Bringing Home the Brioche

Saturday morning. Glasgow. Again. The kids and R are still in France along with just about every other middle class family I know. As I tap away they are probably arguing over the last hunk of brioche before slipping into the pool and complaining about the heat. Butterflies and dragonflies will dance above their heads while the crickets set up their orchestra in the grass. The cows will wander up the neighbouring field and stare idly from under their fly-studded lashes. Later the kids will disagree about whether to go to the outdoor pool in town or the lake where they sell better chips. R will cook them a delicious dinner – quail flambé, saucisson cassoulet, moules mariniere. They will race up and down the lane taking it in turns on the rickety old bike, steal ice creams from the freezer, embark on long improvs based on One Born Every Minute where S will adopt a stereotypically northern working class accent and keep screaming about how her ‘bair-bair’ is coming. At around 10 R will have necked a bottle of wine in the garden and, having had enough of them for one day, will herd them into creaky beds then gaze at the shooting stars in the black sky.
Bloody bastards. They don’t know they’re born. School holidays were not like this in ’70’s Harlow. We smashed each other’s heads against the wall and waited for our mum to come home from cleaning old ladies’ bottoms. For 6 weeks. The only kid’s TV was a programme called Why Don’t You…? which, although hosted by kids with regional accents, was far too poncy for us, touting outdoor fresh faced fun with nature and craft projects which involved rendering scale models of Windsor castle in lolly sticks. Lolly sticks? We’d have had to pick them from between the pavement cracks. We didn’t have lollies. We’d never heard of Windsor Castle. We didn’t have glue. Or even jam. Dad had sugar on his bread before work. I wish we could say we were poor but happy in those long summer holidays. Mostly we were just poor. September and the new term was a blessed relief.
Outside my window the M8 roars by, the traditional Scottish summertime wind and rain lash the 11th floor where I sit, still in bed, cobbling a breakfast from old Ryvita and Reese’s peanut butter cups. I am looking forward to a cheese crusty roll from Greggs. Two shows today. This is my life. Bringing home the brioche.

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They’re all going on a summer holiday…

August. School’s out for summer. The kids are in France with Richard catching tree frogs, swimming in the lake, demolishing brioche.  The above ground swimming pool is up and full. The ph balance has been tested and chemicals added. The sun is caressing the lizards on the barn wall and the grapes are hanging heavy round the stable door into the cool, stone kitchen. But I’m not there. I am in Liverpool. Again. Fourth time in 18 months. It’s a very nice city full of very nice people but I don’t want to be here. Once again I am earning the bread (‘pain’ en Francais, just a pain for me).  We are coming to the end of the tour – just 3 weeks left after this – and there are mixed feelings. On the one hand I am desperate for a break. Just to be at home in the evenings and sleep in my own bed more than one night a week. On the other the dreaded period between jobs that actors euphemistically refer to as ‘resting’ drives me nuts. Finishing a contract is like walking the plank – you have to do it, but the water is cold, the sea is thick with the bodies of other victims  and desperadoes and there is not a rescue ship in sight. There be dragons. Who knows if/when the next job will come along? We are having our kitchen ripped out and refitted plus some internal work done. The whole thing is falling down anyway so even though the timing is bad it can’t be avoided any more. But if I’m honest the worst thing about the tour ending, the thing that has me waking up breathless and sweating at dawn, is not the lack of money, the bailiffs or the final demands – it’s the fact that I will have to be a full time mum.

Shit. I’ll have to know stuff – like, where the PE kit/lunch bags/school is.

I  must ring my agent.

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They’re all going on a summer holiday…

