Fringe Benefits

9 October Mr Young is off to Germany on a business trip. I wouldn’t say I have an obsessive personality, although whenever any of us is travelling anywhere – particularly abroad – I suffer from a Tourettes-style trait which means I have to bellow “Tickets? Passport? Phone? Money?” every fifteen minutes at the relevant traveller (even if it’s myself, so the bellowing can also be directed at my mirror image). Poor Mr Young therefore takes twice as long to pack because he has to patiently produce his travel documents every quarter of an hour, Groundhog-Day-style, but eventually he gets his case into the car and sets off. With me running along behind, still shouting “Tickets? Passport?” etc. Once he’s disappeared round the corner, I dash upstairs to look under my pillow for the romantic note he always leaves me whenever he’s away for the night – oh, no, sorry, I was just remembering my brief sojourn in that parallel universe… 11 October Mrs L is having a birthday tea party this weekend. She wants us to bring cakes, and wearing hats is optional. It sounds terrifyingly genteel and I feel under some pressure to provide a cake to match the occasion. I spend a long time googling special teatime recipes. “What about Wild Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn White Chocolate Truffles?” I ask work colleagues. This is met with a quite spectacular silence, so I have to abandon the idea. I’m secretly relieved, as I have no idea of the type of hat that would suit such an exotic concotion. Some sort of frothily towering structure of satin, net and feathers, I suppose. Like a Women’s Institute version of Lady Gaga. There wasn’t anything like that in John Lewis the last time I was in there. Maybe I could wow them all with a balaclava and a Jaffa cake? Simple but effective. A bit hot, and a potential crumb-catcher though. So much to think about.

15 October It’s cake day! I’ve planned to make little iced petit fours, which I shall do in pastel shades, and they will be incredibly sweet and no one will even notice that I'm not wearing a hat. Unfortunately, I’ve underestimated the preparation time, so am in a bit of a rush this morning. I don’t seem to have the right size baking tray, so make do with a roasting tin and the finished sponge rectangle is very lop-sided. I turn it out onto the cooling tray and try not to imagine Mary Berry’s look of incredulity. Once it’s cooled, I can throw away the half that hasn’t risen enough, I tell myself. There should still enough petit fours for a generous plateful. But there is now a problem with the icing. I don’t have the right ingredients – which are the things that clog up your cupboard all year round until you actually need them, at which point they mysteriously disappear – and my food colouring bottles consist of yellow and green. The only colour combinations for my petit fours will therefore be yellow, green and a sort of gangrenous yellowy-green – not at all the pretty little pink cakes I’d imagined. Naturally, I have left myself with only half an hour left to finish and decorate them and get myself ready. The kitchen, my hair – and Archie – are covered in a fine coating of icing sugar, and I have precisely five tiny and uneven squares of sponge, all garnished with yellowy-green blobs of congealing icing studded with stray crumbs. (At this point, Mary Berry would made an urgent call to a photographer for her How Not To book on baking.) I run upstairs and shake the icing sugar out of my hair and get changed. A hat is out of the question; I only just remember to put on my shoes. “Quick!” I shout at Mr Young. “We have to go to the Co-Op and buy emergency cakes!” I turn up at the party girl's house, hoping to lose myself and my plastic container of slightly stale looking chocolate rice crispie cakes (the Co-Op’s selection is a bit depleted) among the crowd of genteel and elegant ladies who are each carrying magnificent home-baked contributions. Fortunately there is champagne, so I console myself with several glasses, two slices of coffee and walnut cake, three cup cakes, and a Devonshire split. And the genteel chat among the group in my corner (conveniently next to the coffee and walnut cake) quickly stops becoming genteel and – after my third glass of champagne – the four of us become quite raucous. There are a few risqué anecdotes, including one (mysteriously) about Crayola crayons, all accompanied by a lot of cackling, but the sugar rush leaves me with a patchy memory of the whole afternoon so that three hours passes by in a flash. I stagger home with three cup cakes and a squashed slice of chocolate cheesecake for Mr Young.

18 October Johnnie Boden is still writing to me! I’m so touched, because I haven’t actually bought anything from him for quite a while now. Not since my red leather tote bag and the espadrilles I had to send back because they were too small. But now he’s even offering free delivery. Good old Johnnie. He’s so thoughtful.

I wouldn’t put it past him to drive over to my house himself with a jolly printed wrapover dress, or some wacky two-toned wedge shoes.

