Ultimate Christmas Shopping – but not this year!
Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
Alcopop, Epipen, Food, gender fluid, gluten-free, hypo-allergenic, Innocent smoothies, Juniper, Juniper berry, Merlot, One Direction, Pussy Riot, Rollo, Shopping, Sleepover, Strictly Come Dancing, Tiger-Lily
It was Friday night and Juniper was going to a sleepover at her friend, Tiger-Lily’s house. Another three girls from their class were going too.
Carrie, Tiger-Lily’s mum, ensured that the girls would be comfortable in her daughter’s room. There was a flat screen television, dvd, laptop and some futons. Carrie had filled the mini-fridge with Innocent smoothies and she had confiscated the Alcopops from under the bed. Tiger’s brothers were directed to keep to their rooms, or to go to the playroom in the cellar and to leave the friends in peace.
The girls had brought their duvets, soft toys, pyjamas and mobile phones. Soon they had changed into comfortable nightwear, over-sized anthropomorphic slippers and were ordering pizzas on their mobiles. One Direction was blasting from the bedroom.
Juniper stood on the landing, crying.
What’s the matter, June? asked Carrie, solicitously. Are you homesick? You’ve only been here half an hour.
I’ve got too much prep, the child sobbed. I can’t concentrate with all this noise.
But it’s the weekend, surely? placated Carrie.
Yes, but if I don’t stick to my three hour schedule every night, I won’t get an A* in all my subjects.
One night off won’t harm you, reassured Carrie. Have a slice of pizza.
I daren’t. I’m wheat intolerant.
Oh dear. Well, would you like a gluten-free sandwich and a nice mug of hot chocolate?
Can’t. I react to dairy. Please don’t worry. Mum gave me a packed supper.
She took a plastic tub out of her luminous satchel. It contained two oatcakes and some tubes of paste.
Are you sure that’s enough? asked Carrie, watching the others fighting over the remaindered slices.
Positive. I think I should go to sleep now. It’s past my bedtime.
But, it’s only half past seven, the girls chorused. We were going to watch last week’s ‘Strictly’. Mum recorded it.
No, I’ve got to get up early to practise my flute.
So that was what the other case contained. Carrie had helped Juniper to carry it into the house and it seemed really heavy. The other girls were losing interest and had started to spray themselves with fake tan and apply hair straighteners to each other’s locks. Juniper started to cough, so Carrie dragged a futon into the study next door and brought in a pillow, so that June, as she preferred to be called, could have her own space.
Maybe you’d like to sleep here then?
Yes. I don’t really like girlie things. My psychologist says that I am gender fluid. You wouldn’t have a hypo-allergenic pillow, would you? Feathers and aerosols make me wheeze a bit.
Carrie was beginning to worry about being in loco parentis to this child.
Do you have an inhaler with you?
Oh yes. And my two Epipens. Do you have dogs? I thought that I could smell some.
Just the pugs, dear, but they sleep in the kitchen, next to the Aga and they are not allowed up here.
Juniper rolled up her Pussy Riot Rules sweatshirt and placed it on the futon as a make-shift pillow. Carrie felt a failure as a caring mother. Suddenly, Juniper shot a hand to her throat and said:
Oh, Mrs Brewer-Mead, I can’t be in the same room as a bowl of peanuts. There seems to be one next to the computer. They’re completely contraindicated for me.
Well, said Carrie, pretty much at the end of her tether, perhaps you’d be better joining the boys in the playroom until the girls want to put the lights out. I’ll write a note to your form teacher to explain any substandard prep. I’m sure you’ll get an extension.
Oh, thank you SO much, said Juniper demurely and trotted off downstairs in the direction of the cellar.
Later Carrie, after a large Merlot, thought that she’d better check on the boys as there seemed to be excessive noise from the cellar.
Ferdy, Rollo, Ming, Bill-come upstairs this minute! It’s well past your bedtime and you are keeping the girls awake now that they have put out their lights. Juniper, do you want…?
But the boys were reeling around the cellar, laughing uncontrollably. Juniper was lying in a corner, incoherent and dribbling. There were a lot of empty Alcopop bottles lying on the floor and the instrument case seemed to contain further supplies.
Wait till your father comes home! Carrie shrieked.
She egged us on! Ferdy grassed. She said ‘Dewlap Gin’ was only 4% and, if it was for grannies, it would be all right.
Clearly Juniper was well-named and had more experience of the champagne flute than the musical instrument. This was one child who wouldn’t be coming to Nutwood again, if Carrie had anything to do with it.
