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Machete and an omlette
Toby is up. To give Darlingest some rest I get up too. As she has gone downstairs with him I take the chance to put my eyes in and dress. l then I take over.
We venture into the garden to pick wild strawberries. I pick things from the car. I pick my way through papers and intersperse several mugs of coffee sitting in the sun.
In the garden, Zozo (age 4) in pyjamas, is stuck behind a path of drooping plants. She wants to be lifted out. ZAP suggests she imagines it is a jungle. It works. As she picks her way through the plants I suggest she needs a machete, to which she replies ‘and an omelette’.
ZAP tells how as a POW in a German concentration camp they spent four days in the company of human skeletons. The POWs leave to find a road where the ditches are full of bodies.
Zozo’s Seventh Birthday Party
Zozo’s Seventh Birthday
Zozo came in at 5.45a.m.
She told us her clock radio said 6.00 a.m. we doubted that this was possible, ours said 5.45 a.m. She cried when Darlingest told her to go back to her room, so instead she cuddled up and waited. We learnt that she had been awake for a hour waiting for the time to change. We got up a few minutes later. A couple of hours later I look at the clock radio in her bedroom, it doesn’t tally with my watch which is at least an hour behind, by now presents have been opened, we are trying to have breakfast and get down to the playground. We check the correct time on the computer; my watch was accurate too, it looked as if Zozo had put the clocks forward.
N.B. No pony, puppy or small fury animals. We got her a new bike, her grandparents bought her a piano. She is thrilled to be having her first lesson in a couple of days time.
TBT had a present too, in the hope that this will satisfy his greed/ desire to be the centre of attention/getting something too. His gift is a child sized cricket bat; he hates it.
It promised to be the hottest day of the year, low 70s
It reached 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade (24 degrees Centigrade) a. A light breeze blows from the north. When Zozo was born at 3.50 a.m. seven years ago we had already enjoyed a week of similar temperatures. Being Britain the Maternity Ward had no air conditioning; we had to rely on a bank of electric fans, some brought in by my in-laws, other pilfered from various corners of the hospital.
I make the children eggy bread to fill them up
I still haven’t much of an idea of what time it is. My natural clock suggests it is as early as my watch says. I wonder if the battery that was put in at the jeweller’s only a week ago has gone flat. As I’m at the stove I press on with cooking for the party: two dozen little sausages first, followed by what we call ‘Bang bang chicken,’ pieces of chicken breast bashed flat then dipped in flour, egg yolk and bread crumbs, then fried in olive oil and butter. Yum.
Down to the Salt’s Playground
It was as we set off on bikes to the playground and I heard the church bells chiming 8 O’clock that I suspected that Zozo had duped us. According to the clocks in the house it was closer to 9.
As we set off, both on bikes that they must ‘grow into’ I warn that I don’t want any broken bones. On thte playground we play cricket. TBT’s knowledge surprises me and a passing Dad. A few minutes later he is even showing Zozo how to hold the bat, unfortunately I toss a ball in Zoë’s direction while TBT is still close, she raises the bat sharply to intercept the ball and catches TBT on the side of the head. He crumples in pain. It doesn’t draw blood, but promises to produce a blackened eye. I comfort then distract him. Somehow we still cycle ‘up the hill’ home. Zozo that tumbles off her bike and bashes her knee; fortunately neither injury is worthy of a visit to the Emergency Ward.
Half an hour later Darlingest takes Zozo and TBT off to the Stanley Turner Cricket ground in Lewes to ‘play’ cricket with a handful of other children. Last week it was so cold and potentially wet we had almost cancelled; this week they need caps and sun cream.
My role is to get food prepared, rearrange the furniture in the sitting room and add finishing touches to ‘Fagin’s Lair’ in the garden (back yard)
When a Mum calls about getting to our house I mention that roles have been reversed, usually it’s the Dad who takes the kids off to play on a Sunday morning while Mum gets all the food ready. I find a clean pan and cook some vegetarian sausages; Zozo likes them for the taste. I’d be surprised if there aren’t at least three vegetarians amongst the children, it turns out there is only one.
A friends calls worried that her son hasn’t been invited. I try to say that Zozo hadn’t asked him, that she could only have 12 friends. The Mum wanted to know if there was ‘trouble’ between the children. I feel rotten about this. I did tell Darlingest that I thought the boy should have come to both the birthday parties, TBT’s last Monday and Zozo’s as he had been to their parties each year since we came to East Sussex just over three years ago. Darlingest sorts it out with remarkable diplomacy and by the end of the day we are best friends again.
The sitting room is transformed into a refectory
One of the sofas goes out on the balcony
Having got the cat-scratched thing outside I determined that it should not come back into the house. It makes a luxurious sunlounger facing the South Downs and Seaford Head towards the South East. I use the desks I made for the children and computer and set them out in a higgledy piggledy line with the round kitchen table at one end. Darlingest had criticised me for buying four table cloths but all four are needed. Seating might be a problem, but given the theme of the party sitting on boxes, different sized assorted chairs and a bench is in keeping. We had called the Leisure Centre and could have had trestle tables and chairs for a small fee.
