Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I never thought I’d type these words but I miss our nosy neighbours Susan and Dick. Every time I pass their apartment, I have a little pang of sadness that I won’t be able to feast on their moans and groans any more.

In a small tribute to Dick, I trotted across the road and half-heartedly picked a few blackberries off the neighbouring property. Dour Dick loved that bramble bush. He even carried his step-ladder down the road to reach the higher branches.

Although Dick’s long gone, I’m half-expecting to see him back at the blackberries in the next few weeks. He was never one to miss out on some free fruit.

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I’d like to say that SuDick’s departure was a ceremonial affair but in reality they just kind of sloped off quietly. Susan sent me a final email with her special ‘Welcome Pack’ attached (DON’T make any noise after 11pm but DO close the gate to the bin compound), should I wish to continue her tradition of passing it on to any new neighbours. (I think she saw me as a potential protege. I can’t think why!).

She gave me a final round-up of local goings on: ‘Apartment 6 is laying down new carpets as I write,’ she said. ‘Apartment 5 has a new owner; I think they might be retired.’ etc etc.

The woman who has replaced SuDick is very peculiar indeed. She’s straight out of Hollywood Housewives: heavily made-up, with big anxious eyes, hair permanently in rollers and constantly spring cleaning in a pair of marigolds. Her name is Diane. She looks like a Diane.

I had to knock on her door the other night to see if she’d taken collection of a parcel I was waiting for. Knowing that she spends most of her days dusting her apartment by the entrance gate, I told the parcel people to deliver it her flat.

I knocked on the door and waited.

There was a lot of clattering and eventually the door creaked open. Two huge doleful eyes peered back at me, marigolds donned and feather duster poised.

‘I was just wondering if you happened to take delivery of a parcel for me,’ I said, cheerfully.

‘Oh, I’m in a terrible mess here,’ she cried. ‘I did see a parcel man at the gate but I don’t think he could get in so he just drove off.’

Knowing that my parcel was only a few feet from her but she did nothing to help was very annoying indeed.

I decided ‘Marigolds’ was clinically unhinged so I left her to her dusting. On their second attempt, I asked the delivery people to try Apartment 8 instead.

Apartment 8 houses an inert tenant, who claims to be a solicitor but actually spends most of her days sitting on her balcony, chewing the fat. She seemed the perfect candidate for a daytime parcel delivery.

When I got back the following evening there was a message from the courier saying that Apartment 8 HAD taken collection of my parcel. Bingo!

I expected the woman at Apartment 8 to sign for the parcel and then leave it outside our front door. But there was no sign of it and she appeared to be out for the night.

When I got back the following evening, there was still no parcel. I found this weird.

‘Wouldn’t you sign for the parcel and then go and put it outside our flat?’ I said to the husband. ‘It’s odd that she just took it with no further communication.

‘In fact, how does SHE know that WE know that she’s even got it?

‘She’s effectively taken our parcel hostage!’

I went round and knocked on her door.

‘Do you have a parcel for me?’ I said.

She looked blankly for a moment, despite the fact my huge parcel was taking up most of her entrance hall.

‘Oh, that parcel,’ she said breezily. ‘Yes, it’s here.’

‘Thank you,’ I said.

The reason that I wanted the parcel fairly urgently is that it housed a new bathroom cabinet for my old rental flat down the road.

My latest tenant has moved out so I’ve been busy sorting the flat out. This loosely involves: the bi-annual chore of re-oiling my real wood worktops (note to anyone thinking about getting real wood worktops – DON’T DO IT), lovingly touching up my Farrow and Ball walls, ordering a new Brabantia bin (along with the aforementioned bathroom cabinet), and having all the carpets shampooed.

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I even went as far as buying a vase, a big bunch of flowers, and leaving a ‘welcome to your new home’ card for my new tenants.

They moved in last Saturday and I’ve heard nothing since.

‘Don’t you think it’s weird that they just moved in and never acknowledged the flowers and the card?’ I said to the husband.

‘Aren’t people strange?!’

