Thursday, 21 April 2016

The fracture clinic.

One of the boys is calling me from another part of the house. “Mummy!” he calls, because that’s what boys do, what all children do.

“Here!” I call back, because that’s what all parents do, too.

“This is so weird,” he calls again.

“What?” I call back.

“This thing on me.”

“What on you? Don't shout. Come here and explain.”

He does. He comes into the kitchen. It's Youngest.

“You should look at this,” he says, peeling his top off.

It’s a weird lump - a growth of some sort - right on the centre of his collar bone where he broke it last Autumn. It's big.

The growth on Youngest's collar bone.

‘That doesn’t look right,” I say. “When did you first notice that?”

“In France,” he says. “I fell over. At least I think it happened there.”

“Really?” I say. “Are you sure about that?”

“I’m not, actually,” he admits.

I ring for a doctor’s appointment as soon as I can, which is first thing next morning. You have to ring first thing in order to have a hope of getting an appointment that same day because like most NHS doctors' surgeries in London, ours is overrun with sick people.

At the surgery the GP takes one look at the lump and pronounces the bone broken, again.

“Broken?” I say, “but he can move his arms and shoulders and he’s not in any pain.”

“I am in a bit of pain,” says Youngest.

“Ok,” I say, because he hasn’t mentioned this before. “But he can dress himself and feed himself and he’s been going to school and he didn't tell me about it when it happened. He’s been functioning completely normally.”

“Not completely normally,” says Youngest.

“Ok," I say, "but to all intents and purposes.”

The doctor says we should go to A&E so we do, again.

“It’s broken,” says the doctor in A&E, studying the x-ray.

It does indeed look broken on the x-ray, snapped in two. But how can it be? A broken collar bone is painful. I know this because I’ve already lived through three of them, vicariously. If it is broken it’s his fifth fracture, while the other two boys haven't broken a thing.

I look at the doctor, who looks right back at me. “Don’t panic,” says the doctor, reading my mind. “It’s still perfectly normal for a child his age to have suffered so many breaks. I’ll refer him to the fracture clinic.” 

“How did it happen?” asks the third doctor, on Wednesday morning at the fracture clinic.

“It’s a lump,” Youngest replies, rubbing it.

“That’s not how it happened,” says the doctor, “that’s a diagnosis.”

“Oh, yeah,” says Youngest. “I slipped over, in France.”

The doctor frowns: “It's not broken, at least not recently, and something about this story doesn’t stack up. Growths can form over time but not straightaway. It could be a non-union fracture but that would take weeks to form.”

I write this down because I’ve never heard of a non-union fracture before. The doctor stops talking and looks at me, intently. I look right back.

I’m not very good with silences, I tend to fill them with inane chatter but for once I’m lost for words. This is my child - my baby - sitting in St George’s Hospital fracture clinic with a doctor who doesn’t know what’s the matter with him. Something bad happening to one of my children is my worst nightmare, of course.

“I’ll just go and talk to a colleague,” says the doctor, and Youngest and I are left alone in the consulting room, with nothing but the thoughts in our heads.

“What’s happening?” says Youngest.

“Nothing,” I say. “The doctor’s just gone to get a second opinion.”

“Why?” says Youngest.

“Because,” I say, “it’s important not to get it wrong.”

The doctor returns and sits directly opposite us and begins to explain, but now there's a white noise in my head making it hard to follow the thread. I make a determined effort to tune the white noise out, and the doctor in.

“I’m not sure,” the doctor is saying, “because I haven’t seen anything quite like this before, so I’m going to refer him for a CAT scan.”

A CAT scan. No one in the family has had a CAT scan before; we like to keep well away from hospitals. Despite having three children I only ever gave birth in hospital once, when I had Eldest, and even then I was out within 24 hours.

“I’m going to fast track this,” the doctor tells me.

“Thank you,” I say.

The doctor smiles, and asks if I'd mind filling in a form to rate the service we've just received. I don't mind - of course not - because the service has been exemplary, as ever. All NHS doctors I've ever encountered have been exemplary: friendly, kind, attentive, while also appearing to work incredibly long hours. 

I tick all the boxes on the left side of the form for 'extremely good', then at the main reception desk we’re told the fast track appointment will be in three weeks time, which doesn’t seem very fast track to me. I drive home.

“Will I have to have an operation?” Youngest asks anxiously from the back of the car, “to have the lump removed?”

