have. Thank you to those friends. It meant a lot.

So … after all that … we needed a holiday. We ended up having two the first year – one to a nuns’ retreat on the Isle of Wight (interesting, that one, but good and happy) and one to Estartit in Spain. Seven of us went on both of these trips because my ex came as well. Do you think that’s odd? It didn’t feel so at the time. It felt perfectly normal, especially when his new partner joined us for a few days at the nuns’ house. 

What do I remember about these two holidays in that first, heady year of change? Well … they were happy, as I’ve said, and I remember that Vinnie had to sleep in an unusually long bed during the first holiday … and the showers were strange and a man nearby brought us some fresh mackerel he’d caught … and, oh … all sorts of things. Close by was a decidedly posh hotel, so we had to be on our mettle. Four loud, funny, obnoxious and occasionally foul-mouthed kids did not typify the clientele.

For Estartit we booked a cheap townhouse with shared pool. The weather had its moments, it being September, and the place was nice. But I have two overriding memories, both involving Ella. 

The first was her sudden desire to make a new friend. As the outside area was shared, she’d spotted her prey early on – a Spanish girl about the same age who appeared to have no brothers or sisters. Ella had a phrase book and practised from it for hours. Eventually, armed with the Spanish for ‘Would you like to play a game?’ or some such phrase, she plucked up the courage to go over and speak. We waited with baited breath for the result. She returned much sooner than expected.

Jen: What did she say?

Ella: No.

Bless … And when I say ‘prey’ I’m being unfair. Ella was just ten and it was in the days before she became the more precocious version of herself. We were both proud of her for trying and both could see something she couldn’t, that it was most likely just embarrassment and lack of language on the other girl’s part that made her say no. I suggested that Ella persist, but she’d been bitten.   

The other memory is definitely more characteristic of Miss Precocious, and for me, hugely funny. We were sitting round a table in a small restaurant. All of the other tables were occupied, so we must have presented as an interesting group – one man, two women, four children, chattering away in English … loudly. 

Everything was fine until the dessert. The kids all chose ice-cream because it was always so spectacular. They were pretty quiet for a while, until we noticed that Ella had decided to ‘perform’. 

Ella: Eat your ith-cream, Erica.

Yes. Ella has suddenly developed a lisp.

Ella: Eat it, Erica! Eat your ith-cream. 

Erica, unsurprisingly, finds this funny, and so can’t eat her ice-cream.

Ella: Eat it! It’th nith.

I find it funny. It’s the kind of thing that sets me off.

Ella: What’th wrong with your ith-cream? It’th very nith! 

Erica and Max’s dad is finding this funny. As are Max and Vinnie.

Ella: Dethpite what they thay, ith-cream ith very good for you.

The people on the other tables noticed, probably because of five people’s uncontrollable mirth. I say ‘five’, because, of course, Ella had never been more serious in her life. But Jen, well … Jen finds things like this difficult. Having Ella ‘perform’ was one thing, but having the eyes of the restaurant on us was quite another. She put down her napkin and got up.

Jen: I’m going to the loo.

Ella, being the only one who can speak, is concerned.

Ella: What’th up Mum? Ith thomething wrong?


Perhaps you had to be there, but it was funny, despite Jen’s discomfort. What else do I remember about that holiday? Oh yes, more discomfort for Jen when it appeared I hadn’t brought enough money to the supermarket, so we had to wait while a queue formed behind us as the sour-faced checkout woman painstakingly cancelled the ‘unnecessary’ items, like chocolate biscuits and ice-lollies (we kept the beer and wine) on the cash register one-by-one. And speaking of money, when we arrived back at Stansted Airport I was stopped by someone carrying out a ‘government survey’ and one of the questions was about how much spending money I’d taken to Estartit. £700, I told her, for just over a week. Seven hundred pounds! Who would ever have thought I’d be nostalgic for the relative cheapness of the year 2003? Seven hundred pounds?!  (Sorry to go on … but I find this unbelievable …) By 2010, seven hundred pounds would have lasted about three-and-a-half days on a holiday abroad with the six of us, and as a result, we don’t do it anymore. (The following posts will give a taste of our holidays from 2004-2010, but back to Estartit …)

It was lovely to walk along the beach front at night and watch the children’s delight in those giant elastic bands that sweep you up and dangle you, then drop you, then lift you up again. We loved their cries of joy and squeals of excitement. Every evening it was the same, and I was taken back to holidays of my own (albeit in Colwyn Bay), and the childlike joy in simple pleasures. Bless our children of six, seven, nine and ten. We could take them anywhere. 

