Thursday, October 30, 2008

Poor Banks....

"Mum, can you pick me up please?"

8.30 a.m.

The two night camping trip had lasted just 12 hours.... We had said of course. Camping on the coldest night so far this year is not exactly my idea of a picnic. But then being parents, of the older generation: those boring old and unfashionable remnants of society that we are.... how on earth would we know anything about what might or might not entertain a teenager? Of course, I hadn't quite bargained for what I was met with as three teenage boys piled into my car whilst their "stuff" was piled into the back.

As I drove along, I smelt a faint "whiff" of alcoholic breath. "It's a good job that none of you boys are driving" I said. "I am not sure that any of you would pass a breathalyser."

We stopped at the first drop off, and unloaded the goods and the boy........ looking seriously worse for wear.

After he had gone, the other two then proceeded to tell me the real reason for their early homecoming, and it seems that my son and friend, uniquely had managed to drink, well ..... shall we say, "slightly less" than the others. "Drinking sensibly" would be too strong in the circumstances. It did appear though that they had more or less saved some of the the others' bacon. Ten boys camping and drinking far too much...... Not a pretty sight.... I was assured as I did the washing later that day, that the "debris" shall we call it, on the sleeping bag, was out of others mouths and not my own son's. "So it's all right Mum, at least it's not my sick." As Esos's friend pointed out, from a domestic viewpoint, your own son's vomit is possibly slightly easier to deal with than that of AN Other's random teenager's vomit...... LOVELY!

So that was a good start to the day... Meanwhile, life should have been rosy in one respect, as it was payday. And so, I went to check my bank statement online, so that I could make a payment to someone.

But the bank wasn't playing.... it appeared my account had been made "dormant" for no apparent reason. It was very confusing. I have had a few run ins with banks over the years, but this was the first time that the account had been made dormant....

I picked up the phone.

"Oh yes, Mrs. Lomax. I'm really sorry, but it's because you have moved house, we need to check your identity at a branch."

"But I haven't moved house" said I. "I have lived in the same house for six years."

"Well it says here that a piece of post was returned to us, and so as such you need to go into the branch with a passport and address ID to verify your new name and address."

I muttered plenty about it being half term and having all the children home, and friends, and that the last thing that I had time to do right now was to drive six miles to the nearest branch. And that I DIDN'T have a new name and address.

Now.... ironically..... the "payment" that I needed to pay was to another bank account of ours. You see, Hubby and I are complete masochists. Not satisfied are we with the poor treatment of one bank, we spread our misery around and actually have a few accounts in our name.... for different purposes.... sort of.....

But, I digress... The reason that I needed to make a payment was because last Friday, we had been expecting Hubby's expenses into the "other" account, but by 2 p.m. they hadn't arrived. At this point panic mode set in, and I phoned our bank's branch. This particular branch is the NatWest, who uniquely amongst the banking fraternity seem to have worked out that customers are actually people. Well, mostly. At least, the manager at our particular branch has worked that out. So, as long as you phone in banking hours, and ask to speak to the Ross on Wye branch Manager you will get completely human treatment.

And so it was that I rang her last Friday. "One of our payments is going to bounce." I had said. "We need to cancel something quickly otherwise it will cost us £35.." She and I agreed a strategy to cancel something, and she meanwhile recommended that we also change our insurance company and managed to save us £40 a month into the bargain. Clever woman.

Roll forward to Monday...... the day that the said payment was due to go out. The money was in the account (late, but there) after all. I rang Mrs. Bank Manager again. "Don't worry she said. It's not too late. I can uncancel it and it can be paid."

But lo and behold.... Head Office Natwest thought differently, and despite there being funds in place, and despite Mrs. BM having "paid" the bill, they decided not to pay the bill.....

To cut a long story short, by the time I had caught up with this company and paid the bill, they had charged me extra for the privilege, and the bottom line was that we were just £3.50 short to pay our final bill of the month. We run a very tight ship in the Lomax bank accounts, despite what the banks actually think. We move Heaven and earth to try to avoid those £35 charges, but usually fail at the last hurdle.... It's a tough game they play. If we were in the days of Robin Hood, they would probably be the Sheriff of Nottingham....... but sadly there is no Robin to get those charges back. Yet....... (But just you wait Mr. Sheriff the law could be changing......)

The hassle that that £3.50 caused me....

I feel really a bit sorry for the banks really. It must be quite tough being overdrawn by
£40, 000000000. Their charges must be phenomenal.

