I’ve lost my office. Youngest is always in there with his headphones on, fighting zombies through burnt-out streets. Since his birthday last week it’s been bad. Now he has a PC on the other desk and the war games have cranked up a notch. To stop going out of my mind I've got a brand new laptop and taken to combing the house for decent WiFi. When I find it I camp there like a gypsy. Sometimes it’s in Eldest’s bedroom up top, sometimes it’s in the kitchen, last week it was in the garden. Working in the garden is problematic, however, because I can’t take my eyes from the laptop in case I notice it needs doing. On Thursday afternoon after visiting the Chelsea Flower Show I give in and do it.
It’s a beautiful day: warm, sunny, a light breeze. I rip off my cardigan and my shoes and socks because when planting I like to feel soil between my toes, and get stuck in (to the garden). My father tells me we should get our hands in there too, without gardening gloves, skin deep in earth, au naturel. There’s something in soil that’s good for us, it's an antidepressant (he reads the New Scientist). It’s not just mowing, weeding and pruning that’s beneficial, but planting as well. I try this and by the end of the day I'm feeling strangely high, but I guess it could be from the weed, rather than from the dirt.
Unfortunately, next day when I wake up I’m so tired I can't move. Despite the pilates and constant manic swimming I’ve used muscles I didn't know I had, and this is the day I’m taking six fourteen-year-old boys to Nando's.
“Come with me,” I say to Middle One. “I need help.”
“No way,” says Middle One. “I’m not going to Nando's with my mother and six fourteen-year-old boys.”
Weirdly, it proves to be the easiest kids' birthday party I’ve ever presided over (and I’ve presided over about fifty). When they arrive back from school I hardly know they’re in the house. When I drive them into Balham they’re good as gold. In Nando's eating a sharing platter they’re quiet as mice, or so Wycliffe tells me later (he's the manager) because I bugger off to sit in Waitrose and drink my free coffee. While in Waitrose I get a text from Middle One.
“Please get me some Nando's,” it says.
Funny, coz I didn't know Nando's was a thing.
“I'm busy," I text back. "I’m not getting you fucking Nando's. You wouldn’t come and help.”
“Don’t fucking swear at me,” he replies.
Later at the house - cutting the cake - the six boys don’t say boo to a goose. When I sit up the garden with my new laptop to work again, and enjoy the fruits of my labour, Middle One comes out.
“Tell me when it’s eight o’clock,” I say, “so I can tell those boys to go home.”
“They’ve already gone,” says Middle One.
“Really?” I say. “Wow. That birthday was a piece of cake.”
“Yeah,” says Middle One. “And thanks for the Nando's."
I’m a worrier. Mostly I worry about my children. When they were babies I worried they would die of cot death or get meningitis because these seemed the most likely bad things that could happen to babies. Now they're teens I worry they'll get run over or beaten up because these seem like the most likely bad things that could happen to teenage boys living in south London. Since Eldest went to university near the the sea I worry he'll go swimming or surfing and drown, because people drown all the time (especially in York), it’s much more common than you might think.
But all this worry is put into perspective on Saturday morning sitting in bed reading the paper, as usual, when I stumble across a photograph of a group of Chinese children with terrified expressions on their faces, climbing an 800 metre bamboo ladder up a rock face to get to school. As the startled news photographer who came across the scene and took the photograph was quoted saying, “You have to be 100% careful. If you have any kind of accident you will fall into the abyss." Eight villagers have recently fallen to their deaths in exactly this way.
I know it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel ill and you’re in bed and your mum comes upstairs and asks how you’re feeling and you say not great and she says well at least you have all your limbs - in that it’s not very likely that my children, or yours, will ever have to scale an Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom bamboo ladder to get to school - but still, some children somewhere in the world have to do that. By comparison there’s really nothing to worry about, which is worth bearing in mind.
Love E x