By the end of the summer holidays I had plateaued into a lethargy of such proportions that the childrens’ refusal to go anywhere (unless it was Disney Land Florida) was a godsent cover for my own indolence. ‘Alan’ I would drawl down the phone ‘can you just get some bread, eggs, apples, milk, catfood and chocolate buttons on your way home from a hard day’s work please?’ ‘Had a busy day then?’ ‘Rather!’
Playmates were an essential prop for the long hours until my cursed 3pm watershed arrived and computer games were permitted to light up our lives, but if no-one could come to play, I occasionally announced ‘Storytime With Mother’: I’d got the little old-fashioned Milly Molly Mandy stories out of the library to supply a much needed antedote to the crisps ‘n’ computers climate flourishing chez nous and would bolt the children to the floor and tell how Milly Molly Mandy had mowed the lawn for Father and mopped the flagstones for Mother with no thought of reward – perhaps a banana (‘is that it?!) - and never clonked little-friend-Susan on the nose. I read while Alfie and Bonnie ate lunch to distract them from fighting over who had the ketchup first and not to waste their time when they could be loafing about. Sometimes I’d add some sauce: ‘Milly Molly Mandy said ‘Good Heavens Mother, get off your arse and clean out the grate yourself!’’ to confirm they weren’t listening. Once they’d finished eating, interest dipped sharply, and I had to read very fast indeed, or I’d be reading the ending on my own.
More successful was Bonnie’s nauseating ‘Sleepover Blushes Quiz’ from the one and only ‘Jacqueline Wilson’s Official Mag’. ‘Alfie!’ she’d shriek, ‘the morning after a sleepover do you prefer: a) snuggling with your bestie (oh my); b) practising your dance routines (oh yey!) ; c) peeping at panties (ooh!) or d) make-over madness (oh, baby!)?’. There being no ‘Jumping on top of my friend’ option, Alfie gamely chose the most girlish answers (‘I like my PJs cute and cuddly’ would be typical) and we killed ourselves laughing, until Bonnie felt ridiculed and walked out, nose in the air, quoting the Grande Dame Wilson herself ‘I think I’m Going To Explode!’ so that we had to beg her to come back for a round of Articulate ‘the vocabulary game made fun!’: ‘head of the Catholic Church, funny hat, come on stupid, guess it! ‘’Is it the Poke?’ ‘HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!! She said The POKE! POKEY-WOKEY-POKEY-WOKEY!….’
Before blood was drawn (well usually) we’d slope off somewhere so we could say we'd been out - like John Lewis’ shoe department (‘These ones?’ ‘Nope’ ‘These?’ ‘Nope’ ‘Wow – look at these!’ ‘Nope’ ‘These are the most brilliant shoes I have ever ever seen!’ ‘Nope’ ‘WHY THE HELL ARE WE HERE???’) leaving empty-handed and noting that Milly Molly Mandy would have been grateful for any of the lovely shoes and would have said ‘Why, thank you Mother!’
Home again, Josie's and Maddy's friends had got back from their holidays, and we were often met with the roar of teenagers HAVING FUN in the kitchen. Josie, in an ecstasy of relief that her friends still loved her, hissing at me ‘I can manage’ (ie. go away) ‘I’ll clear up later'. Only I noticed the fist in the failed falafel and the tears as she burned herself on the oven shelf; after her friends left (hug!kiss!) she had one of her heads and fell asleep with the labels hanging out of the new clothes she’d been showing, trying to watch a programme on slavery, bless her, while I cleaned the salsa off the ceiling, although she would definitely have done it the next morning, or perhaps afternoon if the alarm didn’t go off. Things were getting back to normal.