“Daddy’s home!” We are all thrilled for different reasons: Sienna (2 ½) because she can jump on Daddy, baby (6 months) because he makes funny noises (mainly from his bottom) and me because, even though he annoys the hell out of me, and has dumped me with the kids in London, he represents back up after five long days and nights with the tiny tormentors, ALONE.
I kiss my husband. One nice dry married kiss. He breaks wind and laughs. (Just why?) Granny, who is standing directly behind Si, doesn’t think it’s funny in the slightest. “Charming,” she says.
Si: “Sorry Granny.” I hug my mother, which is nowadays a meeting of massive mammaries. Sienna runs towards her, gives her a big snotty snog and leads her upstairs, helping carry her oversized handbag and pillow. Granny wipes the snail trails from her face with a hankie.
“She hasn’t drawn breath since Membury Services,” whispers Si. “I’ve had every Daily Mail topic from Albanian gangs smuggling children to her list of illnesses on her phone ‘in case of emergency’.”
Granny calls down from the stair gate. “How are Sienna’s poos? Still yellow?” Granny always wants to know how the children’s bowels are. “And Vita’s? Any softer? Did you give her the special olive oil?”
Me: “Yes, Mum.”
Granny: “It’s just clay or yellow stools can be a sign of…”
Me: “Everyone’s poos are fine apart from Si’s, which are explosive.”
Simon shoots me a look. “Call me old fashioned, but I don’t particularly want to discuss my bowel movements with my mother-in-law, thank you very much.”
Granny ignores him. “You should go and see someone Simon because that’s not right.”
Si: “Yes, Granny.”
Tonight I’m letting Granny and Si do bath-time (haha) but it’s not like I can actually take a break because I’m still on dairy duty. Vita is point blank refusing to take a bloody bottle, which is why Granny’s here. Because in order to do any work outside of the house, or even leave the ruddy house, I need to take baby with me, and someone to look after her.
The next morning we leave at 8am, which is practically the middle of the night for Granny. Sienna was up at 2am but Granny blissful snored on through (although she says didn’t sleep a wink, with all the sirens of London at the bottom of her bed.)
I ask Si if he’ll be okay with Sienna on his own. “Of course,” he says looking at his iPhone.
Me: “She’s got nappy rash so put some cream on. I think it’s a fungal infection – I need to check with the doctor…. Si?!”
Si: “Yes, yes, cream on her woo-woo. Wayne’s just Whats’App’d me to say he’s in the UK… I’m listening! We’ll be fine. Go!”
Me: “Text me if there’s a problem.”
Si: “Go! Bye Granny.”
Granny: “Oh goodbye, Simon. I’ve been waiting for you to say good morning but I suppose goodbye is at least some form of greeting.”
Si closes the front door still engrossed in his iPhone.
This month I’m bell ringing in West Sussex for my Acre Magazine column, ‘Wilde Challenges’. Why bell ringing? Because I thought it would fit better with breastfeeding than tractor driving, charcoal burning or Morris Dancing. I had to email the bell ringer in advance to explain I will not only be bringing a baby but also my mother and will need to break off from ringing to ‘nurse the infant’. Mercifully, in spite of him being in his 60s, he doesn’t scare easily.
Stanley Bliss, a leading campanologist, invites us into the dark and dank 14th century church. I park a sleeping Vita in the Bugaboo by the font and follow him up the bell tower, my mother behind. Three steps in and my mother is starting to struggle with the tight staircase. She huff and puffs and suddenly gets an attack of vertigo, deciding to climb the remainder of the stairs on her hands and knees, but she’s not happy going up this way so decides to change position to her bottom, which is terrifying to watch and not an easy feat for her. Eventually after many attempts she stiffly makes it onto her bottom and starts to ascend backwards using her arms to pull herself up. Stanley looks terrified. I am mortified. “How much further?” she pants. “Not far,” says Stanley. I am beginning to wonder why I brought her because my six month old is now looking easy compared to the extremely un-athletic Agatha Wilde.
“Is she okay?” asks Stanley quietly at the top. I nod.
“I’m fine. Start without me,” echoes Granny in the tower.
