Effing and Jiffing

Here’s a parenting conundrum – if your child shouts ‘Fuck off!’ in Russian should you
be deeply ashamed
proud of his language skills
or
c) feel secretly pleased that he has said exactly what you wanted to say to the millionaire Russian mummy on the phone to her son, who is staying in your house to learn English but who deems your Victorian terrace not a suitable environment for her little prince?

Yesterday was not a good day. We often have language students to stay – Richard teaches them English, cooks for them, takes them on day trips and generally runs around after them as well as our four. He is really good at it and he enjoys it. The children that have passed through our house have, on the whole, been quite nice, but they often come from very wealthy families ( the sort of people who have enough money to send their kids abroad for a couple of weeks) and they turn up with designer clothes, iPads, iPhone 5s and wallets stuffed with cash. One 7 year old boy tried to pay for an ice cream with a £50 note. That’s a lot of Mr Whippy. Our kids are slack-jawed with envy at the amount of spending money these kids have. It took a lot of explaining –
‘How come Vladimir can have a Double Cone and I can’t?!’
‘Its not fair! Anastasia got to spend £400 in Hamleys today and you won’t even buy me some bubble gum!’
‘Why can’t I have a Minecraft account and an iPhone like Vladivar?!’
‘Because they come from money – new, post-communist money – and you don’t. You come from poverty – old, post-Thatcherite poverty. Now get back up that chimney and sweep ’til it’s time for your gruel’
It’s a much needed source of income but sometimes, like yesterday, it’s a shame-inducing experience. I’m not a house proud person. I like the place to be clean and tidy but that’s not always possible – I’m away from home a lot on tour and Richard has his hands more than full – but generally the place is homely, welcoming, clean. We don’t notice the scuff marks in the hallway full of shoes, the small broken pane of glass in the toilet door where Frank tried to bash the lock with a chair in order to retrieve a piece of stolen bread from his sister, the scribble on that piece of wall where the boys had a height measuring-related fight involving a green marker pen and a lot of sarcasm, the missing kitchen door cupboard which reveals a precariously balanced set of rarely used cake tins. But other people do, and when anyone comes into our house that isn’t family or close friends I shudder inwardly at what they must think. I don’t subscribe to the Quentin Crisp school of thought on housework – ‘Why dust? After four years it doesn’t get any worse’ – but I’m not as fastidious as a lot of people because I just can’t afford to be. We both work, and anyone with four kids will tell you that picking up after them, tidying and cleaning is a full time, thankless, pointless job in itself.
So it’s painful when I hear that someone has judged our book by its shabby chic cover. But hey – we don’t all have minimum wage Filipino house maids and drivers on call.
As much as I am a feminist and a socialist, I still find myself imposing an Ikea catalogue template onto my life. I look at the piles of washing, the broken Happy Meal toys dumped on every surface, the lolly wrappers down the back of the sofa and I feel a gnawing sense of failure. Where are my clutter-free surfaces? Where is my Feng Shui, airy, productive, urban-yet-in-touch-with- nature, calm, soulful living environment? Its best not to go there. Turn a blind eye to the knocks and scrapes inflicted by the traffic of living and scrape jammy handprints off those ideas-above-our-station bistro bi-folding doors.

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