A couple of days later, I drove round with the husband and sent him into the communal entrance to the flat to leave the bathroom cabinet outside the door (ready for the handyman to fix it to the wall at some point this week, the husband being unfortunately incapable of such high-level manual tasks).

While the husband was lugging the parcel up the stairs, I peered up at the window trying to work out whether my flowers were still in the cellophane in the vase, as I had left them – or not. I toyed with getting the binoculars out of the glove compartment – SuDick-style – but decided that might be a bit much.

The husband re-appeared and climbed in the passenger seat.

‘All done,’ he said.

‘Did you put your ear to the door to see if they’re actually in there?’ I said.

‘Why would I do that?’ said the husband. ‘That would be the behaviour of a mental person.’

‘To check that they’re in there!’ I said. ‘TO CHECK THEY GOT THE FLOWERS.’

Sardines On A Sunbed

‘I just want to walk into a hotel lobby and be anonymous,’ grumbled the husband.

We are on the penultimate day of our holiday in Sóller, Majorca. And the owner of the little boutique hotel where we are staying seems to be taking an overly-keen interest in our movements.

Everytime we walk past reception, he collars the husband to rhapsodize about the weather, England, the weather again, the restaurant we are planning on going to, even the clothes he is wearing.

The owner – Matthew – is actually a very nice man. But his very hands-on approach to hoteliering is making the husband on edge.

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Despite the beautiful room here, we have begun to long for the relative relaxation and anonymity of the finca in the hills, where we resided for the first part of our stay.

The owner Marc might have had a fixation with serving gallons of coffee at breakfast and an over-inflated sense of what his bottles of diminutive water were worth, but because he was slightly autistic he left us largely to our own devices.

Before we left the finca, we also developed a mild obsession with a gravelly-voiced waiter there, who we fondly named Barry White. Barry had a most intriguing, soothing croon, as he cleared the table and served our food. I tried to get a bit of video footage of his strange baritone rumble but I’m not sure it does him justice.

Back in Sóller, I have developed hives. My skin has a tendency to go berserk when faced with too much sun, stress, the wrong food, wrong washing powder – or over-earnest hoteliers. I spent three days itching myself to madness before seeking help.

Luckily, there is a little old lady up the road who may or may not be masquerading as a pharmacist. To attract her attention, you need to ring a bell and she appears from behind a grill to deal with one’s ailments.

We asked for some anti-histamines; she disappeared for a while and then a little hand shot out to hand over the medication and take our money. It was ace.

We became so taken with the little old lady that we have been trying to think up new illnesses – just so we can visit her again. Here I am next to her metal grill and buzzer. When passing tourists saw me having my picture taken, they started snapping away too, convinced the hidden pharmacy was some sort of historic attraction.

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Over in Puerto de Sóller, we attempted to dine at one of the restaurants my coffee shop friend Malcolm recommended. It was full.

I don’t have the heart to tell Malcolm we didn’t end up eating there so I have memorised the menu (‘the rabbit and onions was sublime!’) and snapped the husband posing outside, as photographic proof of our visit.

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The sunbed situation at the current hotel isn’t quite the all-out battle to bag the best bed of previous years. Instead, there’s more underground tactics at work.

Put simply, the pool area is quite small and only about four sunbeds get the sun past 4pm. This means that there’s a secret bed-hopping war at play, in an attempt to secure the best beds at different stages of the day. As a seasoned sunbed bagger, I’m on it.

But at 4pm, people all begin to drag their sunbeds towards the dying rays, creating a sardine-like squash in one corner of the pool (spot the lonesome husband!).

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Owner Matthew prides himself on setting out purple towels throughout the whole pool area (he told us this in great detail) so it’s difficult to ascertain which beds are in use or have been used, having to rely a rudimentary towel ‘crumple test’.

It did make me wonder how Matthew knew which towels to change at the end of the day.

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It was only on Day 2 of our stay here that I uncovered a startling revelation: Matthew DOESN’T change the towels!

Unbeknown to him, I was stealthily spying on Matthew from the behind my copy of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, as the last vestiges of the vermillion sun dipped behind the mountains. Rather than whipping the used towels off the loungers, he merely smoothed them out with a deft flick of the hand.

