Thursday, 10 May 2012

Part Six

The Monday morning ritual never changes and it never ceases to amaze and annoy me. I get up at 6.30, grab a quick cup of tea and make up lunch boxes for the kids while I listen to the headlines on the radio. I start to call the rest of the family at 7.00. The Grump is always first out of bed; he has to be, if Lara got to the bathroom before him he wouldn’t get to work until 10.00. The Grump never eats breakfast, usually because he’s still suffering from the weekend excess. He downs two strong coffees and off he goes, no goodbyes, no kiss on the cheek, just the sound of the door slamming behind him. Toby is next down, still in his pyjamas. He’ll sit at the kitchen table and have a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk while he waits patiently for his turn in the shower. Lara arrives at 7 45, crams a slice of toast in her mouth and rushes around in a blind panic looking for homework, gym knickers, trainers and nail polish.
At 8.20 I set off on the school run and by 8 45 I’m back in the house, toasting bread, feeding animals and feeling like I’ve just done a twelve hour shift in a third world brick factory.

After a strong coffee and a slice of toast and marmalade I’m usually up to sorting out the laundry basket, emptying the dishwasher, (we only got one when I began a new chores roster and put The Grump’s name down for pot washing duties 3 times a week,) and take a load overnight washing out to the yard to say hello to Priscilla, Princess of the pond.
Priscilla was in her usual listening mood, so I sat at the side of the pond and had a moan.

‘I don’t know, Priscilla, you’d think people would be prepared for a Monday morning wouldn’t you? It happens often enough?’
Priscilla watched the fish flakes float around the surface of the pond and said nothing.

‘I’m going to try to find a gym this afternoon if I have enough energy. There are a couple close by, ones a bit expensive though. The Grump will have a fit if I joined that one, but Lara will be impressed if I came home with all the local celebrity gossip.’
I stopped to count Priscilla’s prize Koi as they came to the surface to feed. There has been a heron about lately and a lot of our neighbours are complaining about lost fish.  Priscilla and I tallied our count and I went back to the utility room to drag out the ironing board. I turned on the portable TV, more for a bit of background noise than anything else, and got stuck into the mountain of clothes that awaited me.

I’ve heard some women find ironing very therapeutic but I hate it with a passion. I’ve tried everything from threats to bribery to get Lara to help with it but all to no avail. The last time I got her to hold a hot iron she burnt a hole in the back of my favourite top and she was only supposed to be doing her own stuff. I used to end up more stressed than her so I gave up and went back to doing it myself. Last week I put a crease down the front of a pair of her jeans. She reckoned that I’d done it on purpose because she didn’t help anymore. She made a big scene of sticking them in a charity bag.
‘Do you know how much carbon was used up making these jeans?’ she asked.

,‘No, do you?’
‘Twice as much as it might have been because I’ll have to buy another pair now.’ Lara gave me one of her looks. I felt another lecture coming on so got in early.

‘Can you afford another pair?’
‘Dad will buy them when he hears what you did to these.’

‘Good luck,’ I said, knowing that Gary was about to start on one of his economy drives. The new Dyson and haircut have made quite a dent in the bank balance. The pub has made a bigger one but that isn’t up for negotiation.
The Grump did give in, but only after Lara had promised to clean the car and do a leaflet drop for his business. He can be a soft touch, but at times even she has to work to get what she wants.

After lunch I drove down to the Powerhouse gym at the back of the precinct. I was met at the door by a steroid-stuffed, middle age man wearing a scruffy vest and even scruffier track suit bottoms. He struck a pose to show off his biceps and looked disappointed that I hadn’t burst into spontaneous applause.  
‘Well hello,’ he said in true Leslie Phillips style.

‘Hello I’m looking for...’
‘Me, I hope,’ he laughed.

I smiled politely. ‘I was wondering what sort of first-time fitness courses you run and how much the membership is.’
‘I’m sure we can find something for you,’ said the Arnie wannabe. He seemed to be struggling to keep his voice at an even, gruff pitch. His voice lifted an octave. ‘Call me Jean Claude,’ he said.

‘I’m just looking for something to tone me up really. I don’t want muscles or anything.’
Jean Claude looked me over. ‘You’d look great with muscles. Have a look at this.’ He picked up a body building magazine stuffed with photographs of women with veins like rope.

‘That’s repulsive,’ I said.
Jean Claude looked hurt.  ‘These are very sexy looking ladies. Just look at the shape of that calf?’

‘I’m just looking to tone up,’ I repeated.
I thought he’d got the message but he hadn’t.

‘I can get you some bulk-up pro, cheap,’ he said with a sly wink.
That confused me. Lara is always telling me that my bum is bulked up too much as it is. ‘I think I need to bulk down, not up,’ I replied.

 I turned to leave; maybe this wasn’t for me after all.
‘Excuse me, were you looking for anything in particular?’

I turned round to find myself looking at a thirty-something man wearing the tightest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t pull my eyes away. He had a sock stuffed in there surely. I dragged my eyes north and tried to focus on his face.
‘I was looking for an easy exercise plan to help me tone up a little but Jean Claude here...’

‘Jean Claude? ...  Oh, Barney. He’s not the manager; he’s one of the cleaners.’ He flicked his head towards the toilets and Jean Claude picked up his mop and bucket and went back to work.
‘I’m the manager,’ he said pointing to his badge. ‘Will Manly.’

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘I thought...’
‘He’s always doing it, don’t mind him, he’s harmless. We let him have a few free hours on the equipment to supplement his wages. He spends more time here than he does at home.’

‘I bet his wife’s pleased about that.’
‘Eunice is a member too, she’s into body building. You can’t miss her; she’s tattooed from head to foot.’

‘Do you get a lot of body builders here then? I was looking for something a little less...drastic.’
Will smiled. ‘We cater for everyone. Try our twice weekly fitness plan; it looks just the thing for you. He circled me, eyeing me up the way Lara does.

‘You don’t need much, a roll off the tum and a slice of the bum, as we say. We have ladies only sessions on Monday afternoons and Wednesday evenings. Tell you what; I’ll give you your first session free, to see what you think. If you like it, sign up. It’s only £30 a month for the first three months. You’ll get into shape in no time.’
I took his leaflet and told him I’d think about it. As I was about to leave a blond woman in a lycra leotard, almost as tight as Will’s shorts, came into the foyer. She looked down her nose as if she’d just found something nasty lying in the bottom of her parrot cage.

Will turned to face her. ‘Hi, Melanie. This lady is thinking of joining the midweek club.’
‘The mum’s bum battalion?’ said Melanie, nastily.

Melanie was gorgeous; there was no two ways about it. Her leotard was like a second skin. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her. Gary would have ogled her for hours. She must have been about thirty-five. I didn’t look that good when I was eighteen. She gave me one last pitying look and gave her full attention to the manager.