So this is why I was in Ross on Wye at 4 p.m. this afternoon, literally running from one bank to another.

The first bank were sorting out if I was indeed a real person and if the passport that I was carrying was indeed me and if I had, as I said I had (although I appreciate that my word cannot be trusted without the robotic quoting of fifteen letters and numbers), lived in the same house for 6 years, and been married for 22. Or if in fact I was really a hologram with a false passport.... It must have its uses at times, being a hologram with a false passport, but um.... not in Ross on Wye on a Thursday afternoon................

I left them to it and asked them to phone me once they had decided if I was allowed to spend my salary or not this month....

Meanwhile, having raided the dog's piggy bank (the children's having been long since been spent out) for the last few coppers in the house, I went to the Natwest and paid in the necessary funds to allow the bill to be paid when it is requested very shortly......

And there I found out that not only had Friday's direct debit not been paid, but that that particular direct debit now remained cancelled and that the NatWest were unable to reset it up ............ because.................... the company that had needed paying had cancelled the direct debit themselves.



You will be........

(Answers in a postage stamp (or in the comments box) please for which programme that last little quote came from, and when.....)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Star Treatment

"I'll get a coach said Hubby. Save the cashflow."

Cashflow is always a big thing in our house, and so even when someone else is ultimately picking up the tab for Hubby's "very important Government business.... shhhhhhh" we do still tend to take the low budget options at all times.

We are so boring.

So, he booked a ticket from Gloucester. £9.50 return "Funfare" from Gloucester to London on a National Express Coach. Fantastic. You can't really go wrong. Well... until he got a phone call, asking him to be in London an hour longer than previously expected. So... he booked an additional later single from London. That one cost another £4.50. We were still winning even on our tight budget.

As he left at 6.15 a.m. I dragged myself out of the bath and started to get on with the day. It all seemed relatively easy, especially as everyone had made an effort to get up early and get themselves organised. Quite the domestic scene really. There was I ironing (!) my skirt for work, Sensible was making a cup of tea, ESOS was working out how to bring himself into a compos mentis state for the day and Gymnast and Tinkerbell Mushroom were getting themselves some breakfast....

Then the phone rang.

"There's been an accident on the A40. I'm going to miss the coach."

Hubby was on the A40 to Gloucester. Traffic jams have been seriously common along the A40 for weeks. You see, what they are trying to do is to make two lanes and a bus lane into, as I understand it, two lanes and um... a bus lane. And, even without accidents added to the mix, it's taking six months, driving people semi suicidal in their attempts to get to work on time and costing the tax payer a fortune......

"I'll go onto the internet, and see if I can find out where the next stop is."

Crank up seriously slow computer... and eventually find out that it stops first at Longlevens and then at Cheltenham. Call Hubby back.

He aims for Longlevens... but misses it there.

"Where can I park in Cheltenham?" He says on his next call.

Having spent five weeks earlier in the year, acting in a play for minimum pay, I am, despite my serious navigational handicap disadvantages, actually an expert at where to park in Cheltenham for a day, for free. So I direct Hubby to my very secret free parking spots.

"No" he said. "I haven't got time to walk from there, and get the bus at 7.30 a.m." "O.k." I said, "go to the NCP and park there for the day. You can claim it back."

I go back to the business of getting myself and everyone else organised for the day. Sensible and ESOS disappeared off on the bus, leaving me with just Tinks and Gymnast. I needed to get out by 7.55 a.m., as I had to drop them off at school seriously early, at 8 a.m., so that I could get to work.

7.35 another call. "The driver wouldn't let me on the bus, because my ticket was to travel from Gloucester. I would have had to have bought a full ticket for £20." At this point, had it been me, I have to say that I may have said, "Stuff the cashflow. Take me away driver..." But Hubby is more prudent than me... and he knew that he had only £23 on him, of which he needed £14 for the day's parking, and that was his budget for the day without causing ripples for the Lomax financial front.... And so he was by this time walking back to the car, with a view to possibly going back to Gloucester to get the coach there at 8 a.m.

"No, don't do that" I said. "I'll ring National Express and see what I can do. You go and move the car to my very good and very free parking spaces and I'll sort out the tickets for you."

