Diary of a Daily Mail Columnist

It is now almost four weeks since we returned to the UK from our wonderful experience (and my three and a half year holiday) in Texas and the new Middletown world order is slowly establishing itself. On weekday mornings the alarm sounds at 7 am (although a ghastly unclothed apparition was recently observed rootling round the bedroom at 6.00 am, claiming to be on Houston time). Around 7.30 am I get up for the second time and accompany William downstairs to feed, water and release into the wild after his night of captivity ie open the kitchen door to the back garden. B leaves for work. Ten minutes later, readmit the Hunter/Gatherer - he has forgotten his running kit. Once the coast is definitely clear, let William back in and repair to bedroom with tea, Radio 4 and middle aged, grey haired, moustachioed Lothario. Somewhere between 9 - 11 am we begin our day which might include further confrontations with the delinquent washing machine (its most recent misdemeanour being the deposit of mysteriously undissolved detergent on my only pair of black trousers), a brisk patrol around the estate (fresh, unconditioned, air is a wonderful thing) and the defrosting of a ready prepared meal, the rented kitchen equipment having some pretty significant gaps. The highlight of my day might be a trip into town on the number 4 bus, a new and unexpected pleasure. My previous local bus experience took place over 26 years ago when, 6 months into my second pregnancy, the added complications of a folding pushchair which refused to remain folded, a very well nourished toddler and a bad tempered driver proved a very unfavourable, never to be repeated, experience. In the evenings we sit at a kitchen table of dolls' house proportions, tucking into, for example, sausage, mash and glutinous gravy from plastic tray and then sedate ourselves with Sainsbury's special offer Shiraz and TV as previously mentioned although a few diamonds in the rough have been detected viz. "Trial and Retribution" and repeats of "The Royle Family". And so to bed and Sweet Oblivion until the early hours when I am most ungently awakened by the horrible staccato of the rented mattress being ripped apart by feline claws, orchestrated by almost simultaneous baritone bellowing from my outraged bed fellow. So downstairs we trot, the furry one and I, leaving the follicly challenged ogre to drift back to sleep while I remind William of the whereabouts of his facilities and summarily deny his request for extra-mural nocturnal adventures, a role for which, after 31 years of practice, I am particularly well suited. I should perhaps explain that Mr William is a cat of few words. An 11 week old RSPCA acquisition of unknown but apparently unhappy provenance he made no sound at all for approximately the first year he spent with us, sadly not even the tiniest of purrs. Thankfully, after much coaxing, he did develop that most pleasing of feline talents and has been known to speak, sometimes quite rudely, on exceptional occasion. Mostly he makes his feelings known through an enchanting repertoire of facial expressions, a turned back and/or a fleet departure. Early this morning he demonstrated an innovative mode of communication through the regurgitation of last night's chicken onto the bedroom carpet - cue louder, more bellicose bellowing.

Last weekend we enjoyed a visit from Daughter Number 2. It was good to have a chick back in the nest, especially one who proved reasonably amenable to being dragged around car dealerships (to test the back seats) and DIY stores (to help choose paint). Disappointingly, it was apparently very difficult for the RCA student to muster any enthusiasm for the colour of our walls and I know who I'll be blaming if our choices of a beige kitchen and pale green master bedroom ("Broken Biscuit" and "Hint of Mildew" respectively, according to her father) meet with universal ridicule. What did turn her on, however, were sketches of Victorian ladies with improbably small feet and legs like beer bottles dressed up as assorted vegetables or wonders of the modern age (eg a radish and the Post Office) which she flashed at me from her laptop in order to forestall any further irksome consultations such as what I should do about my hair and can I be seen in public in my new swimming costume. After 3 days of being pursued round the house by a mother desperate for girly chat, she was ready to scamper back to the relative peace of the Metropolis, her less loquacious boyfriend and their Beatrix Potter idyll in a Georgian basement flat, aka the Hackney Mousehole. Daughter Number 3 is due to arrive this weekend ... by Monday I'll be seeking sanctuary to give my ears and brain a rest. While it's very flattering to be considered the fount of all knowledge and wisdom, especially by one's own offspring, maintaining the fašade can be awfully tiring. Of Number 1 there has so far been no sign and her Wal-Mart spoils still languish in the new powder blue (formerly funky purple) boudoir because we are far too busy re-feathering our own nest to deliver the begged for duck down duvet to Brighton.

Television and radio continue to amaze and annoy but it is not always their fault as they are obliged to cover the mind boggling incompetence, arrogance and lunacy of our current Government as evinced by the No roomint the prisons and the Cash for Honours scandals and now the introduction to the National Curriculum of Mandarin and Arabic because no 11 - 14 year olds can cope with French and Spanish. Appalling, degrading and infuriating as these issues are, the sharpest thorn in my side has, surprisingly, been the gay adoption debate and the bullying of the Catholic Church.of which I have never been a supporter. Why is it acceptable for a Christian faith to be made to compromise its beliefs when a similar edict to an Islamic group would almost certainly bring universal condemnation or worse? "There is no place in our society for discrimination" trumpeted Tony Blair at the end of last month. Sadly, it seems that this is one area where the Blair administration has enjoyed unqualified success. The dictionary definition of "discrimination" is not all about prejudice. Discrimination also means the ability to see or make fine distinctions; discernment, appreciation, perceptiveness and taste. Could it be that many of the problems we face in Britain today have arisen because we are simply not discriminating enough and can no longer differentiate between a good idea and a bad one; principle or bigotry. Although it is against their teachings, the Catholic Church is not campaigning to prevent same sex couples from adopting; they have agreed to refer any enquiries to other agencies but why, I wonder, would they receive any such requests? Who goes to a kosher butcher to buy a pork sandwich? Those more concerned with their own agendas than the welfare of pigs, I suspect. If Government funding of Catholic adoption agencies, which everyone agrees do an excellent job, is a problem then surely the Catholic Church, quite possibly the most obscenely rich institution in the world could comfortably pick up the tab.

On the subject of bullying, the "Celebrity" Big Brother debacle rumbles on as Shilpa Shetty embarks on a round of media interviews. Ms Shetty has many virtues: she is beautiful, educated, speaks exquisitely correct if somewhat archaic English and, as a host of sycophantic interviewers love to remind us, remained "gracious under fire", all of which places her light years ahead of her "peers". She is, however, far from the self-sacrificing saint the media seem to have mistaken her for as they persistently fail to acknowledge that she (voluntarily) entered the Big Brother House for exactly the same reasons as Jade, Jo, Danni et al - self promotion and big bucks. And it worked; Shilpa has won the jackpot and, together with publicist Max Clifford and her mother who acts as her manager, she is laughing all the way to the bank, just not when anybody is looking.

I've just received a phone call to say that our overseas consignment has cleared customs (guess they didn't find the tequila after all) and will be delivered on the day on which an "exceptional" snowfall is forecast for central England. Daughter Number 3 thinks maybe she should be heading back to Brighton a little earlier than planned but no way, Jose. She has already been booked to babysit William in the guest ensuite where she can contemplate the remains of the shower attachment which she and her boyfriend managed to break within hours of their arrival, a feat none of our excellent tenants achieved in over three years and an act of destruction which almost sent her poor father, resilience already by depleted his failure to track down the world's most energy efficient washer/dryer, right over the edge.

PS The title of this missive refers to comments made by Daughter Number 2 and her boyfriend. They should be grateful I haven't have time to mention Britain's super casino but, if we have to have one, why couldn't it be in Blackpool?



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