Suzy’s new home:

This column is inspired by a recent trauma suffered by my Mum. How important a good night’s sleep is, and how many things conspire against it!

The most efficient way to ensure years of fatigue is to procreate. To date my toddler niece has woken up her mother by ramming a finger forcefully up her nostril; pulling up one eyelid and shouting “Helloooo!”, and being sick on her face.

Almost as good as small children are pets. It’s vile when the cat brings in a mouse and crunches it on the duvet, so we keep the the door shut and listen to him yowl and scrat the landing carpet instead. Then every morning (the exact time varies, but it’s always too early) the dogs decide they’ve had enough of each other’s company and need to come and see Mummy urgently. Molly took all the paint off the kitchen door before we started tying her to a table leg, while Bessie employs shrill and frantic barking.

Insomnia can be a horrible, persistent disorder and admitting to it brings a raft of well-meant but utterly useless advice – surprisingly enough, it has already occurred to most insomniacs to try warm baths, hot milky drinks and flipping “Kalms”!

Anyway – back to Mum’s tale of woe. One night she was awoken by a sinister “Ssk… Ssk… Ssk… Thump… Thump… Thump…” noise in her bedroom, “like something being dragged out of a pond”. Opening one eye, she was petrified to see a white, blurry face looming at her in the darkness. Drenched in sweat and heart beating wildly, she scrambled for her glasses and snapped the light on… to find my niece’s 30” tall, mechanically-powered “Hello Kitty” doll had somehow activated itself and walked across the bedroom, getting jammed on the side of the bed.

My favourite part of the story is that in her indignation she dumped said toy on the spare room windowsill, whereupon a neighbour later complained that its leering visage gave him a nasty fright as he was walking back from the pub.




Insomnia is never a problem for our cat.

I’m experiencing almost farcically bad service from Max Spielmann so I’m writing to get it off my chest.

I ended up with over 250 photos to develop, which given our risibly slow upload speed of 0.04mbps (thanks BT!) I didn’t fancy doing over the internet.

A fortnight ago I visited the local branch mid afternoon and was surprised to find the manager locking up. “I’m just going out to get some photocopying done” he said unapologetically. Little was I to know this was my “CAUTION! Crappy service ahead!” warning sign. Anyway, I killed 15 minutes, went back in with in my SD card, they downloaded it all, I paid (more than I would have on line) and told me it’d be ready Wednesday.

Tuesday I got a phone call to say the download had failed and I needed to come in to repeat the process. I don’t live near the shop – I live 8 miles away – so I made a special journey the next day, to find the shop inexplicably shut. I later learned it’s the shop manager’s regular day off and the area manager failed to find someone to cover that week.

I made Trip 3 a week ago and again found it temporarily closed for photocopying, but waited around (no sorry!) and downloaded them all again.

I collected the photos this morning. Unfortunately, they’re not mine. The manager’s first reaction when I phoned him (a number I now know from memory) was “Oh. Can you bring them back in?”

It’s been left like this: the central processing place for Max Spielmann “think” they’ve found my order and they “should” be in on Tuesday. I’m not holding my breath.

The mother of all snotty letters is being formulated. If nothing else they owe me 5x 16 mile round trips worth of diesel.


Whitstable: Aldeburgh viewed through a prism; floriferous beach; chi-chi boutiques bankrolled by rich husbands.

Canterbury: Christians; tourists; oooh a Lakeland!

Herne Bay: No way am I getting off this bus; take me home now.

Dover: natural beauty; horrendous architecture; lorries; wow – France is really close.

Margate: Georgian splendour; Hattie Jacques and John LeMesurier’s house; grinding poverty; face full of seawater.

Ramsgate: boats, boats and more boats; doesn’t that church remind you of Boston Stump?

Sheerness: Giant bridge; giant sea wall; thank you God for not making me live here.


Footnote: a friend who reads this has just asked “So did you actually enjoy it, or not?” Answer: I did. Whitstable is a very appealing place indeed. But I love where I live, especially at this time of year, and despite only being in my mid (ok, late) thirties sometimes I’d just as rather be at home!


France seven years ago: one of only two days we did not receive rain of biblical proportions.

I am looking down the barrel of two fast-approaching weeks of annual leave, which means I am compelled to start Planning Our Holiday. If there is a more stressful way of spending three week’s salary, I can’t think of it. How do you choose between literally millions of options?

