Tuesday, July 8, 2014


By the time the third tyre blew we were somewhere near Preston and we spun twice across two lanes of traffic. Three of us were in Andy's Fiat Panda, a two door hatchback. Andy was driving, J was in the front and I was packed in the back among several duvets, an electric lamp and a box of lever arch files; the luggage of students heading back to college.

The first tyre had blown about an hour into the journey, just outside Reading.  We were on a smaller road then and we shuddered a little before realising we had a puncture.  We limped off the road into a local garage, grateful for the help we'd get. We emptied the suitcases from the trunk and with the help of the mechanic, got out the spare. We levered up the vehicle and swapped the tyres, packing the punctured one back into the well where the new one had been.

'You don't want to drive too far on that' said the garage attendant in his overalls.

The vehicle was clearly loaded up for a big journey.

'That wheel's got almost no thread.'

He showed us how we should be able to put a coin in the tyre's rubber indentations. We were teenagers. Irresponsible. Immortal. My friend didn't want to fork out a hundred quid for a new tyre.  She didn't say as much, but she didn't spend any money there that day and we drove out of the garage on the spare.  Should I have spoken up? Bought the tyre myself? We journeyed on.

The second blow out wasn't long after that. Was it the spare that went? Possibly. This time we needed towing.  This time we paid up.  I found out then that the vehicle was thirteen years old and had never had its tyres replaced. 

When Andy and I were eleven one of the girls at school lost both her parents in a car accident.  Ann Acre was in the year above us.  She had a freckled face and the thick dark hair of a movie starlet.  In my childish imagination her parents were romantic travelers; he in a trench coat, she with a headscarf.  One day she was just another girl, the next she had no parents.  Our first year dormitory was near the surgery that year.  Sister Lux was on duty to take care of us as we settled into boarding school.  I saw Ann Acre waiting to see the nurse.  I took in her presence, sitting silently on a plastic chair without tears, without parents.  On the lacrosse pitch, in the lunch line, in the corridors between lessons, it was unbelievable she could be so alone.

Andy had just asked me if I could see a problem with the right rear wheel so I was trying to get a glimpse of it when we started spinning.  I imagine I looked like a child evacuee being dispatched by train. Fear and disbelief on my face. The world slowed. It was silent.  I saw my hands on the window. I always liked my hands.  I held this thought even as I tried to dismiss it.  My last thought? On my left hand is a scar in the shape of an L. I got it when I snipped grapes from a vine with a pair of scissors and drew blood. As a child it helped me tell left from right.  I saw the grey blur of the road, dotted white lines joining up as we spiraled once, then twice.

'I knew what to do', Andy said later, 'I knew to pump the brakes'. She was retelling the story. The responsible driver.

I had no idea about pumping the brakes. We teetered for a moment after the second spin, another car swerved away from us, there was screeching, car horns, swearing, roaring in my head and we came to rest on the verge. The engine fizzed and ticked. It had stopped on the brown grass just ahead of a deep trench. A hundred yards further up the road was a concrete wall, the base of a bridge. The distance between our vehicle and that impact was a matter of seconds.

We pulled ourselves out, stunned. A tow service appeared and it was dark by the time we pulled into a garage on the outskirts of Preston. Someone kind gave us coffee.   It warmed us.  We had three hours further to drive. We were lucky, irresponsible, stupid and alive. 

Years later when I worked on the radio, I'd be asked to do a thirty second voicer or be given a programme piece that had to be packed into one minute thirty. I'd spend all morning getting the right voices, the right facts, the right sound effects for one minute that would be broadcast to the nation.  The adrenaline was high, the editor was hard to please, seconds mattered. Seconds always matter. 

Time expands and collapses with children; the long arc of the day in which things happen so fast.  For eight years I have stayed home, a choice I made to give the seconds more meaning than the next headline.  I indulged myself, staying home.  Now, on the other side of forty I am clawing back the seconds.  The boys hurl their hugs at me. I try to write it down, in the moments before breakfast, before a fight breaks out about who sits where around the kitchen table or who gets the Mickey Mouse spoon. Precious seconds with all their joys and terrors.

