I am making a trip to England on my own with the kids. P is at home doing up the attic. We have grand plans. One day (after we finally get the plasterboards up) it will become an all-new, sleek and stylish boudoir….so we’ll see what 5 days without the interuption of screams, bum wipes, tears and mayhem brings.
The only slight hiccup to preceedings though could be that ambition outweighs common sense. In the previous week everything I have mentioned from the stuffing that’s falling out of the sofa to the ripped chairs to a missing birth certificate has been met with,
“Don’t worry I’ll do that while you’re away”
I know he has set himself an unrealistic list of jobs, but of course there’s still a part of me that hopes that it’s actually true, that we’ll walk through the door and be stunned by a whole new home-makover like they do in all those TV shows.
I’m not a fan of flying but I have enough experience by now to have plenty of grapes, crayons, crackers and stickers to keep two small children happy, with the added bonus that flying KLM offers, nibbly bits and free apple juice. I love this part of the journey. It seems to take so long for the smiling blue ladies to hand out all the snacks that we are almost landing by the time they come back for the empties. S is practically spilling over with joy to have charge of his very own mini can of apple juice. The can and fidling about with the plastic cup it comes with keeps him busy sipping and spilling all down his trousers until we’re on the descent.
The apple juice has been a winner but it’s a few hours before we make it to my dad’s house and I can have a decent cup of tea. What passes for KLM tea is wishy-washy warm swamp water. Crap ‘Dutch,’ tea served in a charming blue and white ‘Royal Dutch’ patterned paper cup. The pictures of clogs and bicyles are there to divert your attention away from the contents.
Apart from this, the journey goes well and we make it to my dad’s house without too much drama. My dad is very pleased with himself. He reaches into his biscuit cupboard and offers me a mince-pie to go with my long awaited perfect English cup of tea.
Bear in mind this trip is taking place at the end of October, we haven’t even had Halloween.
“Wow” I say. “Christmas is two months away, you’ve got them in already?”
“No” he says “These are just for now. Look, sell by date is the 9th of November”
So it seems the shops are milking it a bit, selling a Christmas treat that you have to eat a month before Christmas.
My dad loves mince-pies. For any non-brits who might not know, a mince-pie is a a small pastry filled with a very sweet mix of raisins and candied peel.
While most of us moan about how early the shops are filling their shelves with Christmas cards and festive gift boxes, my dad is getting excited, waiting for the first appearance of the mince-pie. You can see a little glint of mischeivous saturated fat inducing pleasure in his eyes.
“Why not” I reply
We don’t delay to warm them up properly, we just eat them straight out of the pack. I don’t think I even liked mince-pies when I lived in England, but absence makes the heart grow fonder I suppose.
During our 5 day stay we really start to settle into all the English traditions. I’m getting my fill of the BBC listening to Radio 4 all day, the kids are eating cheese on toast for lunch, with cheddar cheese that melts properly instead of turning to rubber like gouda, I’m breaking a sweat pushing a buggy up the steep hills of a northern English town. We go to visit my mum too and she makes cottage pie and apple crumble!
The hoards now desend on my dad’s house, my brother and his two kids, my sister and her boyfriend, and my mother comes round and my two other sisters. This is turning into a family shin-dig. One of my sister’s has even planned to take the Christmas theme further. I have to admit I am a bit ‘bah humbug’ about the idea, but we’re all here I suppose and we won’t be when the real thing comes around in December.
So on our last evening we order a stupendous Indian takeaway with all the trimmings, which is our Chritsmas family tradition. Noone has to cook and luckily for me I love it. We wear paper hats and read out bad jokes. We have steamed Christmas pudding with custard. I think it is my brother who points out the date on the custard powder,
“Wait a minute” He says “Is this the same packet of custard you had before you moved into this house?”
It turns out to pre-date the Millenium, but we have a quick family conflab and decide that it’ll be fine. After our grand dinner, we round off the evening with very silly Christmassy games, and the general level of merry cackling in the room rises as my brother starts handing out the daiquiri’s. Unlike my childless siblings, my other brother and I at this point have to switch to tea again. The combination of cocktails does not work well with 7am loud demands for weetabix.
All in all I would have to admit that I too got into the whole Chritmas theme this year, even though it was only October. It has been a jolly affair evoking all my lost Englishnes. I pack my suitcase with the inevitable stash of PG Tips, but I also add a few boxes of mince-pies.
