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Cut the bull Chapter 1 rewrite

by Geebie 

Posted: 17 February 2007
Word Count: 6324
Summary: A humourous account of a family, the Goms, who emigrate to Bulgaria.

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

To Leave or Not To Leave – That Is the Question

“Another triple with extra bacon and cheese Ma’am?“ the hunk behind the counter inquired. He must be all of 21. God I’m old enough to be his mother. Great bum though, great face too and that slow Yankee drawl… I shivered with pleasure. How I loved American accents. I hesitated. “Would it be greedy of me to have another? “ I glanced at his nametag. Brad. I leaned a little closer and squinted, he looked vaguely familiar.
Our eyes met for a second. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Go on then please Brad, I’ve only had three today” I replied smugly.
“Well, ma’am, that’s the beauty of our pure 100% fat-free food.” and turning back to the grill, he began to grind his hips in time to the music blasting out from a grease splattered radio ... “We might be lovers if the rhythm’s right…”
“Not that you need worry with that perfect figure. “He shouted over his shoulder, then turning to face me, our eyes locked for a second time. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I remembered that my husband had called me “a fat lardy lump.” This guy obviously knows how to treat a lady.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking you this, but are you in the movies? You look just like that English lady, what’s her name? Elizabeth“, he thought for a minute, “Elizabeth Hurley.”
“Oh, do you really think so? My God, Brad, I’m so flattered, but I’m not - her -unfortunately. I wish I was but I’m just an ordinary girl from little old England” I blushed.
“Well Elizabeth look-alike, I finish my shift in an hour, perhaps we could you know, hook up later.”
“I’m sorry, I mean I’d love to Brad, but I really couldn’t. I’ve got two more wings of the mall to look at and only six hours to do it in…”