August. School’s out for summer. The kids are in France with Richard catching tree frogs, swimming in the lake, demolishing brioche.  The above ground swimming pool is up and full. The ph balance has been tested and chemicals added. The sun is caressing the lizards on the barn wall and the grapes are hanging heavy round the stable door into the cool, stone kitchen. But I’m not there. I am in Liverpool. Again. Fourth time in 18 months. It’s a very nice city full of very nice people but I don’t want to be here. Once again I am earning the bread (‘pain’ en Francais, just a pain for me).  We are coming to the end of the tour – just 3 weeks left after this – and there are mixed feelings. On the one hand I am desperate for a break. Just to be at home in the evenings and sleep in my own bed more than one night a week. On the other the dreaded period between jobs that actors euphemistically refer to as ‘resting’ drives me nuts. Finishing a contract is like walking the plank – you have to do it, but the water is cold, the sea is thick with the bodies of other victims  and desperadoes and there is not a rescue ship in sight. There be dragons. Who knows if/when the next job will come along? We are having our kitchen ripped out and refitted plus some internal work done. The whole thing is falling down anyway so even though the timing is bad it can’t be avoided any more. But if I’m honest the worst thing about the tour ending, the thing that has me waking up breathless and sweating at dawn, is not the lack of money, the bailiffs or the final demands – it’s the fact that I will have to be a full time mum. 

Shit. I’ll have to know stuff – like, where the PE kit/lunch bags/school is. 

I  must ring my agent.

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Rise and Whine

I’m not used to the intensity of mornings with kids. I’ve been on tour for nine months and my mornings usually go like this.

8am Wake up for a wee. Look at my watch. Think about the kids getting ready for school. Consider calling them. Decide they’ll be too busy/can’t be arsed. Turn over and worry that I won’t get back to sleep.

10am Wake up with drool on the pillow. Check body for signs of hangover. Pull blindfold off and reach for phone. Sneer at Faceboasts. Play Candy Crush Saga.

11am Tumble out of bed and stumble in the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of …tea. Watch This Morning and get slightly irritated by Holly and Phil’s ‘chemistry’.

12.30 resolve to switch ITV off before Loose Women comes on.

1.30 Loose Women ends. Wait for Natalie to get up and cook me something to eat.

The rest of the day might involve getting my nails done, shopping, or sitting around being silly.  This week I am at home. The Au Pair has gone home for a few days and Richard has done his usual disappearing trick – the minute I come home he buggers off on various errands and jobs. Can’t say I blame home – after two days at home I’m ready to go away again. The mornings – getting four kids up and out for school on my own – are shocking.

Yesterday this is how it went.

06.45 Frank is practicing the one big thing he learnt at school this week – arm pit farts. It is his new passion. He pit farts loudly on the landing until his brother screams at him, waking the whole family.

7am Get up and bellow over the landing ‘STOP SCREAMING!!!’ The irony is not lost on me.

7.05am give up ever getting any sleep EVER AGAIN and drag myself downstairs.

7.10am Saoirse starts her morning routine of lying in bed whining.

SAOIRSE Mummmmmyyyyyy!!! I can’t find my school top!

ME  Alright Princess Stephanie of Monaco! You’re not going to find it lying in bed – unless you have x-ray vision and can see through the cupboard. And I thought you told me you had it all ready last night? If you went to sleep when I tell you instead of staying up watching repeats of One Born Every Minute you might not be so tired and disorganised!

 

I then go downstairs to commence duties as a short order waitress.

‘What do you want for breakfast?’

‘Cheerios’

‘We haven’t got any left’

‘Oh I want Cheerios!’

‘Can I have porridge?

‘Saoirse what do you want?’

‘Nothing’

‘Toast and jam!’

I put the toast into the toaster that has two settings – off or incinerated.

Orla starts eating leftover pasta with prawns. For breakfast.

I cave in to the school top mystery and run upstairs to find it myself, pausing only to almost break my ankle as the cat winds in and out of my feet.

Come back down to smoke and black toast. Put more toast on. It pops up ten seconds later still white. Put it back in. Repeat to fade.

‘Where are my school shoes?’

‘In the garden by the trampoline’

‘They’re all wet!’

‘Yes that happens when it rains’

Then its packed lunch time.

‘Wrap or sandwich?’

‘Wrap’

‘Sandwich’

‘Pasta’

‘Nothing’

‘What fillings do you want?’

‘Can I have ham and grated carrot? But NOT salad cream – I HATE salad cream!’

‘Homous and grated carrot’

‘Ham and coleslaw’

‘Chicken breast if there’s any left’

‘There isn’t’

‘Can I have hot school dinners?’

‘No’

‘Oh why not?’

‘Because I’m not spending forty quid a week on reconstituted turkey’s arsehole’

‘Mum you said a swear!’

