Saturday, 26 March 2011


I’m on a train travelling between Reading and Oxford sitting between two men who are clearly nuts.

One of them is somewhere in front of me along the carriage loudly engaging a hapless young man from the armed forces in conversation. The other is somewhere behind shouting even more loudly down his phone. It is impossible to tune out. Believe me, I’m trying.

“Oh yeah!” Booms the first man, “The power of those Tornados, it’s just incredible, I used to live near RAF Lyneham in Norfolk, and I’d watch them coming in to land.”

There’s a low reluctant murmur of ascent from hapless young guy from the armed forces.

“She nearly pooed herself when I told her!” yells the second man on the phone behind. And then, after a pause in which the person on the other end is clearly saying something, “Yeah! When he grows up he’ll learn the truth about his dad."

And after another momentary pause,

“Yeah! He’s two!”

I would like them to be quiet. I've had a very stressful morning. Two hours ago I didn’t even know I was going to Oxford today. I’ve had to pull some last-minute childcare out of the bag: not for my own three, who are all busy until after four o’clock when their father can take over, but for a three year-old and his brother and sisters who are under my charge until this evening because their parents are away.

Against all the odds I’ve actually made it on to this train from Reading, where I had to change, to the last leg of a journey that has so far included overcoming the suspension of the Bakerloo line and a fatality on the track outside Paddington Station. Now, at last, I’m hoping to relax.

I look at my watch, the meeting started ten minutes ago and I’m about twenty minutes from Oxford where I will have to get a taxi.

I close my eyes.

“Yeah! Those fighter jets based out there in Norfolk are incredible!” Comes the first voice from somewhere in front.

“She really looked like she was going to poo herself when I told her!” Yells the second man from behind down his phone.

“I can’t stand this anymore.” Says a third voice from somewhere very close behind my head.

I open my eyes.

“I’m going to have to kill them,” says the third voice. It is low and male and very menacing.

Is he talking to me?

“If I have this all the way to Manchester I am definitely going to have to kill them both, but especially that one...”

He is not talking to me; he is talking to himself. Out loud.

“He's an idiot,” he continues. “There are no Tornadoes at RAF Lyneham. And I happen to know that for a fact.”

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


It’s 6.30 on Sunday evening and we’ve just got back from a meal out. It feels lovely not to have the usual mountain of washing up from the roast dinner. No hair washes tonight either because Youngest and Eldest had their haircut today and it was washed at the salon (Middle One had his done yesterday). It’s almost worth the exorbitant £21 each for the cut just to have someone else wash their hair.

So, all in all I’m looking forward to a relaxing Sunday evening. For a change. I decide to get on with some writing and I’m on a roll tapping furiously at the keys when Eldest swans into the office:

“Got any tissue paper?”

“No…..What for?”

“It’s for my art homework.”

“When for?”


“Perhaps you should have thought about this before now?”

“But we were out having a meal!”

“No, I mean before that. Before today even. When the shop that sells these things at the end of our road was open.”

“I’ve been busy!”

“You've been skateboarding.”

He wanders off. I will not get riled. I will not get up and go and look for some tissue paper. I will let it all wash over me. I am writing…

About ten minutes later Middle One waltzes in:



“Have we got any A3 paper?”

“What for?” I’m not looking up from the computer screen. I’m still tapping at the keys furiously. I will not look up.

“My geography homework.”

“When’s it for?” My teeth are so gritted I can hardly get the words out.

He says the answer out loud at the exact moment I mouth it silently to myself: “Tomorrow.”

“Nope.” I say.

He wanders off.

“Mummy!” Youngest is shouting from his room upstairs.

I ignore it.


I still ignore it.

“Mummy! Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!”

“What!” I yell back.

(I bet Jane Austen never had this problem.)

“What the hell are you shouting for? “ Asks husband coming up the stairs.

“I’m not shouting, he is.”

“Where is my Woody!” Comes the disembodied voice from above.

“I don’t know!” I shout back.

“You are shouting.” Says husband.

Youngest comes into the office.

“I can’t find my Woody doll. I haven’t been able to find him for ages. Will you come and look with me?”

