Authors: Gill Davy-Bowker
âThey've assured me they'll be finished with the kitchen in five days, floor included. I couldn't leave it like that, Alan,' said Mel when Alan finally returned from his walkabout, decidedly calmer.
âI really didn't hear you tell me, you know. There's so much stuff going on at work at the moment you wouldn't believe it! Everyone's throwing money at things but it all seems to be on credit. That's why I blew up when I found out you'd spent money without discussing it with me. Yeah, I know you did tell me, but seventy grand on a kitchen is a lot of money.'
âWell, it's never been a problem before and you're never around to talk to. Do you remember when we first met at Covent Garden? You were so gorgeous in your stockbroker braces and things, talking big, throwing champagne around. “The sky's the limit”,' you said, “Nothing will stop me now, we're on the gravy train!” Everything's the same as usual. No one's said anything about any banks going wrong in the news.'
âThere's something wrong with investments that have been made. A bit like credit cards â¦ Too much has been lent out to too many people who can't pay it back,' explained Alan in the simplest terms he could muster.
âYes, but that's what credit cards are for. I had three offers of new credit cards just this morning. They're raking it in with the interest and everyone can afford the minimum payments. It'll be all right,' soothed Mel. Alan cringed, then smiled and changed the subject. âAnyway, this conversation
is bloody depressing me. I want to forget about Ponsonby Tosser Bank for a change. What did you say Kelly's Robert had been doing?'
âShe told me that he's dressing up in animal costumes, singing advertising jingles and curling up in the cupboard.'
âSounds like a bloody good idea to me. That would be quite an interesting sexual fetish, don't you think? I could be a sexy wombat and you could be a demure penguin and we could squeeze up in the understairs cupboard and you could peck me and I could do what wombats do â¦ What do wombats do, by the way?' asked Alan, genuinely warming to the idea.
âAnd you said that it was fast food causing the children's madness! They haven't a hope, genetically, of escaping insanity with you as a father!'
âYou can talk, Madam! It wasn't me who had the entire kitchen ripped out on a whim.'
âOK, point accepted. Let's go to bed,
marsupial!' suggested Mel, trying to do an impression of a flirtatious penguin.
She didn't have to say it twice. And afterwards, they looked into the front garden and felt sure that the Portaloo was glowing slightly in an extraterrestrial sort of a way.
âI love you, wombat,' said Mel. Alan kissed her on the nose. âWe really have to find out where Robert gets his costumes from,' he muttered dreamily before going to sleep.
âMorning!' shouted the builders horribly bright and early next morning.
âOh God, I forgot about them! It's only half past seven! They'll be switching the water off and we haven't even washed yet!'
With that Alan disappeared into the bathroom.
âWell, I can't go to work stinking of wombat, can I? You don't have to spread your scent in the wider community â¦ you'll be at home all day,' he reasoned. Mel felt like thumping him. He'd had his way and decided that it was safe for him to be insensitive again. She threw her dressing gown on and dashed down to open the door. Her hair was distinctly dishevelled and she was very glad that she wasn't famous and a target for
magazine this morning. She was relieved that she wasn't likely to have every little weight change, bad hair day, body hair day or spot broadcast across the entire planet. Funny world, she thought, that someone could be famous just for being famous and that no one had anything better to do than put more money in their pockets just because they looked more minging today or wasted due to some substance abuse problem.
She put the kettle on, still wondering to herself how pop stars ended up being more famous for their noses hanging off from shoving cocaine up them than for the talent that first got them there.
âMine's white with two sugars please, love,' said a workman. âNot camomile though!' he laughed, looking at the barely-used box of said beverage bags. âNasty stuff that!'
And so the day began. Amy and Michael came down and she decided that the best plan would be to get them dressed and go out for breakfast. The noise and dust had already begun and Mel wondered why she'd done this. She vowed never to make cakes again. Her mother had made biscuit-type sponges and so had her gran â¦ Surely she should have been warned by such precedents.
âYou're frightening Willy!' shouted Amy to the builders above the din. She cupped her hands protectively around Willy's little velvet pouch and then screeched,
âLook â¦ there's one of Willy's friends running from the pipe! He's homeless! Mummy, stop them!'
Yes, thought Mel as Amy picked the creature up tenderly, I will have to plan other things with Kelly and Co for today. It would be far too distressing to stay at home. God only knew how many insects could be suffering as the day progressed. By the look of the animals, they would also have to go out somewhere.
