‘Express Holiday’

She tried so hard to be a mum to her husband’s children.

It didn’t help that their own son Michael Junior was a handful; younger than his half-siblings and testament to his father’s wandering eye. The boy wore a jumper with ‘Rebel’ written on it for good reason.

She found her stepson Lennie easy to deal with; the poor little soul had physical disabilities and was very small for his age.  He was compliant and sat at the table without any complaint – but then he had little choice.

His older sister Miranda  was a tough nut to crack.  A blonde, beautiful seven-year old; maternal towards her own brother but openly hostile to the small, loud intruder who claimed her Daddy’s attention so efficiently and bore his name as well.  She largely ignored her new stepmother, another intruder who was younger, prettier and happier than the Mummy they had left at home for the weekend, and who would inevitably be crying because she missed them both – and her ex-husband.

Michael Senior returned to the table empty-handed.  His wife and children looked hungry and crestfallen.

“No rice crispies but they have got cocoa pops. Are they allowed to have cocoa pops? Lennie, do you want toast?  I’m having the full English. Can they have fruit juice?”

She sighed.  Eighteen months ago Michael Senior had been living in the same house as his two eldest children.  She was aware from her own experience that he was not what you would call a ‘hands-on’ Daddy but surely he knew what his children liked to eat?

“Miranda can have cocoa pops…..”

“I want muesli. I don’t like cocoa pops.  Mummy never buys cocoa pops.  Mummy says they make your teeth go rotten and then Daddy will have to pay out for us to have new teeth.  Mummy says.”

Miranda’s face was set.  Michael Senior recognised that expression.  It was the one that drove into the arms of his sweet young receptionist and led to the birth of Michael Junior, a divorce settlement that he could ill-afford and the low-key shotgun wedding that mollified his new wife’s irate and somewhat shady brothers  – but only just.

“I’ll get you some muesli darling, and some toast for Lennie and Michael Junior. Shall I bring it back before I get my breakfast?”

“Yes please Michael, and can you bring some cutlery too? Michael Junior! Sit down!”

“Daddy! I want Daddy!”

“Daddy will be back in just a moment with some nice toast.”  How she prayed that Michael Senior would have the forethought to put the toast on plates and bring butter and Marmite too.

He hadn’t.

Miranda got her muesli.

The toast was piled up on one plate; no butter or spreads, nothing to spread them with anyway and two glasses of fruit juice that Miranda appropriated for herself and Lennie, leaving Michael Junior to set up another banshee wail.

“Juiiiiiiiice!  I want juiiiiiice!”

Michael Senior had already left the table at speed after spotting that a fresh tray of bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs had just been put out.

“Miranda?  Could you please keep an eye on your brothers while I get a knife and some spreads please?  Don’t let Mikey get down off his seat?”

Miranda scowled.  Mikey was Daddy’s name when Mummy was being nice about him and remembering the happy times.  She did not and would not recognise that screaming baby as her brother.

Michael Junior got down off the chair seconds after his mother had walked the few yards to the service counter and ran towards his father.

A lady and man were sitting at the next table.  The lady caught Miranda’s eye and said “Your little brother has got down from the table.  He’s gone that way.” She smiled but Miranda didn’t.  Her face was inscrutable as her stepmother returned dragging  a screaming Michael Junior by the hand.

Toast was buttered and anointed with Marmite, cut lovingly into soldiers for Michael Junior and Lennie.  Miranda listlessly chased her muesli round the bowl, her face coming to life when her Daddy reappeared with a loaded plate of food, a serviette and a single mug of coffee.

“There’s no room at this table; I’ll sit over here.”

Michael Senior seemed oblivious to the fact that his desertion had reduced his youngest son to tears and caused quiet disappointment to the other two.

His new wife, hungry and now unable to leave the children until Michael Senior had finished his breakfast and was free to mind them, took a deep breath and forced herself to stay silent.