Friday, May 30, 2014


'Can you tie my shoes? I might fall.'
My three year old is wearing a pair of hand-me-downs with laces. I bend down at his feet, realizing as I do that I haven't yet bought him his own shoes.  These latest ones came from his old babysitter.  I hold the fraying laces between my fingers.  As I begin the bow, I feel small hands in my hair, playing, seeking reassurance.  This is a child who strokes my eyebrows when I lean in to kiss him goodnight. 
'Cozy eyebrows' he says. 
And now I have memories of work experience at Vogue when one of the editors cried out across the office full of clothes racks and beautiful people and bizarre paper mache props, 'Let's do a feature on eyebrows!' And it was with breathless excitement that she hauled me out from behind my corner desk as a perfect example of 'uncultured brows'.  Was that really what she said?  Haunted forever by 'uncultured brows'.  She was stick thin in leather pants. I stood there in my floral A-line (my favourite) with an excruciatingly red flush. I did pluck my eyebrows once but it wasn't for me. I prefer 'cozy.'
The supper is cooking. I can hear water bubbling in the saucepan, the hum of the oven, the smell of boiled potatoes. I tie the bow and stay there, on bended knee even when I have finished, lingering with my son's hands in my hair. He sees the shoe is done and moves behind me, flopping on my back.
'Mummy, looky! I'm on your backy!' He giggles. I begin to stand up.
'I'm going to drop!' he says, but he doesn't, he holds on tight, gripping me as I move about the kitchen.
'Hello Mummy!' He tries to peer his head in front of me. I have gone quiet, taking in the weight of his body, the sound of his voice, the smell of his closeness to me. He is laughing and uttering a jibberish dream-talk, a collection of words I can't catch. When he can no longer hold on he slips to the floor and finds his Lego bike. He drives it noisily around the kitchen surfaces.
'I'm using your bread for jumps' he announces, 'and I'm getting the stool'.  I smile, too tired to tell him the bread's not for motorbike jumps, the stool will get in the way of the cooking and that dinner's nearly ready. Tonight I'll settle for less, I'll settle for cozy.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cream Pies and Green Apples

My three year old asks for a green apple.
'A green apple.' he clarifies.
'I want one too', says the five year old.
'A green apple,' he adds.
They are both skipping around, excited about their green apples.  I cut them slices of green apple. The three year old takes them. The five year old wails.
'I wanted a red apple. Why can't I have a red apple? '
It's true there's a red apple sitting in the fruit bowl with the green apples.
'You asked for a green apple.'
'I wanted red.'
'Well, I've cut green.'
'I want red.'
The boy is going to break me.  Do I give in?
'Well, what do you say?'
'Please can I have red.'
I reluctantly cut a red apple and eat the other half of the green one. Later when he comes out of school, he's thirsty.
'Mum I need water.'
'I don't have any water.'
'But I need water.'
'OK. Well, we'll get some at the music class.'  We are taking the seven year old to his guitar class.
'But I'm thirsty.'
'Did you have water at snack time?'
'Why not?'
'I'm thirsty now, not then.'
'Well, wouldn't it be nice if there was a tap in the car and we could get water whenever we like.'
We briefly digress into the imaginary tap idea, having it dispense apple juice and frozen tubes of popsicles. This is too much or the five year old. 
'I'm thirsty.' he wails
'We will get some water at the water fountain when we stop.'
It's after we have delivered the seven year old to his music teacher and as we are finding the water fountain for the five year old that the three year old tells me he needs to do a pee.  The bathroom is one of those sealed rooms with a heavy door. The three year old doesn't want to be in there on his own with the terrifying flush and the noisy air dryer.  I go in with him.  The five year old waits in the empty corridor outside. We wash our hands and when I try and open the door it is even heavier than I'm expecting. I push against it and realize the five year old is pushing just as hard the other side.  I give it a good shove. He's pushing against it as if he's holding back flood waters.  My shove is stronger though, and he is pushed aside.
'You hurt me' he wails, indignant.
'You were trying to shut us in the bathroom!'
I'm reduced to this peevishness.
'Would you like it if someone was trying to trap you in a bathroom?' I say.
'But you hurt me.'
I feel bullied and angry and tired. Later I tell my husband about it. I know it's petty. I ended up fighting with the seven year old too. I let him play on the computer while I was preparing supper and afterwards when I asked him to get his backpack from the car he started crying about how terrified he was of the garage and how he couldn't do it because he was so scared.
'You don't get computer privileges if you can't do simple things like get your backpack from the car.'