This means that right now, I am probably lying in the sweat of that meaty man from Room 3.

When we returned from lunch today, chomping on ice creams, jittery Matthew was grinning expectantly from behind his reception desk.

‘Ice-cream!’ he exclaimed, a little too enthusiastically. ‘May I ask where you pur-chase-d your gelato?’

‘I just want to eat my ice-cream in peace,’ muttered the husband, as we returned to our squashed and sweaty sunbeds.

‘Get me back to Barry White… Get me back to the finca!’

The Cockerel Has Crowed

It was always going to happen. No human can consume 70 Nando’s meals a year and come out unscathed.

Last Friday night, was the day I finally ‘turned’ on Nando’s.

Our weekly visit to Nando’s had started off well. Upon entry, usual protocol was followed: husband went to order meals (butterfly chicken medium for me/ half chicken medium for him, spicy rice, peri-peri chips and a side of halloumi, natch), while I collected cutlery, napkins and sauces (backroom Brenda).

The husband is also in-charge of the Nando’s loyalty card. We’ve earned about 10 red chillies now – the kind of top-level points that only come with a serious peri-peri habit.

For some reason though, the husband refuses to cash any of these loyalty points against a free meal. He likes to see the look of shock on the cashier’s face when he hands over the card. He wants the cashier to think ‘this guy is a serious player’.

The husband, on the other hand, claims his refusal to cash in his chillies is because he sees the Nando’s loyalty card as in insurance policy should we feel on hard times. If we go bankrupt, we can still treat ourselves for a meal out once a month for the lion’s share of a year. Also, he’s of the foolish opinion that accruing an abundance of chillies makes him one step closer to the coveted Nando’s Black Card. Dream on!

But when my butterfly chicken breast arrived, there was something horribly wrong with it. It was all pale, blubbery and seemed to be oozing copious amounts of water.

The waitress said she would get me another one. There was a long wait and when the new piece of chicken arrived it was even worse than the original one: this time, along with the blubbery wateryness, it was peppered with pink veins.

I was dealing with a bad batch of breasts! It was the fast food equivalent of the PIP scandal.

I went to get the manager and explain the problem. I wanted him to take me seriously so I took my Nando’s card with me.

‘I eat at least one butterfly chicken breast every week of the year,’ I said, proffering the loyalty card. ‘I know a bad breast when I see one. You only have to check our loyalty card to see how often we come here.’

The manager looked slightly out of his depth. Five minutes later, he returned with a chicken wrap.

‘I’m really sorry about that,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what was going on there. I’ve temped a few and I’ve binned a few, just to be sure.’

I was so busy hungrily tucking into my chicken wrap, I didn’t really catch what he said.

‘I think he said, ‘I’ve temped a few and binned a few?!” repeated the husband.

‘Which is a really weird thing to say. Why would he pop in the back and select a few breasts to randomly bin?!’

‘Surely if he’s going to bin them, he should bin the whole lot,’ I mused. ‘And what on earth is temping?’

I finished my wrap. Images of the blubbery chicken were still playing in my mind. I mouthed at the husband, ‘I think I’ve turned’.

It was only after that I wished I had taken photographic evidence of the blubbery, veiny breasts. Instead, you’ll have to make do with me clutching a bottle of peri-peri sauce and looking suitably doleful.

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‘I want to get out of here with the minimum fuss,’ I whispered. ‘Where’s the manager? I want to slip out without any more rigmarole.’

‘He’s nowhere to be seen,’ said the husband, glancing around. ‘He’s probably in the back, booting bad breasts’.

I’d half expected to see the manager pinning a sign up at the window saying ‘Sorry, no butterfly chicken here tonight’.

‘I doubt I’ll be darkening the doors of Nando’s EVER AGAIN,’ I said, dramatically.

The husband eyed me sceptically.

‘That’s a shame,’ he said. ‘Because we’ve now collected enough loyalty points for about 20 free meals.’