The couple at the next table got to their feet; the lady waved at Miranda and smiled.  Surprisingly Miranda smiled back.  So did Lennie, and Michael Junior waved his soldier with a Marmite grin. His mother blushed.

“I’m sorry about all the noise. I hope it didn’t spoil your breakfast.”

The lady smiled again.  “It didn’t.  Our children are nineteen and nearly twenty-one.  They used to wander off and kick up a hell of a racket. It will get better, I promise you.  You have lovely children.  Have a good day but don’t forget to get some food for yourself.”

The words were the first drop of  praise she had heard all weekend.  Praise from a stranger.

Michael Senior was on his feet.

“Is everything alright?  Were the children making too much noise? Do I need to go after them and apologise?”

“No, the lady just said how lovely they all were.  Can you move back to this table please Michae,l whilst I get some breakfast too?”  She got to her feet .

“Of course.  Silly me. How could I forget about you my darling?” he said as he moved his breakfast back to the children’s table.

“You won’t again.” she said to herself as she walked slowly across the hotel dining room and picked up a coffee cup.

The lady stopped by the door and turned around just before leaving the room.  Their eyes met.  With a nod and a barely perceptible wink, the strength of ages was passed over from one mother to another.

She drank hot coffee for the first time in months whilst she waited for her toast and watched Michael Senior struggle to control his children.  Perhaps it was going to be a holiday after all.

 

 

Milk and Alcohol – but not this morning

It is Sunday and the sun is actually shining.  Hub and I have most of today off together – he’s on a night shift tonight – and the boys are most definitely out for the count.  Time for the To Do list.

Get up – done that.

Check on Uni Boy  – out on the razz with his mates last night.  His bedroom door is firmly closed this morning and the outside light has been turned off – I assume that he came home in one piece then.

Breakfast – ran out of milk last night so no whiskey porridge this morning then. Fruit juice, toast and Marmite, and a banana.  Ate that.

Wake Lovely Hub  – and examine those bruises.  I had to take photos of them last night to send to his paintball mate – who is responsible for two of the bruises.  I think Hub got his own back though. Had to take another one this morning because it’s developed a wonderful range of colours – and put it on Facebook for him – does this count as a wifely duty?

Put last night’s wet towel in the wash – it was forgotten in all the excitement of taking the photographs.  We’re down to two in the downstairs bathroom having thrown one away last night because it was no longer effective and I remembered exactly how many years ago I bought it.

Tidy up College Boy’s detritus in the kitchen – he was getting up just as we were going to bed last night.  There is evidence that he ate the kebab we bought for him.  He’s not very good at throwing empty things away; I often find empty fruit juice cartons replaced in the fridge or a tub of butter that isn’t any more.  This morning it is just an empty carrier bag, the stiff white paper that wraps up takeaway food and a few stray shreds of lettuce.  Doesn’t go well with toast – in the bin.

Shower – well I will when I’ve finished this – and I’ll remember to do something with the towel when I’m done.  Must remind Hub about hanging up the new blind that we bought over two weeks ago to replace the current one that has two settings – up or down.  Still he put the toilet seat back on its hinges again so it doesn’t fall down unexpectedly.  Not an issue for females but decidedly unsafe for bleary-eyed boys.

Get dressed – by this time Hub will have finished his breakfast and we can escape the house for a while – oh the joys of Sunday morning food shopping!  But we have hungry teenagers with expensive and fluctuating tastes who makes us feel guilty (Uni Boy) or just whinge (College Boy) if the right food isn’t in the house when they want it.  Must buy some new towels while we’re up there.   Don’t need flowers at the moment because Lovely Hub bought up Tesco’s stock of freesias and the house smells gorgeous.  Why is it that Tesco is the only place I can find freesias?