“Ambush!” smack bang, a heavy shape dived on top of me and put a gun to my head whilst another figure handcuffed me to the bed. I felt dazed and confused. Where was Brad, my burger, the mall? I was falling deeper and deeper into blackness. Then I opened my eyes and realised what was happening. My sons, Benjamin and Maxwell, Jerk and Fathead as they preferred to call each other, had once again caught me off guard with their speciality, “the Ambush” or “Hambush.” as Max called it. They have this annoying habit of creeping up on people, then attacking them with an armoury of plastic weapons. This usually leaves guests stunned and bewildered before I have chance to offer them a coffee.
“Morning boys,” I sighed. “What time is it?”
“Seven a bleedin’ clock in the sodding morning,” my darling husband mumbled. “Get those kids out of this room before I shoot them with a real gun” and with that he rolled over and continued snoring.
“What’s the matter with Dad?”
“He’s just a bit depressed, you know, unhappy,” I said ushering them quietly out of the bedroom and into the bathroom.
“I‘m not peeing in the same toilet as him”
“I was here first”
“No you weren’t Fathead”
“Why is Dad unhappy Mum?” Max asked as he looked up at me innocently.
“Mum he’s peeing on the floor again”
“Oh hell. Maxwell, clean that mess, NOW and don‘t forget to wash your hands.”
“Mum, why is Dad unhappy?” Benjie started to pester.
Oh God, this was all I needed. Another dream ruined and now I had to explain to a four and a five year old that their life was going to be dramatically different to what they thought. Things were just going from bad to worse. Why was it always left to me to share bad news? I suppose I could wait for Mr Gom to surface, but then we’d have to break the news when they got home from school. Anyway, he wouldn’t know what to say to them and he wouldn’t be prepared to take any of the blame for shattering their little world. I took a deep breath. Best to get it over with before they heard it in the playground. I’d already text my best friend Heth and told her to spread the news. I just couldn’t face all that tea and sympathy yet. It was going to be better coming directly from me before the jungle drums started.
“Come downstairs, both of you. I’ve got something to tell you.” Max scrunched up a bit of pee-sodden loo roll and threw it into the toilet, then belted out of the bathroom and down the stairs. Benjie looked so sad I thought he was going to burst into tears. He stared at me with his sapphire blue eyes. Some kids have a way of sensing something’s wrong. I held him close to me in a feeble attempt to reassure him that things would be all right.
“Come on I‘ll give you a piggy back down“. I tried to steady myself on the banister rail, whilst he jumped from the top step onto my back. They were both getting so big, so heavy. I wobbled down the stairs into the lounge where I shook him off onto the sofa, before he could strangle me into unconsciousness, not that I cared, the way things were going. Cebeebies was blaring out of the TV and Max had opened a packet of Skips, but in doing so he‘d burst the bag and now the contents were scattered all over the floor. The cat was meowing at the window to come in. The place had turned into its usual school morning mayhem.
“I’m not watching this, it’s for babies, put five on Fathead, they have better cartoons.” Benjie demanded.
“Why do we always have to watch what you want? Tell him Mum. I was here first.”
Benjie prised the remote from Max’s hands and changed channels. Max leant over and dragged his nails down Benjie’s cheek making a red gash like Action Man’s realistic battle scar. I positioned myself between the two warring factions and grabbed the remote.
“Actually boys, I need to turn the TV off for a minute. I’ve got something I need to tell you” I interrupted.
“No way, Captain Puffy Pants is just starting.”
Click the screen went black and I heaved myself onto the settee.
“You spoil sport, I was watching that.”
“Yeah, fun wrecker.”
I paused not really knowing what to say. How could I find the right words? “Look, you know we told you we were going to live in America?” I sighed. “Well, things have gone a bit wrong…”
“What do you mean wrong? I’ve told everyone in my class I’m going to live in Disneyland.” Benjie gave me another piercing stare.
Why was it so hard being a mother? I’d read tons of books on parenting, but they all contained the same sort of message - “Consistency, stability and calm were the keys to parental success“. I suppose I didn’t really help myself when, with great consistency, I threw each book calmly into the recycling bin. I was a consistent nag and a consistent shopper, but consistency wasn’t my strong point where kids were concerned. If I’d had the patience of Job and was happy to deprive myself from the joy of shopping, then I suppose I could be consistent, but for me it was bad enough having to opt for stores with crèche instead of credibility. As for stability and calm, where was the fun in life when you added these into the equation? I tried again to explain,
“Well, yesterday, when Dad and I went to the American Embassy in London, a mean lady told us we couldn’t go and live in America.” I choked back my tears. I could kill that officious immigration bint. Not only had she ruined my life, but now she’d ruined my kid’s lives as well.
“So where are we going to live now?” Max asked sheepishly as he slid his hand down the front of his PJ’s.
“Are we going to be Big Issue Mum?” Benjie asked. He ran round the room yelling “Big Issue, Big Issue.”
“No we’re not going to be Big Issue. We just won’t have to sell the house. Maybe we’ll have to stay put here in Darlington.” The very thought of the next 20 years stuck in this hole where the sun only breaks through the grey skies for the two weeks a year that we laughingly call summer, filled me with dread.
“Well if we’re not going why did you sell all of our toys on eBay? We’ve got nothing to play with now. You’re rotten, you are.” Benjie kicked me in the shins and switched the TV back on. I couldn’t blame him. I was pissed off too.
“Mum can I have my breakfast now?” Maxi Moonbean smiled up at from a sea of crisps. “Yeah, who wants Coco Pops and who wants Cheerios?”
“Coco Pops for me”
“And me and it better have loads of milk on”
I wandered into the kitchen. “Had they understood a word I’d said? Did they realise what was going on?” I took the cereal from the cupboard and slowly ripped the serrated strip across the top. Nothing had prepared me for our sudden change in emigration strategy. It all seemed to be in the bag. Eighteen months we’d been planning this whole leaving thing. A year and a half searching for a potential business, slaving over financial projections, double-checking temperature charts, not to mention the seven long hours spent waiting in an upgraded cattle shed at the Embassy yesterday and for what? A nasty black stamp in our passports. “Application Denied”. That miserable bitch how could she? I punched the packet of Coco Pops sending it flying across the kitchen floor.
“No way am I going to permit you, a family of four, unlimited entry into the United States.” her words echoed over and over again. She said it with no emotion or sympathy. Just stamped our passports and handed them back, she didn’t even look up from her desk.
It got quite nasty after that. She had to call security. Mr Gom had gone into a rant about illegal immigrants and I don’t think his parting shot helped.
“Aye, but you let the bin Laden’s in, love. My wife has spent a fortune in your country. She’s kept your economy afloat with all her shopping.” As the security guards took hold of him, he yelled, “Go stick your Budweiser where it hurts”. Next thing I knew we were out on the street with me sobbing loudly and no Plan B to fall back on.

I looked out of the window longingly. Yet another grey Darlo day. How many more grey days would we have to endure? The crunch of crumbling Coco Pops shook me from my thoughts. I looked around. Another fight had broken out.
“Mum he hit me.”
“Liar, you started it.”
“For Christ sake, shut up and sort it out yourselves will you. Can’t you see I’m traumatised?” I prised them away from each other. “One more murmur from you two and I’m calling the Marmalade Home. In terror, the boys ran back to the lounge.
It always worked the threat of being sent away to a fictional home for naughty children. My friend, DJ, had dreamed up the idea one day when she caught her girls were smearing jam on the kitchen wall. It had scared her kids so much that she’d never had to use it much since. I was using it every week - at least. One day I’d pulled up outside this big Victorian building, which belonged to Railtrack. Once I’d stopped the car, I’d chucked the kids coats out onto the floor and told them to go and report to the Marmalade reception. That soon calmed them down.

