Thursday, 26 November 2015


I drag Husband to see Spectre. He has a day off so we go in the afternoon hoping he might stay awake. He doesn't, and I don't blame him. I love Bond movies, especially Sean Connery ones, even some of the Daniel Craig ones. Casino Royale for example, love that scene where he's going into cardiac arrest and has to use the defibrillator in the car. Genius. And all that Vesper stuff, so romantic, and I'm big on romantic. And if you haven't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with George Lazenby, you must, it's the best. Basically I fancy Bond, which I know no self-respecting feminist should admit to because he's an unreconstructed misogynist bullying assassin, but hey, he's also entirely made up. Husband's happy to go with me to see it because he usually benefits from the afterglow. 

Unfortunately there's no afterglow because Spectre is crap. It's dark, both literally and metaphorically, shot in a gloomy black, white and grey palette. I don't think Bond smiles once, let alone cracks a joke, and I like jokes. It takes itself way too seriously. Nicely acted and constructed and all that but not fun, and Bond should be fun. Not sexy either. Gone off Daniel Craig. Maybe because of those dismissive things he said about the franchise when he was meant to be publicising it. He's obviously grown to hate playing Bond and it shows. Andrew Scott, on the other hand, who plays 'C', now he can come round and do a bit of surveillance on me anytime. Although I'm sure he wouldn't want to, not least because he's gay.

"What did you think?" asks Middle One when we get home.

"Didn't like it," I say, "but that could be because I could tell Daddy didn't like it."

"I thought it was good," says Middle One, who has already seen it. "But I was in a really good mood when I went with my mates, so maybe that helped."

Good point. The mood you are in and who you're with has a huge effect. I always regret seeing Mama Mia! the first time on my own on a drizzly afternoon in Clapham, sitting next to a dodgy geezer in a mac. But I had no one to go with and I was desperate.

Next morning at breakfast as I'm stirring the porridge Middle One has another question: "Do you think we should stay in the EU?" he asks. 

Jesus. I haven't even had a cup of coffee yet, my eyes aren't fully open, my brain hasn't found first gear. This is one of the difficulties with teenagers - with children - they ask questions you can't always answer, sometimes early in the morning. I prefer it when they ask about films.

"Er, well, tricky isn't it, I mean…"

I recall this wasn't a problem for my parents. They were confident. They had answers. They gave them to us. And they agreed with each other. (That's teachers for you.) God? There isn't one. Really? No. In fact you don't even have to say the Lord's Prayer in school assembly if you don't want to, Libby (that's me). I don't? No. I don't have to put my hands together and my eyes closed, like they tell me? You don't. Wow. So I didn't. Instead I had a high old time watching which of my primary school teachers did and which didn't (lots didn't). No one ever tackled me about it. So I'd know what to do in the cinema if that controversial Church of England Lord's Prayer advert came on before Spectre, which it won't. I'd just look around to see who's praying and who isn't and then carry on munching my Minstrels. 

I have a go at the EU question. "Well, on balance," I say, "I think we should remain a member of it. Better to be in the tent pissing out than out the tent pissing in. Or something."

"Humph," says Husband, from over at the dishwasher where he's re-stacking everything in his own image, as usual. The 'humph' is probably because he doesn't agree, as usual. Our children are growing up in a different atmosphere from the one I grew up in. Lots of discussion, as in my own childhood, lots of debate. Very little agreement. I'm hoping this is healthy and means they can draw their own conclusions.

"Why? Give me some actual reasons," says Middle One, rather unfairly singling me out. "Everyone gives an answer but no one gives reasons."

"Right, good point. Again. Um, yes..."

Somehow I find myself dragged into a discussion about open borders and free trade between nations with Middle One calmly shooting down every thing I say, pointing out that what I profess to like about the EU we could happily have without being a member of it. Apparently. Like Norway. He suggests that I, and lots of other people, equate not wanting to be a member of the EU with UKIP and racism and lack of tolerance about migrants and immigration, when the two things are not inextricably linked and the Schengen Agreement is a completely separate thing. Another good point. In fact all his points are good.