We had no idea.

The language of washing up

7 04 2013

I once asked Jen the following question: If she or I ever hosted Come Dine With Me, what kind of entertainment would we provide? She answered in a flash: ‘We’d let them watch the kids do the washing up.’ 

Oh yes. The washing up. I could visualise the scoring. They’d sit there in that taxi, all blurry-eyed because we’d plied them with alcohol and, if I’d hosted, the comments would go something like: Tried her best, food okay, took a long time, but top rank entertainment. I give her a 7 because the entertainment was so good. If Jen hosted, the comments would go something like: amazing food, top rank entertainment. I give her a 10.

Seriously, though, Jen does do a great haddock starter. She could go on that show if she weren’t so mortified at the thought of it. But I digress …

The ‘washing up situation’ started ten years ago. In the beginning, we tried to be fair. The girls were old enough to start doing a bit, although I had a hard time convincing Ella that washing up did not consist of holding items, one by one, under a running tap. They learned as time went on, and this became an after dinner job, so that some kind of routine was established. When Max turned seven, he joined the team, and so, after another year, did Vinnie. 

If you’d been around at that time and saw how they ‘negotiated their roles’, and if you are a liberal-minded do-gooder who only thinks the best of the world, you’d probably say it was a valuable exercise in learning about democracy, turn-taking and individuality. We didn’t see it like that. We viewed the atomic explosion that characterised ‘doing the kitchen’ as something we might be able to change if we intervened. We were wrong, so shut the door on them and left them to it.

And that’s how things continued. We would eat, clear the table, get them all in the kitchen and shut the door. We became used to the screams, hurls of abuse and loud banging noises. One night, a friend was in the lounge, chatting away to us when suddenly he stopped as if listening to something. We didn’t know what had caught his attention until we realised it was the usual background noise. ‘Are they all right, Carol?’ our friend asked. ‘Yeah, sure!’ I said, ‘they’re just doing the washing up.’

We learned early on that children brought together in the way ours had been make their own rules about how to proceed. Much like the stories I heard recently about hierarchy on the school bus (Year 9 at the back, Year 8 in the middle, Year 7 at the front), our four developed their own hierarchy, and this was regularly played out during the washing up.

We moved house after three years. We found a house that was detached, but cheapish, and, best of all, set apart from its neighbours. The benefit of this was, and still is, that nobody has to put up with the swearing. The downside is that the kitchen, where the ‘washing up’ is still done, serves also as a kind of sitting room, especially in the winter. This means it is not so easy to shut the door on them and leave them to it. It also means that the whole event has provided entertainment for guests on many an occasion. Jen’s late grandfather, for instance, used it to suss out each child’s tactic – Vinnie’s penchant for walking around the kitchen with a tea towel across his shoulder, or Vinnie’s habit of disappearing to the toilet for ‘a long ‘job’ as soon as the tap was turned on, for instance. Funny how it’s usually Vinnie …

But onlookers make assumptions. The periods of inactivity by one or other member of this kitchen team could be misleading. I made the mistake one night of questioning it:

Carol: Why are you just standing there, Erica, when those two are getting on with it?

Erica: There’ s nothing for me to do yet.

Carol: There’s loads to do. Max and Ella are hard at it, and where’s Vinnie?

Erica: Yes. I’m waiting to do my job.

Carol: Why? Why don’t you just help Max and Ella dry up?

Erica: Because I’m putting away. 

Carol: But if you help with the drying up now, they can help you with the putting away. Where is Vinnie?

Ella: He’ll be in the loo.

Erica: You don’t understand, Mum. We each have our jobs. We do our jobs.

Carol: But that’s stupid. I don’t understand why you can’t all do what needs doing at the same time and make the whole thing about five times quicker.

Erica: Because we each have our own jobs, Mum. We have a system and it works.