I then finish off the awning over the patio at the back door. We’ve recreated Fagin’s Lair by stringing a cat’s cradle of washing lines from one side of the patio to the backdoor. Over the lines I have pegged blankets, towels and drapes. Ties, silk scarves and coloured paper-napkins hang from the lines too. Several 8ft long garden stakes prop up the lines. Spread around the perimeter of this ‘room’ there are blankets and cushions. I bought 40 wooden pegs and dyed them a couple of days ago, have red, half blue. The intention had been to create a ‘bunting’ effect instead we look like a bizarre laundry.
I drink Kronenbourg 1664 diluted with lemonade
Sounds whimpish, but it halves the amount of units I down in a day while keeping my fluids up. The alternative is to make spritzers out of sparkling water and Sauvignon.
After lunch I snooze for half an hour on the sofa I’ve put out on the balcony. I am full of dread. I’ve never had to control such a large group of children before. The last time I did something like this with a group of people was at Oxford when I ran film-making workshops.
Zozo’s friends arrive from 2.30.
There are eight girls and four boys; most have dressed up. TBT is the Artful Dodger, Jack Hawkins. Zozo, as Oliver. Most of the children dressed up in flat caps and neckerchiefs with raggedy shirts and trousers cut off below the knees, one of the girls in a pretty white and pink Victorian style gown, others in cobbled together pieces from the mother’s drawers.
I have a list of games in my desk, a school desk I picked up for £3 from the Local Council dump.
Warm Up Ball Game
I use this to get to know who is who; they react to it as a challenge to through a ball, never mind to know the name of the child in their class to whom the ball is being passed.
I made a list of games from a book on ‘Victorian Parlour Games.’
To offer some order to the event I typed them all up and printed off sheets in 16 pt. The list was as follows:
Rather than having them screaming out, ‘Me ! Me ! Me ! Me ! ‘ every time it came to choosing who would do what in the game I decided that we’d draw straws. The prize for the winner/top scorer was a lucky dip filled with sweet miniatures.
Hunt the Ring
Chose FOUR players then sit everyone else in a circle. A ring (curtain ring) on a string (rope) is put behind everyone’s back. As the music plays the ring is passed behind everyone’s back. The person in the middle must guess who has the ring. The person who guesses in the least goes gets a prize. Worked brilliantly after a couple of goes: those in the circle loved the skulduggery involved while the person in the middle, could by concentrating, usually identify the ‘ring holder’ in a few goes.
Hot or cold
One person goes out. An object is hidden. Everyone shouts hot/cold until the object is found. Time who long it takes to find. The fastest gets a prize. Never got round to it. More of an indoor winter game I suspect.
Stand in a circle, try to keep the feather or balloon in the air. Probably needs more space than we have. On the beach? Never got round to it, no need. I was worried about heads being bashed together, there were too many.
Four people are chosen. They leave. They are brought back and shown an obstacle course. They are told that the game is to get from one end of the course to the other without touching the obstacles. While they are out all the obstacles are removed. They are brought in blind folded and undertake the race one at a time as everyone shouts ‘watch out!’ etc: Never got round to it. I tried this with five year olds in the Leisure Centre and it hadn’t worked, better to make adults look foolish rather than kids.
The Princess of the Whistle
Four people are chosen and all go out. The Prince/Princess is called in and puts on a blindfold. As they are reminded of the rules a whistle tied to a piece of string is pinned to their back. The game is to grab the person who ‘has’ the whistle. Everyone else runs up, grabs the whistle, blows it and runs off. We tried this with the four who drew a short straw; it didn’t work because they quickly gathered that the whistle had been attached to their backs.
Everyone sits in a circle. (Or two circles). A box of objects has been prepared. The rules are explained. The object that is passed into the circle must be passed in one direction or the other. Everyone time the whistle is blown the direction is reversed. One by one more objects are added and the tempo is increased. If something is dropped or passed in the wrong direction that person is out. When there are only four people left they are the winners and get a prize. Never got round to it. I suspect it would have been difficult to police. I learnt quickly that children are poor at policing each other fairly, instead they pick on one child, take no interest, or work in cahoots.
All but two people go out. One by one someone is called in. They must joined the ‘living statute.’ This keeps going until everyone is attached to the statue. Coincidently we concluded with this game – it worked well to have all the children sedate and lying down as parents began to arrive to collect them.
Feeding the Baby
Two people wear blindfolds. They sit on the floor knees touching, a bowl of jelly in front of them. They must feed each other. Decided against it due to the likely mess.
Walking the plank
Everyone takes it in turns to walk a line looking through binoculars made of toilet rolls. Whenever a person steps off the line there position is marked. The winners are those who get furthest along the line. Never got round to it.
Six people go out, maybe more. Two at a time they are brought into the ‘ring’ wearing blindfolds and clutching their pillow. Unknown to them a third person, not wearing a blindfold is in the ring also. We decided against this as a stray whack with a pillow could have brought our ‘stage set’ down on our heads.
Pin the tail on the donkey. The three tails closest to the right spot get a prize. Instead I copied the Oliver Twist the Musical ‘Logo’ of Fagin and turned the game into ‘pin Fagin’s beard.’ It was understandable that everyone should wish to play, but hard to control them as only one or two were prepared to wait for their go. Somehow I managed to do four at a time spread across the afternoon.
Pass the parcel
One parcel, one prize. Many layers. When the music stops a layer is removed. The person operating the music cannot see where the parcel is stopping. None of this trick of having a sweet in every layer, or of deliberating setting it up so that each child gets to open a layer. The first time we do this after a couple of rounds we toss in a second parcel. The second time we do this we play with three parcels so that there is more activity.