I closed the door to drown out the noise then carefully scooped the Coco Pops off the floor and into the breakfast bowls. “Bit of dirt never harmed anyone,” I mumbled to myself. The phone rang. Oh God, the grapevine’s started already. I looked at the number and realised it was only Heth. She was my best friend, one of three true mates. We’d known each other ever since I’d moved here fifteen years ago. She was a real Good Samaritan and so good with the kids. Sometimes I think they wished that she was their Mum. Sometimes I wished she was.
“Hi it’s me; I just got your text. Geeb, I’m so sorry.”
“What can I say? I’m so upset. I can’t even think straight.”
“Look, I thought you might want me to take the boys to school this morning.” God, I was lucky to have such a good friend. “Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind. I don’t think I can face the playground this early on. Can you tell Mrs Cooke that I’m too depressed to come and hear the kids read today and tell her and Mrs Johnson what‘s happened. I don‘t know the kids might show some post traumatic stress symptoms or something.” Heth was a teaching assistant at High Coniscliffe. It was thanks to her that we’d got the boy’s names on the waiting list. It was top of the league table in Darlo. Everyone who remotely valued their kid’s education wanted to send them there.
“No worries, I’ll spread the word around, but I wouldn’t worry about the kids. When Tara Langley’s Mum died last year, she was running about the playground playing kiss chase the next day, laughing and joking as if it had never happened. Kids are resilient like that.”
I went back into the lounge and placed the cereal bowls onto the coffee table in front of each child. War had stopped and the kids were busy watching High 5. “Auntie Heather’s taking you to school today.” No response. “Did you hear me? I said you’re going to school with Auntie Heather today.”
“Right.” Max said spooning a massive helping of Coco Pops into his mouth, then immediately spitting them all over the sofa. “Can I have a bowl of Cheerios? These Coco Pops don’t taste very nice and they smell like cat pooh.”

With the kids out of the way, I flopped down onto the sofa with a steaming hot cup of tea. Peace at last. Why hadn’t anyone told me that being a mother was hard work? Hell, once I used to be a career focused jet setter. I even ran the New York sales office of a FTSE 100 company. I spent my time travelling all over North America and Europe, meeting with jumped up advertising hotshots, fiddling my expenses. God, and I thought that was hard work, so the minute I had the chance to board the good ship “Motherhood”, I jumped, like a sea rat deserting a sinking vessel. I thought this way; I would be in control of my hidden agenda, which revolved around coffee mornings and retail therapy. All justifiably accountable under my jurisdiction as a parent if you ask me. I mean, whilst parenthood is a valuable and noteworthy contribution to the human race, I am still an individual human being and my only real vocation in life is shopping.

Oh God, what am I going to do with myself? I suppose I’d better phone Mum and tell here what has happened. I was dreading making the call. She’d probably be glad that we weren’t leaving and taking her precious grandsons away to another Continent. It was all right for her, she’d lived her dream when she emigrated from Austria forty years ago. I curled up in a ball and changed channels to ITV. No, Mum can wait. I need to get my head straight first. I staggered back upstairs and into the bathroom. I suppose there was one thing I could do to ease this depression. I turned on the shower and started to brush my teeth whilst I waited for the water to heat up.

It was two o’ clock before Mr Gom emerged. I’d already been into town and blown ninety quid, most of it at the Clinique counter. Not that their Turnaround Cream could smooth away the wrinkles that had enveloped my sad life. Still the clinking of the till always made me feel happier.
“How are you feeling?” Mr Gom asked putting a supportive arm around my shoulder.
“Like shit,” I snapped. “I hate this country. Everything costs a fortune – face lifts, liposuction, hair extensions – all life’s little essentials and Tony Blair’s a jerk and the kids frigging spelling tests are getting on my nerves, and, and, what are we going to do?” I wailed.
“You go and have a cry into your Next Directory love; I’m off to the pub. You’ll soon think of some other fad to occupy yourself. Pick me up after karate will you?”
That was so typical of him, burying his head in the sand. All he really thought about was his beer and fags retirement plan.

I poured another cup of PG. God I’ve drunk so much today my teeth will be stained brown with tannin. Despondent and downright miserable, I turned to my PC and typed in “castles for sale.” “Hmm Warsaw, where the hell was that? Ugh Poland, too cold. Now, this looks promising, situated in a small village in the Loire Valley, a delightful chateau surrounded by vineyards, blah, blah, blah, twelve bedrooms, blah, blah, in need of some restoration…how much? One point five million Euros.” And this is how I spent the next hour, desperately clutching at straws.

