Thursday, 20 January 2011

I can't help it.

“I don’t want to be here.” Says Middle One getting out of the car near the shops on Saturday afternoon.

“Why did you say you wanted to come with me to buy some shoes then?” I say.

“I didn’t.” He says.

“Yes you did.”

“I didn’t. I said I want some new shoes,” he says, “it’s not the same thing.”

I decide not to reply to this. He’s being unreasonable. He knows he’s being unreasonable. It’s because he’s twelve and hormonal and stroppy. I remember being twelve and hormonal and stroppy myself. Well, probably not twelve, probably more like fourteen, but children are much more advanced these days aren’t they? It all starts sooner.

We walk past a children’s shoe shop, that one called One Pound Beyond, or something and I turn to go in.

“I’m not going in there.” He says.

I ignore him. He stands outside with his arms folded.

“Do these come in size 5?” I ask an assistant.

“I’m not going in that kids shop.” Says Middle One from outside on the pavement. He can be heard through the open door. I smile at the assistant.

“I think so.” She says.

I pick up the boots and look at the price on the bottom. £55.

“Is there anything like this in the sale?” I ask.

There isn’t, of course, so we go on.

Now we’re in Blacks looking at ski jackets for Eldest who’s due to go away on a ski trip with school at the end of January.

“I don’t want to look at ski jackets.” Says Middle One.

“Do you think this will fit him?” I ask.

“I don’t care.” Says Middle One.

We go to TK Maxx and look at shoes. Middle One says: these aren’t shoes they’re trainers; those are women’s shoes; those are crap; I don’t want to look at any of those; I want to go home; I don’t want to be here.

I say very little.

We go upstairs to look at ski jackets. I say: what d’you think of this one; do you think he’d like this; do you think this is too big; how much do you think this one is, can you see a price?

Middle One says: I really don’t care.

We go to Debenhams. I take back a dress I bought the other day. (I bought it in two sizes because I couldn’t be bothered to try it on. Just for the record, I’m keeping the smaller one.) We have to wait in a queue. Middle One says: I’m so bored; this is so boring; I’m so hot; I can’t believe how bored I am; I wish I was at home; why did you drag me here; it's so hot; you’re being selfish.

I say nothing.

We walk back to Blacks and buy the ski jacket. It’s reduced, £34.99 down from £79.99 and since husband doesn’t have a contract of employment at the moment I think this is probably a good thing. I say: this is a good price; nice isn’t it; do you think he will like it?

Middle One says: I don’t care.

We go into Clarks. I say: what about these; when I was here with Eldest we got a nice pair; these might come in your size; what do you think?

Middle One says: these are man's shoes; it's all crap; I hate those; those are hideous; don't be stupid.

We walk down the street.

“You are very rude.” I say.


“I know. I can’t help it.” He says.

I know this is true. He didn't used to be like this. He used to be a delight to take shopping. I try not to say anymore. I try to be understanding.

We go to the pet shop to buy saw dust and food for Middle One’s gerbils.

“I like this!” Says Middle One, “Can I have it!”

It’s a plastic ball for the gerbils to play in. It’s £2.99.


“No.” I say. “You can’t. You’ve been horrible and rude so you can’t have it. Normally I would have bought you that,” (I would as well) “but I’m not going to because you have been horrible.”

Middle One says nothing. We drive home.

“Did you have a nice time!” Beams husband as we walk in the door.

Father Christmas makes mistakes

Father Christmas makes mistakes. There was the year Middle One was desperate for a particular new DS game. We watched him excitedly unwrap it in our bedroom on Christmas morning, as is our family tradition. The three of them drag their heavy stockings down from their rooms to ours and we all sit on our bed as they open everything. I take photos. The rest of the presents, the ones from “us” and other members of the family, are opened later, mid-morning, along with coffee and Florentines.

“I wonder what that can be?” I said.

“It’s the game I wanted!” He said.

“Really?” I said.

This is what it’s all about, I thought to myself. This is what makes it all worthwhile. All that tramping around the shops, stressing about ordering the turkey, wrapping all those hundreds of tiny presents, this look on a child’s face right now. But the look quickly changed from sunny joy, to disappointment. A great thundering cloud passed across it, right in front of my eyes, because the box was empty. No game. Nothing. Zilch.

Obviously Father Christmas wasn’t there to witness this crushing disappointment. If he had been he might have reflected upon what had gone wrong. Had he bought the game in Woolworths, perhaps? (This is going back a couple of years, you see.) Had he taken it to the tills at the front of the shop, rather than the ones at the back where they sold CDs and DVDs and games and then added them to the empty boxes from the display? Had the assistant at the front tills forgotten to do this and Father Christmas, in his pre-Christmas stress, not noticed either? Perhaps. But, as I say, Father Christmas wasn’t there so we were the ones left to pick up the pieces. And it wasn’t pretty.

This year he messed up as well. He doesn’t usually even attempt to deliver the presents until well after midnight when, I guess, he can be sure they’re all asleep. But I think he got cocky and over-confident. Perhaps he knew they’d all been skating at Somerset house with friends in the afternoon and were shattered? (Youngest says Father Christmas knows everything, even if you’ve been “naughty or nice," because it says so in that song.)

Whatever the reason, Father Christmas delivered his presents early this year, before midnight, (I think he was keen to get to bed) and shortly after, we heard stirrings and the patter of little footsteps coming downstairs to our room and there was a little bleary-eyed boy, with a bulging sack clutched to his chest and a big smile on his face, standing at the end of our bed.

“He’s been!” He cried.

“It’s not morning!” We cried back.

After much cajoling we managed to get him back into his bed (cursing that Father Christmas all the while) only for him to reappear shortly after, and then again, and then again, until, finally, at about 2 am, we gave up and let him stay in our bed where he thrashed around and fell asleep about an hour later. I didn’t.