The Half-Job Husband

The husband arrived home from work the other night. He walked through the front door and left it half open; he kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the hallway; he flung his damp gym towel over the nearest door to dry it but left it still folded up.

Welcome to the world of Half-Job Harry.

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Half-Job Harry is the moniker I gave to the husband for never doing a full job on anything. I’m not sure whether other people have this problem with their partners but it drives me bananas.

Half-Job Harry does do jobs but he doesn’t do them thoroughly. He might, for instance, reluctantly change a lightbulb (a weekly occurrence in our apartment – what is it with these spotlights?!)

But once done, he will leave the old lightbulb on the side, the chair he used to climb in the middle of the room, and the plastic packaging from the new bulb strewn somewhere on the floor – while happily reclining back on the sofa, satisfied that he’s achieved a spot of entry-level DIY and his work is done.

Last month, after more persistent hen-pecking, the husband reluctantly sloped off to put some oil and screen wash in the car. He was gone for some time and he returned empty-handed.

It was only when I opened the car boot this week, that I found a big plastic box swimming with greasy oil and screen wash from where he hadn’t secured the bottles properly.

Half-Job Harry is usurped only by Put-Off Pete. Put-Off Pete likes to leave smelly bin bags by the front door because he will ‘take it in the morning’; he leaves paperwork to pile up on the kitchen worktop – because he will ‘deal with it next week’; and he leaves ironing on the side because he will ‘put it away tomorrow’.

Put-Off Pete came into play the other night when I asked the husband if he could nip down to the basement to quickly read the electricity meter.

‘I’ll do it at some point over the weekend,’ said Put-Off Pete.

‘At some point over the weekend?’ I cried. ‘It’s only Wednesday night. It will only take two minutes!’

‘If it only takes two minutes, you can go,’ said the husband.

‘You know I don’t like to go down there for fear of What Lies Beneath,’ I said.

What Lies Beneath is the name we gave to the eerie void underneath our apartments, which also houses the electricity meters – and probably several hundred super-rats.

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For three years, we were oblivious to What Lies Beneath until we went on a mini adventure to sabotage SuDick’s carpet tiles (SuDick are our bothersome neighbours (details here) who insisted on laying carpet throughout the communal corridors. As part of our anti-carpet campaign, the husband and I decided to start stealing the stash of carpet tiles from the basement at the rate of one by one. We then frisby them off our balcony and into the valley below. This little game has become a lot of fun).

I think it’s fair to say that the husband does not like doing DIY. We were having a picnic in the garden of The House We Might Never Actually Live In the other weekend (we occasionally eat a Sainsbury’s £3 meal deal there – it’s the only picnic we can afford, given that the garden is costing a third of my monthly salary to upkeep), when the husband spotted a tree that had blown down in the wind.

If you look closely, you can see it perpendicular to the green conifer. I’m not quite sure what one does in the event of a felled tree – dial a tree surgeon?

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The husband went for a closer inspection of said tree and started rambling about climbing up the wobbly-looking conifer next to it and CHAIN-SAWING it down.

For someone renowned for his inability to use a radiator bleeding key and who once had a particularly close shave with a circular drill that nearly took his eyebrows off, the idea of the husband willingly going anywhere near a chainsaw is a very frightening prospect indeed.

Luckily, Put-Off Pete soon jerked back into action.

The fallen tree’s been there for a couple of months now and thankfully the husband hasn’t mentioned it since.

His damp towel is still festering in his gym bag; there’s a pile of unread letters on the kitchen side; and the car’s been demanding more screen wash for at least a month now.

Basically, it’s business as usual.

Damned Designs

The husband and I have bought a house. It’s very pretty. I wish I could get a bit more excited about this new step towards Becoming A Proper Adult but there’s one big sticking point to it all.

When we bought the house, we rather rashly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem to renovate and extend it quite a bit.

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Our new domicile had already been extended by the previous owners without any problems; there was no neighbours to speak off, except a few octogenarian bowlers; it wasn’t overlooked at all. We were planning on replacing the strange blue conservatory. Basically, our Kevin McCloud extension wouldn’t hurt anyone.

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Unfortunately the council don’t share this view.