I rang the enquiry line. There would be no-one there until 8 a.m. Hubby would have to sort it out himself. I would text him the number. But ... it was one of my old friends, an 0845 number, which of course would cost dearly on a mobile... So I went in search of a new number on the "say no to 0870 website." I found a number, and just in case it didn't work (which sometimes they don't, because for some reason companies want us to use the lines that cost them more and put money into the phone companies pocket, and cost us more in the process) I checked the number by calling it, before I called hubby again. And lo and behold, my standard 0121 number was in fact a 24 hour helpline. "Oh said the woman" (imagine Birmingham accent here), it's a great pity you didn't phone before he tried to board bus at Cheltenham. I could have called them and asked them to let him board...." "Yes, but I didn't have your number then ... I started to mutter weakly... while storing the VERY USEFUL number in my mobile phone for future use. "The thing is, I said, I need to get him another ticket from Cheltenham, and really I want to get him another cheap fare, but you have to book those online, and I can't get the voucher to him...." "Oh you can" said my helpful Birmingham lady. "Ask to have the ticket sent by text to his mobile phone."

Absolutely brilliant.

It was by now however, quarter to eight and I realised that the lunches weren't finished for Tinks and Gymnast. I barked instructions to Gymnast. "There's one sandwich made" I said. "Can you put that into your lunchbag and get fruit and stuff organised for both of you? The bread is cut. I'll make the other sandwich in a minute." "Don't worry Mummy, said Gymnast, we'll do the other sandwich." I thought for second that I perhaps ought to tell them what to put in it, and then decided that for one day, it would be just fine ... whatever it was.

So..... I spent another £11......... By now the cheap ticket to London and back had actually cost £25...

I called Hubby.

"Right, I said. "You are on the 8.30 from Cheltenham. It's all paid for, and you will get a text in a minute or so to give you the details. If it doesn't work call me back and I have a number for you to ring, but right now I have got to GO."

I went into the kitchen to find Gymnast and Tinks struggling with the clingfilm for the sandwich. "It just doesn't seem to want to go round the sandwich" said Gymnast. I took over, got the last few bits together, threw some lettuce into what appeared to be a half made pasta salad from one of the older kids, for me, got two children into the car and went. I left all the cereal packets and used bowls out for the burglars.

I then drove the very long distance to the front of the school (across the road from our house) and dropped off Tinks and Gymnast. I looked down at my fuel gauge. Nought miles. (It very kindly tells me when I have zero miles left). 8.02 a.m. I had to be 37 miles down the road in 53 minutes, actually teaching. (That was having missed the early morning meeting... Given fact that I would not make that anyway on this particular morning...)

Drove into the petrol station. Waived to the cashier to start the pump. And helpfully, as soon as she had finished her conversation with her colleague, she turned the pump back to nought for me. I threw a minimum amount of fuel into the car, ran in, paid, ran out and back into the car. It must be a bit like being a racing driver... Sort of....

8.04 I was finally on the road. Sped into school at 8.50 a.m. It did occur to me that it had cost me more in fuel in order for Hubby to have a cheaper ticket to travel, which ultimately meant that I was spending more to save the Government money. How charitable of me. After all the Government needs to save money at the moment, having spent so much on the banks...

I looked at the salad had made for myself and realised that it was actually not a half made pasta salad, but a left over pasta salad from a few days before, got out of a school bag in a hurry on the way to a bus by one of the older children..... with lettuce added by me.


Meanwhile I got a text from Hubby thanking me profusely. "I'm on the coach now. Thank you. You're a star." He said.

And for once I thought...... without being too conceited. "Yes...... Just for today...... I know."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Little Steps

I was in that sort of "drifting in and out of sleep, sort of waking up period," half listening to Sarah Kennedy. We always have her programme on. Hubby loves her. I moan that she was "clearly in the right place at the right time", and "what's she got that I haven't got on the broadcasting front?" And that: "Really it should be me doing the Dawn Chorus show on Radio 2." Hubby assures me that she really is indeed very good. His faith in me is inspiring....

Then I heard her talk about her headmistress .... and she mentioned the name... I did a double take. Good gracious. She went to my school. That's MY school! The school that wore a very strange looking brown uniform and was across the road from a racecourse, with a load of nuns present.

Immediately, all negative thoughts about Sarah Kennedy vanished. I decided that I had to "claim kin". I ran downstairs and went straight onto the computer. She did indeed go to my school, but as she is 12 years older than me, we didn't coincide. She would have been just about finishing secondary school, as I started Primary School - then in a different part of the country. Nevertheless, I just thought that I would still claim kin.... and send her an email. I was quite excited really. Little things.....