Who am I? (or 20 Questions)
One person goes out (unable to hear). A name of a person is given to the group. The person is called back. They ask a series of closed questions (yes/no) until they work out who they are. The number of questions asked is put down to create a league. Those four who guess who they are in the least number of questions get a prize. We don’t get round to doing this, though Zozo and I have played it a few times in the car on the way to school. I had a dozen names on cards that would have been shown to the group before a child came in. I look forward to trying more of these games on holiday and at Christmas.
Hunt the Thimble
Everyone goes out. A thimble is hidden, but put someone it can be seen. Everyone hunts it down, standing stock still as soon as they locate it (but not looking at the thimble) We never got round to it, even though Darlingest had been on a hunt of her own to buy a thimble. I’m unsure if it would have worked, TBT would have got bored, probably told everyone where it was hidden and then had a strop if he hadn’t been given a prize.
Hunt the Ring
This was by far and away the best game of the afternoon. Those playing go out while we set up a thin rope on which I have attached a curtain ring. One player at a time then sits in the circle. As the music plays (Oliver Twist, operated in turn by TBT, Freya, Rosie and others) the person in the middle must guess who has the ring. The scores never get higher than five, and a few times they get it in one: everyone wants to do it.
TBT loses it half way through. He isn’t prepared to wait his turn to ‘do the music’ or play the games by the rules. He says, ‘No one is letting me be the winner or go first.’ He tries to get our attention by blocking the back door with a garden chair just as everyone is called in to eat. Unfortunately two large containers of rabbit and guinea-pig food are knocked from a shelf. I have no choice but to find a brush and pan, the last thing I do is get upset with anyone. What I don’t at first notice that having failed to get over how upset he is with me by blocking the backdoor TBT, now out of his Artful Dodger outfit, pulls all the poles out that support the awning. Luckily the lines are well secured. As I said to Darlingest it would have been better if he had been at a friend’s house; children who are two or three years apart in age are hard to manage consistently; I don’t want to favour TBT nor have to say all the time, ‘but he is only five and you are nearly eight.’
Birthday tea with the video of Oliver playing
At some stage as four potential players were dispatched to wait their turn they were joined by a few others seeking out a drink. Darlingest soon found that they wanted to eat. A party feast we had expected to give at 4.30 begins an hour early. Oh well. It transpires that no one had fed their child. They hadn’t had lunch. Just as well. They have a feast and it is a relief to see them asking for ‘more’ then eating it.
We end the games with ‘Moving Statues’
For the first time, with a modicum of control, I am able to take a few pictures as they lie on cushions in a jelly-fish like statue as the first parents arrive. Party bags are handed out, children wave ‘good-bye’ and the thing is over, but for the clean up.
We end the day 125 yards away down on the beach
I fall asleep. The sun is warm into the early evening even after it has crossed Seaford Bay and starts to disappear behind the South Downs to the North West. The sun doesn’t not set until after 9.15 p.m. I felt wrecked: I desperately wanted to return home but find instead that I supervise Zozo, TBT and a friend as they skate and cycle along the promenade. When I do get home I am faced with a party mess to clear which is what I do, racing to get enough done so that I can get my weekly fix of BBC Political Drama Series ‘State of Play’ followed by the ridiculous, though entertaining ’
Tuesday 29th March 2005
‘I sometimes wonder what can be said of people when they are young, whether the full expression of their personalities is truly discernible. Do we offer hints? Do murderers seem like murderers at eighteen? Do stockbrokers? Waiters? Millionaires? An egg hatches. What will emerge – a cygnet? A crocodile? A turtle?’
Douglas Coupland, ‘Girlfriend in a Coma.’
In a conversation with my Polish father-in-law, we wonder about Polish names that my son could have been given. He comes up with ‘Miewczyslaw.’
That would fox them in an English Primary School! My wife Wanda hated being called ‘Vander’ (The Anglicised pronunciation). Teachers mumbled her surname because they could say Pelczynski. When a supply teacher was doing registration, the class laughed as she approached the letter ‘P.’
We thought had ‘we’ known ‘our’ family history better that the children may have had a Polish middle name such as this, even called Pelczynski.
Zoe Emmeline Pelczynski Vernon
Toby John Myechislav Pelczynski Vernon
But what about the maternal side, my mother’s side or the family, let alone Denise Cremona’s side of the family? So a hearty ‘Geordie, Quaker name from the bible and a Maltese/Italian name too)
Zoe Emmeline Joanna Cremona Pelczynski Vernon
Toby John Myechislav Cremona Pelczynski Vernon
Or would we stick with the Vernon family name and only have Polish, Italian and English first, second and third names?
We thought as much about ease of pronunciation, a desire NOT to have the potential of a pretentious quasi-aristocratic double-barrelled surname nor to have an unnecessarily embarrassing middle name ‘in remembrance of a grandparent, for example
Zoe Emmeline Sheila Barbara Cremona Pelczynski Vernon
Toby John Myechislav Denis Eric Cremona Pelczynski Vernon
I contemplated dropping my surname in favour of my wife’s.
Zoe Emmeline Vernon Pelczynski
Toby John Vernon Pelczynski
Would I have then desired a double-barrelled surname in order to retain my surname in alphabetical order?
Zoe Emmeline Vernon-Pelczynski
Toby John Vernon-Pelczynski
But why did I never consider a combination of maternal surnames?