I arrived at school five minutes late. The kids were already waiting with Mrs Cooke on the step. From the gate, I made eye contact. “Sorry” she mouthed oozing sympathy as she gave the kids a gentle push in my direction. I bustled them into the car, head down, hoping not to bump into anyone and then I felt a hand clamp onto my arm. I looked up furtively. Oh Christ, this was all I needed.
“I hear you didn’t get your visas. Benjie told Thomas at break today,” the former Mrs Gom sneered. “I expect the Gomster’s happy about it really. I know the trouble I had getting him to move two doors down.”
“Actually Jane he’s gutted. We both are. If it’s the last thing we do we’ll leave this damn hellhole.” And with that, I slid into the car and slammed the door, leaving her to gloat at my misfortune. That was so bloody typical. Of all the people I had to bump into it had to be her. She just couldn’t accept that maybe she was the problem in her marriage to Mr Gom. I mean, she decorated the house in twee floral prints when Ikea was telling everybody who was anybody to “Chuck out your Chintz.”

It was the same thing at karate two hours later. I hadn’t spent this much time in the limelight since my first husband left me for a dental nurse. I wouldn’t have minded, but he hadn’t been to the dentist for ten years and the first time he does, bang, a couple of fillings, a dental bridge and he’s into a full blown affair and there was me left at home wondering why he was flossing his teeth all of a sudden.
“I’m so sorry Geebie.”
“Don’t give up hope.”
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” and all of the other clichés people turn to in times of disappointment. I just wish I knew what the way was.
The boys rushed out of their lesson and fought over the bottle of Lucozade I was holding. “James said if we’re staying on another month, you’ve got to pay our fees Mum. “
“Yeah and I need some new kit,” Benjie demanded. The kids were just carrying on as though nothing life shattering had happened. I wish I were as resilient. “Come on, let’s go to McDonalds. I can’t be bothered cooking tea tonight; I’ll pay James on Thursday.”

“Hi, Heth, it’s me. I need to call a meeting of the Style Council. Yes, I know it’s noisy. I’m at McDonalds. I said McDonalds. “ Leaving the kids to chomp on their Happy Meals and try and figure out how to operate the piece of plastic tat that came with it, I gesticulated that I was popping outside. “Is that any better? Can you hear me now? Look, I bumped into the ex wife today and she’s really screwed me up. Do you think you could organise DJ and Sheroot and get round to mine tonight, about eight?” The Style Council was my support group, my bestest friends. We called ourselves the Style Council because we were dedicated shopaholics, hyper critical of each other (but that was part of the magic) and dedicated followers of The Rules, our bible. Set in tablets of stone by style gurus Trinny and Susannah, we never deviated, not even on period days. We had thrown mounds of non-rule clothing into charity sacks when “What Not To Wear” first appeared on TV. To us The Rules were far more important than the Ten Commandments. Having lived through the highs and lows of each other’s lives, they’d know better than anyone would how to cheer me up.

There was a quick tap on the door, and then DJ bounded in. “Geeb man, what the fuck’s going on? Heth said you didn’t get your visas and you’re suicidal.” She hugged me and ruffled my hair. DJ was a real rock. We sometimes called her Deb the Neb, because she could snoop around and dig out gossip from the tightest of situations and she was so down-to-earth. Beating around the bush saying things you wanted to hear was just not her style, no matter how hard the truth may be.
“Crack this open and it’ll be alright, a bottle of this and you‘ll think you‘re in Torremolinos.”
“DJ, you common bitch. Don‘t let Sheroot hear you talking so common.” The Chablis uncorked with a subtle pop. ”I was so looking forward to life in America, you know “Land of the Free” and all that.”
“Yeah, and home to the greatest collection of shopping malls the world has ever known.” “Hell, even Mr Gom felt that our Yankee cousins could accommodate his liquid appetite with all that Budweiser. What am going to do now?” I moaned.
“Let’s get pissed, I didn’t bring the car. That always makes me feel better. Sherootie’ll know what to do; she always has all the answers.”
Sherootie was the clever one. She was always so sensible and she never put a foot wrong in her life. When the rest of us got saddled with kids, she warned us that it would impinge on our shopping time and boy was she right. We tried to make out that she was the one loosing out, but sometimes when the kids are playing up and we are knee deep in poop, we wonder if we should have paid more attention to her.
“Answers about what?” a voice called from the hall.
“Oh God, Sheroot, the bottom has fallen out of my little world.” I sighed.
“I’ve heard. Heth text me at work today, but I was in a meeting and by the time I got out my battery had gone dead. Christ Geeb, you look a mess. Don’t let your standards drop just because you’re pissed off. You’ll end up looking like the woman formerly known as Mrs Gom,” then she planted a big kiss on my cheek.
“Talking of the witch, I only bumped into her at school this afternoon. She was ecstatic that we’d had our visas denied. She looked at me like a bloody prison warder locking me in a poky cell for the next 20 years.”
“I hope you told her she had no personality and no sense of style.”
“Not this time, I was too upset.”
“Heth’s going to be 15 minutes late. I’ll just put this tub of Hagen Dazs in the freezer. Whilst we’re waiting, you feast your eyes on these.” Sherootie laid a pile of magazines on the table; A Place in the Sun, Destination France, Property & Home Cyprus & Greece, Italia, Living Spain and Portugal Magazine. “You star, Sheroot. This must have cost a fortune. I knew you lot would sort this out for me.” As I flicked through the glossy pages I felt a small light of hope flicker on in my subconscious.