“Please.” I say.

“Please.” He says.

Reluctantly I get up and go and look for Woody. I look everywhere I can think of: under his bed, in his bed, in his wardrobe, in the playroom…I can’t find it.

By now it is nearly bedtime: a long, lavish affair at our house as each child goes up at a different time and requires to be followed shortly after as one of us either reads a story (as in Youngest’s case) or tells the child to stop reading a story (as in Middle One and Eldest’s case).

It’s an exhausting process but one that is almost coming to an end as I enter Middle One’s room at about 9.30 and tell him to turn out his light.

“Mummy?” He says.


“I’ve got something to tell you. It’s not good I’m afraid.”

“What?” I can feel my teeth beginning to grit again.

“What is it?”

“I lost my PE kit at school.”

“Right.” I say, as calmly as I can muster, “And when do you have PE next?”

But I’ve already guessed the answer.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The bridge.

It’s half term, we’re at my parent’s house and we’re trying to escape from the children, just for one night, but Youngest is sobbing.

“I don’t want you to go! I’ll miss you and Daddy. Please don’t leave me.”

“It’s only for one night and you have your two brothers…”

I look up at Middle One who’s lying on the top bunk engrossed in his book.

“…and you’re here with your grandparents.”

“I know, but I’m still really going to miss you! You’re always going away.”

“No we’re not. The last time we went away was in October 2008. We went to Venice, for three nights.”

“Yes but I was by myself here in York just recently!”

“That was last October, four months ago, and Daddy and I didn’t go anywhere, we stayed at home in London with your brothers. You were the one who went away that time with your cousins, to stay here with your grandparents. And you are nearly nine now.”

“I know! But I cried then! I didn’t like it!”

I look to his middle brother for support but he doesn’t take his eyes from his book.

Brothers aren’t big on loving reassurance.

“Aren’t they even going to come to the door?” Asks husband when I finally make it back downstairs to the car.

“No.” I say. “Eldest is still in bed asleep, Middle One is reading My Family and Other Animals and Youngest is inconsolable. I think it’s best to leave them, we’ll be back tomorrow.”

We’re using my parent’s second car, an old Honda Prelude. It’s an automatic so husband is nervous about driving it. “Just remember to chop your left leg off!” Shouts my mother from the curb.

We manage to navigate our way out on to the bypass and from there into the countryside without too many problems, and then lapse into an exhausted silence. I stare out of the window, cramming in views like a starved person: large brown fields, spiky hedgerows, skeletal trees; it’s all so sharp against the wide sky and especially wonderful because we haven’t been out of London for six long months, since we got back from camping in August.

After parking near an old church we set off for a short walk before lunch keeping an eye on the time so we can get to the famous Michelin-starred, Star Inn, at Harome, before last orders at two. (We’ve never been.) And all goes well despite the irony that even out here, in the middle of the north Yorkshire countryside, we’re on a deadline, until husband, spotting the car on the other side of a river and checking the time on his iPhone for the twentieth time, says, “we’re going to make it for lunch!” and begins reading from the guidebook…

“Cross the river at the bridge to head back across the last field,"

“What bridge?”

There is no bridge, but just a little down stream near the far bank there is a suspicious looking jumble of wood and metal. Clearly there was a bridge. Once.

We weigh up the options: retrace our steps: a two mile walk back to the car with no possibility of lunch at The Star in Harome, or anywhere else probably, or, wade across an icy Yorkshire river - in February. Husband takes off his shoes and socks and prepares to give me a fireman’s lift.

And so it is that, with less than ten minutes to spare, mud-caked right foot flat on the Honda floor, husband screeches the clapped-out car up to the Star Inn in Harome and I am unceremoniously disgorged onto the grassy verge. And after rapping on the door with the urgency of a… well, with the urgency of a hungry Londoner, a cheery waitress ambles round the corner,

“Can I help you?’

“Oh yes!” I gasp, “Yes please! We’re here for lunch.”

“I’m so sorry, Madam,” she says, “but we don’t open for lunch on Mondays.”