‘Will,’ she simpered. ‘Could you come and look at the rowing machine for me? I’m sure it’s not set right; I’m getting a bit of pain in my groin.’ She stuck out her long leg, took Will’s hand and placed it high on her thigh.
‘Just here,’ she murmured. ‘I think I might have pulled something.’

When I saw the look in Will’s eye, I was sure she had.
Will had obviously lost interest in his possible new recruit. He gave me a big salesman’s smile and dismissed me.

‘Hope to see you soon then, I’d better go and sort Melanie out before she cools off.’
‘You do that,’ I said. ‘We can’t have her going off the boil, can we?’

On the way back to the car I met Fiona March, the mother of one of Lara’s school friends.
‘Have you signed up?’ she asked. ‘Please say you have. It’s my first night tonight and I’m terrified of going in alone. I was about to tell them I’ve changed my mind and ask for my money back, but if you’re signing up too...You could be my training partner.’

‘Okay,’ I smiled. I've always liked Fiona. ‘They’ve given me a free night to see if I like it, so I can make tonight or Wednesday.’
‘Let’s do it tonight,’ she grinned. ‘Have you got all the gear?’

‘No, I hadn’t even thought about that. What do I need?’
‘Lots of stuff,’ she laughed. ‘Your Gary will have a fit.’

Fiona led me to the sports shop in the precinct and thirty minutes later I was all kitted out.
By the time the Grump got home I was just about ready to leave. He hung up his coat and I picked up my new sports bag.

‘Right, I’m off to the gym. See you in a couple of hours.’
Lara was horrified. ‘You can’t just… When did you… What about dinner?’

‘Dinner’s in the fridge,’ I said. ‘It just needs warming up. I’m sure you can manage that between you.’
Gary did his goldfish impression; Toby waved and told me to have fun.

‘Don’t look so shocked, I’m only taking your wonderful advice on board,’ I said sweetly. ‘I don’t want to embarrass you anymore.’

I did feel a few pangs of guilt as I walked down the drive. I even thought about turning back but then Fiona pulled up in her car. She wound the window down and waved excitedly as I approached.

‘Cheer up, Isla. This is going to be fun.’
Fiona pressed a button on the car CD. ‘80s dance,’ she said. ‘Perfect.’

‘I was shaking with excitement when I packed my bag,’ I said. ‘I dropped half the stuff on the floor. I think I’ve lost a sock already.’
‘Don’t worry about socks,’ said Fiona. ‘I’m sure Will has a couple of spares stuffed down his shorts.’

We looked at each other and began to giggle like a pair of schoolgirls.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Part Five

Sunday mornings are usually a peaceful time in our house. The Grump is confined to bed, sleeping off the effects of Saturday night. Lara lies in until almost Monday and Toby is picked up by his Gran straight after breakfast to be spoiled rotten at her house until I drive over to bring him home for Sunday lunch. So, after 9.00am there is usually just me, Spencer and Slasher rattling about downstairs. Even the parrot has a lie in.

On this particular morning things started going awry quite early. First, Mum rang to say she couldn’t come over to get Toby because Dad has put his back out. She didn’t say how he’d put his back out, but knowing Dad it would have happened while he was doing something or other for her or one of her friends. The Grump was up and about early, hangover and all, because he was going over to Oggy’s to pick up some second hand part for his car that he didn’t really need. Lara was in bed as usual, but judging from the sounds emanating from her room she was awake at least.
While Toby got an extra bowl of honey nut cornflakes and The Grump settled down to read the sports pages, I slipped out to feed the fish and have a chat to Priscilla, Princess of the pond.
Priscilla is a good listener. Being a plastic mermaid probably helps.
‘Well, Priscilla,’ I told her as I sat on the seat by the side of the pond and sprinkled a handful of fish flakes onto the water. ‘Changes are afoot. You’ll think there’s a different woman sitting here talking to you in a few weeks time.’
Priscilla looked at me with her usual blank expression. It didn’t change when I told her about Mark at the retail park.
‘You know, I really think he was interested. In ME! can you believe that?’
Priscilla said nothing and continued to watch over her fish.
‘I would have said yes you know. If he’d asked me out. Aren’t you shocked? I almost walked into an affair without even trying.’
Priscilla had obviously heard worse because she didn’t bat an eyelid.

After my confessional I hung out the washing and went back to the kitchen. The Grump was rifling through the kitchen drawers looking for painkillers.
‘They’re where they’ve always been, in the bathroom cabinet,’ I told him.
‘That’s a stupid place to keep them, anyway they’re not. I just looked.’
‘They were there last week when you needed them,’ I reminded him.
‘Well they aren’t bloody well there now. I don’t know, Isla. You can never find a bloody thing in this house. Why can’t people put things back where they found them?’
The Grump slammed the cutlery drawer shut and stormed out of the kitchen moaning about the severity of his headache.
‘It’s nothing to do with the copious amount of alcohol you drank last night then?’ I called after him.
The lounge door slammed. Toby walked into the kitchen with his empty bowl.
‘Hello, Tiger. How are you this morning?’
‘So so,’ he replied. ‘It feels strange not going to Gran’s on a Sunday.’
I smiled fondly and ruffled his hair. ‘You do love going to see Gran and Granddad don’t you?’
Toby nodded.  ‘I can eat ice cream any time I like at Gran’s,’ he confided.
‘Yes, well, she shouldn’t spoil you like that.’
‘And we go to the shops for comics.’
‘You get comics here too.’
‘Granddad always stops at Mrs Walters house to say thanks for the Saturday night entertainment.’
‘Entertainment? I didn’t know they went out on a Saturday night. I’ll have to ask mum what they get up to.’
‘Fun and frolics.’ Toby revealed.
I laughed. ‘Fun and frolics indeed. Your Granddad is teasing you.’
The Grump reappeared with a pack of Paracetamol in his hand.
‘Ah, you found them then?’ I wasn't the slightest bit surprised.
‘I must have left them in my dressing gown pocket last week.’
‘I see. So we weren’t to blame after all?’
The Grump swallowed two tablets, washed them down with a mouthful of water and grumped his way back to the lounge.
‘I’m never going to drink beer when I grow up,’ said Toby. ‘Dad’s always like a bear in a china shop after he’s been to the pub.’
It’s bull,’ I said. ‘Either a bear with a sore head, or a bull in a china shop. The bull smashes things up in a temper. The bear is just grumpy.’
Toby looked at me quizzically. ‘Why did the bull go in the china shop to smash things up in the first place?’
‘Because people were asking him too many questions,’ I laughed.

Toby changed the subject. ‘Can I go to Gran’s this afternoon?’
‘I doubt it Toby, I think they like a nap on a Sunday afternoon.’
‘Getting over the fun and frolics, I suppose,’ replied Toby.