Carol: No it doesn’t because you’re standing around doing nothing.

Erica: Yes! But I’ll be putting away in a minute. And Vinnie will do sides and table.

Carol: Why can’t Vinnie dry up? 

Erica: Because you can’t dry up if you’re doing sides and table, and you can’t put away if you’re doing washing or drying.

Carol: So what determines who washes?

Erica: Whoever did the dishwasher.

Carol: I don’t get it. 

Erica: (sighs heavily. This is such hard work) if you do the dishwasher, you don’t wash. You can dry, or put away, but you don’t do sides and table because you only do that if you don’t do the dishwasher.

Carol: So what’s Vinnie’s job tonight? And where is he? (shouts) Vinnie!!

Erica: He’s doing sides and table.

Carol: Because he did the dishwasher?

Erica: (sighs again) No! You only do sides and table if you didn’t do the dishwasher. 

Carol: But if he’s not here washing or drying, he’s getting away with half a job.

Ella: I owed him half a job from that time I had to go out straight after dinner.

Carol: Do you keep some kind of tally, or what?

Max turns round.

Max: Mum. We’ve got a system, and it works. Leave us alone.

Carol: But it takes you nearly an hour to do what I could do in ten minutes! I want to watch the TV in peace!

Erica: (finally beginning to ‘put away’) You couldn’t do this job in ten minutes, Mum. You just couldn’t.

Carol: I could.

Erica: You could if you’d cooked, but Jen’s cooked.

She had a point. Jen and I are very different when it comes to preparing food and the kids have mixed feelings about who is cooking. If it’s me (because I do, occasionally, cook dinner) they’re happy that there won’t be much washing up (as I’ll have done most of it whilst cooking,) and if Jen has cooked, they know that there will be a big washing up job (because she tends to leave it), but at least they’ll have had some decent food.

We’re ten years down the line in this relationship/blended family/Waltons/Texas Chainsaw Massacre thing. The rules are still the same. Did I mention that the exchange described above happened about two weeks ago? (And Vinnie is probably still in the loo …)

Learning Japanese

2 04 2013

Jen’s got a wicked sense of humour. We do laugh at the same things (I guess that’s one of the reasons we’re a couple), but I swear my ability to laugh at the world around me has developed under Jen’s influence. Was it her idea to teach the children Japanese or mine?

Jen: We’ve been learning Japanese. Do you want to hear some?

All four of them: Okay/all right/Japanese?/Why?

Jen: Okay … so … first of all, this is how you say ‘Have you got the time, please?’

Carol: Hon-da-pan-a-so-neek. You must also make sure you tap your wrist as you say it, so that the person you’re asking knows you’re asking for the time, and not something else that sounds like Hon-da-pan-a-so-neek.

Jen nods as the kids repeat this, each tapping their wrists as they do.

Jen: If you want to know where the toilets are, you need to say toy-o-taaaaa. Like that, with the emphasis on the aaaaaa.

They repeat it, dutifully.

Carol: And if you want to say ‘sorry’, it’s mit-soob-eesh-i.

All four of them: Mit-soob-eeshi-i.

Jen: And ‘thank you’ is min-olt-aaaa.

All four of them: Min-olt-aaaa. That’s so cool. We can speak Japanese!

Erica (puzzled) They sound a bit like cars …

Jen: We’ll keep updating you as we learn more.

And then it was forgotten. We moved on to something else, probably Max’s teacher’s despair at my inability to get him to school on time (during one particularly good period, she sent me a ‘Well done’ postcard home.) Or Erica’s boyfriend, Jim. The one she’d never met (she was 10). Or perhaps the phone rang, and Ella answered it. We’d know if it was a call centre because she’d put on an accent and say ‘Hallo?’ over and over again.

So, it was some time later that the kids asked us for another Japanese lesson.

Jen: Oh yeah!

She is laughing now. The kids are puzzled.

Carol: Tell them.

Ella: Tell us what?

Jen: Do you remember the words we taught you?

All four of them (quite proud, as a matter of fact) Yeah!

Jen: Say them out loud.

All four of them: (tapping their wrists) Hon-da-pan-a-so-neek.

Jen: Now say it quicker.