Zoe Emmeline Wilson Cremona
Toby John Wilson Cremona
And having considered a need or desire to reflect the maternal line, why not extend this back more than one generation. On my mother’s side, I’d need to add:
Wilson, Hogg, Pig ….. mmmmm
On my father’s mother’s side, I’d need to add Alder and Ferguson
As for my mother-in-law or father-in-law?
I can’t even start to think of the complexity of adding names of relations from Poland and the Ukraine on one side and from Italy and Malta on the other.
Perhaps our children should be numbered, a barcode would say more about the nature of this random bundle of DNA we have brought into the world, that we created mid-evening on the 8th September 1995 desiring conception, desiring a child and then again, give or take the shift in menstrual cycles, around the 8th September 1997. See. We’re not even teachers but we follow more closely the Academic Year than we do the seasons or the Calendar.
I learn from a recent article in the press that they have discovered that parts of the DNA string are passed through generations; is this such a revelation to any observant parent?
A child is more than simply mum and dad’s DNA combined, two strings unzipped and combined.
There have to be residual strings from his and her parents and their grandparents that get passed on and show in both PHYSICAL and MENTAL traits.
He has the nose
She has the ears
He has the chin
She has the legs
He has the interests in construction
She has the photographic memory
He has an artistic bent
She’s into cuddly toys, dogs, ponies and lots of children …
He can draw
He can catch and throw a ball
She can dance and swim
He can hit
She can wrestle
He is compulsive, impulsive and obsessive and accepting
She is quizzical and questioning, early to read, never needs to learn to spell or add,
He can fix a computer or TV age three and defeat Vertingetorix in Rome: Total War.
I feel as if I do this all the time.
‘All I ever doing is walk up the path to school. I blink, and I’m coming to pick you up, I blink, I fall asleep and I’m here again in the morning. It’s all I ever do.’
‘No you don’t.’
‘It feels like that. I am always here, walking along this path. I do nothing else.’
‘Yes you do.’
‘Thousands of things.’
‘Okay, name ten things I do every day other than walking along this path to school.’
‘You talk to me.’
‘Other than walking to school to take you in or pick you up and talking to you.’
‘You arrange for us to have friends over with the other mummies and daddies.’
‘Other than walking to school to take you in or pick you up and talking to you and arranging for you to have friends over with the other mummies and daddies.’
‘You feed the guinea pigs.’
Here I start counting it out on my fingers, we’re up to three, or is that four?
‘Other than walking to school to take you in or pick you up and talking to you and arranging for us to have friends over with the other mummies and daddies and feeding the guinea-pigs. What do I do?’
It’s turning into one of those songs you ding on long journeys, ‘One man went to mow …’
‘You cook us meals.’
‘Other than walking to school to take you in or pick you up, talking to you and arranging for you to have friends over with the other mummies and daddies and feeding the guinea-pigs and cooking meals.’
‘You talk to Mummy.’
Zozo struggles, I haven’t got up to five, or have I.
‘Other than walking to school to take you in or pick you up and talking to you and arranging for you to have friends over with the other mummies and daddies and feeding the guinea-pigs and cooking meals and talking to Mummy.’
‘I don’t work, I write.’
(i.e. I don’t work. nor do I write. Not writing is what I do!)
‘I don’t write.’
Zozo gives some a look of incomprehension.
‘Not writing is an activity.’
She doesn’t get it, I don’t try to explain, and I add it to the list. Not writing is my biggest activity of the day.
I run through my list; we are approaching school. TBT has run off with a friend, I narrowly miss walking into a lamppost.
‘Other than walking to school to take you in or pick you up, talking to you and arranging for you to have friends over with the other mummies and daddies and feeding the guinea-pigs and cooking meals and talking to mummy and ‘not’ writing. What do I do?’
Zozo runs out of things that I do
She must be thinking I lead a dull life. I remind her that I shop for food, that I swim and take them swimming and coach swimming; these are duly added to the list. I add that I watch TV and sleep too. With my help the list is made up to ten.
Just in time
A teacher rings the hand bell calling kids into class; the kids grab their things and make a dash for school. My day is over, next thing I know I’ll be walking back down this path to pick them up.
Zozo defeats me at ‘Hangman’
Gloating parent or have we given birth to our very own ‘Little man Tate’
I got the kids into the bath early yesterday, I had to promise Zozo that I would play ‘Hangman’. That game where you score out in lines the letters that make up a word.
She settled into the bath, I found some card and a pencil.
I offer no clues, no hint of what I might do.
Two words: —– —.
I go for the vowels. I get ‘A’ and ‘E’. A—E —.
I say I can guess, she doesn’t think I’ll get it, so lets me suggest ‘Apple Pie.’
She is upset that I have got it and tells me there should be no guessing. I stand my ground, saying that this is the game, you are allowed to guess, if you see a pattern in the letters that looks like a word and the letters fit you can guess. If you guess wrong it is like getting a letter wrong and you take one step further to being a ‘hanged man’.
For the first time she agrees to play by these rules
All that matters to her know, is that she is able to win. The trick is to get the balance right between a challenge that tests her, that gives her some satisfaction when she gets it right … and a challenge that she can do. Why I chose the name of her school I don’t know. There is no hint that we will do so.
I offer her: ——- —- ——.