When Toby had gone back upstairs to reapply the Mexican Death Grip to his wrestling opponent’s neck, I decided it was time to give a test drive to my new Dyson. I’d only just switched it on when The Grump stormed out of the lounge.
‘Do you have to do that now, Isla?’
‘When would you like me to do it, Gary?’
‘When I’m out, it’s too loud.’
‘It’s not my fault you’re feeling fragile,’ I told him. ‘You’re the one who drinks too much.’
The Grump yanked the plug from the socket. ‘Thank Christ for that. I’m sure it’s louder than our old one.’
‘It probably is, the old one’s motor had just about burnt out.’
‘Can’t you do it later, when I’m at the pub?’
‘Okay, Gary, I’ll do that.’ I began to wind in the lead. ‘You can cook your own Sunday lunch when you come back from the pub. I won’t have time to do both.’
‘What the...’
And you’ll have to do your own washing, make the beds, clean up the disgusting mess in the bathroom, take down the curtains for washing, walk the dog and listen to Lara’s two hour lecture on the state of the planet.’
Gary grabbed his coat from the hall and stomped towards the front door. ‘Okay, okay, do the bloody cleaning now. I’m off to Oggy’s.’
‘Enjoy your new, spurgle, or whatever it is you’re buying,’ I said as he slammed the door behind him. For someone with a headache he made a lot of noise.

I had just switched on the Dyson again when Lara came down the stairs. She blew her nose on a tissue and dabbed at her eyes.
‘Lara, are you all right?’
Lara nodded slowly and walked through to the kitchen. I followed her in.
‘Lara, what’s? ...’
‘NOTHING’S WRONG! she screamed. ‘Just leave me alone.’
‘Something’s obviously wrong.’ I said. ‘You don’t cry for nothing, Lara, I know you.’
It was true. Nothing  ever seemed to really get to Lara on a personal level. She’s always been able to shrug off disappointment. I don’t know where she gets it from, certainly not me, and Gary lets the whole world know if he’s been wronged. I think she must have inherited the trait from my mother. She’s pretty self assured, and has a very strong temperament.
‘NOTHING IS WRONG!’ Lara repeated, louder this time. ‘Why can’t you just mind your own business?’
‘There’s no need to be rude, Lara. I was only trying to help.’
I collected the Dyson and walked through to the lounge to introduce it to the pet hair covered sofa. I had only just plugged it in when Lara appeared. She looked at the floor, then at me, then threw herself into my arms.
‘Oh, Mum, he’s finished with me. Tommy’s finished with me.’ Sobs racked her body.
‘He’ll come back,’ I soothed. ‘Don’t fret, love.’
‘He won’t come back. He texted me just now. He’s finished with me.’
‘Did you have a row or something?’
Lara shook her head and pushed her face into my chest. ‘No, I just... no.’
‘It will all blow over, Lara. Things will work themselves out,’ I assured her.
Lara pulled away, her face contorted with anger. ‘He’s going to go out with that slut, Britney.’
‘Your friend Britney? Britney Morris?’
‘Ex friend,’ she spat.’He took her home from the youth club last night.’
‘Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right. You were at the youth club last night.’
‘He made an excuse and said he was going home early, so I left early too. But he didn’t go home. He picked up that slag, Britney when I was safely out of the way.’
‘Oh dear,’ I said inadequately.
‘Kylie phoned me this morning to give me the bad news. I rang him but he wouldn’t answer, so I emailed him. Then I got a text saying it was over.’
I tried to avoid the trap of saying 'you’re probably better off without him.' Instead I gave her another hug and told her I knew how she was feeling.
‘A text message? That’s not very fair is it?’
Lara sniffed and shook her head. ‘He hasn’t got the guts to tell me to my face.’
‘I’ve been there myself, Lara.’ I said, softly. ‘It’s hard, love. I didn’t go out for a week. I couldn’t face anyone.’
‘I’m going out,’ said Lara. ‘I’m going round to see that tart Britney, and I’m...’
‘Are you sure that’s a good idea, Lara? It might be best to find out if all the facts are true first.’
‘Of course they’re true. He used to tell me he’d go with her to wind me up when I said I wouldn’t ...  wouldn’t do things to him. He said he’d go with her because he knew she would.’
‘Things?’ I asked, as if I didn’t know.
‘Things,’ she replied. ‘Sex things ... things I wasn’t ready to do.’
I hugged her again. ‘Lara, I’m so proud of you. You really are a very sensible girl.’
‘I’m a dumped girl, that’s what I am, and I’ll be the laughing stock of the school, that’s what I’ll be.’
‘No you won’t, surely your friends will understand. You made the right decision, you’re only fourteen.’
‘They think I’ve already done stuff with him.’
‘Why would they think that?’
‘Because he’s told them I have. Oh Mum, I’m so unhappy.’
Lara began to sob again. I did my best to comfort her but with little success. A couple of minutes later the door opened and Gary marched in carrying an oily something or other.
‘What’s wrong? Why is Lara crying?’
Lara looked up at me pleadingly. ‘Don’t,’ she whispered.
‘Women’s problems,’ I said truthfully.
Gary shook his head and retreated. He always avoided any conversation regarding that topic like the plague.
I sat with Lara for another ten minutes, then she decided she might be better off working things through  in her room.
‘I’ll bring you some tea and toast up,’ I told her. ‘Go back to bed, love.’
Toby passed Lara on the stairs. ‘What’s up with her?’ he asked.
‘Don’t ask, son,’ said The Grump with feeling. ‘You honestly don’t want to know.’ 

After lunch, Gary fell asleep in front of the Sunday live match. Toby went to play with his friend next door and I took the opportunity to update this diary. Lara came down about five O’clock  seemingly fully recovered.
‘Feeling better love?’ I asked.
Lara shrugged. ‘I don’t know why I let myself get into a state like that. He’s not worth it.’
‘He isn’t,’ I agreed. ‘If he only wants a girl for one thing, then he’s not much of a boyfriend, is he?’
Lara gave me one of her looks. ‘How would you know what he’s like?’
‘But, you said..’
‘I know him, you don’t. He’s not that bad really, he’s just a bloke. They’re all pitiful. Anyway I’ve had my revenge.’
‘How? what...’
‘I’ve decided to go out with Kurt, his best friend.’
‘You’re goi...’
I rang him this afternoon. I’m meeting him at the kids playground in half an hour. He’s really keen on me, always has been.’
‘What about Britney?’
‘She wouldn’t do what he wanted either. So he’s got no one now. He’s going to look such a fool.’
I waited for the rest.
‘Britney told her mum that Tommy tried to get her to do stuff last night on the park. Her mum’s phoned Tommy’s mum and he’s in deep trouble. He’s been grounded for a month. His mum apologised to Britney and said Tommy is just like his bloody father.’
‘Tommy’s father is a bit of a philanderer is he?’ I asked.
‘No one knows. He left when Tommy was born. Tommy’s mum obviously thinks so.’ Lara grabbed a chocolate biscuit and stuffed it into her mouth.
‘Phew,’ I said. ‘Looks like you had a lucky escape... and poor Britney, she told her mum. It must have been bad.’
‘Not really, Britney’s a prude. He picked the wrong girl there.’
‘But I thought you sai...’
‘I was angry.’  Her look told me that ought to be enough of an explanation.