All four of them: Honda Panasonic.

The penny is dropping. They try out one or two more.

Ella/Erica: Toyota.

Erica: Mitsubishi. I told you they sounded like cars.

Max: You were tricking us!

We laugh, because it’s funny.

Jen/Carol: Yeah!

Ella: Oh my god!

Carol: What?

Ella: We’ve told our friends. We’ve been giving them lessons!

They are not happy. Oh no, they are so not happy.


But we thought it was hilarious.



A tale of lies and flies and thongs.

27 03 2013

I’ve already said that the girls were older when Jen and I got together and our families blended. It’s true … they were older, more sassy, more difficult and generally harder to read. Erica developed a strange and hitherto unknown capacity for lying, and Ella became one of those kids who would happily ping the strings and push the envelope, but would appear totally outraged if accused of doing so.

So … they were kids … and they were going through it, in their own, very individual ways.

There’s a quarry near to us, and next to it is a large lake. It is called, for the sake of anonymity, Something Pool. My ex-husband was driving Erica, Max and Vinnie by this lake one day when Erica announced that she had previously swum in Something Pool.

Max: No you haven’t, Erica.

Erica doesn’t turn round to face her accuser, but remains staring steadfastly ahead.

Erica: Yes I have.

Max: No you haven’t.

Erica: Yes I have. You don’t know.

Max: That’s rubbish. You’ve never swum in Something Pool.

Erica: Yes I have!

Max: So why didn’t I know before?

Erica: Because I kept it a secret!

At this, Max, aged six, falls about laughing.

Dad: Don’t tell lies, Erica.

Erica: I’m not lying! I have swum in Something Pool!

She begins to cry at the sheer injustice of it all.

The thing is, nobody swims in Something Pool. It just isn’t done. And when you add to this one of Erica’s other memorable untruths,  that she’d heard on the news that a man had turned into a fly, you get some idea of where her head was. Well, I say that, but if you do, you’re closer than I ever got.

Ella didn’t tell lies like that because she didn’t need to. She was the boss and the others played along accordingly.

It wasn’t long after we got together that we took the four of them out to a sandwich bar. We thought it would be a nice treat. They sat together, a little bit away from us, because the place was pretty full. Soon, we realised there was an ‘atmosphere’. Whenever we looked round, everything seemed fine. They were engaging with each other. But every now and then there’d be a quick silence followed by a short but noticeable group giggle. This didn’t feel right.

I got up and went to their table.

Carol: What’s going on?

All four look mortally offended.

Ella: What do you mean?

Carol: There’s something going on. What is it?

All four of them: Nothing/don’t know what you mean/ why are you always accusing us?

Carol: I know something is going on.

She continues on to the Ladies.

A couple of minutes later it became clear when I returned from the Ladies to find them all looking intently at a customer sitting at the table to the left of theirs. In full view, as this customer leaned forward, the top of her thong was exposed. At the very moment I caught on to what they were doing, the poor woman did too.

I froze in mid-return. The whole thing took a second or two but felt as long as it takes to get Max to do the kitchen recycling. The woman had clocked it and looked as humiliated by them as I felt (although it has to be said: she could at least go home childless).

We left that building in some haste.

Jen: I give up on you, Ella. That’s disgraceful behaviour.

Ella is most put out, striding down the road with that ‘I don’t know what the fuss is all about and I’m not hanging around to find out’ air.

Jen: Come back here!

Ella doesn’t turn round.

Jen: Ella, I’m warning you!

Ella turns, but keeps walking.

Ella: Why are you having a go at me?

Jen: Because what happened in there was disgraceful and you are quite clearly the ring leader.

Ella: What? I’m not the ling reader!

She runs across the road to the toy department store.

Ring leader … ling reader … who cares? Somehow, that lady’s shame was avenged. It didn’t matter if the others heard, or understood. It mattered that we heard and we understood,because we could laugh at Ella’s mistake, and get rid of the pent-up shame and embarrassment the kids’ behaviour had caused us. From that point, we have always laughed at the children. Rightly or wrongly, we have never held back from a good old belly laugh on occasions of their (within reason) misfortune. It helped us get through those early years, and still does.

