Friday, 30 April 2010

The glass window

There’s crunching underfoot as we stagger out of the house first thing in the morning. Glass on the pavement means only one thing around here: but which car is it?

“They took the disabled badge,” explains Mr Patel. He saw us staring at the mess - and his damaged car window, “apparently they can sell them.”

On our street, in the last twelve months, we’ve had our Jack-O-Lantern taken, a stabbing two doors away, the Christmas wreath burnt off the door, a domestic in the night (complete with crying child as the adults screamed at each other) and, of course, the usual smattering of burglaries. Strangely, no one has yet broken into our discarded-sweet-and-biscuit-wrapper-mobile: a beaten-up Zafira with faded stickers and torn child seats. But we did lose it recently.

Coming out of the house and wondering up and down the street with two anxious children in tow muttering (inappropriately) to myself, “where the hell has Daddy left the ****ing car!” I hit upon, what seemed at the time, the only plausible scenario: Middle One had forgotten to lock it after retrieving something and it had been nicked. I rang husband with news and walked them to school.

Luckily, I didn’t get round to ringing the police before husband rang back saying some smarty-pants in his office suggested joy riders don’t usually go for eight year-old Zafiras. Husband then remembered he’d left it in a disabled bay, he meant to go and move it but forgot. It had been towed.

But back to today. I’m off to get my hair done because we’re going to a recording of Jonathan Ross. We have special passes granting access to the Green Room and the man himself. On the way out I see Mr Patel hoovering up glass from his car.

A very long time ago I was in love with Jonathan Ross. It’s because of him that I married a man with a quiff and a London accent. I resolve to tell JR this - he will be bowled over by my lovely hair and we will run away together...

The visit to the hairdresser is not the haven of tranquillity I desire. My hairdresser (let's call him P), camp as Christmas but not gay - because look, I’m in a relationship and have a child! - decides to unburden himself (and so burden me) with his relationship problems. Isn’t it meant to be the other way around? P gets as much counselling out of me as I get hairdo out of him. Perhaps we should call it quits with no payment necessary?

Later, Television Centre makes me nostalgic and wistful. It was here, as a fresh-faced 25 year-old, I directed my first children’s programmes - back when I had a life - ones with celebrities in them who did what I said. Now I’m mere audience fodder for celebrities.

I go to the loo and pretend I’ve been magically transported back twenty years and like in Tom’s Midnight Garden I will walk out of the cubicle into 1991. Instead of racked seating I will return to the director's gallery and tell everyone what to do. It will be a life untouched by children and domesticity…

But it’s 2010 and I go back in the studio to be told how to laugh.

It’s a good show and JR is charming if slightly weird. Brother and husband are too starving hungry by the end of it to countenance going back to the Green Room to meet him, but we do brush shoulders in the corridor. He’s surrounded by fans, looking slightly weird with wild eyes. Probably a good thing I didn’t marry him then. He doesn’t notice me, or my beautiful hair.

We go for dinner with brother and sister-in-law, getting a cab home very late and disturbing foxes, and probably the odd car thief, as we tumble out noisily into the street.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Milk and honey

Milk with a raw egg and some honey: Mrs Patel next door tells me this is what I should give Youngest every day because he’s so skinny. “Yes,” I smile. I’d like to tell her we feed him pancakes and waffles with maple syrup instead which is, more or less, the same thing but the language barrier deters me. She always tells me he’s skinny and I always reply the same way, agreeing and adding lamely that I was a very skinny child too.

Speaking of lamely, when she hears Youngest has hurt himself (he fractured his collar bone playing piggy backs) she determines to walk all the way from her house to ours to see for herself. It’s about three meters. If I use the words slow and excruciating to describe her progress they will be inadequate. Suffice to say that in the time I’m standing at the open door I could have made a cup of tea and sent two emails.

You know that scene in Life of Brian? My back is old, my eyes are bent, my legs are weary…something like that. I feel guilty to be so impatient waiting for a very ancient, kind woman to come and see my injured child.

She sits in the living room on the sofa near Youngest and looks around. She doesn’t go out much staying in that big, empty house all day while her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are out at work. She has the heating turned up to max in all weathers: their gas bill was £1,600 for three months.