I think it's safe to say I'm intellectually out of my depth, which has started to happen a lot lately, particularly if I mistime picking Youngest up from his Maths tutor and instead of merely handing over cash and smiling winsomely, must perch on the edge of a chair while the exterior angle of a dodecahedron is being calculated. The lovely tutor actually looked in my direction this week, as if expecting some sort of response. Me? Suddenly I must deal with something urgent on my phone. Ah yes, someone important has liked my tweet…

I will have to begin answering tricky questions in the manner of my paternal grandmother. If someone asked her something to which she did not know the answer (to be honest most things fell into this category), she would say she gave all her brains to her two clever sons. Not a great retort for those of us who profess to be feminists - and yet who like a bit of Bond - but it seemed to work for her.

"You know what the EU is, don't you?" says Middle One as I'm spooning the porridge into bowls.

"No," I say, "apparently not."

"It's Spectre," he says.

I don't think he means it's monochrome and humourless, although that kind of works. I think he means it's without a mandate and yet controls almost everything we do. But at least if it was headed by Andrew Scott and not Jean-Claude Juncker I would definitely know which way to vote when the time comes.

Love E x


P.S. "Oh she's not a feminist," Middle One said a few weeks back, talking about a girl he knows, as if this is a good thing. Hang on a minute. "Any woman who says she's not a feminist, is mad," I told him. "Being a feminist means you believe women are equal to men and should have equal rights in the eyes of the law. There's nothing not to like about that and some women died for it." 

I might not know anything about the EU, or how to calculate the exterior angle of a dodecahedron, but I know that.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A class of their own.

"Kitty achieved an outstanding eleven A*s and one A at GCSE and is now studying five A-Levels, planning to go to Oxford to read Astrophysics with Further Maths on the side. In her spare time she plays volleyball, netball, rugby and hopscotch, all at international level and also cello, piano and comb and paper up to Grade Ten, while blindfolded. In the summer she travelled to Madagascar to teach disabled, orphaned, dyslexic children how to read. She's now going to sing an aria from Cosi fan Tutti, while standing on one leg."

Okay, so I exaggerate a little. It's Thursday night and we're at the sixth form awards evening. We never got here for Eldest. He did get an award at the end of Year 13 but he'd already left by then. He was expected to come back to get it. You must be kidding. Too cool for school. Really, he was, too cool to come back to school to collect it. I thought about going without him, sitting there in the front row, clapping manically to the empty space on stage when they called out his name, but decided it might look a bit desperate. 

So here we are for the next one - in Year 12 - with a seemingly endless stream of preternaturally accomplished kids parading in front of us as we wait his turn. Loads of them. Loads and loads. Especially girls. Unbelievably brilliant. All "mature," and "very hard workers," and so focussed on their future it can actually be read out as they traverse the stage: "Hoping to study anthropology." "Hoping for a career in politics." "Hoping to go to Oxford." An awful lot of them, as it happens, "hoping to go to Oxford."

No wonder teenagers are stressed out of their still-developing minds. Haven't they discovered the joys of having no flippin' idea what you're going to do with your life? Spending Friday night down the Black Bull drinking rum and black, hoodwinking the bartender you're really 18 when you're actually just 15? Or hanging out at Casanova's nightclub in the city centre until 2 am on Sunday morning with a boyfriend who's already left school. Then dashing off that overdue A-Level English essay in registration on Monday morning, seconds before Sir arrives? (I know I'm making it sound like Cider With Rosie and it was only north Yorkshire in the late 80s). When did youth become so serious?

They seem to fall into two camps these days. Those off their heads every weekend on MDMA and "gas", Instagramming their body parts and giving each other sexually transmitted infections, and those working their socks off, joining the debating society, backpacking to Cambodia, building huts for one-legged single mums and trekking the Atlas mountains for the Diamond Studded D of E (Duke of Edinburgh for the uninitiated). 

We didn't have awards at my school and I'm sure I wouldn't have been awarded one if we had. The only times I stood on the stage were to read out my poetry (I know, I apologise), when I was in plays, and once to inform my baffled audience that the way ahead was to nationalise all industry, when I stood as the Labour party candidate for our school mock general election. I remember a boy put his hand up and asked what's the difference between Elizabeth's policies and those of the Communist party? I replied that he had a good point, not much. The Tories won by a landslide. 