âSee you later, love. Another day at the mines. You planning anything good today?' asked Alan as he raced through the door.
âI really have no idea.'
âHow about the beach?' Alan suggested. âBlow the cobwebs away! Wish I could come!' And for once, Alan sounded as though he really meant it.
âYay! We want to go to the beach! Can we, Mummy!? Please!' shouted the children.
âOK. Let's tell Kelly about it and get the animals ready.'
The children had already gone to rummage for buckets and spades, long hidden beneath piles of toys. Michael's fishing net was broken so he started to cry.
âWe can get another one,' Mel soothed as she frantically looked for swimsuits, towels, mobile phone and decided to buy picnic stuff from the supermarket because no edible food was left in the kitchen.
âDon't worry, love â¦ the house will be safe with us! We'll make sure it's locked up this evening and your kitchen will be tidy,' promised the builders. Mel was doubtful. The kitchen looked like a bad day in Baghdad. But hope springs eternal, as they say.
âYep. I'd love to come to the beach,' enthused Kelly on the other end of the mobile. It seemed Kelly wanted to be anywhere but at home with her mad advertising executive husband and the exploding kids.
A lot of people had had the same idea, apparently. The roads to Brighton were loaded with vehicles carrying varying numbers of children, animals (both real and inflatable) and dinghies. They got stuck behind a car where the children were pulling faces through the windows and the Alsatian dog had its head sticking out of the passenger side window, with its tongue being pulled sideways in the wind as they drove along at little more than a speedy snail's pace. Every so often a big glob of dog spit landed on Mel's windscreen and this, along with the corpses of a million insects, made it increasingly blurry, no matter how many times she sprayed the windscreen wash at it. After an hour and a half, they finally broke free from the London stranglehold of streets and got onto the relatively free road down to Brighton. Almost immediately there was a clamour from Amy and Matilda to go to the services and since Mel could hardly see through the windscreen, she was not averse to doing just that. Several trips to the toilet and drinks and toys later, they were on their way again.
At last the sea appeared on the horizon, glistening and inviting. It's so good living on an island. You're never too far from the sea, geographically speaking, although the road system may have other ideas.
Parking was the next problem. The world and all its inflatable animals seemed to have descended on Brighton and finding a parking space was like hacking through the Burmese jungle looking for a very tiny object that had camouflaged
itself. After another hour, they had finally parked and were searching the small print on all the parking signs so as not to get a parking ticket from the ever-vigilant âNazi' parking people that lurked in every corner and dark alley. Too many times had Mel been caught by some tiny piece of small print on an unimaginably small sign hidden in the tortuous branches of some tree. Bits of small print which said, âParking permitted anytime between 0200hrs and 0200hrs on same day only' and âYour vehicle will be towed away and crushed into tiny little pieces if you park here but we will make it look like a convincing parking spot so we can have a laugh at your expense! Ha! Ha! Ha!'
So she got Kelly to search the undergrowth and skyline for possible signs before she paid at the meter and carefully placed her ample time ticket in exactly the correct position stipulated on the instructions. She felt like taking a photo of the site of the car and the ticket just in case she had a run in with some raving Hitler later on, but no, she thought. I'm just being paranoid! Relax, she told herself.
They unloaded picnics, buckets and spades and set off for the beach. After a further half an hour, they finally found a spot to sit in amongst the heaving bodies. Flapping around them were the canvasses of a million tents, shelters and windbreaks. It was like a cross between Glastonbury Festival and the Crimean War campaign and just as smelly in places. They were not going to be able to relax because the children would immediately be lost if they wandered so much as two feet away from their tiny piece of territory. Mel searched about her to work out their position on the beach in case anyone were to stray. There were Lost Children's Stations, which made her relax a little, but she could see that either Kelly or herself would spend the day paddling and building shingle sandcastles. People were trying to fly kites which kept tangling together and plummeting onto innocent bystanders and the pebbly beach was playing havoc with her piles, but
they were there and no matter what, there is always an exhilarating feeling of freedom when you can see the sea, albeit in little snatches between sweaty bodies and camp sites.
âIce cream?' suggested Kelly.
âIce cream?! Yes that would be nice,' and Mel tried to throw care to the wind and not think of the many strategic difficulties that may rear their ugly heads between them and their goal.
