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 According to you readers, my writing is excrement, my poodle-hair-do is ten years out of date and I only have this gig because I’m ‘doing’ the editor.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’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.’
I’m on the annual holiday in France at my parent’s house. This year, we decided to drive, and booked the 11pm ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. We didn’t book a cabin, thinking we could nap on a comfy chair. How wrong we were. People who travel on late night ferries work it all out advance. I’ve never seen such stealth and coordination, they must have all been German. The second they got out their cars and into the bar they started unrolling hidden sleeping bags, lowering themselves to the floor at the same time. Within two minutes every available chair or floor space was gone. Legs stuck out where tables should be. Some people even had inflatable mattresses.
I had momentary ownership of a blue chair, but when the husband left to get a drink, a family of French people came and stole it from me. They piled six children onto the two remaining chairs next to me. One of them crawled into my lap and looked as if it were going to sleep there. The mother looked at me like she’d won a game I didn’t know we were playing. I gave up the seat and kicked her drink over on my way.
I’m already preparing the kids and husband for how we will claim a space on the way back. We are going to exit the car in our sleeping bags and hop into the restaurant, where we will lunge onto the sofas.
France is the same as ever. Hot and slow. My mother and I queued in a local super market for forty minutes while the server kissed all her customers on both cheeks a hundred times, then remarked on every single item in their shopping basket.
The man in front of me had trolley that was empty save for two massive bags of dog food. “Your dogs will be hungry” I said, confident he wouldn’t understand me, and then I noticed he also had a supersize box of ‘super safe’ condoms and lube. “Oh, and you have condoms too” I went on “Good for you. I do hope they are not for the dog.”
Mother elbowed me, and we giggled, then he turned round and said, in perfect English ‘You can never be too safe, and no they are not for the dog.” Why oh why did the first person I’ve ever met in my parent’s village that speaks English have to be him?
Mother and I couldn’t stop snorting. The children demanded to know why. I said something about ‘willy hats’ and that set Mother off again. To be fair to the man/stud, he wasn’t at all embarrassed. I did notice that the checkout lady didn’t kiss him, or remark on his shopping though.
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.
We survived Latitude. No arguments over putting up the tent, which we remembered. We had a spot of bother hammering in the pegs, because we forgot a mallet. We didn’t forget a child though, which is the main thing.
True to form, our kids wore themselves out doing arts and crafts and tree climbing all day and then cried just as the bands we wanted to see came on. We tried to ignore them and explain it was ‘our time’ but it’s like telling your cat not to scratch your furniture. It does it all the more. How can you pretend to be 15 again as you sing along to Sleeper, when you have a screaming child hanging off each leg, pulling down your shorts?
Children don’t care about ‘adult time’. I told them next time they are having a nice time, I’m going to start crying as loudly as I can and hang off their legs. The eldest said ‘Mum, you are, like, so weird.’ But I will get them back for this. Sometimes revenge is the only thing that keeps me going. When they are old enough to drive I’m going to sit in the back and kick their chair, remove and lose my shoes and tell them the traffic lights are green, when they are not, which they do to me.
When they want to go to a gig, I’m going to be there, and I’m going to tell them I need them to take me to the loo when the song they wanted to hear comes on.
When they cook me the dinner I’ve asked for, and loved before, I’m going to clutch my stomach, act as if I’ve been poisoned and roll round on the floor.
I am aware this is not the best attitude to start the almost seven-week summer holiday with. Like most years, I’m all full of projects we are going to do together, lessons I’m going to plan. I’ve bought diaries they are going to write in each night to help their handwriting. We are going to read classic books together and do still life drawings of bowls of fruit. We’ll visit museums and learn about other cultures.