Bedtime and bogeys

22 03 2013

The boys had to share a room for a while. They each had bunk beds, placed at opposite sides of the room. Bedtime was eight o’clock and that usually signalled ‘our’ time – knackered, in front of the television. We may have been joined by the girls for an hour, or they chose to be in their rooms. Either way, once the boys were in bed, peace reigned.

Or did it?

They never want to go to bed, so Vinnie does a deal.

Vinnie: If we have to go to bed, can we have a story tape?

Jen: Yes. You can put it on yourself, can’t you?

Vinnie: Yep.

He runs upstairs.

From downstairs, we soon hear the low hum of Postman Pat. The thing is, once they are in bed, as long as we think it is Postman Pat, it doesn’t matter. And when that low hum continues after 10 pm, we still think nothing of it, because we are, quite frankly, poor excuses for mothers … until … 

From upstairs.

One or other boy, usually Max: Aargh! You f*****g b**ta*d!

Carol gets up and goes to the bottom of the stairs.

Carol: What’s going on?!


Carol: Who was swearing?

Silence. Then a bit of muffled, but high-pitched, giggling.

Carol: I’ll ask one more time. Who was it?

Max appears at the top of the stairs, looking aggrieved.

Max: You know Vinnie, yeah? Well he won’t shut up! He won’t let me get to sleep.

He rubs his eyes, as if so very, very tired.

Carol: From what I could hear, neither of you were trying that hard to sleep. Vinnie!

A slightly sheepish Vinnie appears. It’s important at this point to describe what they look like. Vinnie is dressed in ill-matched pyjama top and bottoms, with his dressing gown on over these. This garment has seen better times; the sleeves have been chewed by John, the dog, so hang in tatters and holes around his wrists. His thick curly hair is sitting astride his head, rather than on it.

Max, however, is wearing some newly-acquired ‘boy’s’ pyjamas, most definitely indicative of a move away from women’s clothing. With his dressing gown belt tied firmly around his small waist, he puts one in mind of Noel Coward. Vinnie is more Jim Royle. 

Carol: I’m giving you one warning. Go to bed, the pair of you, and go to sleep. 

Max: Aren’t you going to tell him off?

Carol: Bed!

She fixes a stare on them. They sigh heavily and turn to go.

Carol: Just a minute … where did you get language like that from?

Max stops.

Max: You.

He runs.


Of the two boys, Vinnie was more in need of night time reassurance. At first, this was sweet, and cute. He’d come into our room in the early hours, saying he’d had a bad dream. Jen would let him into the bed on her side, which meant she would move into the middle. Bless.

Until the fifth time it happened, by which time I was sick of how the extra weight in the bed caused me to roll towards the middle, which was no longer cute, or sweet. Also, of the two boys, it was Vinnie that had the night-time bladder problem and yes, you’ve guessed it, a line had to be drawn after he’d peed in our bed. With us in it.

Carol: Vinnie, I’ve got an idea.

Vinnie looks at her, all ears.

Carol: How about, the next time you have a bad dream, I buy it off you?

Vinnie looks at Carol, not sure how to respond.

Carol: It works with warts. If someone sells their wart, the person buying it has it by the next day, and the person selling it has it no longer!

Vinnie: How much?

Carol: Twenty pence.

Vinnie thinks about this. Twenty pence is a considerable amount of money for a boy who has none.

Vinnie: Okay.

Carol: Good. If you feel you have to come in tonight, I’ll have twenty pence ready and I’ll buy that dream off you.

Vinnie: Do you want my wart as well?

Carol: No, I don’t want your wart.

Anyway, it worked. He made about £1.20 and then lost interest.


We’ve never been too bothered about bedroom decor. They can do what they like – it’s only walls. And really, what’s the worst thing that can happen? A few badly drawn doodles that will be decorated over later? 

When Max got his own room, Vinnie wanted his bunk bed moved away from the window side. As we pulled it away from the wall, Jen said: ‘What are they?’

I looked. She was squinting at a mass of brownish-grey marks on the wall.

‘Oh no, have we got damp?’ I said, concerned. Jen was touching them, and suddenly pulled away.

‘The little sod,’ she said, holding one up to me in disgust. It was a bogey.













