The children are back at school. Shiny hair, shiny shoes. Smiley faces. Ok, that’s just me. Obviously, I feel like I’ve lost three limbs now I don’t have them arguing and talking in American accents all day, but I’m tough. I’ll cope. To prove to myself how strong I am, I went for my first run in months and now I can’t walk. As the Red Hot Chilli Peppers said though ‘I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl’. By moon, I mean bed, for a lovely post-drop-off nap.
The girls were not happy at pick up. The new Head teacher is making all the kids tuck in their school shirts. They demanded to change schools. ‘Mum, you said tucking shirts in was for saddo’s’ said the eldest as she wrestled out of her starchy M&S button-down.
Teaching my children to conform to the norm seems so wrong. Am I going to have to start tucking my shirts in now? What next, pulling my socks up? How can I get them to do what they are told when I’ve spent my life doing the opposite of what I’ve been advised?
I don’t think tucking in shirts is important. Shiny shoes don’t make me walk better or learn quicker. I’m all about comfort over style. You only have to look at my underwear collection for confirmation of this.
So I’m avoiding introducing myself to the new teacher. She’ll be calling me in soon enough to tell me one of my children started another ‘Penis gang’ (the shame of it) or refused to close their eyes at prayer time. I know I’m only going to end up saying something stupid and I get tactile when nervous.
She’s very pretty and wears high heels. I’ve always found ‘power women’ intimidating. People who take themselves seriously scare me. My best friend at school is the head of some multi-million marketing company. We used to get the same results in class. Now I take her son to nursery. She drops him off in her designer clothes. I open the door in a Grinch-onesie covered in jam.
Sometimes I feel envious, but mostly I feel relieved. I hated working in an office. It’s all politics and ‘who has taken my special mug’ and ‘let’s punch a puppy’ which I later found out meant ‘do something difficult that was good for the business’. Incidentally, I was the puppy. They didn’t punch me, they just made me redundant.
One boss told my I’d make a great party planner. I was working in technical security at the time. I think he was trying to compliment me, but obviously he was calling me a clown. I got made redundant from that job too.
If you’ve ever been laid off, you’ll know how soul destroying it could be. One company I worked with made a long-standing employee redundant, but he kept coming back into work, pretending like it hadn’t happened. It was really awful, but also quite funny. When his key fob stopped working, he snuck in with the postman. He didn’t have a computer anymore, so he just kept making us tea. We had a special meeting about him and were told not to accept any beverages he offered. We all know I’m a rule breaker. I got fired for that one.
At least at home I only have meetings with the cat. ‘You know why I’ve called you in. You’ve poo’d in the shower again. We’ve talked about this before’. The cat looks at me like my old boss used to. I slink off and bring her back lunch. She’d love to punch a puppy.
I left it until the last minute to get the girls school shoes and uniform, obviously. I had plans, such plans, but much like those of mice and men, they aft go awry. Mice are probably better prepared than me actually.
I lasted ten minutes in Clarks before mohair fibers from Boden cardigans started to make me itch. I was given a ticket and told Charlie would be with me next. Charlie was having a bit of a time with it himself. The little rascal he was trying to shod was more interested in mounting the measuring stool. It must have reminded him of one of his (many) show ponies.
‘Do sit still Magnus, you need your feet measured properly’ barked the mother, then to Charlie hissed, ‘He takes after his Uncle Womble. Terribly wide.’
Had she just admitted she was doffing her brother-in-law, and what was wide? It was all too much for me before 10am. I prized my children off the shelves, where they were playing ‘cheese touch’ with a particularly hideous remedial looking sandal, and we legged it off to Auntie Anne’s to mainline sugar and carbs. Then we attempted Schuh.
Now, I don’t judge people by much (bwah har har) but I do think you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. I don’t mean designer, crocodile leather like Jimmy Nail, or spiky Jimmy Choos. I mean, how tight are they laced? Are they trainers or walking books, because a hybrid shoe makes me feel slightly bilious. ‘Hidden wedge’ wearers make me suspicious. What else are they hiding? Climbing-sandals on the school run suggest a slightly unhinged parent, or one who’ll physically tackle you to get to the teacher first. ‘Gladiator sandals’ for dancing in? Wearers should be ashamed.
Obvously, I’ve never gotten over this hang-up, or should I say, turn-up? I have an idea of ‘what looks cool’ and I want to force it onto my kids. I have a penchant for ‘shire-horse-shoes’, clompy shin-kickers.
My middle daughter wanted a pair of Lelli Kellis with jewel incrusted, interchangeable straps. They were everything I hated in a shoe. We’d gone from too middle-class to no class at all. I ranted and raved and knocked over displays before remembering she was eight-years-old and wanted the pretty shoes all her friends had.
I’ve been trying to do some home -learning with the girls, and I don’t know how teachers do it. I only have three children and I can’t manage to keep them all the table at the same time, let alone get them to do anything. I start out like Mary Poppins and within five minutes I turn into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Even taking them on a dog walk to admire nature ends up involving blood and the middle one being head-butted by a horse. Obviously, the other two found this funny, hence the blood. Oh, and the dog ate something nasty and spent the evening being sick.
According to the planner I made, today we are supposed to be weeding the garden, learning about grass snakes and making cheese straws. They are watching a film called ‘Zombies’ on the Disney Channel and I am tip-toeing round so I don’t disturb them. When it’s finished, I’ll put it back to the beginning and they can watch it again.
Four weeks into the summer holidays, I’m learning that love for your child is unconditional, but ‘like’ is less so. Sometimes my middle daughter is such hard work I think ‘I wouldn’t want to hang out with you if I was 8.’ Then I feel awful and give her some crisps to appease my guilt and teach her that she will be rewarded if she keeps persisting when told no. Great parenting all round.
