Wednesday, 13 September 2017


The night before I have to direct a shoot in central London, Middle One tells me he's preparing to say goodbye to people before leaving for university. He tells me he has to say goodbye to his fencing coach, who has been teaching him for ten years, and he has to say goodbye to his guitar teacher, who has been teaching him for eleven. I remember how he didn't like to say goodbye to people when he was little and after dropping him at nursery he would make a run for the window to watch me walk away. He didn't like change, either. When we moved house when he was seven and we had to leave the apple tree behind in the garden, for obvious reasons, he was furious. And he still hasn't forgiven me for having the blue sofa reupholstered in orange fabric, and that was eight years ago.

Funnily enough, I also don't like change or saying goodbye to people. When the first two boys were tiny and the youngest was nothing more than a conversation I kept having with my husband, I made friends with another mum nearby with babies the same age. We hung out all the time with our children, mostly in each other's kitchens serving fish fingers and peas then watching them fly from highchairs to floors as we drank wine and swept up the mess afterwards, and laughed. For five years we supported each other through tears, teething, toilet training, and tantrums - some of them the children's - until one day she told me her husband had decided they should move to the country. I woke at 3am for weeks after that, unable to get back to sleep, often giving up and going downstairs to stare out of the window at what passes for darkness in south London. For a short while after she left we kept our friendship intact between south London and Ditchling using the A23. I sang a lot of nursery rhymes in the car, lobbing rice cakes and packets of raisins to my small children in the back, until her husband decided to move the family to Australia, and I knew I didn't have enough nursery rhymes or sugar-free snacks - or pounds for that matter - to make that journey palatable for my children.

I watch Youngest's face as Middle One talks about preparing to say goodbye to people, and it occurs to me that having a sibling leave home for university must be a lot like losing a cherished friend, especially if you are the youngest one left behind.

Next day I'm up at dawn to go to the shoot in central London. Over nine and a half hours I direct eight different scenes in seven different locations with a ten-year-old girl, and when we wrap at the end of the day a prop belonging to the little girl is missing. It will probably turn up, somebody tells me, and I'm troubled by the word 'probably'.

That night I have a horrible dream. I'm in my grandparents' old house which is transformed into my boys' old primary school, urgently searching from classroom to classroom for precious objects covered in a fine layer of dust as someone unseen, a step or two behind, attempts to throw them all away. I find my grandfather's hairbrush with fine strands of his silvery hair still on it, then wake with a start at precisely 3am. I get up and go downstairs and stare out of the window and remember doing exactly the same when my friend moved to Ditchling and then Australia.

When I go back to the location next day the missing prop is still missing. "We'll just have to buy another one," somebody says, but I know that buying another one won't be the same for the little girl. I have her sit in the middle of the frame and look straight at the camera, then up to the top left then bottom right, then up to the top right then bottom left, so I can edit a sequence together later that might look a bit like the opening titles of The Brady Bunch with the mum and the dad and all those siblings.

After we wrap and I get home from the shoot I go up to Middle One's bedroom. "How did it go?" he says.

"Good," I say. "Do you think you could tidy this room? It's a tip."

"No point," he says. "I'm packing it all to take with me soon anyway."

Love E x


P.S. Thankfully the prop did turn up.

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