âOK!' she said. âI'd better stay here.' That was obvious really, because the children were already trying to cover each other with mounds of pebbles. So Mel laid out blankets on the ground as much as she could in their tiny space and managed to negotiate a little more space by gently moving the neighbouring people's bits and pieces a fraction further away. She managed to get away with this infringement of territory and at last could attempt to relax.
âI'm hungry, Mummy!' wailed Michael. So out came the picnic. Things in packets from the supermarket usually had more hope of being eaten than her own home-made sandwiches wrapped in foil, but she knew the likelihood of having to buy chips in cones and candyfloss was extremely high.
Where was Kelly? She had left nearly half an hour ago. It was nearly one o'clock. Hope she can find us, thought Mel. She stood up and turned 360 degrees, slowly searching for her friend. The children were totally absorbed in sandcastle building so that was one thing she could stop worrying about for the moment. There's probably a huge queue or something. She'll be back soon, she reassured herself.
Aha! Mobile phone! She'd phone Kelly. The hunt through the handbag pit began. She prayed she had it with her. Aha! Thank goodness for that!
âCredit running low. Please top up!' it demanded. Still, must be enough to get hold of Kelly. She let it ring â¦ no answer. Don't say she doesn't have it with her! She tried again â¦ charge was running low too. Come on, Kelly! Where are you? It was nearly an hour now since she'd gone for ice creams. The children were getting antsy and she couldn't leave all the stuff on the beach to take them for a paddle. Suddenly, the phone was answered by what sounded like a whole rave party. She listened intently and could just about hear Kelly, but more slurred than usual, shouting over the din.
âYeah mate, yeah! I'll be there soon. Just met some mates!'
âKelly â¦ where the hell are you? You onlyâ¦'
âCan't hear you, darling. Your phone must be on the blink!' And the phone went dead. Not only that, the last spark of charge also disappeared. Mel had brought her bikini â¦ she'd throw caution re her cellulite problem to the wind and thought, sod it! Why not? There's much worse wearing even less out there! She'd seen and marvelled at many a woman, sporting
a bulging beer gut above hipster jeans, not batting an eyelid in the middle of Oxford Street. Her little wobbly bits were nothing to be ashamed of.
Right â¦ I'm changing, she decided. I'm going to get myself a tan then at least I can look as if I've enjoyed myself. She contorted herself in all different poses, trying to hold the small towel demurely about her person, battling with bra catches and finally resorted to holding the towel in her teeth. Why she was so bothered she didn't know. There were people kissing in a very intimate sort of a way all around her. No one was looking, apart from perhaps the old man with a knotted hanky on his bald head and the odd granny peering over thick glasses. There were also children and so she persevered in preserving her dignity as much as she could. Why was it that whenever you're in a situation like this you can't stand on one leg long enough to put your pants on, when normally you could hold a yoga pose in like manner for ten minutes? Finally she was ready. White, dimpled flesh exposed to the entire world. Oh Kelly, come back! She really wanted an ice cream and she'd finished all the lukewarm soft drinks that the children had discarded. She lay down as comfortably as she could manage in the tiny space on piles of sharp pebbles. She would have to enter a Zen phase to cope with the pain. Now she understood why people had brought so much equipment with them to camp on the beach. It wasn't some strange hark back to the days of the British Empire when people used to trek up mountains with mahogany dining tables and chairs; silver services; full crystal glassware; tureens; servants; linen napkins and gramophones. The things brought to the beach now were essential to human life! She took a deep breath and sighed, letting the tension go from her body, listening to the children playing. The sea could just about be heard above the kissing, slurping, farting, oozing people around her. She was just thanking her lucky stars that she'd left the animals at home and that was the last thing
she remembered before she felt ice-cold shock on her exposed tummy. She screeched as she jumped out of sleep. âAh!'
âCome on, Sleeping Beauty! About time to wake up â¦ Hic!' slurred a rather cross-eyed and bedraggled Kelly.
âWhere the hell have you been!? â¦ Oh my God! The kids!'
âS'awright, they're all there, no thanks to you eh, sweetie?!' she drawled.
Well, thanks a lot, Kelly! Great help and support you've been! She looked about her and saw three rather hefty-looking women. She wasn't really sure what gender they were. They seemed to have boobs, but they were built like brick shithouses and their hair was cut, if one can call it that, in a uniform grade 1. They all looked identical and they all looked equally violent and aggressive.