Lara went up to have a bath leaving me to ponder on the way relationships have changed since I was her age. I could never have had that sort of conversation with my mother. I’d have been far too embarrassed and she wouldn’t have understood  anyway. Mum’s always been a closed book when it comes to that sort of thing. I’m sure poor Dad must only have got his oats at Christmas and Birthdays.
Toby came back at six and we had egg and cress sandwiches for tea. Gary announced that he was going to the pub at seven so I had a nice long bath and watched The War of the Worlds on DVD with Toby. Lara came home at eight thirty looking seriously pleased with herself. She checked out the love bite on her neck in the hall mirror and went up to her room without saying goodnight. Toby went to bed at nine and I followed him at half past. I’m not sure what time Gary came home but he didn’t disturb me and I managed to get a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Part Four

At 11.30 The Grump left for his expensive grooming session. I was glad to see the back of him to be honest. He’s almost worn a path into the carpet between the sofa and the wall mirror.  He even sought me out in the garden to ask if I thought a bit of stubble would look ‘cool.’ I said he’d better not get too close to me if he does grow a beard. For some reason Gary’s facial hair brings me out in a rash no matter which part of me it touches. I vividly remember the time I went to the doctors thinking I’d got thrush. It turned out to be an allergy to Gary’s whiskers.
Lara left soon after Gary, so when I’d finished sorting out the laundry I turned my thoughts toward the electrical supermarket at the retail park. What is it with dirty laundry? It seems to breed. I’m sure I don’t get through that many pairs of knickers in a week. I reckon Gary must be making a bit of extra cash by taking in washing from the neighbours. Having said that, Lara wears three sets of clothes a day whether she’s going anywhere or not. The Grump is the exact opposite. He’d wear the same t-shirt all week if I didn’t pick them up from the bedroom floor every morning.

I got changed into my serious shopping clothes and called Toby down from his room.

‘Toby, come on, love. We don’t want the shop to sell out of vacuum cleaners before we get there, do we?’
Toby appeared at the top of the stairs wearing his best sad face. ‘Do I have to go, mum? I’ve just got Muscles Malone pinned to the canvas in a Mexican Death Grip.’

‘I’ll get you in a Mexican death grip if you don’t hurry up.’

‘But I’ve never beaten him before. I’ll qualify for the Rumble in the Rockies tournament if I win this.’

‘It’s just a game, Toby. Can’t you pause it?’
‘It is paused.’
‘Well then, Muscles Malone can’t escape can he?. The worst that can happen is that he’ll suffocate while we’re out and you’ll still win. Now get a move on. You haven’t even got changed yet.’

‘Can’t I go like this?’

I looked at him in his scruffy Dennis the Menace tee shirt and cargo shorts.’

‘No, you can’t. I don’t know, Toby, you get more like your father every day.’

Toby struck a pose and stroked his chin. ‘Do you think I should go stubbly?’

‘Get changed,’ I laughed. The impression was far too good.

By the time he was changed and downstairs it was gone twelve. As I smoothed down his hair in the hallway he did another Gary impression, but this time it wasn’t meant as a joke.
‘Take that look off your face young man. It isn’t often I ask you to come into town with me.’

‘Vacuums are boring,’ he grumped.

‘This one isn’t. It’s a Dyson Animal.’ I growled at him for effect.

Toby brightened a little. ‘Has it got teeth and claws and ...’
‘No, but it doesn’t have bags that need changing and it will get the pet hair off the couch.’

Toby wasn’t impressed. ‘ Darren’s mum has a vacuum with a smiley face on it.’

Toby looked puzzled. ‘No, silly, Darren’s mum. Who’s Henry?’

He trudged to the car and climbed into the front passenger seat. I locked up and jumped in next to him.
‘Tell you what, how about we go to the burger bar while were there?’

Toby’s mood changed immediately. Even vacuum shopping was worth doing if it was rewarded with a burger.

‘Double cheeseburger and large fries, with a fizzy drink. MMMM.’ Toby was salivating already.
‘You’ll burst one of these days.’ I laughed. Seriously, I don’t know where he puts it all. There isn’t an ounce of fat on him but he eats enough for three.

At the electrical store we found the machine I wanted  was on display. A salesman called Mark, checked on a computer and ordered one from the warehouse at the back. He walked us to the tills and we chatted while we waited for my purchase to arrive. Mark insisted on carrying my new Dyson to the car. He was about thirty with a rugged face and a backside to drool over. As he bent over to load the package into the boot of my car, I did just that.

He slammed the boot shut and flashed me a smile. I flashed one straight back.
‘If you want to give it a test drive you can come round to my place any time you like. It would be a good challenge for it.’

‘Don’t tempt me,’ I laughed. ‘I go wild at the smell of Mr Sheen.’

I climbed into the car and closed the door. Mark made a circling motion with his hand and couched down. I opened the window.

I looked him straight in those bright blue eyes and felt myself beginning to melt. He smiled and cleared his throat. I swear he was going to ask me out and I swear I would have said yes if he had.

Toby came to my rescue.
‘Mum the burger bar will be closed.’

The moment had gone. Mark flashed Toby a look, then switched back to his salesman’s smile. ‘Off you go, can’t keep a kid from his burger.’ He stood up and banged on the roof of my car.

‘Thanks for the help, Mark.’ I gave him my best smile. He winked and dropped down to window level again.

'The offer still stands.’ Mark grinned and handed me a business card. I dropped it into my bag and waved goodbye.
I thought about that bottom as we drove across the retail park and felt my cheeks flush. What a day this was. A handsome young man had flirted with me. Apart from Reg the postie, who was neither young, nor handsome, that hadn’t happened in years.

The burger bar was packed and we had trouble finding seats. A waitress eventually found two opposite a pair of middle aged women who made a big fuss about having to remove their bags from the table so we could put our purchases down. Toby got stuck into his double whammy burger as soon as his backside hit the seat.

One of woman looked down her nose at us and picked at her gammon and chips with her fork. I smiled politely and put my bag on my lap.
The older of the two pulled out a compact mirror and began to dab at her face with a dusty pad. The slightly younger, spiteful looking one, continued to look at Toby with distaste.
Toby, blissfully ignorant of her stare, demolished his burger in record time and started on his juice. I took a big sip of coffee.

‘Mum, will you give me a blowjob?’ he asked.

I spat coffee. The women opposite copped for most of it.

The older one’s mouth sagged open. What did he say? she gasped.
The younger one dabbed at her jacket with a paper towel and looked as though she were about to explode. ‘You disgusting little brat,’ she fumed.