19 October Mr Young has the new iPhone, which means that he can now speak to it and tell it what he wants it to do, and it will carry out his commands. I’m not quite sure why he’s so taken with this, as he’s been doing this with me for years. Still, that’s men and gadgets for you.

I also have an iPhone, as does Lucy, and we both have an app that allows us to enter calories eaten, exercise taken, and then tells us how much weight we should have lost. Accordingly to my app, I have lost half a stone over the last two weeks. I haven’t, though. This is strange and can mean only one of two things: either the app doesn’t work, or I haven’t been putting in everything I’ve been eating. Clearly, the app isn’t working properly. Everyone knows that cake and snacks and other people’s left-over mashed potato don’t count. Nor do cold sausages that you find in the fridge. And wine definitely doesn’t have any calories. Stupid app.

22 October My birthday is coming up, but I don’t like to make a fuss. Apart from emailing everyone with my birthday list, ringing them, texting them, and re-emailing them, I like to keep it low-key. So I’m very pleased that all three children are coming home next weekend to see me. Although, I hope they don’t make a fuss either. I’m really quite laid-back about the whole thing.

23 October The iron isn’t working this morning, which is very annoying as I have a whole pile of Mr Young’s creased shirts to get through. He’s already pointed this out. “There’s no steam,” he says. “I did try and do some yesterday, but had to give up.” I have a look at the three shirts he’s “ironed”. They are hanging sadly in the utility room and look as if he’s slept with them under his pillow. I put them back on top of the ironing pile. Will-power can achieve a great deal, so I mentally command the iron to work. It stubbornly refuses. So I google the problem, and find that apparently a solution of vinegar and water will help to descale its inner workings. “But everything will smell of vinegar!” Lucy says. “No, it won’t,” I tell her. “It will all be rinsed out afterwards. When it’s working again.” I spend half an hour in the kitchen, watching occasional splashes of brown water drip into the sink. There is a strong smell of vinegar. “I need to do some ironing later,” says Lucy pointedly. “Don’t worry,” I say with an optimism that I don’t actually feel. “It will be working in a jiffy.” This is odd, because jiffy is a word I don’t think I have ever used before. The vinegar fumes must have gone to my head. Unfortunately, my plan doesn’t work. There is no steam, just a very pungent smell that has now spread through the entire house. I google the new situation. Mr Young arrives back from wherever he’s been hiding. “What’s that smell?” he says. “We need to undo the screw to get the back of the iron off and sort out the coil behind the aluminium plate,” I say, having just discovered this on some obscure website. “OK,” he says obligingly. So obligingly, in fact, that I know that wherever he’s been, he’s been doing something enjoyable that he feels slightly guilty about. I will have to interrogate him after he’s mended the iron. He reappears five minutes later. “I didn’t have to take the back off,” he says. “It was already loose.” He demonstrates by pulling the plate away from the body of the iron. “Looks like its had some sort of knock,” he says. Damn! I think. “Damn!” I say. “I’ll have to come clean. All right, it was me. I dropped the iron. I just didn’t want to tell anyone.” (I really hoped I’d be able to keep this quiet. It’s quite a new iron.) Mr Young goes off and borrows the iron from next door. I google “How to get rid of the smell of vinegar”.

24 October I am having a bit of a Fringe Problem. I’m growing it out at the moment, but this means that it just falls over one eye most of the time. Paul, my hairdresser, assures me that once it grows another inch, it will be long enough to sweep glamorously to one side and – hopefully – stay there. But until then, it just stays stubbornly glued to my left cheek. This effectively means that I am having a problem with depth perception and spend a lot of time walking into things. It also means that when its windy, my fringe covers my entire face and I am temporarily blinded. I ask Ms J at work if I should have the Fringe cut short. (Ms J, incidentally, has a perfect fringe that obediently stays exactly where it’s supposed to.) “Oh, no,” she says. “Keep it like it is. It looks sexy.” Unfortunately, sexy and using a keyboard don’t really go together unless I actually do mean to type Imq;ess P tea;;u zm tupimg, so I spend the morning with a large bulldog clip keeping my hair out of my eyes and pretending I don’t care if people are laughing at me. I will keep going with the Fringe for the time being, though. I quite like the idea of looking sexy. Especially at my age. (Did I mention my birthday’s coming up? Probably not. I don’t like to make a fuss.)

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