‘Its not a swear if its true’

‘Can I have four jaffa cakes?’

‘No’

‘Its not fair!’

‘I know – life isn’t fair. Get used to it. Brush your teeth’

‘I have brushed them!’

‘No you haven’t.’

(cue Oscar winning performance of indignation)

‘I HAVE! I did it upstairs!’

‘You haven’t been upstairs’

‘I HAVE!’

‘When?’

‘When you weren’t looking.’

‘Funny, that. Brush your teeth’

‘Mum listen to my pit farts!’

‘Mum where’s my swimming costume? ‘

‘I’ve lost the tangle teaser’

‘I cant go to school Mum – my knees have stopped working’

‘Brush your teeth and get your shoes on. And somebody feed the guinea pigs. Or are they dead? Not that any of you would care’

‘Listen to me play piano – I’m doing a concert. Here’s your ticket’

‘Not now – we haven’t got time’

‘But I’ve arranged the chairs!’

‘You can’t decide at 8.30 that you are going to do a concert! NOW BRUSH YOUR EFFING TEETH!!!’

 

This is a relatively quiet day because I am on my own and there are fewer adults shouting, and no one got pushed out of the door. But by the time I reach the school gates my shoulders are so tense I look like I’m going t an 80s revival party.

 

I hate the school run. 

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Remote Control Mum

Being a remote control mum can be great. I’ve been away for almost two weeks and things are ticking along quite nicely at home – despite the recent outbreak of Cold War hostilities with the loaded Russians. Richard has finally got the routine down pat, and the children usually have what they need every day (give or take the odd ‘forgotten’ PE kit – they have to sit out if they forget their kit, in an effort to get them to ‘take responsibility’, which just means that they ‘forget’ their kit whenever they can. Whatever happened to ‘well you’ll just have to do it in your vest and pants!’). I remember the important things – homework deadlines, school trips, dentist appointments, and usually Richard remembers to feed them etc. I call every few hours to micro-manage from a distance -‘Did you remember to sign them up for cricket? Have you sent that form in about the parents’ evening? Don’t forget to book tickets for Saoirse’s concert’ but recently he has been so on it my reminders are redundant. When I call they are all doing exactly what they are meant to be doing and Richard is either trying to finish his college work while the kids play or overseeing rigorous piano practice. They have finally achieved their goal of the last four years – jumping up and down on my nice prized Habitat leather sofa until the legs collapse – so Richard has banned them from watching TV on the grounds that there is nothing to sit on to watch it. After a few initial grumblings they have given up (what’s wrong with kids? Why don’t they just say they can sit on the floor?) and now when I call they are usually involved in a weird and wonderful role play game. Yesterday I phoned and spoke to Thady (who was hammering through a particularly ear-splitting and unharmonious rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the piano) and in the background I could hear children chanting in an eerie way.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked when Saoirse finally deigned to come to the phone.
‘We’re playing Egyptian priests. Frank’s got grandma’s old dressing gown on, Orla is wearing your white dress and I’ve got my orange skirt and my Pharoah wig on. Bye!’
They are too busy to talk to me. I used to Skype but I’ve given up because even if I managed to get through I would end up staring at an empty kitchen. They would come to the screen for a few minutes, take it in turns to stick their faces as close to the camera as possible, have a fight about whose turn it was to put their thumb over the camera then wonder off to do something else. I would find myself sitting in my rented digs or some swanky international hotel staring at the dirty washing on my floor at home. Sometimes the dog (RIP Lulu) or the cat would wonder past and throw me a pitying look but mostly it was just an empty, untidy room. So now I just phone. If I call Richard’s mobile and one of the boys has got hold of it they press ‘busy’. Who wants to talk to their absentee mum when you could be playing minecraft? If Frank does answer the phone here’s how the conversation goes.
‘Hello – who’s that?’
‘Frank’
‘Hi Frank! What you up to?’
‘Minecraft’
‘Ooh! Is it good?’
‘Yeah’
‘How was school?’
‘Good’
Pause while I wait in vain for an elaboration of some sort. Nothing.
‘Frank?’
‘Can I go now?’

Maybe I’ll just stay on tour.

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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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