007, Alan Bennett, Algy Pug, aluminium scooter, Anubis, Bestall, Brabantia, Characters of Peter Pan, Cream Cracker under the Settee, Crocodile Dundee, Daily Express, Dark Rider, diving knife, Dr No, E-bay, Femidon, Global Bond Day, Hermes, Honey Rider, Hopi, Horus, husband, Lois Maxwell, Miss Demeanour, MIss Moneypenny, Neverland, Paul Hogan, pencil skirt, Pilates, Poo-bags, pooper scooper, Pugs, Range Rover, Rembrandt, Rupert Bear, Samantha Bond, Shopping, Ugly Sisters, Ursula Andress, Vermeer, Wendy Darling
Hello. Candia Dixon-Stuart. Pleased to meet you. I’m from Suttonford, a market town somewhere in the south of England. It’s a very now place, but it only achieved such status when Costamuchamoulah, a must-seen coffee shop arrived. Its beans would have out-priced tulip bulbs in Vermeer and Rembrandt country, if it had done a pop-up in days of yore. It’s very convenient to drop by for a caffeine catch-up with one’s cronies. Saves tidying your house.
I hadn’t seen girlfriend Brassica, for some time, as she has been on cruises and courses and has been busy sewing name tags on dual uniforms for the new school term. Her twins, Castor and Pollux, attend St Birinus Middle School, as do the sons of mutual friend, Carissima. We decided to meet up to sink some Wallis Simpson lattes- you know-very skinny.
Brassie told us she was in the throes of organising her Global Bond Day Party. (I am going as Miss Moneypenny- the original, not that erstwhile FT columnist). But should I be Lois Maxwell, with rock and roll Fifties specs, which I note are £2.99 on Buy It Now, E-bay, or Samantha Bond? I hit the wrong button and ordered a Miss Demeanour outfit by mistake and had to send it back via Hermes. The Husband said it looked all right. He would. He should be wearing the specs.
Clammie, a diminutive for Chlamydia, another friend who turned up, asked me to come round to her house later on, to vet her in her old white bikini. She was trying to achieve the Andress look. She asked me for an honest appraisal, but looked huffy when I told her that it was a bit over the top. Literally. A real Dr No No) Personally, I thought that she was more Dark Rider than Honey Rider and I didn’t think the diving knife added anything. Less is more, I said, struggling to strike the right note of criticism.
Maybe I should buy a new one? she suggested. A size bigger?
You should have made a bid in 2001, I advised her. The original went for nearly £42,000 at auction. Maybe you could keep the diving knife and go as a female Crocodile Dundee.
But he wasn’t in a Bond film, she remonstrated.
People might not remember, I shrugged. Some of the guests will have been born after 1986 when Paul Hogan first wielded the weapon, creating a quotation for all time.
Chlamydia told us that she had re-commenced her Pilates sessions. I used to think these were classes for people with OCD, who continually felt the need to wash their hands. I had seriously wondered if they were sessions for whale watchers, or for females with an interest in aviation, or navigation. Anyway, Clammie put me in the picture.
Recently I have been taking my exercise by walking dogs-not my own, I hasten to add. I tend to regard Dora, Alan Bennett’s character in Cream Cracker Under the Settee, as hitting the nail on the head with her canine description of mutts as nasty, lamp-post-smelling articles. I do not have children, or animals. The girlfriends say that’s because I don’t like competition. They may be right. However, the dogs encourage me to go for a walk.
Yes, the perambulated pets belong to Carrie and they are pampered pugs. I can wear a pencil skirt and still out-stride them. Anyway, Carrie scoops them up in both senses when she takes them for ‘walkies’, or she puts them on her son’s aluminium scooter. I was totally embarrassed when she asked some pensioners to move off the pavement into the road, as it was too dangerous for the dogs to be close to the kerb.
I suppose we are only humans and don’t matter, an elderly woman snapped. Then Algy snarled at her ankles and nearly knocked her into the path of a 4×4 which was mounting the kerb in order to make a tight manoeuvre, ie/ a swift barge into a space which was designated ‘Disabled.’
I think Algy was named after the pug in the Rupert annuals- the one with the squashed face. I never understood those surreal stories about Chinese conjurors and crowned cranes, or Empire Penguins channelling ermine, in celestial cities, but Carrie has always been an admirer of the Bestall et al stories. She even called her children after The Daily Express stories.
Her daughter is called Tiger-Lily and her sons are Edward, Bill, Rollo, Ferdy and Ming; her detached thatched is called Nutwood. The nearest approximation to disciplinary action that I have ever seen Carrie implement, was when Rollo called the child-minder Raggety, when he wasn’t allowed two muesli bars in a row. I think that was the name of a horrific animated, scratchy bundle of sticks which featured in the weird narratives. She took the crunchy bar from him and said he could only have it after dinner. Child abuse, eh?