This little visit is probably the highlight of her week and I try to remind myself this as I think of all the things I could be doing. I can almost hear the washing machine calling, it’s gaping void waiting to be filled, and the computer quietly humming from upstairs…

She tells me about an accident long ago when she lived in her one roomed home in Nairobi. I’m not completely sure but I think it involved a sleeping three-month old child - possibly her daughter, possibly her granddaughter - some hot dinner and someone tripping over.

All those years ago and yet, despite not being able to communicate it all to me, she hasn’t forgotten. Her eyes grow bright as she talks. She says her daughter now lives in ‘East Priestley,’ a rather exotic and literary sounding place but talking about it later with husband he says it’s East Finchley, which is sadly more prosaic.

Mrs Patel, so bent and old, Youngest so tiny and hurt, kneeling between them I’m cast mediator in this chasm of age, language and culture and for a fleeting moment, while trying to distract Youngest from Happy Feet to make him say thanks for his packet of Blue Riband chocolate bars (how old people is that!), I think: I’m in the prime of life! Capable, fit, vital.

But then, everything’s relative.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Ode to violence and death

"Nice Easter hols?" I ask my friend (lets call her 'B') as we stand on the Tube platform.

We're on our way to a performance of Beethoven’s 9th at the Royal Festival Hall.

“Well, we did have a bit of a drama,” says B.

We have to sit apart on the train so I'm left to ruminate.

Washing machine broke down? Lost the internet? That’s what used to constitute a drama for we stay-at-homes. But it turns out, since we now have children of a ‘going out by themselves’ age, there’s a whole new raft of terrifying possibilities.

When we finally get seats together she says her middle child was hit by a car. He ran across on a red man. Now that’s a drama.

When they’d got over the shock and realised he was okay the telling-off kicked in. Perhaps that wonderfully illogical standby, “I’ll kill you if you do that again!”

Meanwhile friend K, sitting on my other side (I’m the filling in this drama sandwich) says a pleasant Easter walk over fields near where her parents live turned nasty when the family dog caught a baby deer. And ate it. Right in front of the children. And they’d barely got over the mouse-release-on-the-common, trauma.

Her eldest is sensitive. He insisted that a mouse, caught in a trap at home but still alive, should be released back into the wild. The chosen site had to be three miles from home or the mouse might find its way back and start chewing through Weetabix packets again. Really.

So they released it up on the tennis courts on the common watching as it scuttled happily away. (Or perhaps that should be limped, due to the trap?) Anyway, a great big crow promptly swooped down and nabbed it.

I opined that sometimes these stories run in threes and so it was because K then told us another involving the same little boy, a fat, happy pigeon on a chimney pot, and a peregrine falcon. I don’t think I need elaborate; you get the picture.

And my offering? Well, since that chat on the Tube - but also during the Easter hols - Eldest was mugged. Again. Third time.

The good news is that when he went back with his Dad to find his lovely new, green hoodie (from Top Man) it was still lying where it had been abandoned near the scene of the crime. That skate park fraternity is a nice lot. Never any bother there - it’s just getting to and from that’s the problem.

So, that’s Easter: injury, death and the threat of violence - about right then.

Oh to joy.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Springing into Autumn

The face is gradually collapsing, the body turning to lumpy jelly, the children aren't cheeky cherubs anymore - just plain cheeky, the husband stressed and grumpy, the ageing parents batty and cantankerous - so, this must be middle-age then. Great. Oh, and a neighbour has objected to the new playhouse so the council have commanded we knock it down or they'll get an injunction and do it for us. Lovely.

On the plus side spring has finally sprung. I know this because the babies have come out. I walked across the common to Nappy Valley and they were everywhere accompanied by their Yummy Mummies marching along, loudly swapping weening tips over the tops of Bugaboos. Very annoying. Was I ever like that? (Don't answer, I know.)

Every so often the flow abated and it really was stunning, one of those early spring days when the world looks completely new - almost over the top with newness. Surely spring has never looked like this before? Sun obscenely bright, birdsong ridiculously shrill, buds so budding they're pornographic, as Eldest would say: special.

And now, for a brief moment, there's peace. Eldest has finally gone out skateboarding, Youngest and Middle are at art club until three, the beds are made, the washing is hung out in the sunshine, I could always iron a few shirts, sweep the kitchen floor and clean the loos, but, sod it, I'm going to read the paper and perhaps even nod off a bit. After all, I am middle-aged there must be an upside and I think this is it.

The Bottom Line

Friday. Winter. Late afternoon and getting dark. The phone rings.

"It's important," says Eldest passing it to me.