Toby looked her squarely in the face. ‘I only asked for a blowjob.’
‘Toby,’ I begged, ‘shut up about blowjobs.’

‘What a thing to ask,’ the old woman stormed. 

‘He shouldn’t know what a blowjob is at his age,’ hissed the other.
I grabbed hold of Toby’s arm and pulled him to his feet. The occupants of the table next to us were getting involved.
‘Did he just ask for a blowjob?’ boomed an elderly man with a military moustache.

I wished the ground would swallow us up. I grabbed my bag and began to edge away from the table.
Toby hadn’t finished.

‘I only asked for a blowjob.’

‘Toby!’ I hissed. ‘No more blowjobs.’

The word, ‘blowjob,’ floated around the room on the back of a hundred whispers.

‘I’ve a good mind to call the social services,’ said the military man’s wife. ‘Blowjobs, at his age.’

I pulled on Toby’s arm and tried to back out, but the waitress’s trolley blocked my exit.
‘Tommy Tosspot wanted Lara to give him one, but she said no,’ Toby told the world.

‘Toby ...please.’
‘Who’s Lara?’ asked the old trout.

‘My sister, she’s fourteen and...’

Fourte...and she’s giving ... Charles come on we need to report this.’ The ex-soldier’s wife looked at me with narrowed eyes. ‘What sort of mother are you?’

I turned, pushed the trolley, and waitress, out of the way and hurried from the burger bar with as much dignity as I could muster.
We were back in the car in less than a minute. I looked up to see the old woman had followed us out and was waving towards a policeman across the car park. I pulled onto the main road and hit the accelerator.  A mile or so down the road I drove into a side street and turned to face my son. He seemed unperturbed by the scene he had caused.
I tried to remain calm, shouting at him wouldn’t achieve anything.

‘Toby, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. Where the heck did you get that word from?’

‘Lara, she was in her room talking to Tommy Tosspot on the phone.’

‘You shouldn’t listen to other people’s conversations, Toby, it’s not nice. What Lara says to Tommy is personal and private,’ I hesitated. ‘What did she say?’

‘She told Tommy Tosspot that she wouldn’t sleep with him and she wouldn’t give him a blowjob, even if it was the best present he could ever have.’
I was stunned. ‘Is that everything?’

Toby thought for a moment. ‘She said if he loved her, he wouldn’t ask.’
‘Good for Lara.’ I said, more to myself than Toby.

‘What is a blowjob anyway, mum?’

‘Never mind.’
‘It’s not fair, everyone knows except me.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘I’ll ask Mrs Henshaw on Mon..’

‘You will not ask the teacher about bl... You will not talk to Mrs Henshaw about this Toby. It’s a private matter.’
‘Just tell me what is it then.’ Toby needed an answer.

I gave in. ‘It’s kissing.’

‘Kissing!  Yuk, everything that sounds interesting ends up meaning kissing. I’m never going to give anyone a blo...’

‘That’s enough about blowjobs. Come on let’s get home. Didn’t you say you wanted to go to Darren’s?’
The Grump got back from the football at six with his new spiky head and spent the next two hours wearing an even deeper track  between the sofa and the mirror. He got changed into a white t-shirt and jeans as soon as he got home. Lara hid a giggle behind the back of her hand before telling him how ‘amazing’ he looked. While I was clearing away the tea things he asked me what I thought.

‘It’s certainly different, Gary,’ I said. ‘I’m not sure it’s a forty year old man’s haircut though.’
The Grump became defensive. ‘You’re just stuck in the 90s, Isla. You ought to get with it, forty isn’t old anymore. If you want to look like a frump, that’s up to you but I’m not going to look old before i have to.’

'Frump? What do you mean FRUMP?’

Gary shrugged. ‘You have let yourself go a bit. You could do with a makeover.’
I was shocked and angry.

‘Gary, if I’ve let myself go, it’s because I have no reason to make myself look presentable. I spend my entire life cleaning up after you lot, there’s no point in having a makeover. Who would ever notice?’

Gary opened his mouth to reply but I cut him off , mid retort.
‘AND, do you know what a makeover would cost? Your new spiky hair would fall out if I asked for a few hundred quid to make myself look less ... FRUMPY!’

I felt tears welling up and I didn’t want Gary to see me cry so I walked smartly out of the kitchen and headed for the stairs. Gary followed me.

‘Isla, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean ...’
‘Yes you bloody well did,’ I spat. ‘Just piss off and leave me alone.’

I didn’t cry for long. A few minutes later Toby knocked on my bedroom door to see if I was all right and after one of his special cuddles, I was.
Gary tried to apologise before he went to the pub but I told him to forget it. Lara asked why he was apologising and The Grump explained that he had upset me by calling me a frump.

Lara looked me over, wrinkled up her nose and added her two-penn’oth.

‘You could do with losing a few pounds. You’ve got a bit of a paunch and your bum is looking a bit padded. Nothing a couple of sessions at the gym wouldn’t cure though.’

She walked round me like a farmer sizing up a new bull at the market.

‘If you got a bra that fits and bought some clothes that belong to this century, you wouldn’t look too bad for woman your age. You’d have to do something with your hair though. You’ve had the same style since I was born. Oh, and you’re getting a bit of  chin.’

Gary held out his hands as if to say, ‘Told you so.’ I gave him the look I reserve for when he comes home drunk and disorderly and told Lara that if she was that ashamed of me she’d be better off if I didn’t give her a lift to the youth club later on.
‘We don’t want your friends to think you’re living with your granny do we?’

‘Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,’ said Lara.
Later that evening I sat in front of Strictly Come Dancing and decided that things really did have to change. Life was passing me by at an incredible rate. I followed The Grump’s well worn path to the full length mirror and studied it intently. Okay, I wasn’t in the first flush of youth, but I wasn’t too bad. Nothing a bit of TLC couldn’t fix. Mark had seemed keen so I wasn’t exactly repulsive. I picked up the laptop and made a list in a text file, printed it off and carried it up to my bedside drawer.

Item one is joining a gym. I’ll start looking for a reasonably priced one on Monday. Next up is hair. I’ll have a word with Lucy, next door. She has a mobile hairdresser and she always looks fabulous, she’ll give me some tips on clothes too. The last thing on my list will have to wait until the rest had been achieved, but, ‘Start Having A Life,’ is typed in bold, eighteen point font and it's the most important item on the agenda. The world had better be ready for me when I reach that stage.
It was a strange sort of Saturday night. Everything seemed to be done by halves. I drank half a glass of wine while I watched half of a very bad movie before turning in. Gary came home from the pub half cut and half an hour early. I was half asleep in bed. He winked and I groaned when I realised what he had in mind. He undid his belt, let his trousers fall to the floor and climbed into bed half-dressed. He grabbed a random breast shoved his hand up my nightie, and rolled on top. I  wriggled about a bit to get comfortable but by the time I had it was all over. When it comes to sex, Gary fits his surname perfectly. He’s the original roll on roll off Ferry.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Part Three

What is it with teenagers? They are so full of contradictions.