“I shouldn't think so,” I say, although in all honesty I have no idea. “But don't worry because if you do you’ll be asleep the whole time, like when you had your appendix out, so you won't feel a thing.”

Love E x


P.S. I'm hoping it's just calcified. And did I mention that all three doctors were women?

Thursday, 7 April 2016


I’m crap at unpacking after a holiday. The cases sit around in the spare room for days. I nip in there now and again, remove something, try to decide what to do with it: find somewhere to put it away, or put it in the wash. And this return from holiday is worse than usual because I’m exhausted - we all are - by the 16 hour trip home, which went like this... 

We pitch up at Toulouse airport after our lovely little break, on Thursday evening, and a woman in the check-in queue in front of us says, “The flight's cancelled. We just took the last two seats back to the UK on Monday, the next ones are… Tuesday.”

Tuesday? Give us a break, we can't hang around until Tuesday, and we arrived at the airport in such high spirits as well, agreeing about what a great time we’d all had with our friends. It's a horrible blow.

Turns out it’s because of an air traffic control strike, a French one (oh, the irony) which is due to end next day, at 5 pm. All Easyjet can offer us is a flight back from Nice on Friday night… to Luton, everything else is taken.

“How far is it to Nice?” I ask.

“About 600 km," says the Easyjet woman.”

Not so far, I think.

My husband puts his head in his hands, Youngest starts to cry because he wants to go home, Eldest swears and kicks his luggage, Middle One slumps down against the wall, everywhere people stare at us because we're making a spectacle of ourselves.

“Let’s get the Eurostar,” says Middle One.

Actually I’m happy to wait until Tuesday, I think, mentally driving back to our friends’ house on the hill by myself, holing up there, sitting around eating cheese, drinking wine, headphones jammed in my ears, reading material propped in my lap, staring out toward the stunning Pyrenees… possibly forever. But I don’t say this. 

I do say, “Look, let’s not fall to pieces here. We need to work it out, hold it together. It’s not the adversity that matters; it’s how we deal with that adversity. We’re not war-traumatised Syrians walking across all of Europe with only the things we can carry.”

They all look at me - my boys - and miraculously they calm down, for the moment…

Anyway, I'm thinking about all of this as I unpack the luggage in the spare room, dumping dirty washing in a pile at my feet, putting skirts back on hangers, looking about for my other Converse trainer, because I’m sure I packed two…

At the airport I check the train prices on my phone, which Easyjet won’t cover, about £950 for all of us at such late notice, out of the question then, obviously. So Eldest and I sort out hiring another car, a bigger one, because we've already handed back the tiny Renault and we drive back to our friends’ house in the dark for one more night with them (they were always going home separately, and their flight is mercifully unaffected). At ten a.m. next morning we set off to Nice.

Look at the map. It’s a fuck of a long way from Toulouse to Nice, if you’ll pardon my French. But most of it's autoroute, so we make speedy progress. We zoom past Carcassonne, Narbonne, Montpellier, Nimes, Arles then on past Aix-En-Provence and the turning to the seaside resort of Frejus, where a lifetime ago my parents had a mobile home (which it wasn’t, mobile that is) where we spent many long hot summers when I was a teenager, and where I fell in love with a Norwegian boy called Eric when I was about fifteen, not that he ever knew anything about it because I was much too shy to tell him.

Near Frejus.

We make it to Nice airport in plenty of time. We eat burgers. We go through departures. We stand for hours like cattle, waiting to board the plane. I chat to a glowing honeymoon couple, arms wrapped round one another, who when they hear we’ve driven from Toulouse say we look remarkably chilled.

“This isn’t chilled,” I say, “this is catatonic.”

We arrive in Luton at one in the morning local time, not much of a welcome, freezing cold, the taxi I've booked to collect us nowhere to be seen; but I don’t mind, I’m just so glad we made it home.

The taxi eventually turns up. We get back to south London. We sleepwalk through most of the next day - Saturday - especially me. We don’t have much energy on Sunday either. So you'll understand why it’s taking so long to get round to unpacking. 

Love E x


P.S. My other Converse trainer is nowhere to be found, by the way. I guess it’s lost in France somewhere, footloose and free.

Friday, 1 April 2016


The thing about France is that it's often ferméEither it's lunch time, or a bank holiday, or a festival, or a strike, or a festival at lunch time on a bank holiday and everyone is striking. 