It all boils down to an over-zealous planning officer called Laura Hogg who has left no stone unturned in her quest to quash our plans and basically ruin our lives.

After rummaging through the planning archives in a dark council basement somewhere, she triumphantly claimed that our house is in a previously undistinguishable ‘green belt’ area of suburbia, and, as it has already been extended by the national law of 30 per cent volume since 1948, we are not to extend it by a single brick more.

This means: no two-storey side extension, no double garage, no all-glass kitchen diner at the back, no master bedroom overlooking the garden, and certainly no indulgent (but entirely necessary in the husband’s eyes) basement ‘media room’.

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This news came as a very heavy hit.

Our future abode currently stands empty and dejected, a bit like its owners. Once a fortnight, I drive past it – simply to check it’s still there.

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Occasionally, we wander wistfully around the garden and sometimes have a picnic. We have a new hedgehog friend too. He only has three legs.

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Sometimes, I wonder if the husband and I will end up like my parents’ friends Pete and Enid, who bought a new house up the road from them and despite happily decorating it and pottering in the garden every weekend, have NEVER MOVED IN. This might not be quite so alarming, if they hadn’t bought the house 25 years ago.

My mother cycled past and spotted Enid in the garden the other week. ‘Will you be moving in soon?’ she cautiously enquired.

‘Moving in?!’ shrieked Enid, wild-eyed and terrified. ‘It’s nowhere near ready!’

The news from the council has left us with three options:

1. Find out where our nemesis Laura Hogg lives and knock on the door with a brown envelope stuffed full of grubby bank notes. If she refuses to accept this bribe, let down her car tyres in the dead of night.

2. Carry on living happily in our apartment, aka The Holiday Home, and do a ‘Pete and Enid’.

3. As Laura Hogg has now moved department, pretend the whole saga never happened and resubmit a scaled down version of the plans – with the insane notion that a different sympathetic councillor may give them the rubber stamp.

We decided to go for the resubmit plans/ bury-head-in-sand approach. According to our architect, crazier things have happened.

Last week, were given a new case officer: Peter Grant. I spoke to him on the phone. He has a very dry sense of humour and seemed quite positive.

‘Peter Grant has a humorous, ‘can-do’ attitude,’ I thought. ‘I’m all about ‘can-do’ attitudes. Maybe Peter Grant will be our saviour?’

I arranged to meet him at his office. I woke early that morning with all the anticipation of a first date. I needed to woo Peter Grant.

‘Whatever you do, don’t go for the brassy barmaid look,’ said the husband.

‘Have you ever know me dress like a brassy barmaid?’ I said.

‘Good point,’ said the husband.

Still, I couldn’t decide what to wear. I wanted to channel a mixture of innocent school teacher/ naive housewife/ simpering girl-next-door. It wasn’t an easy look to pull off.

In the end, I plumped for black leggings and a bright orange jacket, (avoiding the colour green at all costs).

Peter Grant finally appeared in the lobby.

He was younger than I’d imagined, casually dressed, with intense dark eyes and a brisk manner.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said, gesturing to the seat opposite him. ‘I’ve been embroiled in a series of office-based escapades.

Embroiled? Escapades?! I loved this man.

I wanted to yell, ‘I’m a WORDSMITH too!’

But instead I concentrated on the task in hand: hypnotising Peter into granting us full planning permission.

‘So what was the problem with the original plans?’ asked Peter, spreading the drawings on the table in front of him.

‘I think it was just the sheer size of it,’ I said, adopting an innocent tone and taking care not to mention the words ‘green belt’, ’30 per cent’, or ‘Laura-bloody-Hogg’.

‘Well, I can’t see any problem with this rear extension,’ said Peter.

‘We’re all about enhancement here and l like to impart good news on a sunny Friday morning,’ he added.

I did an inward whoop.

‘Great,’ I squeaked, thinking, ‘just kept smiling, maintain eye contact, and whatever you do SAY NO MORE’.

‘I’ll get the architect to re-submit the revised plans next week.’ I added.