I fear for the youth of today. So much is expected of them. So much pressure. We just muddled along, did a bit of work, got some half-decent A-Levels, which was more than adequate to get into a half-decent university and then go on and get a half-decent job. There was very little pressure, no university fees turning the future into a massive gamble, requiring you to throw your disc on to the spinning roulette table of life in the hope that your number might come up and you'll be able to pay it all off. Some of their numbers might come up, some of those sixth formers applying to Oxford might get in. But just based on the quantity applying, versus the number of places available, there are going to be some very disappointed geniuses up there.

Meanwhile we're selling them a lie: work hard and you will be amply rewarded. Rewarded with what? Plentiful free university places? A job for life? A house? A manageable mortgage? A decent pension? A functioning NHS? Er, no, sorry, that's all used up, your grandparents had it. And no matter that they might end up with anxiety along the way, or anorexia, or cut themselves because the pressure is too bleeding much to bear and it must have an outlet somewhere. Not just the pressure to succeed academically either, but to parade across that stage looking impossibly gorgeous and slim and attractive, both for boys and girls, before posting a picture of yourself with said award afterwards on Snapchat or Instagram (Facebook is "for losers," remember) looking impossibly gorgeous and slim and attractive. The pressure is huge, so huge many are buckling under the weight of it all, 16% of 12 - 16 year olds experiencing "neurotic symptoms," according to mental health charity YoungMinds. 

Sod it, I say. Grab that award and run from that stage and just keep on running, like Forrest Gump. Run and run until your impossibly skinny pubescent legs can't carry you any longer, until you flop down exhausted in a green and pleasant field far from school, a sweeping vista of bucolic freedom stretching before you, the claustrophobic towers of the mad metropolis far behind, like something from Logan's Run, and weep for all the fun you never had. Then go off and find a nice little village pub and order a rum and black. 

Love E x 


P.S. And yes it was lovely to see him receive his award and obviously I don't mean him, he needs to keep at it.

A still from Logan's Run, 1976. The film depicts a dystopian future in which the population is maintained to preserve consumption of resources by killing those who reach the age of 30 (and more importantly Jenny Agutter is in it and she's hot as hell).

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Homeland of Counterpane.

Hit the water, melt into the cold, head goes under, arms circle, a silken glide, above and below, breathe and exhale, liquid then air, in and then out, emerge then descend, think and then don't. Repeat. Take a breath. Sink. Deep. Deeper. To the bottom. The world through a watery prism. Like for Dustin Hoffman in that incredible scene in The Graduate. There's something amazing about swimming, once it gets hold of you it's hard to shake off, like droplets.

Have you ever become addicted to exercise? Started to crave the escape, the endorphin hit? Chase it, plan for the next? It's easily done. It's the reason I went swimming despite having a cold. I ignored it and now I'm here in bed, another day fading through the crack in the bedroom curtain, occasional fireworks glimpsed climaxing above rooftops, missing a night out with mates to celebrate a birthday. 

The head cold morphed into something worse, something insidious, pernicious, that infiltrated my system, washed through my defences, brought me down flat like a well-executed terror plot.

I remember part of a poem in my Child's Anthology of Poetry, by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Land of Counterpane: "When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head, And all about me toys did lay, To keep me busy all the day." 

He had a weak chest, Robert Louis Stevenson, a tendency to coughs and fevers as a child. Like many of the Romantic poets, like the Brontes, he died quite young: age 44. I'd like to give my illnesses a romantic spin, imagine I have a poet's lungs, if not the talent to go with them. If I'd lived in the 19th century and not this one I'd probably have succumbed to consumption by now.

I don't have toys about me on my counterpane but I do have stuff on the duvet: newspapers, books, Kindle, iPhone and, crucially, a laptop. I could do some work or continue writing something of my own, or I could carry on watching Homeland in the daytime, the ultimate sin. I started watching it when Eldest was back at half-term. We watch stuff together, we did the whole of Twin Peaks, Fargo, Breaking Bad. All I have to do is log in to the Netflix account, press 'continue watching' and...