Heth hurried in looking flustered. “I’ve been all over town trying to get this. Marks’ was closed, so I had to get second best.” She plonked a Sainsbury’s raspberry trifle onto the table and began to peel off the lid. I grabbed a spoon from the drawer and scooped a mega portion into my mouth. Sherootie called us all to order. “Right, Mrs Gom has suffered a setback of the highest order. As you can all see it’s so bad it’s started to affect her sense of style.” She nodded at my slightly faded jeans. They were the right cut, but faded was so not allowed
“Things must be bad for you to turn up at a Style Council meeting blatantly disregarding The Rules.” DJ commented, “And your house is a tip. Is that cat shit or a pile of Coco Pops over there?” “Leave her alone DJ, she’s upset,” Heth sniped.
“Still no excuse.”
“Exactly” Sherootie said decisively, “Blatant disregard for the Rules is a cardinal sin, under any circumstance.” She scooped up a mouthful of trifle and carried on. “Let’s weigh up the options.”
“Well as I see it there are two; A. Mass suicide by chewing on the poison ink in our passports or B. Write off our dreams off to experience and to settle back into the rat race.” I groaned.
With those options on the table, Sherootie quickly improvised a plan C. - Find a new host country - in the sun.
“Yeah, I’ve already thought of that, but I don’t want a new place in the sun. I want to live in the U.S. there‘s more shops per square inch than anywhere else in the world. I spent too long working and travelling round Europe, it‘s old hat, I don‘t want to live there, or Africa, or anywhere else poor.”
“Can’t you get it into your head Geeb, you stupid cow, the US is a no, no, so forget it. There’s plenty of other countries with shops, look at Italy.” DJ said forcefully. “They speak Italian.”
“What about Devon or Cornwall?” Heth asked. Remember that book club woman, she moved down there. She said it was quite warm, well warmer than here and they‘ve got the High Street too.”
“It’s still the UK”
“No you want to be looking at Spain or Portugal for real warmth” Sherootie interjected.
“Full of English scumbags”
“No it’s not. There are some really beautiful parts. I did my year abroad in Barcelona and it was fab and full of shops.”
“Ok, Ok, you’re right. If I’m honest with myself, I know I’ll have to look for another host country. I just wanted to mourn the loss of what could have been. I suppose I’ll look at the bloody Middle East if it gets me away from here” I replied quaffing on another Spritzer.
“God, you’ve changed your tune.” DJ snorted.
“What about Mr Gom? What does he think about all of this?”
“Christ, when has Mr Gom ever featured in Geebie’s plans?” Sheroot added.
As if on cue, Mr Gom entered fag dangling from his mouth, jeans slack around his skinny arse.
“Evening ladies, I see the witches’ coven has gathered to pick over the pieces of the latest dilemma.” Mr Gom poked his head into the fridge and pulled out a couple of tinnies, He hesitated and put them back, “On second thoughts, I’m off to the pub.” The Pub, yes his fountain of life, The Baydale Beck Inn. He even had his own special bar stool there and if he came in whoever was sitting in it would graciously give it up. Mr Gom found nirvana a long time ago. Rumour has it that he was weaned from one kind of bottle to another at the age of two. Even now, Sunday lunch comes in two sizes, half and pint! I turned back to Heth, “See what I mean. He’s not bothered where he is as long as he’s got his beer and his fags.”
“Right Geeb, you need to focus. It’s going to be a harder job than you think getting Mr Gom back on track.”
“Yeah, you need to start an all out nag campaign. You know, really lay it on the line. Tell him its divorce or moving, that’ll push him into it.” DJ said.
“Well as you all know, my capacity to nag is substantial and I have quite a threatening manner when I want to”
“That’s the spirit. Now somebody get the Hagen Dazs out…”