'Do you think he was trying to make you laugh?' My husband asks when I tell him about the bathroom story.
Trying to make me laugh? I hadn't looked at it this way. Then I imagine him telling his brothers. 'I trapped mum in the loo.' Yes, perhaps he might have been trying to make them laugh. 'So-and-so says he trapped his mum in the bathroom.'  That might have some punch in the playground.

I was on a long haul flight with my husband many years ago. When we had our meal trays delivered he stuffed my face in the cream pie. He could not understand my rage.  His implication was that any fun loving gal would have had a good old laugh about that.  I felt like I was the kid sister and I was fed up of being the kid sister.
'Were we married when you stuffed my face in the custard pie?' I ask him.
'It wasn't like that' he says, smiling.  And damn it if I'm not smiling too.
I demonstrate for him with my own hand the pressure on my neck as he forced my face into the sweet marshmallow fluff. He says that's not true. I apparently lifted the pie up to smell it and he gave my head a little push so I got a tiny bit of cream on my nose. Was it flirtatious then? Or did he think I'd laugh?
'Were we married?' I ask him.
'I think we were on our way to Australia.' So I married him in spite of the custard pie. 'Three hours out of Heathrow' he adds.
'Three hours out of Heathrow on a 24 hour flight, you thought it was a good idea to stuff my face in a cream pie.'

Being trapped in the bathroom by your five year old, having your face stuffed in a pie by your husband. I should lighten up.  I should lighten up and try and see the world through the inscrutable lens of a small boy.  Because I live with four of them. The little shits.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hello again...

Good God...it's been months.  I've been busy writing elsewhere (on my computer) but my blog is beginning to feel alarmingly neglected. 
The current status in our house is that we have a nearly-eight year old raging with hormones who needs to be exercised like a whippet if we are to get any peace. The said exercise makes the five year old extremely morose and he starts whining about milkshakes and smoothies as soon as his heart rate quickens. I think he equates the beat in his chest with fear-pumping adrenaline when he meets an unknown dog which, in this town, is about 3 times a minute. The three year old, amazingly, just keeps going. He takes tactics from both his brothers and uses them when needed; raging and moaning in turn. By the time they fall into bed they are all kisses and tickles and I wonder how the day can have been quite so exhausting. 
The other night the five year old woke me from my sleep wailing.
I don't want there to be a war! he cried.
Had he heard about Putin in the Crimea? About Assad and Syria? I wanted to agree with him.
Do we have to sign up? I hugged him.
Was he thinking of soccer? We have signed up for that.
No I said. You don't sign up for war. You don't have to fight. There is no war.
Will Dad be back for the war? (My husband was away.)
There is no war. 
But you said! he accuses me. You said on the phone there was fighting.
My love, I think I was talking about you and your brothers. (That might have been the day the sibling rivalry got so much that I wanted to text 'help' to someone but couldn't think who to send it to. I ended up calling my mother to commiserate about my parenting skills.)
There is no fighting.
I don't want to die! he wails as I lie him back down in his bed and stroke his hair.
I don't want to die!
In the morning we oversleep because it took us so long to get back to sleep after the war stuff. We eat breakfast in the car and I have to stop the school run twice because the five year old says he's going to be sick.  Haste is not his forte.
Yesterday I had an entire afternoon to myself. Well, an afternoon that started at 3.30pm but it ended well past 8pm. The quiet! It intensified at teatime when there should have been bickering and shoving as hands were washed, the menu was assessed for vegetable content and favoritism was determined by the distribution of particular plates and cutlery. Instead there was the imperceptible sound of the kettle boiling as I made myself a cup of tea. The boys were at the beach and stayed there eating hotdogs well beyond their bedtime. I was at my computer as the dark crept in without me noticing until I was cloaked in luxurious inky silence. With not a wail to be heard.