So this is how I find myself gorging on episode after episode. Finish, click, play, forward through the titles,"previously on Homeland," back to suburban, paranoid, Star-Spangled Banner, flag on the immaculate front lawn, spooked-out, Washington DC. Filling myself in so I can watch season five: the ultimate debrief. 

I take a break between episodes. It's warm. I open the bedroom window, remove clothing, lie on the bed. Wind rattles the loose casement, curtains flutter, guns flare from the office where Youngest is playing a computer game. I shut the laptop. Sleep...

Later. It's dark. The familiar room is alien, menacing, full of shapeless forms. Is it day or night? Week or weekend? I'm bathed in sweat. The door opens. Did someone open it or is it the wind? Where am I? In a cabin in the woods by a lake with a handsome marine. He's strong, intelligent, a tortured soul. Gunfire ricochets. A shell explodes overhead. Is he friend of foe? Only I can save him. He approaches the bed. Something amazing is going to happen, something erotic, poetic, life-changing, defining, cleansing, a rebirth, an epiphany.

"I'm doing soup," says Husband, "chicken broth or pea and ham?"

Love E x


P.S. Turns out ‘binge-watch' - to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession - is the Collins Dictionary word of the year 2015. I watched 22 episodes of Homeland in one weekend. So I caught the zeitgeist as well as the flu.

Paris 13.11.15

Friday, 6 November 2015

Car Crash.

When I was about twenty I crashed my parents’ car. I’d just passed my test. I was turning right across two lanes. The driver coming towards me in the opposite near lane stopped and beckoned me on. I went. Another car coming up fast in the further lane ploughed straight into me. Smack: huge dent in the nearside. I drove home. Went straight up to the bathroom in my parents’ house. Pulled the blind down. Crouched in the corner in the dark. Shock. Humiliation. Wanting to disappear.
Everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind,” I read this week. I also read Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter and watched Homeland: Series One, all of it, back to back and read an article in the Guardian about the migrants in the camp at Calais and caught a snippet of a programme about a boy who nearly died in a motorbike accident, 19 years old, smashed to smithereens, and wrote 11,000 words and watched Catastrophe on Channel 4 and read that suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 18 and 45. But I knew that.
“Tell me if you ever feel suicidal,” I say to my boys as they're going out the door on their first day back to school after the half-term holiday.
“I’m feeling suicidal right now,” says Youngest, “what you gonna do about it?” 
I laugh. He laughs. Middle One laughs. Without humour (and music) life would be barren as a refugee camp. Never hang out with people who can’t joke about anything and everything and especially themselves. Or with people who refer to themselves in the third person. Often these are the same people.
There are jokes about sex and death in Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. There’s a reason the French call coming a ‘little death.’ There are jokes about sex in Catastrophe too. Filthy ones. When Rob Delaney pretended to wank into a loo because a woman at work turned him on I tweeted it was close to the bone, which I thought was funny, and quite wonderfully so did he. 

I go trick or treating with Youngest and his friend and my friend and it's so busy we can’t walk on the pavement. Lots of houses have signs on the door that say: “Run Out!” I overhear people speaking Polish and Spanish and French.  “Foreigners coming over here stealing our sweets,” says Middle One when I tell him about it later and I laugh because that’s a joke.
Adorable children keep coming to the door when I’m cooking something to take to a Halloween dinner party. “What do you say?” I ask. “Happy Halloween?” they reply. Surely they shouldn’t get sweets if they don’t know the drill.
I sit next to someone at the Halloween dinner party who says, “Your children might go off the rails and get into drugs."
“I doubt it,” I say. 
“How do you know?” he says.
“The bigger tragedy for me, more than an interrupted career, would have been never to have had children,” I say. 
“How do you know?” he says. 
“I know,” I say. “I would have had children at twenty if I’d found someone willing to have them with me... and if I’d been a competent driver. I would have spent £100,000 on IVF if I’d had problems conceiving. If that didn’t work I’d have gone to China and stuffed a couple of little girls in my luggage.” That's also a joke.
I tell people I hate Halloween ever since I made that K9 costume for Middle One out of two cereal boxes covered with silver foil with red transparent Quality Street papers for the eyes and ears that swivelled and he threw a tantrum and said it was rubbish. He was about eight years old.
But I don’t really hate Halloween. I’ll miss it when the children have gone. It was once about death but now it’s all about confectionery. That’s quite funny when you think about it.
Everyone wants to go up to the bathroom and pull the blind down and crouch in the dark in the corner sometimes, especially when the doorbell keeps ringing.
I realise that now.