At 8.00am on Saturday I was in the kitchen cooking bacon, when Lara strolled in. I looked at the clock in mock-shock and opened my mouth wide. Normally we don’t see her until lunchtime at the weekend. She slammed a magazine down on the kitchen table and pointed to the headline. ‘Have you seen this?’ she growled, as though I was the subject of the article.

I picked up the magazine. ‘Polar bears in trouble as ice pack melts.’ I read.
‘It’s sad isn’t it?’ I sympathised.
‘It’s not sad, it’s disgusting, that’s what it is.’ Lara flicked through a couple of pages and pointed to another article. ‘Whaling,’ she continued. ‘Aren’t you ashamed? The fleets catch more and more each year, soon there’ll be none left.’
‘Whaling is bad too,’ I agreed.
Lara fixed me with a glare. ‘It’s your fault.’
‘My fault? Why is ...’
‘Your generation’s fault  then. You allowed it to happen on your watch. You’ve
sat back and done nothing for years, now it’s probably too late.’
‘That’s not really fair, Lara,’ I said quietly, trying to take the heat out of the situation. I always give to the animal charity collectors when they come round, and I joined the RSPB.’
Lara wasn’t appeased. ‘So, you stick 50p in a tin and think you’ve done enough to save the planet? Look around you Mum, animals are suffering.’
I looked round the kitchen. Spencer was attempting to get the last atoms of dog food from his bowl and Slasher was washing her face after eating a breakfast of tuna chunks. ‘Doesn’t seem to be much in the way of suffering here,’ I joked.
Lara grabbed two sandwiches, slapped them onto a plate and stormed out of the kitchen.
‘That’s right, make a joke of it,’ she spluttered through a mouthful of bacon sandwich. ‘You just don’t care what happens to animals, do you?’

I followed her into the hallway to remind her what she was eating, but was distracted by the postman ringing the doorbell.
‘Hello gorgeous,’ he said, looking me up and down.
‘Hello, Reg,’ I replied. I looked up at the stunning blue sky. ‘Nice day for it.’
Reg winked. ‘Any day would be a nice day for it, rain, snow, fog, just name the time and place.’
I feigned shock. ‘Your wife would throttle you if she knew how you talked to the women on your round.’
Reg shook his head sadly. ‘She wouldn’t care. She’s hoping I’ll kop off with someone. Do you know when the last time we had ...’
‘Got to rush,’ I lied. ‘Bacon’s burning, see you Monday Reg.’

I closed the door, carried The Grumps’s package to the lounge and tossed it onto the sofa next to him. Gary took a quick look, grunted, and went back to reading his paper. Lara sat in a chair by the TV, in full buttering up mode.
‘You know Dad, if you did something different with your hair you could take years off.’
The Grump looked up from his paper, suddenly interested. ‘You think so?’
Lara took a bite from her sandwich and nodded. ‘Years,’ she repeated.
Gary ran his fingers through his tangled mop. ‘I could use a haircut I suppose.’
‘Get it done, Dad,’ urged Lara. You’ll look old before your time if you don’t get with it.’
The Grump walked over to the mirror and studied it intently. Lara warmed to her task.
‘If you get it cut really short at the back and sides but leave it a bit longer on top you could spike it up with gel or wax.’
‘Gel, hmm. Aren’t I too old for gel and wax?’
‘You’re as old as you feel, Dad. I think you could take ten years off if you had a decent cut.’ Lara walked over to Gary and studied him like a photographer lining up a shot. ‘If you grew a bit of stubble and wore a white T-shirt and jeans, you’d look a bit like George Michael.’
The Grump laughed. ‘Now you’re being silly.’
‘Suit yourself,’ said Lara. ‘I don’t want an old looking Dad, but if that’s what you want to look like ...’ Lara returned to her sandwich.
Gary walked back to the sofa and picked up his paper. ‘I’ll think about it.’
Lara shrugged and said nothing. They sat in silence for a few seconds.
‘Where’s the best place to go, if I did decide to get it cut?’
‘Not skin ‘em alive Clive’s where you usually go, that’s for sure,’ said Lara haughtily. ‘There’s a good one in the precinct called Croppers, that’s where Tom... er, that’s where a lot of young people go.’
The Grump folded up his paper and leant back on the sofa. ‘Thanks Lara. You’ve given me something to think about there.’
Lara smiled her best smile. ‘Dad?’
‘I know you said I was grounded, but Kylie’s got some birthday money to spend and she texted me this morning to ask if I’ll go to town with her to buy some new clothes.’
‘Can’t she go with Madonna?’ asked Gary.
‘No she’s away for the weekend, I’m it or she can’t go,’ replied Lara with a pout.
The Grump hesitated. ‘Can’t she go on her own?’
Lara moved in for the kill. She sat the sofa next to Gary, and snuggled up to him.
‘No silly, girls can’t shop on their own, how would they know if the clothes look any good?’
Gary put his arm round Lara’s shoulder. ‘They could look in a mirror?’
Lara laughed as though it was the funniest joke she’d ever heard. ‘Oh Dad, you just don’t understand women do you?’
The Grump shook his head. ‘You’re not wrong there, Lara. Okay then, I’ll let you off this time, but no more snogging Tommy Tosspot.’
Lara looked away. ‘Troppo,’ she muttered through clenched teeth. When she turned back to Gary she was all smiles. ‘Thanks, Dad, you’re not bad for an old codger.’
‘Old codg ... I can still change my mind you know.’
Lara laughed again. ‘Only kidding, Dad.’ She was silent for a moment, then came the coup de grass. ‘Dad, could you lend me a tenner? I’m skint after giving Kylie money for her birthday.’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Lara. Do you really deserve it?’
‘Please Dad, I’ve seen a gorgeous top in Envy’s, it’s only £9.99, half price.’
The Grump thought about it. ‘I suppose it’s all right. We can’t have you miss out on a bargain like that, can we? My wallet’s on the hall table, take ten pounds.’
Lara kissed Gary on the cheek and skipped out of the lounge. As she passed me in the doorway she tossed her head and whispered, ‘flattery will get you everywhere.’
When I looked back into the lounge The Grump was stood in front of the mirror again. He sucked in his tummy, stuck out his chest and brushed his hand through his hair. ‘George Michael, he muttered.’
I shook my head, walked to the hall cupboard and dragged out the vacuum cleaner. ‘Hi ho silver, away.’ I called.
Gary walked out of the lounge carrying his parcel.
‘What have you been buying now?’ I asked. ‘Not another webcam?’ Gary was the gadget king.
‘It’s not for me,’ he replied sulkily.
‘Is it a surprise for me?’ I was shocked.
‘Don’t be daft, Isla. It’s something Oggy asked me to get him from the Internet. It’s a surprise for his wife.’
I shuddered. I could imagine the sort of thing Oggy would want to give as a gift.
‘Are you going to the football this afternoon?' I asked.
‘Yep, I’m meeting the lads in the Crown at 1 30. I’m going to get a haircut first though?’
‘Oh good,’ I said. ‘Can you nip into the hardware store next to Clive’s and get me a pack of vacuum bags? This one has had it.’
‘Err, I’m not going to Clive’s, I thought I’d try that place in the precinct.’
‘Croppers! That’s a bit expensive for you isn’t it? I thought you said you’d cut it yourself sooner than pay those prices?’
‘I feel like a change, that’s all,’ sniffed Gary. ‘Anyway, I can’t cart a pack of vacuum bags around with me all afternoon.’
‘Right, that does it. I snapped. ‘If you can’t be bothered to get me some bloody vacuum bags I’ll get a machine that doesn’t need them. This clapped out old thing can go to the great sucker’s yard in the sky.’
‘Okay, I’ll get you some bloody va...’
‘No, don’t worry about it, Gary. I’ll go into town this afternoon and buy a new one. One that doesn’t need bags, then you won’t have to lug the things around with you twice a bloody year.’
‘There’s no need for that is there? This one’s got years left in it yet.’
‘How would you know? You’ve never so much as switched it on.’
He knew when he was beaten. ‘Okay, get a new one, but don’t go spending a fortune on it.’
The Grump went up for a shower while I punched the air with delight. Two minutes later I was on the Internet studying all the different models. I settled on a Dyson Animal. Yes, it was expensive, but you couldn’t describe it as costing a ‘fortune.’ It was all relative, alongside a car it was dirt cheap.