Bill, son number 2, has been on prescription drugs for ADD, but they did not work on the family of protected badgers who rotavated her neighbours’ croquet lawn. Naturally the neighbours thought that Carrie’s kids were responsible in some way for the devastation of their sward. Carrie gave the aggrieved voisins some plonk and a bottle of Bill’s pills, which were out of date. She thought they could try them on the striped gentlemen, as one is not allowed to put anything else down to deter the alleged TB carriers, and grenades are forbidden by EU regulations. (The neighbours said that they are going to vote UKIP next time. Then, without the strictures of EU regulations, they will probably be allowed to use cyanide, like the groundsmen at their local golf course were wont to do, in the days when Cotton was King and we had an Empire.)
You know, black pugs are my ultimate fave, and even cuter if they have diamante collars like Algy, Humbug and Pooh-bah, but the spoiled canines cost a fortune in Agnes C pink pooper scooper, scented sacks. I don’t know how many packs Carrie gets through in a month. Mind you, the pugs only use the miniature size. Once, when Carrie ran out, she used a trial pack of Femidon which the family planning clinic had foisted on her.
Thank goodness she doesn’t have Great Danes, is all her husband says, or is allowed to say.
But you can get alternative Brabantia sacks in 23-30 litres size, so less style-conscious dog-owners could use something like those for bigger breeds. Femidon worked okay in an emergency and, to be honest, who is going to use such a passion-killer for anything else?
On our walks, Carrie has a dreadful habit of hanging the little pouches in the trees. When I remonstrated with her, she said,
But they look so pretty, like votive offerings. It is a spiritual thing.
She didn’t like it when I replied, Votive to whom? (That’s because I can be quite pedantic
when aroused and those au fait with such things can see by my syntax that I had a rigorous
I continued, To whom? The dog-headed deity Anubis, or Hapi, son of Horus?
Oh, don’t be so sarcastic, Candia. Anyway, there is nothing wrong with cynocephalus, even in gods. You might as well hedge your bets.
Yeah, well you shouldn’t hedge your pets’ excrement, I muttered.
Well, I’m not carrying it home in my Boden jacket pocket! she insisted.
We have discovered that the pugs can’t be walked with Andy, Brassie’s evil Border. He just can’t behave. He was named after our dour Wimbledon winner who is a fan of the breed.
Brassie and Cosmo bought him from a breeder around the same time as the Scot had his double whammy. As a pet, he- the pup- hasn’t been much of a success, as he is very highly strung, a bit like his namesake,
as I am sure Kim could testify.
Anyway, Clammie and I were partaking of a little Sencha Quince in the cafe, when Carrie materialised, desirous of purchasing her weekly quota of spelt.
Hi, guys. Just popped in for some of that French rainbow honey for Tiger-Lily. You know, the kind that was tainted by bees getting into the M&M’s factory waste in Alsace? It’s very on trend.
Do join us, I said insincerely, half-moving my Barbour off the seat, as we had just been having a private conversation about her. However, she said that she had to rush off, as she had left Humbug, the newest puppy, in the car and she couldn’t vouch for its continence. A waitress had tipped her off that a traffic warden was just around the corner.
But I thought you had a disabled sticker which renders you inviolate? I said.
Immune: she corrected me. The Blue Badge? No, I left it in the convertible and I’ve got the Range Rover with me. Pooh-bah needs to be in his basket in the boot, as he had the snip a couple of days ago and we have to keep the three of them apart as he is so grumpy.
Sounds odd. Gyles wasn’t so bad when he had his little op, I remarked.
Oh, he’s always tetchy, she replied. So I didn’t particularly notice. Some males simply have to be sorted to make them bearable. And, talking of ‘bearable’, I must get out of these shoes.
We looked down. She was wearing her Manola Beatniks.
I’ve been crippled for a month after squeezing my feet into these bargains that I bought from Coltsfoot in their summer sale. They were one size too small, but such a big reduction!
Probably what the Ugly Sisters said, I quipped. She gave me a dark look and I took the hint. You’ll probably break them in soon, I said encouragingly.
Mmm, but I’ve never re-gained the full use of my husband’s credit card, she replied sadly. Anyway, ciao! Must dash into ‘Pampered Pooches’ for some
spare pooper sacks.
You know, Carrie would benefit from joining my Pilates class, Clammie said, thoughtfully, scoffing a lavender-sprinkled bun.
Yes, I countered. She could do with washing her hands more often. Especially if she is going to take part in that bake-off for her ‘Curs in Crisis’ charity drive. Dogs are not hygienic. Toxocariasis..
Oh, what a lovely name! Clammie mused. It makes me feel quite broody. Is it unisex, do you think?
You’re not pregnant? I gasped.
No, but when you hear an unusual name, it makes you want to give it to someone.
Personally, I think she has utilised plenty of unusual names. Scheherezade, is her elder daughter. And she’s not even a Muslim. Isolde is the younger one.
But then again, Clammie’s husband is called Tristram. Tristan would have been neater, but there you go. I can’t say I’ve ever been a big Wagnerian.