Love E x


P.S. I haven’t had a car crash since. I love driving. Especially now with heated seats and music turned to max.

Friday, 30 October 2015

A recipe for love.

We're just back from Seasalter near Whitstable in Kent where we spent two nights in a tiny house by the sea, dwarfed by a huge sky, looking out toward a grey-pink strand, which came and went and went and came and probably always will.

Eldest was with us for a few days during his reading week, but now we're home he's packing for the train back to university. We'll all be together again at Christmas. 

"I'll make you something to eat," I say, "for the journey." I peer into the fridge. There's homemade chicken stock in a jar.

At Seasalter we strode out across the beach, Youngest, Eldest and I, toward the silver sea which ran away from us even as we approached it, becoming stuck in clawing mud, holding on to one another, laughing, listening to the wind and to oystercatchers calling...

I open a cupboard: a packet of couscous. I measure some out, boil the chicken stock. In the salad crisper there's bits of veg and herbs, a packet of kale. I take a handful of kale, chop it, add it to the stock... 

"Listen," said Youngest as we huddled on the beach, stuck fast in mud, "we can still hear his guitar, all the way from here!" It's Middle One sitting outside on the bench in front of the little house, playing to an audience of sky.

When we came before, years ago, maybe three or four, perhaps even five years before this with these three same boys, only younger versions, Eldest brought his ukulele instead of his guitar and played it standing by the open door. I took a photograph: his silhouetted frame against a rippled sky, music floating free, across a Magwitch marsh...

I pour the boiled stock with kale over the couscous in a large bowl, cover with a cloth, go to look in the pantry.

We walked to Whitstable again just as we did that time before, along the same stretch of beach, the distant town clinging to that edge of bay, beckoning us, appearing closer than it is. We ate in the same restaurant too: fish and samphire, local beer, but this time we investigated the shops after. The boys buy 'vinyl' in a record store, which they didn't last time and pear drops from the jar in an old-fashioned shop, which they did the time before. Then we return, three pairs of hands clutching sweet-filled paper bags...

In the pantry I find two tins: mixed beans, and salmon. Once drained in they both go with the stock-infused couscous, plus some chopped veg and herbs: peppers, celery, cucumber, spring onion, fresh chilli, coriander, mint, parsley...

We walked back, sun dropping fast behind beach, a wide sand of pinks and blue, shot through with metallic threads, topped off with an eerie calm. Three boys running before, wellies scuffing, pools splashing, loping and laughing; the boys they once were, the boys they still-almost are...

A squeeze of lime over couscous, added chilli flakes, glugs of oil, a salt and pepper stir, calculating the nutrition: fish and carbohydrate, pulses and veg, brassica and stock, herbs and oil, seasoning… no nuts. Adding a handful of pine nuts. Is that all? What else? Stir again. Feeling the need to add more. 

Finding tupperware, spooning the mixture, rooting about for a plastic fork, sellotaping to the lid. 

"Here you go," I say, "something to eat on the train." 

"Thanks," he says. "What is it?"

"Some couscous," I say, "with stuff."

What I don't tell him is, it's chock-full of love. 

Love E x


P.S. The collar bone is healing well.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The surgeon.

Wednesday, and Youngest has an appointment at the fracture clinic at the hospital for his broken collar bone. We're taken straight through to an examining room where we sit opposite one another and wait. Someone comes in behind me. "I'm Rob," says that someone, in a deep voice, "I'm the surgeon." 

Before I turn to look I realise my interest is already piqued by the manner of his introduction. He had me at "I'm the surgeon." I'm thinking Dr Ross in ER, Guy Secretan in Green Wing, Hugh Laurie in House, Hawkeye in Mash… 

And it turns out Rob is quite nice to look at, nothing amazing, no George Clooney, a bit short and balding on top actually but with nice eyes, plus he's a surgeon. Did I mention?