The trouble is that most people’s concept of a pleasant way to spend a week off fills me with dread. I genuinely envy those sunny-natured souls who are happy as long as their holiday involves a pool, a sunlounger and a variety of brightly coloured cocktails. Unfortunately I am cursed with a low boredom threshold, a mistrust of swimwear and a dislike of sweaty strangers in close proximity to me. (Imagine Eeyore in a sarong.)

I’m never going camping either, despite my husband’s pleas. There is no way I’m sleeping on the ground, with naught but a thin piece of nylon separating me from a hostile world, the nearest toilet a field away by torchlight. If those conditions occurred in normal life it would be considered a humanitarian crisis.

I’ve had some great holidays afloat, to be fair, but narrowboat hire is eye-wateringly expensive and can be ruined by wet weather. It’s very hard to feel carefree in a cagoule. Canals are also full of self-righteous real ale drinkers with bad beards and worse hats, always ready to tell you when you’re using your windlass wrong (until the offending tool is swung at them at head level.)

Because we live in a tiny village where an unfamiliar dog is something to be remarked upon, I don’t want to go anywhere too rural; we might as well just be at home with the central heating turned up. Obviously Butlins, and middle-class Butlins AKA Center Parcs, are out of the question if you’re not a parent. Long-haul destinations are full of snakes, Canada full of bears, America full of Americans.

Maybe I should just stick a pin in a map. Ah, fantastic – glamorous Rotterdam, here we come!

I apologise for the poorly-timed wet weather, which I directly attribute to having purchased a gazebo and some suntan lotion. Still, it was nice to be out of my wellies for five days.

In other news, Bessie (beloved rescue toy poodle of indeterminate age) was good enough to roll in the same pile of badger poo twice on Tuesday. It’s a good job five years as a primary school teacher rendered me impervious to blood, urine, vomit, faeces and dead crows. (I reserve the right to dry-heave when picking slugs off my salvias by torchlight.)

Bank holiday weekend. Bottoms up, everyone.


Butter wouldn’t melt, would it Bess, you foul girl?

You will need:
* Unshakeable self-belief. In your head, you ARE Beyoncé.
* A memorable voice. (Note: “memorable”, not necessarily “good”. If your singing sounds like spanners going round in a washing machine, or an angry cat trapped in an airing cupboard, all the better.)
* An outlandish hairdo, possibly involving several colours that hair doesn’t normally come in
* A tragic back-story.
* The ability to cry on cue.
* A panel of judges and an audience.

1. Strut onstage (try not to trip) and introduce yourself to the judges.
2. When they ask you why you’ve come on X-Factor, make sure you use every cliché in the book about how this has been your dream since you were 7 and saw Bros perform on TOTP.
3. If the judges look unconvinced, deploy your Tragic Back Story. If you haven’t currently got a terminally-ill relative, make something up. There is always one tearful female judge who will give you sympathy points if you talk about how devastated you were when your budgie flew away last summer. Try to cry a bit, then say something like “Bluey, this one’s for you, because I’ll always love you and you were the best budgie ever.”
4. Next, sing your chosen song as loudly as you can. Don’t worry if you’re not in tune; most X-factor contestants aren’t. Hopefully the judges will be too busy admiring your Great Hair to notice.
5. Don’t be put off when the nasty judge presses the X halfway through – he is probably just jealous of your Great Hair.
6. When the judges are giving their feedback, don’t forget to argue with anyone who criticises you. Famous people love being told they know nothing about the music business. If the worst comes to the worst, cry a bit more, then storm offstage in a huff.
7. Finally, if it really has gone pear-shaped, don’t worry. There’s always The Voice.


When Molly was very small I took her to a puppy class where a smart lady of a certain age was complaining vociferously that her cocker spaniel wouldn’t “do his business” on walks, only in the garden, meaning she had to dry his wet feet twice. As the adoring owner of two dogs and a cat, if that’s the worst mess she has to put up with, she’s lucky!

Cats are mercifully fragrance-free, but inclined to bring in between 1 and 3 rodent victims a day, plus most of the Welland Valley on their paws. Surely I can’t be the only cat owner who has to shake the bottom sheet out of the window mid-week to get rid of the crunchy bits?

Talking of the cat – who is a loving brother/ grovelling little git – he regularly brings Molly a freshly-killed mouse to suck. Unfortunately, we often don’t realise immediately, then Molly hides it down the sofa cushions for later. It is upsetting to be searching for the TV remote and make contact with something squashy, damp and furry.