Example: we went to a French Center Parcs thing some years back when the boys were little, Pierre's Having A Vacance, I think it was called, and it had everything a proper Center Parcs has, except it was way cheaper… and most of it was fermé

We tried to dump a few of our spare kids in the creche… Fermé they said, for a refurb. Okay, we said. So we traipsed off to the pool with our towels, the male members of our party wearing those ridiculous regulation Speedos the French insist upon, showing up their male members… Also fermé they said, for lunch, of course, (parce que the French love a bit of lunch). Okay, we said. So then we tried to hire kayaks for a go on the river, but the kayak hire guy had gone for lunch… all day. Bof we said, because we were getting the hang of it by now.

So when we arrive at Toulouse airport with our friends, over the Easter weekend just gone, with only an hour to go before the hypermarket closes, after which time our party of eleven will starve to death for the next two days because everything will be fermé, for Pâques, we're rather anxious to get to it, and load up the car with supplies, loads of supplies.

Our friends get hold of their hire car before we do. “We’ll go on ahead,” they say. Okay, we say. My husband drives (he can actually drive) and I try and navigate to the hypermarket using Google maps on my phone and the address my friend just gave me, because this is the way we operate in France: he drives, I navigate, but it's the wrong way round because I'm the better driver and he's the better navigator. So it's not long before we're screaming at each other because I've directed us down a one way street and now we're sitting, all squashed together in our tiny Renault, face to face with a furious French man, also sitting in a tiny Renault.

"You've directed us down a one way street!" shouts my husband.

"It's not my job to look at the road signs!" I shout back, "I'm looking at my fucking iPhone! I can't do both!"

To be honest I'm quite proud that I've managed to direct us to a Carrefour at all. It's hardly my fault that it's the wrong one because Google maps automatically populated the nearest. I ring my friend.

"Where are you now?" says my friend.

"Good question," I say. "Definitely in France, probably on the outskirts of Toulouse."

"I think you need to retrace your steps," says my friend.

I get Eldest to swap places, so now he's in the front of the Renault with the iPhone and the Google maps app, and the irate husband, and I'm in the back taking a breather. Eldest immediately directs us out of town, towards a river and open countryside and the peage. Within minutes I'm back on the phone to my friend.

"We're heading out of town, there's a bridge!"

"You shouldn't be doing that!" says my friend, laughing down the phone.

"I know!" I say, and I hang up, because I have a very strong desire to scream at all of my family at the top of my voice and I don’t want my friend to hear this and know how horrible I am in real life. (We make it to the hypermarket in the end and load up the car with food, but then it gets boring so I’m skipping on).

Tuesday. The loads of food has run out, so all eleven of us set off for some lunch in the local town. It's a perfect day: sunny, powder blue sky, snow-capped mountains in the distance, all that.

Upon arrival at the local town at lunchtime, which is barely past breakfast for us (particularly for me, because I always sleep in) most of the restaurants are… you guessed it, either fermé or about to fermer. This is really not okay, we say.

We all live in London, south London, some of our party originally come from Sydney. Things don't fermer for lunch in south London, or any part of London, or Sydney. Tooting is alive with activity at all hours. Only the other day there was a drive-by shooting at the end of our road, on a Sunday lunchtime. We're used to round the clock action.

Fortunately a member of our party (a male member) speaks French, and manages to persuade a waitress, who incidentally looks exactly like that skinny moody love-interest in the film Ratatouille, to serve us some lunch. Fantastique! Except, they explain, there will be no choice whatsoever, it's Confit de Canard, or bust. Ça va? Okay, we say.

"Can we have pizza?" say the kids. 

"No, you can't," I say, "it's a fait au confit." 

That night we sit outside round a bonfire at the bottom of our friends' garden, under the stars, and the boys take it in turns to play acoustic guitar and some of us sing, or try to sing, and the frogs croak in the nearby pond, because they're a-courtin' presumably. I say, "I'm already living the memory of this," to my friend, and I hug her, because she's wonderful, and j'adore her, and because we're outside under the stars in front of a bonfire, listening to the guitar, and the courtin' froggies in the pond, and we've had two bottles of red wine between us, and because this is something that can’t ever be fermé.

This is so much more than okay, I think.

Love E x


P.S. Update (01.59 am, 02.04.16) - I wrote this in France, before I knew about the air traffic control strike, which meant that our flight home was cancelled. It just took us 16 hours to get back, via driving to Nice. No kidding. Funny.