I should know by now: never make plans. Ever. At all. Because someone, somewhere always comes along and buggers them up. On this occasion, my mother in law. Today was planned, lo: take Mac to nursery, come home via Sainsburys for weekend shop (Pimms, strawberries and all things summery on my list), to my customary Friday “lick and a promise” clean all over the house, pick Mac up from nursery avec the dogs and head for Keston Lakes for cooling walk under trees and the occasional flying leap into the lakes (the dogs only naturally), rendevous with David and Matthew at Lydia’s house for a lovely dinner en famille with the faint odour of wet dog mingling nicely with the whiff barbecued steak.
As I write my mother in law is on her house brick of a mobile phone encouraging Matthew to pack up “all the stuff you need for the wretched barbecue” and schlep it all over to my house. “I can’t eat barbecued food at the best of times, I certainly won’t be able to do it in someone else’s house.”
Stage one of my planned day went very well: I dropped my precious child off to nursery, him pristine in cream chinos and white T-shirt in manner of a Persil ad. The sun was trying to shine and birds were tweeting harmoniously as I drove along Nunhead Lane (fighting the almost primeval urge to dash into Ayres). It was then that I saw her. Amelia, the bane of my life, standing at the edge of the road with a gigantic case and waiting for a break in the traffic. I slunk down in my seat but she saw me. And stepped into the middle of the road waving her arms, nearly knocking a cyclist off his bike with her handbag. “Where are you going?” she asked accusingly as she clambered in next to me, dragging her case in after her. Immediately on the back foot I reverted to truculent teenager. “Shopping. Why are you here?”
“Well, I haven’t seen you all for a long time and I thought if I waited for you to come and see me I’d be waiting a very long time so, here I am!” she said brightly. I started gnashing my teeth and swung the car in the direction of home, the memory of her last recent visit still fresh in my mind. “”Where are you going now?” she demanded. After explaining I realised that, naturally, I was in the wrong again and diverted back to Sainsburys. I was beginning to wish I’d given into my urge to visit Ayres.
“Pimms? Two bottles? Is there something I should know?”
“Strawberries at this time of year, no wonder you’re paying over the odds for them”
“Rose wine? You really do go in for all these faddy things don’t you?”
“Cous cous? We never had that when I was shopping for a family. Mackenzie won’t like it, I promise you that.”
“You can make ice cubes you know, rather than buy them and clog up your freezer – the recipe’s not hard.”
“Cheese? On a hot day? It’ll sit heavy in your stomach”
I have reproduced just a few of the choice comments above - by the time I got home I was ready to open one of the two bottles of Pimms and tip it straight down my throat.
“You unpack the shopping, I’ll try and chip the dirt off the bath” she said as she headed upstairs. I tried to remain calm, ripped off a hunk of French stick and stuffed it into my mouth while breathing heavily. All three dogs and I sat down in the middle of the kitchen and had a group hug. “I can’t hear cupboards opening and closing so you can make me a cup of tea!” she carolled forth.
“Right” said I after a frugal lunch of ham sandwich (two slices of white bread, a scrape of butter and wafer thin piece of ham) and outlined the plans for the afternoon. My body was reacting to the frugality of the sandwich – my sandwiches are legendary. To me, a sandwich is not a sandwich unless half the filling falls out as you take the first bite. My sister Bea often remarks that eating one of my sandwiches counts as a dangerous sport – “you have to dodge discs of flying cucumber and shards of onion!”
“What? All that way for half an hour around some smelly ponds? You’d be far better off staying here and repotting all of your house plants – the bizzy lizzie on the upstairs landing looks positively ill”
By the time she’d finished railing against “parents these days having to do everything and anything with their children just because others are doing it” I had had the urge to take off to Keston sucked from my very being. That and hearing David’s voice lose its bounce when he rang and I informed him that his mother was here for the weekend. I was determined, however, that I was not not going to go out – the dogs could have a quick paddle in Dulwich Park lake if the fancy took them and Mac likes to have “a curly ice cream mummy with a chocolate” from the ice cream van at the park gates. So yah boo sucks to you Amelia.
She’s just come into the room wearing her triumphant smile. “They’ve seen sense and will be here by about 5.30. They wanted to leave it later but, as I said, I get indigestion if I eat anything after 8 o’clock. Hadn’t you better tidy the garden up? That patio looks like it needs a good scrub.”