Rob asks me to remove Youngest's school shirt and tie, which I do, all the buttons and the cuffs and everything, while still looking at Rob, which is not easy. This is because Rob is explaining about the break: "Children's bones are very different from ours," says Rob.

That's "ours," as in his and mine. 

Did I mention he's a surgeon?

"They don't tend to snap, as ours do," Rob goes on.

That's "ours" again.

"Greenstick fracture?" I say, because suddenly I'm really keen to impress Rob, perhaps because he has nice eyes, but more likely because he's a surgeon.

"That's right," says Rob, holding my gaze for a fraction longer than strictly necessary.

I ask Rob how the bone heals itself - what's going on in there, right now? - and Rob is  happy to explain, in detail, for ages...

It's all about how the bone is in a sort of protective sleeve and within this sleeve it initially bleeds on impact and then makes a ball of material to wrap around itself, of developing bone and blood...

Something along those lines anyway, all deeply fascinating and terribly well elucidated but I don't absorb all of it because I've come over a bit unnecessary, what with the nice eyes and - did I mention? - because Rob is a surgeon.

I tell Rob that Youngest has had four fractures over the years, all in very different circumstances: one in P.E. at school, one falling off a bike, one when a friend dropped him during a piggyback then this last one on the stairs, so I'm wondering if there's something the matter with...

Not at all, says Rob, it's all perfectly normal. He says he fractured his wrist three times in one year when he was a lad, playing football, but he offers to go and look at the x-ray again anyway, "I'd like to reassure you, Elizabeth," he says.

Elizabeth. That's my name. He used my name. Did I tell him my name? So I must have, when he came in and said, "I'm Rob, I'm the surgeon." To be honest it's a bit of a blur.

Rob leaves the room and I struggle Youngest back into his shirt. When he returns he says, "Everything's fine. He has normal bones; strong, healthy bones."

"That's great," I say, "thank you."

"That's no problem at all," says Rob. "So, one of the nurses will find him a better sling, strap him up, then you won't need to come back, the bone will heal by itself, he's discharged."

"Discharged? "I say, "we won't have to come back?"

"Unfortunately not," says Rob.

He said unfortunately, just in case you missed that.

After Rob's gone I sit for a moment, a bit flushed, brushing a stray hair from my face.

"What's the matter with you?" says Youngest, "you look weird, you have a weird look on your face."

"Do I?" I say, clearing my throat, springing back to life, "it's probably my age."

In the evening I tell Husband there was a dishy surgeon at the hospital who flirted with me.

"Women are so shallow," he says, "or maybe it's not shallow to fancy a surgeon?"

"It's strange," I say. "I was definitely interested in him because he was a surgeon but I'm not sure it's shallow, it's probably deep. You know, women are programmed to look out for men who can pass on intelligent genes and all that. It's primaeval, it's not really our fault."

"Right," says Husband.

"And men," I go on, warming to my theme, "are programmed to look for something different."

"Big breasts?" Says Husband.

"Exactly," I say. "But it's very unfair of me to tell you about this surgeon, isn't it. I mean, if you came home and said you fancied some big-breasted nurse you met today, I wouldn't like that at all."

"I wouldn't," says Husband.

"What?" I say. "Fancy her, or tell me?"

"I don't know," says Husband. "I never met her."

"Anyway," I say, "I'm not sure I'd want to be married to Rob," realising I'm taking this idea and somewhat running with it, quite a long way, "women must throw themselves at him all the time."

"And he's a flirt," says Husband.

"Yes!" I say. "How awful, to be married to a flirt."

"Must be," says Husband.

Love E x


P.S. Did I mention he was a surgeon?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Cotton Wool.

"I think he might have broken his collar bone again," says the text from Husband. It's not the best message to read on your iPhone when you've just got in from a boozy night out. And I was only plugging it in to charge in the kitchen before going to bed.

Have you ever wanted to turn the clock back? Make something that just happened, unhappen? That's what I want right then. I want to erase the message, go out of the front door, come back in again to a different reality, like Sliding Doors, or an episode of Mr Benn, to a house in which Youngest had not just broken his collar bone. It's what I still want to be honest, all these days later, because the repercussions go on, and on. It's made me realise how everything can change in a heartbeat, the blink of an eye, and not always for the better. 