And we begin. In goes an ‘A’ and in go three ‘Os’ giving: ——- -oa- —oo-. She suspects she has the answers, squirms about with delight and asks if she can guess. She says, ‘Western Road School’. I am delighted at her success of course. Maybe, as I write this, I can see that I was playing into her mind, offering her patterns with which she will be familiar. Anyway, next up her brother’s name. No hints, and she gets it right with a single letter at the end of his first name. I keep on. ——– —-. With the ‘I’, the ‘O’ and the ‘Ls’ in place she guesses ‘swimming pool’. The —– ——–. With the ‘a’, ‘i’ and ‘y’ in place she guesses ‘Happy Birthday’.
I share this with Darlingest
I race down to the study to interrupt the report she is writing. She reminds me that she got all her spellings right on Monday, again (as always) … spellings we had been given for her to learn over half term but had totally forgotten about. My concern in all of this is how to keep her challenged. I can see her sitting in the back of the class reading Charles Dickens. She has been picked out for ‘advanced maths’ and will have some extra ‘work’ to bring home tonight. She will be six tomorrow. I record these details as fact, or boast, whatever … forgetting that she is possibly emotionally only four or five. Her periods of ‘maturity’ are offset by indecision, distraction, daydreaming and weeping. She is highly sensitive, cries easily and whinges often. i don’t need to turn to a book on A.D.D. that she has all the hallmarks of an A.D.D. child.
Where is all this taking me?
Who knows. This is a jumble journal for now: a writer’s journal, a family record, a cashbook, a dream diary, a list … I’m not conscious of anyone reading this, which, for now, I prefer. Whilst I enjoy batting ideas back and forth with Diarylander strangers, for now, at least, I have no time to do so.
I am becoming a ‘full time mother’.
I was asked if I would get the kids to sleep as TBT in particular is finding it difficult to be with me all day, that have Darlingest put him to bed … he will go to bed, be read a story and fall asleep with me, but with Darlingest, the woman from whose breasts he fed until he was three years and two months old, his needs and expectations are different; she has to be in bed with him so that he can stick his hand up her front … as he did as a newly born and beyond.
The Day that …
The day TBT swims a few yards, unaided. Leaps from the poolside, into water too deep for him to stand in. Zozo, in goggles, checks that he isn’t cheating.
The day Zozo loses her first baby tooth.
The day the bathroom comes out.
The day I decide I am an alcoholic.
I get a part in a film being made in a castle. The only role is for an extra who is a granny. I get the part. Months later when filming begins I am dressed differently by the wardrobe department. Picked out by the 4th A.D. I am nearly thrown off the set until i am spotted by friends, ‘higher up in the ranks’ who quickly introduced me to everyone. This includes JW, the producer, who I embrace, we make up … blah blah. I find myself welcomed on set, in their mess and so on … passing security because i am with someone important, such as a senior producer. Details I remember are a new front put on a castle that includes a Starbucks sign. Also the growing discomfort that I had privileges without having something to do to justify this level of access.
Draw Me a Star Eric Carle
I read this to Zozo last night. It is short. She was permitted a short story. On several occasions I was told to stop elaborating just to read it, even when there are pictures to share. Zozo and I are joined by TBT, he tucks himself under my arm. This upsets Zozo, not because TBT is irritating her, but because she wanted this time with me alone. Somehow we find peace. It is the letter beginning, ‘Dear Friends’ at the end of the story that interests me the most. He says how recalling a nonsense poem told to him by his grandmother and having a dream led to the story. ‘I had a beginning for a book, and an ending. The middle was easy!’
That’s what all writers need. I explain this to Zozo, that writing a story is liking going on a journey, like the one we do from home to school, we have a beginning and an ending and the bit in the middle is easy. She asks what would happen if we didn’t have an ending and I tell her we would get lost. (As I so often do, I think to myself).
Back on the Detox
Not hell, but not pleasant. I may not be drinking, but I do like chocolate and fudge.
The Day when …
We find action man trussed up in a white sock with a Barbie handbag on his head. Why? Because he has been naughty and killing people.
I learn that a dead dinosaur is called ‘un-stinct’
I suspect TBT has a lactose intolerance, Like me he gets dreadful tummy aches.
I think about giving up my cash card.
I hate what I am writing (I sit back and correct work I wrote weeks ago fearful that everything may at worse go in the bin, at best be shelved for a month or two.
A dream pisses me off. I don’t need to go into heavy analysis to recognise myself as a ‘ligger’.
The choice is no choice at all
Children’s meals are sausages, chicken nuggets or pizza. Vegetarian Zozo wants none of them. TBT, thinking he should have as much choice here as he would at home wants broccoli with sweet-corn. There’s nothing for me either, I don’t eat meat or pasty and no loner enjoy white rice. I end up with a vegetarian pasties and rice, the kids have chips and beans (Zozo) and chips with sweet-corn and peas (TBT) Their helpings are heaped on the plate and would run for three meals.
TBT won’t come away from the play area
I find a table and put our assorted coats and tops on the backs of the chairs. Looking around the restaurant I find a grandfather, apparently on his own, abandoned amongst a heap of flashy coloured ski-jackets; kids’ drinks bottles, a couple with their couple of kids, both pre-school, pram tucked behind them; grandparents (I presume) with a single grandchild. Each gradually sinking in a heap of discarded food, serviettes, tomato ketchup sachets and cardboard coke cups.