I tied up the old vacuum with its cord and dragged it out to the shed. Gary could drop that off at the dump the next time he went. I walked back to the house with a spring in my step. I could feel a shopping trip coming on.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Part Two

I’ve decided to turn this into a weekly diary. My everyday life is so boring that it would be pointless making it a daily one. If I’m lucky I‘ll just about cram enough into a full week to make a worthwhile entry. There is also the fact that The Grump might find it strange that I’m spending so much time on the laptop. I normally only go onto the internet to order new refills for the fridge, water filter or buy the odd book from Amazon. If my life story should suddenly become more entertaining I’ll start doing twice weekly updates. I can always tell him I’ve joined He’ll think I’ve gone all radical.

I suppose I’d better start by introducing myself properly. You’ll need to know a little bit about me if we’re going to be sharing my innermost thoughts.

My name is Isla Ferry and I’ve been married for eighteen years to The Grump, aka, Gary Ferry. (He tries to make out he’s distantly related to the singer,  Bryan Ferry, but his mum told me the first time I met her that he isn’t.)  When we decided to get married I fully intended adding my maiden name to The Grump’s in order to make a posh sounding double barrelled name. The problem was, my family name is Whyte and it didn’t take long for me to realise the years of torment I’d be letting myself in for if I were to become Isla Whyte-Ferry. I had enough jokes made up about my name when I was at school without adding to the misery.

I’m thirty nine years old and rapidly approaching forty. I have no idea how this happened as the last time I looked I was twenty seven. Life crept up behind me one morning and screamed ‘Hey, it’s time for a mid life crisis.’ I’ll never forget that moment, I was cleaning the toilet bowl at the time.

I’ve tried desperately to think where the last ten years have gone. One minute I was crying over taking my four year old Lara to school for the first time and the next thing I know I’m half way to a pension. What happened there? Did Dr Who whisk me off on a time travelling adventure in his Tardis and drop me off ten years later?
It came as a huge shock to realise that my entire married life could be laid out as one small flowchart. All I’ve done for the last fifteen years is give birth, cook, clean, organise the school run and read Hello magazine. I did once take part in a sit-in on a pavement near the school to demand a new crossing but that’s the closest I’ve come to being a rebel.

That morning in the bathroom, I sat for an hour and thought about my life and what might lie ahead.
I worked out that if I was lucky and lived to be eighty, then my life was already half way through and for the last twenty or so of those remaining years I would be a pensioner. Twenty five years ago I was Lara’s age and just starting out on life’s great adventure. During those twenty five years the only adventures I have witnessed have generally all belonged to other people. Apart from bringing two children into the world I haven’t left a mark on it. If I’m not careful I’ll be one of those sad people who live their own lives though their children’s exploits. That will never do, I refuse to end up in a Post Office queue, flashing photos of my future grandchildren to other women who are desperately trying to do the same thing to me.

It’s not like I’ve explored my sexuality either. I never had time to get up to much when I was a teenager. If I wasn’t at college studying for my Certificate in Office Studies, I was serving up cod and chips, working part time at the chip shop. I vaguely remember a couple of heavy petting sessions with Roger Sands in the back of his dad’s Rover, but that was about the sum of it. Maybe I should have married him? I might have been able to have my double barrelled name if I had. Isla Whyte Sands doesn’t sound quite as daft as Ferry.

Roger is a milkman now ... Roger the milkman? Ha! That sounds like one of The Grump’s kinky fantasies. He actually asked me once if I’d do it with someone else while he watched. I told him to sod off. If I was going to do it with the milkman I’d want to enjoy it. It would really turn me off seeing Gary perched on a chair with his Sony Handycam in front of his face every time we changed position. He said I was no fun.

I don’t know why I ended it with Roger. He was a handsome lad, athletic, and good fun. He used to play rugby and tennis. The only remotely sporty things The Grump has ever played is pool and darts.

For years, Gary tried to get me to dress up for sex. He got a thing for it after watching those free, five minute samples on a soft porn channel on Sky. I finally gave in and he ordered a French maid’s outfit from some pervy site he’d found on the internet. I had visions of being dressed in a sexy, black silk dress with stockings and high heels, maybe tickling him with my feather duster. What turned up was a PVC monstrosity that was about two sizes too small and made my body bulge out alarmingly in all the wrong places. They should market those things toward people who suffer from water retention. I sweated so much the first, (and last) time I wore it that I must have lost half a stone. Gary of course blamed my shape for the disappointing end result and told me I should go on a diet.

We have two children, Lara (14) and Toby (8.) We share the house with a mad Springer Spaniel called, ‘Spencer,’ a cat with homicidal tendencies called Sasha (aka Slasher) and an African parrot called Squawk. We also have a pond full of enormous Koi who share their watery kingdom with a plastic mermaid called Priscilla, Princess of the Pond. Lara began to have conversations with Priscilla when she was three and stopped talking to her when she was seven, but I’ve kept in touch since. Sharing a gripe with Priscilla has become part of my daily routine. We share a moan when I’m hanging out the washing or feeding the fish. She’s a good listener.