One of two things is now going to happen: Peter Grant grants us full planning permission and gives our case no further thought. Peter Grant bumps into Laura Hogg at the water cooler, happens to mention the name of our house, and gets the full lowdown from Miss Planning Enforcer herself.

In which case, my only option would then be to start an affair with Peter Grant.

I updated the husband over dinner that evening.

‘It’s gone well up to now but just how far do you want me to take this? I said.

‘I might even have to SLEEP WITH PETER GRANT!’

‘You will have to do what’s necessary,’ said the husband.

‘But let’s face it, you’re no Demi Moore.’

Running On Empty

At 6.45am this morning the alarm goes off and the husband springs out of bed. No-one should have to rise at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday. But today the husband is running the Manchester 10k.

All weekend, the husband has barely even mentioned this race. But this morning, things are different. There’s a palpable tension in the air. He is stomping around, hunting for safety pins, Googling ‘what to eat before a big race’ – and even muttering about protein shakes.

‘I want you ready by 7.45am,’ he bellows in his best Drill Sergeant voice.

I’m a little taken aback by this sudden change of heart.

The reason the race has not been such a big deal up to now is that the husband went for a run about two weeks ago and managed to pull his calf muscle so badly he could barely walk.

This might be something to do with the fact that he sprang out of bed that morning, laced up his trainers and simply set off running – without so much as a sniff of a warm-up. Naturally, he refuses to concede that this is the reason for his calf injury. Real men don’t bother with pre-run stretches or warm-ups, says he.

Because of this injury, the husband had pretty much resigned himself to hobbling around the Manchester 10k today. There was talk of him pulling out altogether but he bravely said he would soldier on – limping around the course if necessary.

After much conflab at home, we finally set off for Manchester. The husband’s hands seem to be gripping the steering wheel tighter than normal. He appears pensive – and tense.

‘You seem to be taking this very seriously,’ I say. ‘Don’t forget you’re only jogging round, due to your injury. There really is nothing to be getting worked up about.’

‘I need to stock up on supplies,’ says the husband, suddenly swooping into the petrol station. ‘Energy drinks, ibruprofen, Pro-Plus…’

This doesn’t sound like someone who is merely partaking in a glorified fun run, I think.

Halfway into the car journey, the penny suddenly drops.

‘You’re not just planning on jogging round, are you?’ I say.

‘The workmates are taking it really seriously,’ wails the husband. ‘They’ve have been training for weeks. I just REALLY want to beat them!’

‘You’re injured and you haven’t done any training,’ I said. ‘You can’t possible compete with these people.’

‘If my calf can hold out, I think I’m in with a chance,’ grimaced the husband.

‘Last time, I did it in 42 minutes.’

‘That was five years ago,’ I said, ever the Voice of Doom. ‘And you were in the peak of physical fitness. You’ve barely run 10k this year and you’re limping like Keyser Soze.

‘I know what’s going on here,’ I continued, finding my stride. ‘You’re picturing a scenario where you rise like the phoenix from the flames – and sail past the workmates in a superman fashion, taking them all by surprise.’

The husband nods, looking sheepish.

‘It’s never going to happen,’ I say.

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The husband meets up with the work mates at the starting line. They all seem very keen, talking of personal bests and training schedules.

I leave him limbering up and stretching out his weakened calves.

40 minutes and two coffees later, I decide to amble down to the finishing line to check out what’s going on. It was 42 minutes into the race and the elite athletes were beginning to filter through.

I was in no rush. In fact, I was busy picturing a scenario whereby I was one of the few spectators left, clapping in solitude, as the injured husband woefully limps at the rear – surrounded by people in wheelchairs and a man dressed as Big Bird. 

But just as I look up, the husband flies past! He looks in pain but is gritting his teeth in determination.

He beat rival workmate by 10 seconds; the rest by significantly more.

He came in the top 10 per cent of the runners.

He might have done irreparable damage to his left calf.

But the husband has never looked happier. And secretly, I’m a very proud wife.

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Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook

The husband was half-way through his dinner on Wednesday when he suddenly put down his knife and fork and uttered the words I’d been dreading…

‘I’ve turned.’