I get Zozo to come, then TBT begins to wet his pants. I take him to the loo. I get them both to the table and Zozo needs to go. I think I might be able to leave her at the ladies, but the door is too heavy and she shuts herself in and let out a plaintive cry within earshot. I rescue her. Meanwhile TBT has left the play area, found the table but no me and has gone off in a panic. I take Zozo into the men’s and point her towards the loo. Task complete she is fascinated by the child’s seat within the lid and is difficult to remove.
Food down in under five minutes
We eat, it takes less than five minutes to eat less than a tenth of what is on their plates. Then they want to draw, they know where the colouring sheets are and go off to find these and crayons. I did not enjoy the pastie, I have left the rice and my only comfort is a bottle of Bud hat I’d prefer not to be drinking because of my no alcohol, no caffeine detox, but given the pain of my earache and my state of mind and the need to calm myself for an afternoon of ragging kids and request to buy these sweats or another I drink as both medicine and an antidote.
I glance around the room. Eating styles are as varied as the people, forks jabbed skywards, elbows stretched across the table shovelling food into their gobs, dainty etiquette taken to its extreme as a gran tries to balance a few peas on the back of her fork. The dress sense swings between country walk and floss rompers suits, bubble gum pink willies and matching jackets. A Young dad in a baseball cap, a short sleeved vest over a sweat shirt, walks in pushing a pushchair as if he is carrying a cartoon of tiles to a delivery van.
A baby yells and burbles as it stretches its lungs
There is he burbling high itched chit-chat of mums and the subdued, bass tones of dads trying to share a word or too between interruptions for drink, for ketchup, for wee-wees for rides, for ice-creams. A little one isn’t getting the attention, or the food that they want, or they are too hot, too cold, or tired. Were I not a parent I would winch at each stab of shout, cum, yell, cum cry. cum kick. But I am, so I don’t. But as this one child ups he volume, the entire restaurant ups its volume to compensate, a second child chirps in with a similar chorus and soon the calm of a library is turned into kids outside the classroom as the bell goes on a damp Friday morning.
Staffed by Sixth Formers
The staff give you the feeling that you are eating at a charity fund raising do for the local sixth form college, they are all casual weekend workers, all in their late teens or early twenties and all wearing chummy Drusilla’s sweat-shirts.
There are further distractions
Zozo and TBT argue over having a 20p ride. It is Zozo’s money, TBT goes first, but he won’t get off. I persuade Zozo to leave him be, persuade her that he will tire of it. Then he has a ‘gurt idea’. (sic) His ‘cunning plan’ is to cadge a ride on the back. Zozo is having nothing of it. I distract him, their are several regal animal decorated chairs for a birthday boy or girl who may come here. We find one that says ‘three’. TBT and I run through a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. He won’t sit back down and finish his lunch though. He has had five or six chips. No corn no peas, no rice.
Time to leave
A little boy drums his feet with irritating gusto on a table. He is two, he is sitting in front of his Dad and his Dad is doing nothing about it. The beat is picked up by another two year old boy in a high chair across the room. The restaurant slowly empties. No one wants to say anything to the parents and the parents are oblivious to the disturbance their anti-social children are causing.
A guy bringing an ice-cream dripping in syrup manages to dribble it over the floor and then over TBT’s shoulder. He is apologetic and offers a napkin. I’m cool.
The drumming continues
Zozo is then attracted into the play area at the entrance by kids her age. TBT wants to leave, but she doesn’t. And so it goes on. I tell TBT to wait outside that’s one of them out, while I get Zozo. I return a few minutes later with Zozo to find that TBT has swung both doors open and bolted them.
Zozo does the Twizzle-Ladder
Slowly. Patient, knees out, frog leg push, wriggle and slide gradually to the top. It is unsatisfying to find the bell doesn’t work. She has a couple of admirers following her technique. She goes inside, shoes off, onto the rocking horse. TBT plays filling the milk float with fuel (though it is an electric-milk float). I follow his progress with a pair of binoculars. It’s fun to be up close, to watch his mischievous curiosity and sense of play as it unfolds to see that he is daring himself, dreaming up some activity, then giving it a go. Trying things out. He clambers up a spiral staircase dragging a matt with him, meant for six year olds, but he has no trouble with it. At the top I see him carefully unfold his matt, twist it around the right way, climb up onto it, tuck in his feet and set off. It strikes me that he could make his own bed. Zozo does ‘Spy kid’ over-arm.
Zozo reappears with her shoes and socks
What does that conjure up? Te increased sensitivity of the bare foot on the pedals? Taking it a step further i imagine the Flintstones style vehicle, bare-feet on the road. The idea is reinforced a quarter of an hour later when the sun goes behind clouds and I retreat to the indoors. TBT is in a pedal car, he even has a passenger. He is contentedly tip-tapping along, feet going like the flap on TV’s Wheel of Fortune. Ample time to doge and steer, too slow to do any damage should he crash the car. I ask how fast he can do. For all his haste he barely picks up any speed.
The School Run
Soon after 7.00 a.m. I make moves to get Zozo and Darlingest up. I start gently, with the curtains. TBT joins me and climbs up on the desk I have made in front of the radiator beneath the window that offers a panoramic view looking South East towards Seaford Head and the English Channel. A cinematic sunrise is forming. Jut as well, TBT is ranting about watching TV and Zozo is loathe to get up. Soon I have them both looking out at the sunrise. The foreground is made up of dense heavy purple bishop robe clouds, above the sky thins to blue and above our heads there is still a hint of night. We spot a dragon forming over the rooftops. Patches of purple in many shades splats teh sky. The blue brightens through turquoise. Our eyes are protected, shielded by the lower clouds. They push and shove. I am about to lose it. I suggest that all the fish in the sea have stuck their heads out to take a look. I tell them as much. They buy it, adding that they can see dolphins.