When I was a kid, my dad only had to look at me a certain way and I’d shiver in my timbers. When I try the same glare at my kids they laugh at me, right into my wide-eyed, vein-pulsing-forehead, mouth- open-in-anguish-face.
‘Are you going to hit the fecking roof mummy?’ They implore me. ‘Go on, do it, I bet you can’t even reach.’
They thought I was joking “But mum, you’ve not gotten dressed for three days. You haven’t even been out to get milk, and now we are going, camping?” I didn’t realise how unspontaneous I was. How bad I’d gotten.
“Are you ok mum?” the youngest one asked, looking concerned, “have you run out of your tablets again?”
“No I haven’t, and yes I’m fine. We’re going camping. Why is that weird, why do you think there is something wrong with me?”
“Because yesterday you made us hide under the living room rug when someone knocked on the door…” said the middle one.
I realised how desperately I needed to get out the house. I’d become a hermit. A recluse. That one from ABBA who moved into a forest and never went out.
The husband was all for it. It would get the kids away from the TV and out in the great outdoors. He dug out his beloved mini BBQ and the Decathlon inflatable tent. He filled his pockets with sausages and the cooler bag with beer. He was keen for me to leave my pit. Stop taking to the plants and stroking cushions.
I’m writing this in the middle of a field. The tea kettle is about to whistle. It’s also about to rain, but never mind. We have hot chocolate and marshmallows. How cool am I? (Ok, don’t answer that. According to you readers, my writing is excrement, my poodle-hair-do is ten years out of date and I only have this gig because I’m ‘doing’ the editor. I know you don’t think I’m cool.)
But I feel cool. This time three-years ago, my beloved Maurice was killed in the Shoreham air crash disaster. Thanks to my friend, I’m not at home crying. I’m doing something he’d approve of (not my wonky tent erection). I’m living.
When I went to Firle Vintage Fair I missed him so much it was a physical pain in my chest. He loved ribbing me about the ‘tat’ I bought. His daughter used to dance there. This year, I signed me and the eldest up for Charleston lessons. This is to show I honour people not here. I will make an utter fool of myself in front of a class full of people with rhythm. I will make my daughter laugh. I will think of Maurice laughing at me. He had the best laugh.
Tonight, I’ll tell the kids that ghost story about the man who cut off his wife’s finger before pushing her off a cliff and how years later his car broke down on a windy night on a lonely dark road. How the door he knocked at was opened by a beautiful, eerily familiar figure. How over a candlelight dinner, he noticed she was missing a finger, and when asked where it was she screamed ‘YOU’VE GOT IT!’ Gets the kids every single time. It’s best told really quietly so the kids are really close to you when you get to the final sentence. My friend Meg told it to me all the time and she was the best. I used to wet myself in fear, aged 13.
While this is a distraction from missing Maurice, the knowledge is still there. I was with my brother and our kids the day of the crash. At the exact second Maurice’s car was hit, I was bouncing on a trampoline, laughing my head off. There is a video of me, head tossed back in joy. I watch it and hate myself for being happy.
I didn’t know though. I didn’t know and even if I did, what could I have done? I was there when my aunt died, and it was awful. It was like being in a dystopian nightmare. I wish I hadn’t gone. I wish I’d been on another trampoline, suspended in the air and the second before I found out the world had turned on it’s axis and I was going to have to live with a splinter inside me for the rest of my life.
But people die, and we are left with ghosts and grief, guilt and shame. We show appreciation for our lives by getting up, saying yes, dancing badly and putting the kettle on. In the words of Big Joe Turner ‘Get out of that bed, wash your face and hands. Get yourselves in the kitchen make a noise with them pots and pans.’
I’m trying, but underneath it all, how I miss you my friend.
I couldn’t live in France. It’s very pretty. Old crumbly houses and sunflower fields, straw hats and afternoon naps, but it’s just too slow for me. And they close the shops for hours each day. And the farmers are cruel to dogs. I was at the local boating lake, which said it opened at 2pm, (so 3pm, or whenever anyone feels like going to work after their nap).
While we were waiting for the staff to arrive/stop drinking Orangina and open, I met the biggest dog I’ve ever seen. I later found out he’s a Pyrenean mountain dog. A better name for the one I found would be ‘sorry old state’.
If you look up a photo of a Pyrenean mountain dog, you will see a beautiful white beast with a mane like a lion. The dog I found had dreadlocks decorated with sheep droppings and a tail weighed down with thorns. I was heartbroken and asked who he belonged to.
The surly staff at the lake told me in broken English he belonged to the local farmer ‘Schmitt’, was always at the lake and never seemed to be fed. Me, being me, demanded a pair of scissors and spent two hours hacking years of dirt and crust from him. I swear that dog knew I was helping him, he rolled on his back like a baby and licked my hand.
All the French people took photos of me and tutted. Many see him every day, but none thought about helping him.
My mum is friends with the local vet, so I called him and asked him about the dog. He told me the farmer is ‘very special’. I didn’t know what that meant in French, but when I told him I’d pruned the dog he made a noise that sounded like fear and told me the farmer had a gun.
I told him I’d happily rehome the dog. He promised to go and ask the farmer on my behalf that night. I’ve not heard from him since. I hope I didn’t get him killed. My mum and dad told me ‘not to get involved’ but I couldn’t sit by and watch that dog being stabbed with thorns woven into his tail when I could do something about it.
Maybe people fall into two camps, those who do and those who do not. I do-do-do, and I’m not scared of the farmer turning up at my parent’s house with his gun. Well, maybe a bit, but I’ll arm myself with a fly squat (the French flies have never forgiven us for the war) and hide behind my da-da-da.