So that’s how plan B came into fruition. I spent hours pouring over the magazines Sheroot had brought me. I scoured the internet and I spent every morning staring at travel books over a Latte in Ottakers, but I was still none the wiser as to where I should go and Sherootie was right about the nag campaign. It was proving much harder to get Mr Gom to shift out of his rut and think about an alternative to the States. It wasn’t that he didn’t agree with me, our debts were mounting, but it was always easier for him to hibernate in his comfort zone than set his world ablaze.
“Mr Gom, what am I going to tell the estate agents? Lisa was on the phone today saying Mrs Jablonska wants to come and measure up the windows.”
“Well she can’t, we’re not moving.”
“Why are we not moving?”
“You know why. We don’t have anywhere to move to.”
“Well what about Italy or Greece?”
“We don’t speak the languages and what would we do for jobs? We can’t just buy a business like in the States. I keep telling you this, but you don’t seem to listen and then you wonder where the kids get it from.”
“Lots of people emigrate without knowing the language, Christ my mother came over here with no more than 5 words in English, it never stopped her and if you’re that bothered about it we could move to Cyprus or Malta, they speak English there.”
“For God’s sake, will you just let it drop? I’m trying to watch the Bill”

In the end, it was MasterCard who forced his hand. A couple of days later there was a phone call from the credit card company threatening legal action if he didn’t pay up. I think that was the turning point, you see we didn’t have the money to pay off the debts that all of our trips to America and my closet shopping sprees had incurred. That was the skeleton in our closet really; you see Mr Gom once hailed from the world of High Finance – well, standard high street banking anyway. Rubbing shoulders with the North of England’s hoi polloi, advising them on their capital assets and their risk potential all from the safety of his comfort zone, Darlington. Cocooned in suburban Darlo, he never anticipated making any changes to his life for the next 30 years with the exception of maybe changing beer brands or even a swapping to something else in the diverse range of Embassy products. Then all that changed when the guaranteed safety of a life in High Street banking fell under the need to become trendy and streamlined. Suddenly the bottom-line became more important for the bean counters and somewhere near that bottom was Mr Gom bewildered at the prospect of having to re-think his future. He didn’t bother getting a proper job because it meant him spending hours filling out longwinded, complicated application forms and all for what? £5.00 an hour or whatever the minimum wage was. In the end, he signed on and started moonlighting for a friend who did up old dilapidated houses. We never talked to anyone about our private shame and no one ever asked. In a way, we pretended it wasn’t really happening by appearing to keep up the same standard of living even though we couldn’t afford to. I can’t deny that we didn’t privately worry about it. Just the shame of the kids on free school dinners was enough. I suppose that’s what had spurred him on to drop the emigration bombshell in the first place.

The day of the phone call, he sat brooding in the pub for hours on end. “He’s really taking the piss” I whinged as I dropped the kids off at DJ’s. When he finally staggered in the kids were back home and fast asleep in bed. I was livid. I focused firmly on the tele, pretending he wasn’t there. He dropped to his knees and I looked away, but rather than beg for my forgiveness, he proceeded to spread a large map on the floor. Curiosity got the better of me.
“What’s that? “ I scoffed.
“It’s a map of Europe.” he slurred then smoothed out the creases in the paper. He stood up and admired his handy work then tottered over to the coat rack. He grabbed hold of an old “Bob the Builder” scarf.
“What do you need that for?”
“It’s going to be a blindfold.”
“If you think I’m going to shag you after you’ve wasted God knows how much in the pub all afternoon, you can forget it.”
“Look Geeb, it’s obvious you’re not going to give up on this emigration lark so we’re going to be objective about this. Go and find a pin out of the “Really Useful Drawer“”
I fumbled to locate a pin but all I could find was a small Philips screwdriver. I handed it to him, and then sat back down on the sofa.
“I’ve spent the day wracking my brains about what to do and where to go. I’m none the wiser than you. So I thought let’s leave it to fate.”
“What do you really mean it? You’re prepared to go and live in Europe even if it’s in a country where you can’t speak the language?” I was amazed. I hadn’t even had to mention D.I.V.O.R.C.E.
“What choice do we have? MasterCard are threatening to put a charge on the house. I’ve stalled them, but we need to get out quick.”
“Well, I want to be the one who picks the country,” I pleaded
“You don’t even have a GCSE in geography, I got an “A” level,” Mr Gom boasted
“Yeah, but, you’ll cheat and go straight for the Costa del Sol ‘cos they’ve got more bars per square metre than anywhere else in the world”
“And your point is caller?”
“My point is Gom that this is a serious step in our future and I’m the one who is going to do it, alright?”
Defeated, he gave in, so long as I understood that if there were a tiebreaker, he would have the final say. As he blindfolded me, I prayed his mother would not pay us a surprise late night visit and be witness to what was rapidly beginning to look like some bizarre sex game. I raised the screwdriver over the map, trying frantically to cheat and find somewhere nice like Tuscany. Hesitating for a split second, I then stabbed it next to a piece of blue map, which I could just about see, and then I ripped off the blindfold.
“Where did it land?”
“Finland” snorted Mr Gom
“That’s not fair I’m doing it again. There‘s no way I‘m living near the North Pole”
“I told you, you were crap at geography”
Once again blindfolded and dangerous with screwdriver hovering over the map, I pierced it fiercely, this time a lot further south.
“Where now?”
“Oh, it’s a tie breaker, yippee doo dah, I get to choose” Mr Gom was gloating now. The screwdriver had landed on the border of Bulgaria and Turkey.