Approximately once a month, the husband ‘turns’ on one of the meals in my depleting repertoire of culinary creations.

Chicken stir-fry, for example, was once an absolute weekly staple and the husband was quite happily crunching his way through chinese leaves and noodles for about a year, before he suddenly announced mid-chew, ‘I’ve turned. Please don’t cook this ever again.’

When the husband ‘turns’ on a meal, it means he will NEVER eat it again. This could happen with any meal at any time at any place. The mere sight of it, he claims, would instantly make him sick.

What do people actually eat? As an 80s child, raised on Alphabites and frozen chicken kievs, I’m genuinely intrigued by how people manage to come up with four or five unique – and relatively healthy – meals a week.

When friends come over for dinner, I usually dish up a fail-safe concoction of pizza, pasta and potatoes. It’s become affectionately known as ‘the carb-overload’.

This is how my mid-week menu currently looks: Monday – pasta with pesto and tuna, Tuesday – fish cakes with cous cous. Wednesday – chicken with cous cous. Thursday – pasta with pesto and tuna – or cous cous. It’s little wonder that most of our sustenance comes from Nando’s at the weekend.

As you can see, cous cous is the star of the show in our household. This isn’t just any old cous cous, mind. It’s got the beaming face of Ainsley Harriott on the packet. Cous cous is really easy. You put it in a jug, add 200ml of hot water, give it a bit of a stir… and Ainsley’s your uncle.

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But I fear it’s only a matter of time before the husband turns on cous cous too. He’s already turned on the tomato and roasted vegetable flavours, which only leaves me with about two other options. Thankfully, trusty Ains – never one to rest on his laurels – has just released an intriguing new red onion and balsamic flavour, which has been given a tentative thumbs up from the husband this week.

Come to think of it, Ainsley’s gone a bit mad, in fact, and has branched out into a whole range of dried foods, including mushroom bulger wheat, lential dahl and vegetable spelt.

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Spelt and dahl? I think Ainsley might be having some sort of breakdown. I haven’t tried them yet; I took one look at the cooking instructions and they seemed too complicated – something about simmering for 15 minutes. Still, I’m fearful that old Ainsley’s bitten off more than he can chew. Over-expansion could spell his downfall.

Along with the aforementioned chicken stir-fry, other redundant dishes now include: salmon pasta parcels (turned), lamb tagine (turned after a ‘funny’ piece of lamb), and shepherd’s pie (turned – found a lump in the mash topping).

And did I mention that the husband doesn’t eat most fish, any vegetables, or any form of potato, unless it’s roasted or cooked as a chip?

Strangely though, he does have a passion for Muller Crunch Corners. Actually, it’s more of an addiction. He’s on at least one Muller Corner a day – Vanilla Choc balls being a particular fave – and if there’s none in the fridge, he gets irritable and twitchy. I’ve taken to buying the bad boys in bulk (Sainos is your place).

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Over Christmas, I over-stocked and there was a race against time to consume as many Muller Corners as we could before the impending sell-by date. My whole family were forced to consume at least two Corners a day before they went off. We even had to have a Muller Corner each on Christmas Day.

On Thursday, I went to Marks and Spark’s and randomly bought some lamb kebabs (they were on offer). I was a bit stumped on how to serve them so I dished them up with my old favourite… yep, you guessed it: cous cous!

This is what the husband was presented with after an arduous day at work.

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Let’s just say, I don’t think I’ll be appearing on Master Chef anytime soon.

About two years ago, a new shop called Cook Shop opened up the road. It basically offers up frozen ‘home-made’ meals for lazy, cook-shy fools like me, at inflated prices. For a while, I thought Cook Shop was the answer to everything. We chomped our way through the whole menu and then got a bit bored with it all.

I might have persevered if the ridiculously effeminate man who runs it wasn’t SO annoying. He greets me at the door like a long-lost friend, then follows me around the shop offering to help with my basket and asking if I want to sample one of his new desserts, in the most irritating voice imaginable. I want to hit him over the head with one of his frozen lasagnes.

Thank god for cous cous king Ainsley.