The BBC website let me down however, and try as I might I couldn't get a link. So, giving up, knowing that really the day had to "begin" anyway, I had a quick look at my emails....

And there it was.

Th opportunity of a lifetime.....

Well, it's all relative....

I had had an email from someone replying to a CV that I had submitted for an acting job. For a webcast company. Not only did they want to look at me, but all the children and Hubby too. How exciting. I told the children. "I'll arrange for a haircut for you for this afternoon ESOS...." I said, before I take some photos to send to them. This caused an uproar from Sensible, who at 14, and seriously in touch with her looks and her acting ability, decided that he didn't need a haircut from a hairdresser and that Hubby could do it with his clippers. Not wanting to look like a Home Ed crew, I made the decision however that ESOS needed a professional cut for the camera.....

Meanwhile.. I had to think about my diet. Would it be possible I thought to lose a stone and a half in four or five days prior to the audition? Probably not... but I decided that less carbs between now and then would definitely be a step in the right direction. They want a normal looking woman. At a stretch, I could probably do "normal." It's normal looks they want, after all.

And then, having caught it successfully for a week, once half an hour earlier indeed for Sensible.... the bus bus went past the house, and of course ESOS and Sensible were still arguing over haircuts....

Hubby got into the car. Got them to the next bus stop. I put the kettle on again.

He came back in: "I'm really excited about this" I said to Hubby....

"Pity it's not a feature film though" said Hubby.

"Yes, well, I'm not sure that Stephen Spielberg's "A list" includes someone who has worked for the Government for 25 years." Small steps Hubby....

Meanwhile, it was time to get Gymnast and Tinks to school. Tinks was coughing like there was no tomorrow. Hubby and I decided that she could have a day off, especially I wasn't working. At this, Gymnast saw red. "Just why exactly should SHE have a day off?" And "I don't want that drink bottle, it tastes mouldy."

My children are in good training to be prima donnas fortunately.....

Let's hope the web cast film comes through, and then maybe I might be able to go to ASDA or somewhere to buy a new drink bottle......

Friday, October 10, 2008

Not Quite Redundant

Of course I needn't have worried about the possibility of being a redundant mother.

Hubby thoughtfully decided to do a residential course this week, thereby ensuring that if I ever thought that I may no longer be useful in the parent department, that I wouldn't, so to speak.

It's quite tiring running our lot single handedly, so I do tend to fall into bed as soon as is manageable. When I am woken up from my comatose sleep by a call at 11.30 p.m. from ED, it is surprising that I actually register what is being said.

"Can you make sure that you call me at 6.30 a.m. please? I need to get a train, and I am worried I may not get up in time." "I was asleep" I moaned as I looked at the settings on the alarm clock and turned the light back off...

6.30 a.m. Called ED.

6.50 a.m. still couldn't get hold of her. Began to worry. Called Hubby.

"She must already be up." He said. There's no way she would miss her room phone. It's right next to her head".

The university has very kindly put room phones into the rooms. You can call in, but she can't all out. This means of course that she has two ways that parents can contact her. Well three actually, because I can still phone the university itself. And of course, I can email her, night and day. This is progress apparently. When I was a student I quite liked the fact that the only way that I could talk to my parents was via a call box. It would have had to be a dire emergency for them to call me via the college phones. And as a student that anonymity was possibly a benefit at times.

Meanwhile I was beginning to panic. It did also occur to me that I had dreamt the phonecall at 11.30 p.m...... Was I indeed going completely mental - as opposed to just a bit?

In the midst of getting other children up for school, making sandwiches and getting uniform sorted I kept calling her, alternating between her mobile and landline numbers. I ignored Hubby's advice, as my only thought was... she'll miss her train... By 7 a.m., I had just about decided that either she was sleeping eleswhere ( in which case WHY did she ask ME to wake her??!! ) or that she had left the room already and gone off to get an earlier train.....

I tried one more time...

"Hello?" said a very groggy voice. "Sorry, I didn't hear the phone..."

Your neighbours must have done though ED...

Sensible and Esos appeared downstairs, arguing, with Esos directing insults in both her and my direction. He accused her of suffering from PMT. "Your the one with PMT" she retorted. "That isn't actually physically possible, in case you didn't know", he replied in a smart alec type voice... to which I retorted that, maybe not, but that boys certainly had hormonal influence affecting them...... This wasn't a popular comment...