After an awkward few minutes listening to grunts and groans, Stanley starts to show me how to gently pull a practice bell rope to get the rhythm and feel of ringing before I have a proper go on the bells. I pull and let the cord go up through my hands and pull down and let the rope go up through my hands. “Yes, that’s it. A nice gentle rhythm,” says Stanley.
As I pull the rope again there is a big ‘urgh’ as Granny finally reaches the summit. Her black velvet trousers are covered in plaster dust at the knees and her furry French resistance beret is over her eyes but she has made it. She stumbles to a chair to take a breather. I continue to pull the practice rope under Stanley’s tutelage. “Very good,” he says. He starts to tell me how he first got into bellringing as a youngster in rural Suffolk, when…
“Excuse me,” says Granny. “How many stairs did we just climb?”
Stanley says he’s not sure. I fob her off with ‘a lot’ and try to get back to bell ringing but she really wants to know. And then Stanley throws a bombshell: “Actually, it’s one of the shortest bells towers in England.” Granny mutters something about having a new hip and I think that’s the end of it, except it’s not, because now she wants to know the history of the church. This is a disaster. I remember she did this when I went tractor restoring in Wales four years ago. I had to borrow her car but she came too as part of the package and took over the interview!
Stanley is very accommodating of Granny’s questions. “Do you live in the village? It’s so pretty around here.” I keep pulling the cord rhythmically, shooting Granny a look.
“Oh sorry, Vanessa doesn’t like it if I ask questions. I’d better shut up,” she says. She then starts to shiver. “Brrr, I didn’t realise it would be so cold.
“It’s a mediaeval church, Granny,” I say rolling my eyes.
“Not healthy for the baby. Or my rheumatism.”
Stanley says it’s time to ring the proper bells. This is what we’ve been working up to but suddenly Granny darts like greased lightning to the stairs (she’s okay on the flat). “I thought I heard the baby. Is she alright down there? You really don’t know who’s about? I’m going down to check.”
Stanley and I look at each other. “NO!”
I carry up the baby. She was sound asleep in the church below but now she’s not and she’s warming up for a scream. She starts to nudge my breasts for a feed. Oh god no. I look at Stanley who offers to leave the room. This is an effing disaster.
“Sorry. I’m more trouble than I’m worth. What can I do?” She says looking sad.
“It’s fine, Mum.”
I feed Vi and hand her over. “She doesn’t seem to sleep as well as Sienna,” she says.
“That’s because I woke her up because you thought someone had stolen her!”
Vita settles in Granny’s arms, that is until Stanley returns to give us a stirring peal of the bells, which sends baby bat-s**t mental. And there’s nothing I can do because I can’t get Granny to take the baby for a walk without calling the ruddy fire brigade to get her down the bell tower so I am stuck conducting this highly unprofessional magazine interview to the sounds of donging bells, a screaming baby and a panicked Granny because apparently she’s ‘not good with screaming babies’, not to mention the cold, and the ruddy stairs!
One hour later Stanley and I finally manage to get Granny down ‘the shortest bell tower in England’ and Granny and I head off for a well-needed pub lunch. Granny is warm, the baby is asleep and that’s when she asks whether I really need to be working with two small children – they should be my first priority. I take three deep calming breaths.
I return home and want to tell Si about my day but all I can see is all the things he hasn’t done.
“It’s tea time – why hasn’t Sienna had any tea?” I ask.
“You didn’t tell me to do tea,” says Simon, straight-faced.
Me: “WTF?! I thought you were using your initiative.”
Si: “I sorted her nappy rash.”
Si: “I looked up her rash on line and it’s a fungal infection like you said so I put this on it.”
He smiles proudly handing me a small well-squeezed tube. I read the words: Canesten – Dual Action Cream – effective dual action treatment for ATHLETE’S FOOT!!!!! I hold my breath. I CANNOT BELIEVE he put ruddy foot cream on my daughter’s fadango!! Everything is in slow motion. I turn the tube over and look at the date: Best Before 04/04/2009.
I erupt. I can hear myself shouting but it’s like an outer body experience such is my rage. I spend my whole time keeping these small people perfectly fed and safe and this part-time moron turns up and puts his old foot cream on her most sensitive bits. “Now she’ll get … athlete’s vagina!”
My mother emerges from the upstairs loo. She can hear shouting. “What’s going on?”
“NOTHING!” We both reply, locking eyes.