âOh â¦ Mel â¦ yeah â¦ meet my mates. I met them in the pub there. I've got you six cans of Stella!' dribbled Kelly.
âHiya, love. You 'er girlfriend then?' said one of the huge scary androgynous forms blocking out the sunlight.
âEr â¦ girlfriend? No â¦ course not!' blurted Mel. Oh my God! Kelly had picked up with a bunch of very liberated lesbians. âAnd I don't want Stella, Kelly. I'm driving!' she despaired.
âPlease yourself!' Kelly said, flopping to the ground. âAll the more for us, eh girls!'
Mel was sure the eyes of everyone on the beach were upon them at this moment. The children were certainly looking quizzically at the scene.
âIce cream!' they demanded in unison. How was she going to get an ice cream? She could hardly leave a totally pissed Kelly in charge of four under-eights. Matilda looked as if she was used to it but Ivan looked as if he was about to cry.
âAre you a man or a lady?' Amy piped up.
âI'm a lady, sweet pea,' answered one of Kelly's new friends in a gruff voice. âMy name is Sophie.' Sophie? how could she be called Sophie? Sophies were dainty, fairy-like creatures
dressed in pink, surely? Oh well, thought Mel, I suppose it's quite sweet that she's kept her own name â¦ She was sure she should have renamed herself Greg or Dave or something. Sophie smiled. She knew what must be passing through Mel's head. She'd seen it all before.
âIce cream, please!' they pleaded.
âOK â¦ Kelly â¦ can you look after the bits and pieces while I take the kids for an ice cream and a paddle?'
âYerk,' answered Kelly.
âShall I come with you?' offered Sophie.
âNo, I'll be fine thanks. You just relax,' squeaked Mel, dragging the children away as fast as she could.
âWas that really a lady, Mummy? She had a beard!' asked Amy innocently. Mel really wasn't sure whether this was the time to get into a discussion with small children about gender issues. She was still dreading the day when Amy asked her where babies came from, so anything more complex was not going to be on the agenda. So she chose to pretend that she hadn't heard and reached the ice cream van before Amy could open her mouth again. There was a long queue, but luckily there was a Punch and Judy show they could just about see and hear. Mel thought how very true to life it was. Especially the crocodile and the sausages. There was probably some deep psycho social meaning behind the theme of the crocodile's affinity with sausages, but, at present, it was just too mindblowing to contemplate.
What the hell was Kelly doing? Had she only just picked this scary gang off the street or were they friends she had known for a long time? What was Kelly doing being totally plastered in the middle of the day? And she'd thought that Kelly's husband had the problems!
âMummy! I want candyfloss! Can I have candyfloss, please?' begged Amy.
âI want a fishing net!' joined in Michael.
Well, what was the harm? And Kelly could damn well wait for them now.
âOK. Then you can have a go on a roundabout if you like.'
âYay!' they agreed. Ivan and Matilda seemed quite happy with any arrangement, so the five of them had a lovely time together. Amy and Michael were completely covered in pink sticky goo by the time they decided to return.
Good grief, it was difficult to orientate yourself on this beach. Where was their spot? How had Kelly managed to find her way back in the state she was in?
âMel!' growled a deep resonating voice from afar.
âMel!' She could see Sophie in the distance and was glad that Sophie was so big and so loud.
Kelly was asleep on her back with her mouth wide open, snoring loudly, a can delicately tipped over with its contents seeping into her hair. The rest of the girlies were sitting around drinking and burping. It was a charming scene. Mel looked at her watch. Oh my God! The âParking Gestapo' would be clamping her car anytime soon! They had to get packed up and back and Kelly was bloody unconscious. First, she would have to degunge the children in the sea because the bees were trying to pollinate them. While she was doing that, she'd have to come up with a plan pretty damn quick.
âWe've got to leave soon before the car gets clamped,' she informed Kelly's new friends.
âCool â¦ we'll help. We'll carry Kelly if we can't wake her up. How about it, girls?' Problem solved! Mel hoped so.
So that's how Kelly ended up head down over the shoulder of a burly lesbian covered in bike chains and leather. She hung like a rag doll, swaying with the movement of the woman carrying her.
âBit of a goer, your girlfriend, eh?' observed the gargantuan woman to Mel. âIf I were you, I'd keep her on a short leash. “Flirt” is too small a word for this one! Sorry to tell you this, love, but perhaps you should look around for someone else? You could get anyone you wanted, you know.' Mel
reddened. Please God let this be over soon! she thought. âWhat's your name?' asked the woman.