"It's your son's art teacher here," says a voice.


"Well, the thing is," she says, "actually it's rather embarrassing really, very embarrassing you might say, for your son and for me."

It's Notes On A Scandal.

"I'm ringing a few parents, to, er, well, to see if it was an accident or on purpose."

It really is Notes On A Scandal.

"Right." I say, rather inadequately.

I'm moving from the living room now PDQ - phone still jammed to my ear - heading upstairs and hearing myself muttering,

"Well, if this is a disciplinary issue, then, of course, I support you all the way."

"It was the worst clearing-up session I ever had!"

Maybe not Notes On a Scandal then. That's a relief. But what? To say my mind is boggling is an understatement. It's doing bloody cartwheels. I've never been called about his behaviour before. He's a good boy. E for excellent. Three Golden Awards at primary school. But what if this is the beginning of the end, the slippery slope? First the art teacher, then the police at the door...

Well, the thing is..." the teacher goes on.

Spit it out woman!

"At the end of the lesson on Wednesday, well...his trousers fell down."


I sit down on the bed.

"I mean, it must have been so embarrassing for him. I just didn't know where to look. Imagine if he had seen my underwear!"

Well, yes, but that is completely different, you are a grown woman while he is just a 13 year-old boy. (This, by the way, is what I'm thinking, it's not what I'm saying.)

"It caused quite a lot of disruption..."

I bet it did. The scene flashes before me. Eldest's newly acquired, rather tight fitting, Top Man boxer shorts - pink, with robots - suddenly exposed to a class full of hormonal teenagers. Of course he wasn't embarrassed, I bet he loved it.

Anyone who knows teenage boys must surely be aware of their rather ludicrous habit of wearing jeans or trousers low-slung under their bottoms. I imagine that Eldest temporarily lost control: either on purpose (naughty) or by accident (annoying). Either way it's surely not a big deal. Just tell him to pull them up - and get a belt.

I say this - in so many words - to the art teacher adding that she has my full backing to tell him off for wearing his trousers in the wrong place, and I will tell him also.

"Actually, he's just here if you want to speak to him," I suggest.

The teacher says she thinks that would be a good idea and so I hand the phone to Eldest. The ensuing conversation - from where I'm standing - goes something like this: yes, no, yes, silence, okay, yes...she wants to speak to you again.

"Thank you so much. I feel so much better about the whole thing!" gushes the teacher.

Well I'm glad someone does. (Again, this is a thought not an utterance.)

I put down the phone and look at Eldest.

"What?" he grins, "I was walking to the sink and I had glue on my hands! Would you rather I got glue on my trousers?"

I think, on balance, the answer to that is yes.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Up and Out

I'm making pancakes and waffles. Youngest doesn't want a pancake or a waffle, says he's too ill for school and wants a pancake made out of waffle mixture. A wancake? Too rude. I name it a puffle. He has two puffles.

Eldest is accusing me - very loudly and from up two flights of stairs - of hiding his French text book. Middle One says his waffle isn't soft enough - freshly made, mind, using the waffle iron from Lidl (only £11.99). Shove toast into hands of Eldest and kiss him good-bye.

Juice, cereal, grab coffee, dishwasher, wipe-round, hairbrush, toothpaste, book-bag, shoes (where are the damn shoes!) hats, bit of lipstick, turn down thermostat, slam door and the three of us are spewed out onto the street shivering. It's not even 8.30 yet and I'm knackered.

Drag Youngest down the street with Middle One keeping up relentless monotone on the unfairness of life, "and the portions at lunchtime are really tiny." Dance the dog turd shuffle trying not to make eye-contact with the crazy-haired cat lady from over the road (you know her, every street has one).

Turning the corner into the High Street it's like an icy Vodka luge (I only had one once at a wedding but it made a big impression) and we're blasted sideways by lorry fumes, brake fluid, and sirens. It's a cocktail for the senses. Middle One ratchets up the moaning to compete.

Joining the flow school-wards - all Boden-clad, Orla Kiely bag-clutching mums, heading salmon-like up the High Street against the commuter current. I won't be diverted, overcome, or, heaven forbid, overtaken. Check the competition. Yes, she's on time, and that one, and that lot going the other way to the Catholic school. On schedule we can relax a bit and talk to that mum catching up from behind. Tit-for-tat, friendly, quick-fire banter. My screaming sub-text: so you think you're life's hard? Just listen to mine...