Face licking is another delight. One of my friends – yes, I mean you, Mrs P – stoutly maintains that dogs have “healing mouths” when Molly decides to provide an unsolicited face-wash. (To be fair, she hasn’t seen her eat as much sheep poo as I have.) I also spend most of my toddler niece’s visits shouting “Molly. Will you stop licking that baby!” and brandishing a damp flannel.

Perhaps most disgustingly to non-pet-people, Molly is a closet alcoholic, and furtively dips her tongue in my wine glass given half a chance. I’m ashamed to say that I tend to think “Ah well, alcohol’s antiseptic” and sip on unperturbed.

I consider myself winning, though, because none of my pets have pulled the same trick that Mr Jeebs, my parents’ much-loved CKC spaniel, pulled on Dad one night.

Suffice it to say that he never puts his shoes on nowadays without shaking them out first.


Molly considers herself an essential pre-wash stage for plates.

In case anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, yesterday we had the following conversation about our second dog:

Oh god! Bessie’s face is covered in brown stuff – is it poo or just earth?

I don’t know. Sniff her.

Tip: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is the most fantastic book to keep in the bathroom. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for a few weeks and it’s really made me conscious of just how much pseudo-science is peddled to try to sell stuff.

My own bugbear is beauty or cleaning products purporting to be “chemical free”. Since EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE is made up of chemicals, this is a bold statement indeed. Water is a chemical. Oxygen is a chemical. Come on, people – you might not have listened in your science lessons at school, but there was probably a periodic table on the wall, no?

On QVC yesterday a £60 face cream was offered that promised to “re-oxygenate the skin”. Hmm. Your skin doesn’t have gills. There is only one place in your body that can absorb oxygen: your lungs. Skin just can’t. If you don’t believe me, take off all your clothes, stand in the garden, hold your breath and see how long it takes you to pass out and crack your head on the bird bath.

Dodgy claims and nutrition go hand in hand. To read the papers at the moment you’d think sugar was crack cocaine, but when did you last see a fat monkey, eh? The mumbo-jumbo is taken to the highest degree where juicing and – pass the bucket – “detox” are concerned. I’ve just read in a free magazine that a certain juice combination “gives your kidneys and liver a welcome rinse”. The mind boggles! The only way to rinse your liver and kidneys would be with the help of a qualified General Surgeon, in which case you probably have problems beyond the remit of fruit juice.

Spend your money on whatever you like, but do yourself a favour and pause just for a second to consider who is making the claim and why. It’s very probable that their marketing skills outweigh their scientific ones. After all, humanity has successfully survived the last 200,000 years despite blenders not being invented!

The picture below shows the only detox system your body will ever need – your liver and kidneys. Ingenious, huh?


The British are obsessed with class, and anyone who says not is deluding themselves. Trouble is, everyone now claims to be middle class, from champagne-swilling Range Rover drivers (hopefully not at the same time) to people who consider a KFC Family Bucket “dinner”. So where do you fit into this all-encompassing swathe of middleness? Let’s find out…

1. Where did you buy your last sofa?
B) John Lewis.
C) BUY furniture? How very vulgar.

2. Your dog is called…
A) Tyson.
B) Timmy.
C) Troilus.

3. Your typical summer holiday?
A) A static in Ingolmels.
B) A holiday cottage in Port Isaac.
C) Cannes or St. Kitts.

4. As a child, you had lessons – but in what?
A) Smoking, from your brother’s mates on the rec.
B) Cello
C) Dressage/ shooting.

5. What’s on your wall?
A) A 60” flat screen with full Sky package.
B) A Lawrence Coulson landscape.
C) Family portraits from the 17c onwards.

6. How do you keep warm?
A) Turn the gas fire up.
B) Another armful of logs on the woodburner.
C) By wearing lots of jumpers and burying yourself under shooting rugs and eight spaniels.

7. When you see Michael Portillo, do you think…
A) Who?
B) The poor man. He must be colour blind.
C) Lovely red chinos. I must ask Mike for the name of his tailor.


Mostly As:
Middle-class wannabe. You think The One Show is highbrow and live on an estate.
Mostly Bs:
The middliest of the middle classes. You only drink real coffee and dream of living next door to Nigel Slater.
Mostly Cs:
Upper-middle-class. Posh in denial. You also live on an estate, but in a very different way to the “mostly As”.