A style that’s all your own …

20 03 2013

Our house has seen an interesting variety of dress codes over the years. From Erica’s novelty hats to Max‘s penchant for Disney dresses, the early days gave us an eclectic mix of sartorial style.

Let’s take Max.

Max was never going to be a boy’s boy. When his dad and I bought Erica her first Barbie doll, Max requisitioned it. We tried again and, again, he took the doll and made her his own. He wasn’t too interested in the Barbie accessories, mind. It was the hair. Max could often be found holding Barbie by her ankles and swinging her around with his gaze fixed on her travelling hair. As a result, no Barbie in our house was permitted to wear her hair up, causing problems when he insisted on her joining him in the bath because the hair would get wet and, well, no more silky, shiny Barbie hair. Hello rust coloured wire wool.

After time, Max realised that he could get round this, and still have the pleasure of ‘flying hair’, by fashioning his own. If he put a pair of his sister’s pyjama bottoms on his head, the legs would hang down on either side, like pigtails. By swinging his head, he swung the ‘hair’ around his head. Joy. And on occasion, he would wear one of his sister’s dresses to complete the illusion. I had no problem with taking him to collect Erica from primary school with pyjama bottoms on his head and a scruffy Barbie in his hand, but the dresses usually stayed at home.

‘Your brother is Barbie Boy,’ said a boy in Erica’s class to her one day. She punched him.

It should be said here, just in case it isn’t clear, that Max was very young at this time. However, the day he got stuck climbing out of a ground floor front window and had to be rescued by a neighbour whilst wearing a Sleeping Beauty dress was his last day of Year 2.

Vinnie, on the other hand, was a dude, who insisted on button-down school shirts at the age of five so that he could wear them unbuttoned to the chest (he looked like Elvis). With a shock of brown curly hair and a very cheeky grin, it was no wonder people found his Queen period highly amusing. We eventually bought him a very, very tight pair of white satin trousers and a corduroy bomber jacket. He liked Freddie-style posturing.

Vinnie: (back arched, microphone in hand) ‘Uh, uh, uh, another one bites the desk -‘

Jen: What?

Vinnie: (stops thrusting) What?

Jen: What did you sing?

Vinnie: ‘Another one bites the desk.’ Like the song.

Jen: They’re not the words.

Vinnie: Yes they are!

Jen: No. It’s another one bites the dust.

Vinnie: (crying) No it isn’t! It’s ‘desk’.

Jen: Okay.

Erica had grown out of the hats by the time she was ten, but moved onto some very strange ensembles that defy description, to be honest. The most worrying thing was not her very own sense of style, it was her hair. Born with thick curls, it was always a battle to wash/comb it, so when I noticed that it was ‘different’ at the back, I just believed her when she said that’s how it grew. By ‘different’ I mean shorter and somehow clumpier (if that’s a word) than the rest. Why did I take her word for it? I don’t remember. Perhaps because that hair had beaten me on many occasions. It was about a year before the kids spilt the truth, that she’d been cutting her own hair at the back. Some time later, when I noticed her fringe had developed a straight line across her forehead and she denied all knowledge, I did not believe her.

For Ella, fashion and style have always been important, but she has come a long way since the thongs she insisted on wearing in Year 7. It wasn’t the thong itself that caused the problem, it was the way the top of the thong rested high above the top of the school trousers. This just didn’t seem appropriate for an 11-year-old, and after several traumatic mornings before school, we hid the thongs in the utility room. They remained in a bag, in a cupboard, for years.

One of the biggest pre-going-to-school arguments was about Vinnie’s ‘Mini-me‘ coat. He was ten and had become somewhat less concerned about his general appearance than during his Freddie days, and his favourite coat was a blue parka. This parka was just big enough for him to impress his friends by sitting down and curling his body into it to create a smaller self, a ‘Mini-me’, reminiscent of the Austin Powers character. Before long, they were all doing it. But boys get bigger and coats are designed to be worn, not curled up into. Soon, the parka was tearing, its soft lining making an appearance at regular intervals. In short, it was scruffy, and his mother bought him a new coat to replace it.