Bulgaria! They used to be Communists I hated Communism. It was the true enemy of the Free Shopper. I definitely favoured Turkey because it was hotter and the sea there was a magnificent shade of turquoise. I had holidayed on the Bodrum peninsula once and I remembered it was full of “knock off” designer gear. I pictured myself lying on a sun lounger sipping gin slings, dolled up in fake Versace and Armani.
“Turkey, it has got to be Turkey”, I exclaimed. Mr Gom felt differently. He had visited neither country, but he immediately preferred Bulgaria. His reasons were simple. There are too many friends of Osama in Turkey; we might get converted to some bloody sect if we go there”
I never imagined that I would emigrate to a former Communist country. To me, the Eastern bloc symbolised hardship and oppression; countries locked in a time warp now fighting desperately for recognition in the Western world. I also had bad memories of a Bulgarian skiing holiday I had taken in Borovets, 15 years previously. Fresh from the jaws of Communism, Bulgaria was primitive. The food was lukewarm, there was nothing worth buying, it was bitterly cold and my ex kept complaining of toothache.

On the other hand, I really just wanted to leave as quickly as possible and the TV programmes owed that Bulgaria was not a bad choice. It offered a low cost of living, a rising economy, potential EU membership, a stable political environment and most importantly hot summers and a coastline.

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Comments by other Members

Geebie at 15:14 on 17 February 2007  Report this post
A thousand thank you's in advance to everyone who comments on my work - good or bad. Your last comments were so helpful and I hope that has been reflected in this rewrite. The chapter is not completely finished due to running round after a sick child.

Luisa at 23:20 on 17 February 2007  Report this post
Hi Geebie,

First of all, I really hope the sick child is better!

There's so much energy in your writing, and such great humour. I still love the way you've depicted the family and its characters.

I can see how you've added a lot of dialogue and made this version even more fun-packed, but... I was worried at times that it was slightly too much? There was so much going on that I did find it hard to follow in places. For example, all the dialogue that went on when the children woke your main character up. It was good because you really got a sense of the chaos of the main character's house, but it did need to change pace after a while just to give the reader a breather, I think. So, although I think this section was really funny, it was too much for me at this point in the story - I was ready to move on from the chaotic house and children by then...

The crunch of crumbling Coco Pops shook me from my thoughts. I looked around. Another fight had broken out.
“Mum he hit me.”
“Liar, you started it.”
“For Christ sake, shut up and sort it out yourselves will you. Can’t you see I’m traumatised?” I prised them away from each other. “One more murmur from you two and I’m calling the Marmalade Home. In terror, the boys ran back to the lounge.
It always worked the threat of being sent away to a fictional home for naughty children. My friend, DJ, had dreamed up the idea one day when she caught her girls were smearing jam on the kitchen wall. It had scared her kids so much that she’d never had to use it much since. I was using it every week - at least. One day I’d pulled up outside this big Victorian building, which belonged to Railtrack. Once I’d stopped the car, I’d chucked the kids coats out onto the floor and told them to go and report to the Marmalade reception. That soon calmed them down.

I did think that you could simplify some of your scenes a little more, in general? Although I loved the asides and the jokes, so I'm not quite sure exactly what I'd advise you to cut. I found so much of this hilarious. I particularly loved:

a dental bridge and he’s into a full blown affair and there was me left at home wondering why he was flossing his teeth all of a sudden

I hope this makes sense and it helps!


Account Closed at 13:53 on 18 February 2007  Report this post
Hello, nice to see another version of this.

I too wondered that it might need some pruning. It's difficult to do but oftern few words can express the same as many.