I go upstairs. Youngest is in bed, his father in attendance. He's been holding it together but now he sees me, he cries (Youngest, not Husband). He knows it's broken because he's broken his collar bone before, twice, both sides, now a repeat, (obviously, no one has three collar bones). He slipped on the stairs coming down from his room to the middle landing. He felt it go. Heard the snap. Yuk.

I can tell by the way he's holding his arm that something is broken. It's his fourth break, he also broke his arm once, falling off his bike. I've questioned this since: is there something the matter? Are his bones particularly fragile? The other two boys haven't broken a thing. In A&E early next morning (we decide painkillers and sleep are more beneficial than a long wait in a busy London hospital at night), I'm told, no, it's within the normal range in childhood; it's plain bad luck. 

Just so you know, in case it ever happens to one of yours, there are tell-tale signs with breaks: the victim is generally still, quiet, pale, hardly moving the limb in question, holding it protectively. It's not all screaming and wailing, as you you might expect.

"What about Iceland?" he sobs. There's a residential school trip to Iceland in a week. He hasn't been on a residential school trip with his secondary school before. He desperately wants to go. What can I say? What would you say? 

"Let's not think about that now."

"Just concentrate on getting some sleep, letting your body heal."

"Maybe it's not broken anyway."

"Even if it is broken, you might still be able to go."

"Don't worry, we love you."

These are some of things I say, as I stroke his brow, sitting on the floor next to his bed, not in it, for fear of knocking him. It's a mother's role: to be soothing, loving, calm, then to go downstairs, eventually, when the child is finally settled and asleep, to the bedroom where the husband has taken himself off to bed already (to be fair he had all the drama earlier), and say: "Oh my fucking God I can't believe it! What the hell happened?" 

We can't wrap our kids in cotton wool, much as we might like to. We can't stop bad things happening to them. I'm blaming Husband, when really I blame myself for having been out enjoying myself with a friend. I know this. 

"What happened? When?" I want to know, as if it will make any difference.

"I was calling him down from his room. He needed to do his Biology homework."

"What time?"

"About 8.45. He came out the door, slipped on the carpet, in socks, put his arm out to stop himself..."

8.45! 8.45 is way too late to start on his homework. If I'd been at home it wouldn't have been 8.45, it would have been earlier, so it wouldn't have happened. I think all this, and then I say it all too. Cruelly. Unfairly.

"No, it might not have happened if you had been home," says Husband, "it might have been worse, he might have fallen and fractured his skull."

True. There's no logic to what I am saying. I'm cross with the world. He obviously can't go on the school trip, it's just not going to work. Later we're told we probably won't get the money back either (£800). It's not the school's fault. It's not the boy's fault. It's not Husband's fault. It's not my fault. It's life.  

I happen to catch some of those Stand Up To Cancer films on the television a few days later: a little boy who couldn't play football anymore because he had a rare form of cancer, who then died; the happily married couple who've done everything together their whole lives, and then she died, leaving him alone. I think: Youngest has only broken a bone, it's not life-threatening, we're lucky. Yes, everything can change in a heartbeat, but it could have been so much worse. It really could.

Love E x


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I'm telling Middle One a funny story, concerning the book Cider With Rosie... 

"So I say to my friend, 'Oh yes, and I met him once, you know, the author, Laurie Lee, in the Chelsea Arts Club, I was with the poet Adrian Henri'. And my friend says, 'He was at the University of York as well,' and I say, 'No, he really wasn't, I think you're confusing him with Laurie Taylor', and she says, 'Who's Laurie Taylor?' And I say, 'You know, off Radio 4'. And she says, 'And Michael Caine was in the film of it,' and I say, 'No, he really wasn't, he's a Cockney, and she says, 'He can act, you know Elizabeth!' And when I get home I google it, and Michael Caine was in The Cider House Rules!
And I laugh, because I think this is totally hilarious, and Middle One says, "That might be the most middle class anecdote I've ever heard in my life."