Darlingest is numb with tiredness. I need to get Zozo and TBT dressed. I use an electronic egg timer to good effect. I want to see if they can undress in under ten seconds. They can. Zozo is yet to get under six seconds and TBT just gets in under ten. Getting dressed takes longer. I give Zozo two minutes. She does it in one minute and six seconds – a record. TBT refuses to be timed, just as well, it takes four or five minutes. He has to be distracted by more antics out of the window just to get his socks on. A failing I’ll have to deal with later is that he only get one T shirt on instead of the two, a short sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved shirt that to my eyes gives him the impression of an American Surgeon. Our way of making sure he is warm, until we came up with this devise he would run about in a single T shirt. He refuses to wear other tops much of the time much of the time he storms about at such a rate he might not need any other layers, but to stave off colds and coughs we’d prefer him to be warm.
We were doing final through breakfast, TBT lining up ‘Monster Inc’ square nibbled from Nestle across the table, Zozo content with a Weetabix, but they get into a Lego building frenzy and are loathe to give it up. Meanwhile I go upstairs for I know not what, tidy up some books and am distracted by a year old copy of Empire magazine.
Out. Zozo asks what ‘Noon’ says then what it means. I tell her that there is also a ‘midnight. She wants to know if there is something shorter. I have to say I don’t know, making a mental note to check it in a thesaurus tonight. There is talk all the way to Lewes, for twenty minutes.
It’s a humid heat, a heat that makes you sweat in your clothes, that makes you flush and thirsty. There’s a tang of chlorine and recently cleaned tiles, the gently wash and splish splosh of water lapping against the pool side and hands hitting the water.
The learner pool is empty. I try to tempt TBT in for a dip but he gets it in his head that he wanted to do softplay first, the reason for this was that I had said the food came with softplay and in fact he is hungry. He isn’t just hungry, he wants something, anything from one of the vending machines, orange Lucozade, Ribena or crisps.
It is with great difficulty that I get back to the car to pick up lunch.
From here, as we are going to be near the vending machine for some time pressure, I decide to take a seat. He finds a way onto the balcony so I follow.
The heat makes me feel sick.
You need to be wet and in swimming to appreciate it’s warm, cosy comfort. I find it unpleasant. May face feels scorched. Droplets of sweat prickle along my hairline.
Half an hour on Diaryland, half an hour taking my February entries off the Psion. Barely look at JTW which I am keen to correct and print off.
The Getting Dressed Game
It terms of getting them out to school already that we are getting behind. Use timer on Zozo. Dressed in 63 seconds – a record. Prep for Pevensey.
Wednesday 6th January 2002
5.50 a.m. Up and into the study
I resist the attractions of Diaryland and manage to spend an hour checking through the first two chapters of JTW. They’re becoming muddled. I don’t know which version is which as I have made corrections both on the Psion and on the PC. In truth I should be making no corrections at all. I need to plough on to the end, if anything, take more care as I write so that there is lest to do the second time round. I still manage a sneaky peak at Diaryland. There’s a ‘Notify’ from Chanter with an invitation to read some of his erotica. I glance through it. OK. I’ve lost my list of diary rings, no time to fix it now though.
Does anyone like to cook in Diaryland?
While I’m in the kitchen I dwell on a couple of things that never seem to make it into the diary, yet they are such an important part of my life – cooking and eating. We eat so well, freshly made cream of mushroom soup last night, I had oysters at lunch, I have mussels planned, also Italian backed fish. I regularly cook up Terrence Stamps ‘Vegetable Ragout’.
Get Zoe to school
A gloriously sunny day for their trip to Pevensey. Drop Toby at nursery. The morning is mine.
9.13 a.m. There’s too much to write about
Though I had hoped to spend a couple of hours writing the next instalment of JTW I cannot help but want to write about the trials and tribulations of family life. Getting Toby and Zoe up, dressed, fed and into the car this morning, putting the rubbish out, feeding the rabbits and guinea-pigs, playing ‘The Soldier Game’ on the way in, being able to leave Zoe in the classroom, getting Toby settled into nursery and me round to a coffee shop (Lewes library closed) only to get a call from Wanda saying I have forgotten the bottle of water Zoe needs for her trip. Will she flip? Surely the teachers will be able to give her a drink of water somehow.
Panic at the front door
I had a panic myself, when I was at the front door ready to go the kids had found some half-complete Lego mosaics and decide they need to finish these, need to do ‘just tow more bricks’. I tell Wanda that I can’t do it, that I don’t know how to get them to respond other than by shouting which means they cry which means we are delayed even more. What works, and I need to remember this, is distraction and attraction. I need to collect my thoughts, use my wits and device some trick, some challenge, some game to get them away from their current distraction. I need a magic cattle prod, a wand that throws a net of alternatives their way so that I can put a virtual lasso around their bodies and tug them in the direction in which I wish them to travel.