I drive a Ford Ka which The Grump got cheap from a bloke he met in the pub. So far it’s had replacement brakes, clutch, passenger seat, alternator, battery and three tyres. Gary  refuses to admit that he bought a pup and his new best mate, Oggy, the owner of the scrap yard where he buys all the second hand, replacement parts, agrees. He would wouldn’t he? We actually got a Christmas card from him this year. The Grump was going to invite him round on Boxing Day but I put my foot down. It’s bad enough having to put up with his bloody mother and mad Aunt Bessie. The last thing we need is to listen to Oggy trying to flog him a second hand exhaust while we’re playing Monopoly.

I’ve just remembered why I finished with Roger. I wanted to go to the pictures to see some daft film or other but it was his training night. I must have been pre menstrual because I told him that if he was going to put rugby before me then it was all over and he wouldn’t see me again. That night I met Gary...why didn’t I keep my big mouth shut?

Friday, 4 March 2011

Part One

4th March 2011

How do you start a diary I wonder? I’ve never kept one before, not a serious journal at least. I’ve often thought about keeping one but I’d be mortified if Gary the Grump found it and read my innermost thoughts.
He thinks he knows everything about me just because we’ve been married for eighteen years, but in truth he knows very little and understands even less. Oh he can find his way around the intimate parts of my body and he knows to keep well clear if I’m in one of ‘my moods,’ but he doesn’t have a clue who the real me is. I hate the way he calls them  my moods, as though he’s always full of the joys of Spring. At least I have the excuse of an excruciating period or the beginnings of a migraine when I snap. He gets unbearably shitty if his precious football team loses, and God help us all if England aren’t doing very well at the cricket.
 He thinks he knows which TV shows I like, (the ones I get to see when there isn’t a conflict with the sports channel,) but he doesn’t have a clue what I Sky Plus and watch when he’s at the pub or nursing a Sunday morning hangover in bed. He has no idea what I dream about, what I think, or what I do all day.
He's convinced that I vote Lib Dem because he does, but I’ve never voted for them once. I actually voted for the Rubber Chicken party at one election and I’d have been quite happy had they got in.
Gary still hasn’t worked out that if I nod my head when he’s screaming at  the TV during Question Time it doesn’t mean I agree with him. It’s actually far more likely to mean that I agree with the politician who almost caused him to have a seizure. Gary has always been arrogant like that. He assumes that he wears the trousers in our house but in actual fact the decision making process is shared equally. He decides what we should do about Libya, oil prices and the EU and I make the everyday decisions, like, what we buy, where we buy it, how much we put away for a rainy day, who we buy our gas from, who’s offering the best mortgage deal ... It works out perfectly really.
Now I’m rambling. I can see me doing a lot of that, so I’ll apologise up front.
I’m glad I found you, I’d never heard of on-line diaries until I discovered my fourteen year old daughter, (Lara) had one. She forgot to log off the laptop one night and The Grump read it. He got a bit of a shock I can tell you. Lara got an even bigger shock when she came back from the bathroom to find him standing arms crossed, tapping his foot, looking for all the world like he’d just eaten a Semtex sandwich and was about to explode.
‘Who’s Tommy Troppo?’ he asked.
‘Nobody,’ Lara replied.
‘He’s in your diary a lot for nobody.’
‘Have you been? ... MUM he’s been reading my private diary.’
The Grump was unapologetic. ‘I have and I know what you get up to when you’re babysitting.’
‘I don’t get up to anythi....MUM why didn’t you stop him?’
‘I didn’t know he was rea ...’
The Grump cut me off in mid denial. ‘You’re grounded until further notice.’
‘WHY?’ Lara was astounded.
‘Because I caught you snogging Tommy Tosspot.’
‘Troppo,’ I interrupted.
‘Troppo Tosspot.’
‘You didn’t catch me snogging him,’ argued Lara.
‘What’s snogging?’ asked Toby, my eight year old.
‘You don’t want to know, Toby,’ I told him.
‘Can I have a snog, Dad?’ he asked.
Lara glared at him. ‘Shut up, monkey boy.’

The Grump pointed to the laptop. ‘I read about it. The evidence is all there.’
‘I could take you to court for this,’ threatened Lara. ‘I’m allowed a private life.’
‘You’re fourteen and you’re not allowed anything unless I say you can have it, and I’m telling you now, Lara, you’re not allowed to have Tripping Troppo.’
‘I never get any snogging,’ moaned Toby. ‘It’s not fair. Why should Lara have it all?’
‘Shush Toby,’ I told him. ‘Snogging means kissing.’
‘Yuk.’ Toby was disgusted.

Lara reverted to type and blamed me for everything. ‘This is your fault.’
‘My faul...’
‘You let him read it.’
‘You left it logged in, Lara. Anyway, I agree with your father. You’re too young to be snogging Tommy Tosser.’
‘Troppo,’ I agreed.
Lara’s lips curled back into a snarl. ‘Kylie’s parents wouldn’t read her private diary.’
The Grump wasn’t going to fall for that one. ‘Kylie’s parents don’t give a rat’s arse about Kylie. They’re always in the pub.’
‘Because they trust her,’ spat Lara.
‘They don’t trust her, Lara, they’re both raving alcoholics, they just don’t care about her.’
‘I could report you to Childline.’ Lara glared at me accusingly.
‘You’ll thank us when Kylie, Mariah and Madonna are all pregnant before they leave school,’ said Gary feelingly. ‘Their parents will be to blame. What sort of people name their kids after pop singers?’

‘God, you’re so ... OLD!’ Lara stomped off. to her room.

‘You named Lara after the Tomb Raider woman,’ I reminded The Grump.
He blushed. ‘That’s different, Lara is a classy name.’

Toby wanted more information. ‘Why did Lara snog Tommy Tosspot?’
‘Never you mind young man, now off to bed, it’s school tomorrow.’
‘Can you come up and give me a goodnight snog? ‘ he asked.
I laughed, but The Grump didn't. ‘You’ll get a goodnight clip round the ear if you’re not careful.’

'You should read this diary,’ said The Grump, when peace had at last descended. ‘You could probably learn a thing or two. Have a look at the bit about wanting to drip honey all over his ...’
‘Is it that bad?’ I was shocked.
‘Not really bad, she hasn’t actually done much. It’s what she fantasises about doing with young Tommy that worries me. I must have led a very sheltered life. Like I said though, have a read and we’ll have an early night.’ He winked suggestively.
‘I’ve got a headache after all that shouting.’ I picked up the laptop and carried it to the kitchen.
I’m off to the pub,’ he sulked.

When he had gone I opened the laptop and stared at the page containing Lara’s diary. I pushed away the temptation to read it. If she had only gone as far as kissing then she really hadn’t done much. I’d already gone further than a snog when I was that age. By fourteen, I’d reached the groping stage, even though the boy concerned only got to feel my breasts through a thick jumper and a coat.

In the end I did the decent thing, clicked the log off button and went back to the home page. ‘ I read. Your secrets are safe with us.’
Tell Lara that, I thought as I clicked on the new account button.