We are products of our childhoods I guess and my kids are excited about going home. To where they feel they belong.
“Airplane, up in the clouds, see daddy” says S
A long drudge of a journey and we are there. We arrive home. The kids are happy to see their own toys and books. Lego is lego, but somehow it’s comforting to find it in the box just where you left it. They get into bed with the familiar smell of home. Before too long, I am nit picking, inspecting the progress.
P has varnished the work top in the kitchen. He shrugs his shoulders.
“Yeah, you can’t really notice the difference”
He has finished the plasterboards in the attic! Well done, but I can’t see a lot through all the dust. There is no lack of effort. He’s been working flat out, while I’ve been off having Christmas, but my expectations are high. Doing it all on his own has been ambitious. Maybe he could do with some help.
I wonder if the BBC would send their DIY SOS team over to Holland?
Now that we live across the road from A’s school my TV anguish is increasing. I dread the day her teacher cycles past and glancing through our front window, which I have come to realise is unusually large sees A slumped infront of some dodgy cartoon. This is a Steiner school as well. TV is practically outlawed! Possibly the worst example would be the animated series about a Chinese girl who looks like manga gone too far, her eyes take up more than half her face. I’ve been putting the telly on every day after school because that’s when the baby has his nap, so A is practically imprisoned, safely held captive while I’m busy upstairs. If any of the other parents or teachers do pass by regularly at that time then they’re bound to think of me as the TV mum.
Anyway today I reached a new level of telly anxiety. I was exposed, found guilty of day-time telly watching. I am embarrassed and now I’ll have no legs to stand on in the busy busy parent stakes. I was eating lunch, which was an exciting cheese and marmite sandwich and now I was having pudding, a cup of tea and wait for it…..a nutella sandwich! A childish diet is sometimes needed to refuel the motivation for more rounds of “she’ll be coming round the mountain.”
I was enormously frustrated that my laptop was not allowing me to listen to radio four. The droning on of those proper British radio voices is reassuringly nostalgic. I am turning rapidly into my dad. I draw the line though at ‘The Archers’. This for anyone who doesn’t know is a stalwart of the BBC. A long running radio soap about farmers. There are west-country accents, probably just so the actors can enjoy the ludicrous and authentic pronunciation of the word ‘tractor’ and there are mooing sound effects in the background. In any case if I hear the well known theme-tune starting I quickly turn off the radio to try and delay the fast approaching onset of middle-agedness. As far as I’m concerned you shouldn’t really be allowed to listen to The Archers until you’ve got time for hobbies and crossword puzzles and you’ve got a shed.
Being away from the UK I can only listen to BBC radio online and for some reason my laptop has a time and calendar that is wrong and won’t match up to the BBC iplayer so it doesn’t work. I tried my phone, but the phone in this out of bounds region. So I turned the telly on for a fix of BBC. As I was standing there in front of the vast front window with the remote in my hand I worried that a neighbour might walk past and it did occur to me to draw the curtains for this illicit act of TV watching but then I thought I was just being weird and paranoid. On BBC 1 it was something to do with some people selling some apparent antique thingy in a box for 35 quid so I continued flicking until I got to a BBC Entertainment, which was a sort of drama/sitcom about 30 somethings getting divorced I think. It was a programme I had never seen before but it had some lovely familiar British TV faces in it, so I sat down on the sofa and balanced my nutella sandwich on my lap. Just as I did this I looked out the window and saw the local council politician walking past my house! He is the father of one of the girls in A’s class and he lives further up the road from us. Now this was too pitiless. I should always listen to that paranoid self, I should have bloody closed the curtains. Now I’m already aware that when this man’s daughter came to play after school that I allowed her and A to watch an episode of Dora the Explorer.
Shall I quickly run outside right now? I think
Shall I tell him the whole story about the radio not working and that I never normally would watch TV in the middle of the day, honest?
Shit, in half an hour from now I will be picking A up from school and I’m sure he’ll be there to pick up his daughter too. Strangely enough a local council politician seems to have a lot of time on his hands for bringing and picking up his kids from school and meandering up and down his street checking up what other people are up to.
Right then, I decide,
When I see him I will have to pull myself together. I will calmy make intelligent polite chit chat. I will pretend that I’m not just a daytime telly addict, but a normal capable fellow parent. I will enthusiastically greet A with a healthy interest in her day at school.
Seriously, what am I going to do? I’m looking down at a half eaten chocolate spread sandwich watching my integrity take a backslide.