Finally they got on the bus. Rang ED again to check she had caught her train. Whilst she was talking to me the ticket inspector arrived to check her ticket. I heard mutterings. "No," I heard her say. "That's a return ticket."...........Except it wasn't.... the first half of the ticket was in the machine at the station.......

Made several phonecalls on her behalf.... And meanwhile she managed to persuade the ticket inspector to let her travel anyway on the basis that it was booked originally on the internet to be picked up at the station........

Progress again...... Do you remember when they had people at stations who passed you the correct tickets?

Roll forward two days. 7.30 a.m....... the school bus drives past the kitchen window. "Bye bye Esos and Sensible."

.... But no... they are still sitting in the kitchen.....

Into the car, coat over dressing gown and boots without socks. Drive to the next stop.......

Not quite redundant yet then.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


"Your blogs are like buses. You don't write one for months" says Hubby, "and then they come in threes."

This is of course true. And like Meredic, it's not because I haven't had anything to write about, because I have, but more perhaps that my mind has been so full of thoughts that I just haven't been able to separate them out and put them into bloggy form. One of these prepossessing thoughts is the fact that time has just gone. It didn't ask permission. It just left me standing and rushed on ahead.

Now you understand, I do fully appreciate that I am not yet old really. But I want to know why the last ten years have travelled past at lightning speed, without much thought in the process to the fact that those years were indeed "travelling past at lightning speed", all of a sudden leaving me here in my mid and a little bit forties - with children starting to go off to university.

I mean, when I last looked, I had five children. Only three and a half years ago for instance, just before the yearly round of birthdays started (and the round lasts a while in our house), I had five children aged 4, 6, 10, 12 and 14. And now, suddenly I have an adult of 18 who has just left for university, a 16 year old in his final year of GCSE's, a fourteen year old starting her GCSE's, a 10 year old due to leave primary school in a few months and an 8 year old also heading speedily towards the top end of primary school.

So, more to the point.... where did the last three and a half years go, and why am I so relatively old all of a sudden?!!!

It was a big shock ED going to university. Parents are very strange creatures. We hope, dream and wish for our children to grow up and be successful, and then all of a sudden, when they do grow up, be successful and go off, you feel completely bereft.

No-one prepares you for that feeling of loss. No-one tells you when you are changing the nappies that one day you will actually look back nostalgically on changing nappies. At the time you are so immersed in the daily drudgery, that you get on, you cope and you survive day to day.

And then it stops.

And it's lonely. And sad. You want it all back.

It's not that you want even more children. You want the same ones, but you want to do it again, more slowly. You want to take your time. You want to savour the moment. You want to not tell them off when they throw flour, ketchup and mayonnaise around a neighbour's kitchen in an attempt to bake you a cake with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Or at least, tell them off, but not feel so cross about it.... Or to not feel embarrassed because - just because your neighbour has been put out.

You want to capture all the little moments and put them in a box. and look at them from time to time and relive them. In fact I need a Harry Potter style "pensieve". JK is indeed a woman of fine taste.

And maybe, once or twice I would take the "pensieve" back to a day when ED was 6, ESOS was 4 and Sensible was 2. At the time we were living in Northern Ireland, and I used to teach drama in ED's school, just one morning a week. It took HUGE organisation that one morning....

One the particular day in mind, Hubby was away doing important stuff in England, and I was singlehandedly in charge of the brood. It was a chaotic morning... as it always has been in our house, for as long as I can remember. I finally got all organised and dressed and ready to leave the house at 8.30. Hubby ordinarily at that time was taking the children to school en route to work, leaving me, with Sensible to have a more leisurely start. Except of course on the "ONE DAY A WEEK" when I had to put in army style organisation to get out on time.....

So... when the stress levels had risen on this special "one day" to the levels that they rose to on the work day, ED, quite sensibly thought that it simply must be Mummy's work day. After all, Mummy was taking them to school and Mummy was stressed.

As we were leaving the house she suddenly turned back.

What NOW? I thought.

She came back out with my (quite big and heavy) basket, full of books that I used for teaching.

"Mummy, you've forgotten your basket" she said.

I looked at her, and I wanted to cry. I gave her a hug and explained that I wasn't working that day..."

And I saw her at that moment, not as the very grown up and eldest child, but as a very intelligent, but still very vulnerable and very young little girl. And even at that moment I knew that it was a memory that I wanted to savour forever.

I miss you ED.... but I do want you to grow up and have the best possible adult life imaginable..... So have a ball!