When I was a kid, my brother got the Scorcher comic every week, and one of the strips was ‘Billy’s Boots‘. These were old, scruffy boots from a different era that Billy had found and which, when he wore them, helped him to score amazing goals. When his grandmother threw them away and presented him with a spanking new (Seventies-style) pair for Christmas, he was distraught, and searched the bins for his old boots. Vinnie’s ‘Mini-me’ coat was like those boots. It conferred on him a sense of being, personality and performance. In it, he felt like the entertainer, and would sneak it on before you could say ‘Get that rag off and put your new one on.’ One day, I did say that, not wishing his mum to be exasperated yet again by his choice of outerwear. I might as well have just told him that both dogs had died. He became hysterical as we each pulled at Mini-me. I won the battle, but it’s one I wish I hadn’t started.

Today, the biggest problem with Vinnie is that his trousers have real difficulty staying up. No amount of ‘Did you know that fashion started on Death Row?’ will persuade him to hide his pants. Mind you, I can’t talk. It’s so difficult to get a good, old-fashioned pair of jeans that actually travel up over the hip that there’s many a time I’ve shown more of my backside than I’d planned.

And yes, they don’t let me forget it.

You’ve made your bed, now lie on it.

20 03 2013

The girls asked us not to ‘come out’. It wouldn’t just be embarrassing, it would be the end of their lives. They would be beaten up and bullied, forever ostracised. The boys weren’t too bothered, and never have been, but as I’ve said, they were younger. 

I didn’t mind keeping it quiet. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t going to be shouting my mouth off about my new relationship. People close to us knew about it, and that’s all that mattered. Some people close to us did not approve, and that had been a big shock, so we became two women whose marriages had broken up and who decided that an affordable solution would be for all of us to share a house. In our defence, this wasn’t untrue. It just left out something rather significant.

When you’re in a ‘normal’ relationship, things pass you by. You don’t notice how women, when suddenly single, are viewed by others. A newly-divorced mum from the school playground once told  me that another divorcee had warned her about her new identity: ‘You’re single again, and the others will think you’re after their husbands.’ 

Nobody could accuse either Jen or I of being after anyone’s husband, but the husbands themselves certainly took a fresh interest. As for single dads, it was shocking how blind they could be to what was very obvious to many people. There we were, always together, always close, living in the same house, etc, etc. You didn’t have to be a Mastermind champion to make an educated guess about our situation, if you were at all interested. But I remember clearly having to lie to a rather persistent dad about Jen having a boyfriend who worked away. His poor little face fell at this news, but that didn’t stop him from telling me to tell her that he was a nice guy … as if he and I were in on the plot together. ‘Yeah, I’ll tell her. Of course I’ll tell her,’ I said, before fixing him with a steely ‘Shut your door on the way out’ look (I’m good at that one). 

The boys didn’t seem too concerned at having two mums, but they did know it was a bit of a secret. Oh, the power. I took six-year-old Vinnie to the optician one afternoon and in the dark lab, he was asked to relax back into the chair so that the optician could lean in and check his eyes.

‘is this how you lay back on the bed with Mum, Carol?’ Vinnie asked in the darkness. I was momentarily stuck for words. In fact I don’t think I recovered at all, just spluttered something, grateful that nobody could see me. Vinnie thought it was hilarious. He still does. 

Over time, things settled down and we were experiencing the same issues as any other family: moody children; hormones; the infamous ‘Year 8 child’; dodgy friends; homework dramas, and so on … Before long, we’d forgotten there was anything unusual about us. After all, we’d both doubled our child responsibilities, so there wasn’t time to gaze upon our respective navels. And over time, the children themselves settled into a way of life that they accepted. Having said that, we were still two families, two sets of likeness, two lots of family DNA.

It was never going to be straightforward.


19 03 2013

How do you bring children from two families together in a new home? How do you help them come to terms with this new set-up? How do you make them feel that they each belong?

You don’t. They do it themselves.

We tried to talk to the girls, we tried to thaw out the lingering mistrust each had of their ‘stepmother’. And we held onto our boys, probably because their lack of years meant less disapproval. But … we weren’t that good at it, actually. Our miserable inability to convince the girls that life wasn’t that bad became clear the day Ella took a kitchen knife and threatened to stab herself. On the surface, this was because she’d wanted to get her hair cut and her mother had refused. Of course, it was nothing to do with the sudden whim of a precocious child pushing the envelope because she ‘could’. It was the manifestation of the despair caused by our actions, the tearing apart of our families, the willful destruction of all they had held dear.