Should I pay them? Probably not
This morning when she should have been having breakfast I found Zoe counting her money at the front door. She has £4.74 I promise her another 26p if she gets the breakfast things out. It works. I find Toby and Zoe sitting at the table, Zoe wolfing down her Weetabix, five minutes later. When she begins to waver at school, getting into a panic attack, I promise her 20p. This does the trick. All I have to do is remember her purse when I come to collect her.
Park up in Needlemakers
Had thought of parking on top of a hill. Too cold. Cafe closed so head across high Street. Americano. Try to write rather than do the journal (though the two often overlap).
Photobooth Galleon written
Move on after an hour for a change of scene. l like coming to the end of a period (lesson) at school.
Noon Collect Toby
Sorrowful sight of two kids whose parents haven’t made it. Seahaven Pool all to ourselves
Toby wants to use my ‘denocularses’ (sic).
Play ‘Age of Empires’. Toby is becoming as obsessive about the game as I am.
Kids have eggy bread – Zoe’s with beans, Toby’s with corn. Zoe gives me what I call a ‘double cuddle’. She wraps he arms around my neck then wraps her legs around me to and gives me a squeeze. She writes it up on the blackboard, ‘Daddy Daughter Double Cuddle’.
Mussels with courgette ragout
Spinach in white
Watch Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Stripped bare the plot doesn’t stand the Hollywood treatment.
At the front door
TBT won’t get his shoes on just as he wouldn’t get his clothes on earlier. Back and forth from the car for this and that, he trips and slams his forehead against the banister post. Bruised he stays.
Make up a story about Zozo making friends with the Pompom head at the bottom of the garden, then making friends with a magic tyre.
On time to school, but Pevensey is tomorrow. Zozo is distraught, I bring her home (Via Tescos).
I feel like drinking, feel lie doing to sort out my mood, sensitivity, negativity. What’s the expression? A bare with a sore head? With the children in front of CITV I retire to bed and sleep for an hour.
TBT winds me up over wanting Smarties. I give up and get Darlingest to take over.
The rest of the day?
I struggle against craving for alcohol or coffee but resist both. With both at home I’m happy for them to sit in front of kids TV. I sleep for an hour. When I get up I’m unable to handle the children fighting and beg Darlingest to take over while I clear my head. I walk up and down the shoreline admiring the angry waves, there is a sharp wind, the sun is crisp. I let myself beach comb for items that might be used in an Art Attack. A couple of stones attract my eye. I pick those up too. This is what Alfie in the Time Telescope would do …. wander the beach looking for things.
The afternoon is spent in their bedroom
TBT does ‘The Solider Game’ while Zozo dresses up. I say no to face paints so she does them on her own. The effect is stunning, the Princess from Star Wars Episode 1 is the look. Plain white with purple highlights, a stripe on each cheek and a dab in the centre of the forehead.
I crane my neck out of the window to watch the waves. There are no takers for a trip out.
Zozo takes herself off to bed. She is tired
She is under the weather. TBT is less easy. He just won’t settle, he’s not even tired. I escape for an hour around 7.00 p.m. only to be presented with him at 8.00 p.m. as Darlingest wants to finish her report.
TBT and I watch ‘Battle Stations’ on Channel 4
It is about Sherman Tanks, I read him a few books. I retire to bed and read ‘Charlie and Tyler’. I nod off and he shoves me back into consciousness.
I make up some Photobooth stories
As has become the case the intro bores them, they want to get to the story. I offer TBT choices from ‘Age of Empires’. He can have a ‘Castle, a ‘Galleon’ or an ‘Elephant’. We go for the galleon. TBT helps fend off and attack and is given his own boat to captain. He has to have the elephant ride too. I fade out as I make it up. He gives me a shove with both feet. I stir from a deep sleep and shout my complaint. He is inconsolable. I fall back to sleep as he goes off to find Darlingest. It is 9.45 p.m.
I am caffeine depleted and exhausted
I stir three hours later as Darlingest comes to bed.
Darlingest works into the night
Zozo ill, tummy aches, diarrhoea
Both at home. Day in. Mostly in their bedroom. Get them going on cutting things out for their scrap books, also Age of Empires.
Transcribing Diary entries
I find I can transcribe journal entries into the Psion and watch them. I can top and take it up at any time. I have blue spot stickers to put on the corner of the pages I cover. I get all of April 1987 covered in this way, this included a ski trip to La Plagne with Richard and P and led to a swift affair with Vicki. At the time I was living with Vicky in London, having an affair with Helen BT, and having fantasies over Nell Courtenay. What I tripple-timing arse that I was! I wasn’t keeping close attention to them. The children ‘clean’ the bathroom and use up a lot of expensive massage and aroma therapy oils. Darlingest is fed up. I take them out, via shops, to get fish and chips.
It is 5.45. They want ice-creams, there are none in Safeways
The current account must be overdrawn as I was unable to take out any cash – that’ll be a fine. The kids climb into the Photobooth and declare that they went on a great adventure.
I’m highly stressed out by the kids’ determination to allude go to bed
I cop out with some Scrumpy Jack and take time to load entries into the PC and into Diaryland. Darlingest joins me, (as does TBT for a while). I stay up till Midnight loading entries. Having been caught with the cider I drink the lot – would have kept half in the garage. Darlingest knowing kind of gave me permission. I am sad at my failure.
On Diaryland Darlingest says she doesn’t want people reading about our ‘sad lives’. I hadn’t looked at it like that.