Trying to pick an example here:

"Another triple with extra bacon and cheese Ma’am?“ the hunk behind the counter inquired. He must be all of 21. God I’m old enough to be his mother. Great bum though, great face too and that slow Yankee drawl… I shivered with pleasure. How I loved American accents. I hesitated. “Would it be greedy of me to have another? “ I glanced at his nametag. Brad. I leaned a little closer and squinted, he looked vaguely familiar.
Our eyes met for a second. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”


“Another triple with extra bacon and cheese Ma’am?“ the hunk behind the counter inquired in a slow, sexy Yankee drawl. I shivered with pleasure. God I’m old enough to be his mother.
“Would it be greedy of me to have another? “ I managed to drag my eyes from his amazing face to have a quick glance at his nametag. Brad. He looked familiar somehow but the name didn't remind me why.

(you can mention his great bum when he turns around maybe to the gril later on)

Hope this makes some kinda sense. Do ignore me if you think I'm way off track.

Definitely more fun packed now from start to end - this draft.

Great stuff, Geebie,



sorry about the typos there, should read: 'so often few words...." My keyboard has bad moments and my brain too...:)

Jo S at 17:02 on 18 February 2007  Report this post
Hi Geebie

Good on you for getting a rewrite done so quickly and with a sick child!

You've really turned this chapter round from previously which is great, but I also agree with Luisa and Alexandra. I too found myself slowing down at the same point as Luisa, I loved the way you opened the chapter, the dream sequence was funny and then the chaos of the kids' wake up call but then I was also ready to move on from the chaotic house and children like Luisa pointed out. I also agree with Alexandra's comments about pruning. There's so much in this chapter that it's almost too much to take in on a first reading. But I do think it is all really good stuff, it just needs to be spread out a bit more, there's lots of details that I think you can keep but weave into later chapters

I also wonder whether this chapter is a bit too long - over 6000 words is alot for an opening chapter.

But please don't take this as all negative because my overall feeling after reading this is that you have a real knack for humourous writing and I love your main character - she feels very, very real and I love her voice.

Hope this has helped!

Jo x

Lammi at 19:00 on 18 February 2007  Report this post
How far are you in with the novel, Geebie?

I really like the bits with the kids, and in general your style is zingy and fun, but I still think this is the wrong place to start. If I were reading about the adventures of a family who'd emigrated, I'd want to start with them there, and in the middle of a piece of action. The backstory of how they orginally wanted to go to the US could be fed in. However, this is only my opinion and I'm only going on a snippet. FWIW, I do think starting with a dream is a bit of a cliche, though.

Watch your punctuation of speech tags:

...perfect figure," he shouted over his shoulder
...better cartoons,' Benjie demanded.

and keep punctuation inside the speech marks:

...toilet as him."
"I was here first."
"No you weren't, Fathead."
"Mum, he's peeing on the floor again."
...little old England," I blushed.
...piggy back down."

Lammi at 19:06 on 18 February 2007  Report this post
I do think starting with a dream is a bit of a cliche, though.

Just realised, that's how I start The Bad Mother's Handbook, lol. :)

Geebie at 13:36 on 19 February 2007  Report this post
Hi Lammi
Thanks for your comments and thanks to everyone else who has commented. As to how far I am with the story, not too far is the answer. I kept a detailed diary (and still do) of things that happened when we moved here. I've written about 4 chapters which take you from the initial decision to the first impressions and then first contact with humorous estate agent who helps us to look for land. Originally I had planned on just using the info as a guide to moving to BG, but to be honest this just bored the pants off me because so many funny things have happened to us. Then I was going to do it as a diary.... an now I've started writing it as a novel..

Lammi at 13:45 on 19 February 2007  Report this post
Well I'd say just go for it, and you can always look at revising the start - if you want to! You may not - when you've got to the end. Most first chapters do get re-written in the light of the whole thing being finished, I'm guessing.

Account Closed at 17:38 on 19 February 2007  Report this post
Funny you said that Lammi, was going to add to here as a comment, Geebie, that you'll likely find that you'll end up having to do a hefty edit once the novel is all done so you might find it best to just get to the end first and post up chapters along the way. i.e. not to get too down if we've made a lot of comments!

I think I spend half as long editing than writing all things combined.

ang at 19:55 on 13 March 2007  Report this post
Hi Geebie,
Firstly I would like to say that this is probably not something I'd normally read. Not being a mother or a great lover of shopping and being stingy with my money I couldn't really identify with your MC, but I'm sure there's many people that would.
I agree with the comment that this could use some pruning. I felt as though I was having to wait for the exciting bit where they emigrate.
You do have a great energy to your writing which is the main thing that came across to me.
Really looking forward to reading about their trip to Bulgaria.
Angela :)

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