This is how it went:

Me: Don’t be silly. You’re not going to stab yourself.

Ella: (holding the pointy end of the knife towards her chest) I am!!!

Me: Okay … if you must. But that’s my knife, and I’d rather you did it with one of your own.

Ella: How can I? I don’t have one! Mum’s left them all at the old house!

Me: So you’ll have to wait until you can go to the old house. Meanwhile, you’re not using mine.

She put the knife back. There’s something about ‘possession’ a nine-year-old understands.

It wasn’t all bad. Just when we were wondering how all this was going to pan out (not us, the kids) we became aware of a pattern. All four went to the same primary school and would arrive home together. As the weather improved, they would all four enter by the front door and, all four, disappear out of the back door into the garden. We would watch through the kitchen window, suddenly redundant, as they climbed onto the trampoline and began the daily ritual of the ‘game’, in which they would pretend to be … well … children … with different names and different lives. Ella was boss and dictated activities, most of which involved elaborate jumps and ‘act outs’. Each child had to get into the middle when it was their turn to be the focus, and for Vinnie, this involved devising new acrobatics. So was the Flip Reverse It born. Don’t expect me to describe it. If I asked him to help me out with that one today, I still wouldn’t get it. Suffice to say – I could never have done it myself.

Actually, that brings me to my own trampoline activity. It was limited, and involved climbing on and lying in the middle, whilst the children jumped around me. The aim was to make me bounce as high as possible, completely at the mercy of wherever they landed. I’m not a small person, so presented a challenge to this aim. Children love a challenge, especially if it results in the focus of that challenge begging to get off and suffering an electric shock in the process.

As the girls got older, the trampoline lost its usefulness (unless as a mass seating area for the thirteenth birthday parties). The boys, however, continued to play on it until they, too, lost interest.

Some years later, the trampoline had to go. It had fallen into rusty misuse and we needed to smarten the garden up for a remortgage valuation. I tried to cut the metal bits so that I could get them into the car and take them to the tip, but found this difficult. I called on the boys for help, not really believing they’d fare any better. How wrong I was. The next day, I transported several neat pieces of metal and canvas to the tip, each prepared by our boys.


Not an easy start …

17 03 2013

Suddenly having step-children is not simple. That’s all I’ll say on the matter. Except that it’s even less simple when the older step-children (one each) are so embarrassed by the fact that their mother has become a lesbian that when you go to pick them up from primary school they ignore you, walk down the road so that you follow in the car like a kerb crawler, and get in only when out of sight of their friends. The oldest is Ella, nine going on nineteen. ‘Do you love my mum?’ she said to me when we broke the news. I said absolutely, I do, but somehow I wasn’t so sure she believed me.

Second oldest is my daughter, Erica. She added to Ella’s discomfort by wearing her trademark novelty hats – each day a different one from her selection – although they did come together in a mutual discomfort over their respective mothers.

The boys, Max and Vinnie, were quite young, six and five respectively. Two more different boys you could not wish to meet, but being so young, they didn’t ‘get’ the scandal we’d caused. They didn’t ‘get’ it for quite a while.

As for scandal, well, you’d have thought we’d killed someone and planted the body in the primary school pond. We lived in a village, you see, in the south of England. We had a friend who said at the time that you couldn’t do things like this in a village. According to her, if you want to be a lesbian, you have to go to London. My partner pointed out to her that there were already three same-sex couples in our village, and they were the ones we knew about. She had to wind her neck in after that, but I suspect she went on an immediate fact-finding mission in order to disprove the theory. I don’t know what she found out as she hasn’t mentioned our relationship since, not in ten years. We don’t see her very often.

My partner, by the way, is Jen. She’s lovely, and a bit of a saint. You’ll find out why during this blog.

I’m Carol. I guess it helps to know that.

The following posts will describe events and incidents that have taken place in our household over the years. As I said in the previous post, I think we’re normal. I’ll leave you to decide if you agree.