Lunch  – by the time we get back and unpack everything we will both be starving.  Highly unlikely that either son will be awake or offer to help if they are.  College Boy will lurch down in tee-shirt and boxers demanding food.  Uni Boy will emerge at some stage with his dressing grown elegantly draped around him to inform us that he’s having a shower and don’t use the water – please.  Ooh – scrap that.  He has just popped his head round the door to announce that the sun had the temerity to wake him up and he’s starving because he hasn’t had anything to eat since yesterday lunchtime – no wonder he’s so skinny.  Advised that his Dad will be coming down to get breakfast shortly so he only has a short window of opportunity in our tiny and hideously impractical kitchen, he smiles beautifically and says he’ll only be using the oven.  Yeurgh!  Oven-cooked food and it isn’t even ten o’clock yet.  Apparently he and his chums don’t eat whilst out boozing because the food is too expensive, its grim and it ruins the effect of the alcohol.  Should I be worried? Well – he is a scientist after all so he knows all about cause and effect..

Clear out the office – we were supposed to be devoting the whole day to this but due to my talent for procrastination we’ve ended up with an afternoon.  the office is our spare bedroom upstairs.  It houses my PC and the work laptop and it’s usually where I write and do my duty shifts.  I go in there to wake up and check my emails, Twitter and Facebook in the morning, or if I want to escape from noisy boys.  It is my oasis but it is a very cluttered and dusty oasis at the moment.  After our spectacular team work at clearing out my Dad’s bungalow, Hub and I decided that we should work our magic on the office.  The realisation that there are several defunct pieces of computer hardware hanging around in there, a pile of objects and books that were dumped there temporarily over a month ago when College Boy had his party, and – deep shame – files of notes from my first degree – which I took in 1988 – the year we got married.  There really can’t be anything social-work related in those files that is still relevant today can there?  Probably.  Anyway, there are two huge bookcases in the room that are not housing the books that lie around our house in disordered heaps.  I have two Kindles now – one for audio and one for reading but I still can’t resist the smell and feel of a real book.  I know that we will both feel better when we’ve cleared out the office but the prospect is lying over both of us like a big dark cloud.

Take stuff to the tip – provided it’s still open when we finish – otherwise it can go in the garage till tomorrow when Hub wakes up from his night shift.

Dinner – left over takeaway from yesterday – yay!  For Hub and I at least – we have been known to make a takeaway last for three days (I did last weekend) whereas the boys demolish all in front of them leaving only scraps and dribbles behind.

Ironing – this will be accomplished during ‘Wallander’.  I find that the dreary greyness is a suitable backdrop to ironing.  To be fair my ironing pile has diminished considerably since Uni Boy learnt how to iron and decided that my ironing didn’t meet his meticulous standards (Yay!)  College Boy’s clothes spend most of their time in heaps either on or under the bed (we bought him a double when we redid his room a couple of years ago – he has a small area to sleep in now) so there won’t be many of them to iron.  I like Wallander a great deal – although I wish they’d put the lights on occasionally.  I don’t actually mind ironing either provided I have something decent to watch on TV.  I sit on the sofa, ironing board now cleared of OU books and at its lowest setting, unironed clothes in a pile on one side and laundry crates ready to be filled on the other.  The fan is on, both uplighters are on so I can see what I’m doing, I have the remotes, my mobile and the house phone by my side and something to drink – thirsty work this ironing stuff – wonder if Uni Boy would make me a cocktail – or two?)  Once all this is accomplished I am perfectly content.

Hub to work – so I’ll have to remember how Wallander ends so that I can tell him when he calls me at eleven o’clock to say goodnight.

Remember to go to bed – I have a tendency to lose track of time when Hub is on a night shift and this isn’t helped by my nocturnal boys – who having slept on and off all day today will be full of beans when I am flagging.  I have book-related things to do tonight and stuff to get ready for work tomorrow.  We have a new colleague starting and I have to be in early to blow up some balloons – I made a banner before I left on Friday. Life is about beginnings and endings – we have to do them properly.

Tomorrow  – I will be up at six to prepare my whiskey-infused porridge – Hub has just returned form the local shop with the milk.