âMel. Um, what's yours?' Oh my God, she thought, it sounds like you're interested in her! You'll be asking her if she comes here often in a minute.
âTracey. Pleased to meet you, Mel,' she smiled, gold teeth glinting in the sunshine.
âYep,' said Mel, abruptly, looking to the ground. There was a yawling sound from Tracey's little burden and vomit proceeded to drip enticingly down Tracey's back.
âOh dear!' said Mel.
âDon't worry darling. No harm done. Happens to me all the time!' laughed Tracey. Amy and Michael were unnaturally quiet following this strange gang with Ivan and Matilda to the car. Mel racked her brains trying to remember where the car was parked. Finally she saw a familiar-looking area and there was her car, in one piece and unclamped and â¦ hoorah! No ticket on the windscreen. There was, however, a rather pointy-nosed, pinched character of a traffic warden getting frighteningly close to the vehicle, so Mel ran on ahead and opened the car doors. The traffic warden stared at her and Mel stared back at the traffic warden. An unblinking, unflinching Clint Eastwood-style stand-off followed and if it hadn't been for the happy band of burly women carrying a vomiting wretch fireman-style and four rather out-of-place small children, this impasse may have progressed to something more serious. But it seemed the warden thought better of getting a ticket in at the last chance, much as he may have enjoyed it. He turned and left.
âRight,' growled Tracey, not even slightly out of breath, and since they'd just walked a mile and Kelly could hardly be described as a featherweight, that was quite a feat.
âWhere do you want her?' she asked. Mel felt pretty strongly that she didn't really want Kelly anywhere. Certainly not in her lovely, beautifully upholstered car.
I suppose that's the advantage of leather upholstery, she reasoned. It's quite easy to rid of pools of bodily fluids.
She took some towels and a beach mat out of her bag and laid them over the back seat.
âIf you can squash her up a bit so the kids can get in their seats, it would help! Thanks so much,' Mel gushed as though this sort of thing happened to her every day. She tried to ignore the stares of passers-by at the strange scene and thanked her lucky stars that her car hadn't been clamped into the bargain. Obligingly, Tracey and the others folded Kelly's legs and arms so that she ended up on her side in a foetal position, perfectly placed between the child seats and on top of the makeshift sandy protective covering.
âThanks, girls!' she smiled perkily. Well, it was better to end up in a situation like this with a mob of strong, buxom, scary but practical women, than with the sort of spa-going, nail bar attenders she normally hung out with. But, on the other hand, if she'd been with her normal, frilly bunch, she wouldn't have been in this position in the first place.
âThat's OK,' said the girls. âHere's my number!' competed Tracey and Sophie in unison. âIf you ever want more commitment in a relationship, just call!' Tracey winked. So did Sophie. Then they left.
âMummy! Kelly's smelly! Do we have to sit next to her?' shouted Amy.
âNo choice, darling. Well, I suppose I could put one of your seats in the front â¦'
âYes, Mummy! Me! Me!' bellowed Amy.
âNo, Mummy! Me!' argued Michael.
Ivan and Matilda quietly sneaked into the very back of the car. This was going to take some careful consideration, as Mel's brain was fried and all she wanted was a relatively peaceful and tantrum-free drive home. As Amy was the child who could cause more harm and devastation in one minute than Michael could, she decided upon putting Amy in the
front although she knew it wasn't very fair.
âOK, Amy â¦ you can sit in the front but Michael can have an extra treat for having to stay in the back with the smell, OK?' Amazingly, this seemed to resolve the dispute quite nicely and they headed back for London with the radio on, trying to cover up the gentle retching sounds exuding from Kelly as they drove.
Kelly was just starting to wake up as they approached her house. She looked dreadful, with long, beaded strands of dribble all over her face and her hair matted to the side of her head where the beer had dried and set. The other side of her head had a great frizz ball of hair sticking out at a wayward angle. Amy and Michael mercifully dozed off and she had hardly had a peep out of Ivan and Matilda. Mel fervently hoped that Robert would be in so he could get Kelly inside, cleaned up and put to bed and could reassure and comfort the children. It can't have been very nice for them to see their mum in that state. She was worried that they seemed so subdued.
Hooray! she thought. The lights were on and Robert's car was parked in the driveway.