Most parents of young children experience Christmas day through a haze of exhaustion, I know we have in the past. But we really thought those days were over. Apparently not. I hope next year Father Christmas gets his act together. But I suppose he must be getting on a bit by now.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Saturday 18th December: The miracle before Christmas

It’s Saturday morning a week before Christmas, it’s snowing hard and my £150 tickets to see Paul McCartney at the Hammersmith Apollo tonight still haven’t arrived. I look them up on the UPS tracking system and discover to my horror that they are at the depot in Croydon due for delivery on Monday. Great. I speak to UPS. They’re afraid there’s nothing they can do: adverse weather conditions and sorry, no, they can’t put in a call to the depot in Croydon, even a request to put in a call to the depot in Croydon wouldn’t go through for 24 hours, at least, which, of course, will be too late for me and my tickets.

I ring, the division of TicketMaster who sold me the tickets. No, they’re afraid there’s nothing they can do either. They can’t provide proof of purchase; they don’t know the ticket ID or seat number so they can’t provide evidence I could show on the doors tonight. They are sorry but due to blah, blah, blah, it’s beyond their control. Blah.

I very nearly give up but then I have an idea. We don’t live very far from Croydon, maybe I could drive there now through the snow and persuade them to find the tickets for me? They’re there somewhere. I google UPS Croydon and find an address on an industrial estate and an 0208 telephone number. I ring it. Eventually a girl answers and I explain my predicament. I beg. I imagine her sitting in a freezing cold desolate Portacabin on the outskirts of Croydon. I promise to bring her hot chocolate and mince pies, anything.

She says she’d love to help but there are hundreds of packets and parcels, it will be like looking for a needle in the proverbial. I give her the ID number. She says she will try and that she’ll phone me back regardless. And do you know what? About an hour later, just when I’m stepping out of the shower, she actually does! She rings back! She’s found my tickets and she’s put them on a van! I thank her profusely. I realise how very, very much I wanted to go to the concert tonight and that I had been holding back the disappointment, trying to convince myself it didn’t really matter. And now I’m actually going to go! So I cry. “Don’t cry!” Says the mortified UPS employee on the other end of the phone. “Now you’re freaking me out!”

When he arrives about an hour later, through the snow and ice and gales, I give the UPS man a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates for the girl back at the office (I put her name on it). And later, at the concert, as I stand about ten feet away from Paul McCartney himself and witness him singing Yesterday and Hey Jude and Let It Be and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and Blackbird and The Long and Winding Road and Get Back and all my other very favourite songs in the whole world, the best pop music ever written, by one of the best singer-songwriters ever, himself, in the flesh, in front of me. I silently thank that girl in the UPS Portacabin in Croydon.

I’m not a religious person, in fact I’m an atheist, but seeing Paul McCartney in the flesh - I reckon it’s the nearest thing to a religious experience I’m ever going to have. And getting that ticket just in time today, you could say that was a Christmas miracle, if you were religious.

Thursday 16th December: The ghost of Christmas parking

It’s ten days before Christmas and I need to find the wrapping paper I bought the other day to start wrapping presents. I know I left it in the car. But where’s the car? I scour the street cursing Husband for parking it somewhere strange, and then I remember: I parked it last night when I came back from a playdate with Youngest. There were no spaces left because the Catholic school on our road was having their nativity play. A woman gestured that I should wind my window down. “No room at the inn!” She shouted, or words to that effect: nowhere to park on our road. “But I live here!” I protested, as if that would make any difference.

I had to reverse back out on to the main road, which was a rather hairy operation to say the least, and go round the other way and I’d been triumphant to discover an empty space after all, right up at the other end of the road near the Common. “Stupid woman!” I said to Youngest. “There’s space right here in this stable!” Then, after we parked and got out and tramped all the way down to our house, there was another space right outside the front door. But I didn’t bother to move the car again because it was cold, and it was late, and dark.

So where was that? I tramp up and down the road looking. It was up here…near the Common…very near to that Disabled Bay there…. Oh dear. I think the car has been towed. Sure enough, when I ring the car pound, they say they have it. Somehow I will have to get out to darkest, deepest Colliers Wood and collect it. And pay the fine. £200. Happy Christmas.

My dear friend and neighbour takes me in her car. After she drops me off I have to sign multiple paperwork. And pay the fine. Not £200 as it states on the website, but £250 with the parking ticket added on as well. I can hardly look at the man. I know it’s not his fault and I’m not a violent person, truly I’m not, but I’d really like to punch him in the face right now.

He tells me to wait and then to come through the side door to the car park when he gets there on the other side. I don’t wait, I just walk through the door and march straight up to my car. I get in and slam the door. He’s trying to tell me something but I ignore him and drive up to the gates. It’s my tiny victory over the system. I won’t have anything more to do with him. I won't speak to him. I want to be out of here. I want to be gone. This is not happening.

But the gates don’t open and the man just stands there looking at me with his arms folded. Reluctantly, I wind down my window. “You have to sign this.” He says.

“I’m not signing anything else.” I say. “You have my £250 and now I have my car back and I want to leave.”

“You have to sign this waver saying that we haven’t damaged your car.” He says.

“I’m not signing that.” I say. “I don’t know yet if you've damaged it or not.”

“Well, you need to take a look,” he says, quite reasonably. So I have to get out of the car and walk around it and pretend to look when really I can't see anything because I'm blinded by rage.

It seems fine, that is, no more beaten up and scratched than it was before. I sign and the electric gates slowly slide apart. I rev the engine far more than necessary and then, finally, I’m free to go home and start wrapping the presents.