I REALLY don’t want to go to this dinner party for many reasons. 1) I don’t like Fiona and her smooth-skinned husband, 2) I’m feeling fat and hormonal, 3) the rash of death is angry today, 4) leaving the house without the baby whilst breastfeeding is a nightmare and 5) I am hyperventilating at the possible parking confrontation, I just can’t deal with the aggravation and…
My heart beats faster as I unlock the door. Is it Fiona? I open it and Simon barges past chuntering, followed by my parents. My mother throws her arms around me, her faux fur coat smothering me, her signature scent – First by Van Clef and Arpels – comforting me at the same time. She lets go and I spit out manmade fibres.
Sienna (2.5) runs at Granny to give her a flying cuddle, jumps up into her arms and bowls her over like a skittle into Roger’s outstretched arms – his time playing hooker for the Royal Air Force has never left him. He coolly uprights his flustered wife.
Simon: “Sienna, be careful with Granny.”
“Don’t shout at her,” says Granny. “It’s my fault, I just don’t have any core strength. It’s these new heart tablets.”
“Poor Granny,” says Sienna. “I’m not very well either.”
Me: “You’re fine Sienna – what are you talking about?”
Sienna: “I’ve got a tummy ache and my back’s gone like Granny’s.”
Granny and Sienna giggle together as the toddler leads her upstairs to her room. I hug my father, who follows Granny with her various large packing cases.
Whilst everyone is upstairs Si and I have a word. He is sitting at his Victorian patriarchal desk looking at his mail grumpily. “Yet another bill,” he harrumphs.
Me: “You haven’t said hello.”
“Hello.” He gets up to give me a kiss but I turn away. I like the idea of him more than the reality these days. And why is he always so grumpy?
He grabs my waist. “Listen f***-face I want a kiss.”
Me: “Well you can’t have one until you’re nice.”
“I am.” He says kissing me. “I just didn’t know I was bringing the grandparents down tonight – I was looking forward to doing naughty things to my wife.”
Me: “They’re babysitting.”
Si: “What about Blagorodna?”
Me: “I asked her but she never texted me back.”
Blagorodna is a glamorous Bulgarian woman in her 30s who cleans on The Patch. She came to help me when we moved in, fell in love with Sienna, taught her Bulgarian nursery rhymes and has been on hand to babysit ever since. I can describe Blagorodna by what she doesn’t like more than what she does. She doesn’t like fish. ‘Yuk, it smells bad’, tea, British weather, asparagus, coffee, beetroot… And she doesn’t like British doctors because the Bulgarian health service is the best in the world. Fact.
Simon continues, “I just worry about your mother. She’s on these new blood thinners. I got the whole list around Newbury. She has seven specialists.”
Me: “And I have Liver Wind.”
Roger enters the sitting room and asks, “So where am I kipping tonight?”
I should explain that my parents have been married 48 years and attribute their successful union to one thing: separate bedrooms (from the 25 year mark). I used to think this was weird. Now I am married with two children, I think it is eminently sensible. However, it means that staying anywhere is often complicated and their holidays, prohibitively expensive.
I leave Si to explain that at the ripe old age of 73, Roger will be sleeping on a blow-up mattress in the sitting room. I need to gather up the brood to start the third and final meal of the day: tea.
Sienna is refusing to eat her pesto pasta and broccoli even with balsamic vinegar (so south west London) and I am running out of threats. Granny steps in whilst I start to clear up the mess around seven month old Vita. As I kneel down, gathering up the debris in kitchen towel, Vita leans out of her highchair, grabs a handful of my hair and yanks it hard. “No!” I say and she squeals in delight. I un-prize her fingers and soon florets of broccoli are raining down my neck. NO! I try to move away as an orange sippy cup connects with my head. FFS!
Baby Beelzebub is chuckling and so is Sienna and Granny’s not helping matters by clapping. I suddenly hear male laughter coming from the sitting room. Where. Is. Simon. I storm the adjoining room, covered in pesto and clutching handfuls of kitchen towel. And then I see he and Roger have tankards of beer in their hands. My rage spews forth like a projectile vomit. “Er, Si, could you come and help with TEA? They’re your children too and they’d like to get to know you.”
Simon and Roger exchange brotherhood glances of support. “He was just on his way,” says my father, who is now firmly in the wrong camp.
“You can blow up your own mattress, Father.” I say callously.
Si: “Don’t worry Roge, we have a plug-in pump from The States. Does it in 30 seconds.”
“Hmm,” says Granny, “sounds like someone else I know.”
Simon and I both close our eyes and cover our ears but the image of elderly shenanigans lodges in our brains. Nooo!
Si loads the dishwasher, whilst Granny and I do bath time. My father makes himself professionally scarce helping himself to another Spitfire.
Granny can’t manage to bath Baby and Sienna because ‘her back’s gone’ so I give them a wash, lift Sienna out for Granny and take Vita to her room. As I get Vita dry, clothed and zipped in her sleep-sack I can hear Sienna giving Granny the run around, literally.
“Sienna, please put your pyjamas on,” says Granny breathlessly following the nimble sprite. “For Granny. Please.”
I yell for Sienna to ‘do as she’s told’ but she runs into Vita’s room and does a ‘naked dance ‘with my sunglasses on. Granny trudges in but the wily toddler gives her the slip and is now hiding in her wardrobe again. I hand Baby to Granny, haul Sienna out of her hiding place and get her dressed so fast she’s barely conscious of what’s happening.
I retrieve Vita, settle Sienna on Granny’s lap for a story but Granny’s left her glasses downstairs, somewhere. Maybe in her handbag? We call down to the men who are swapping now vignettes over more beer. The acrid tar of resentment bubbles up again – it should be ME enjoying a G&T downstairs whilst HE puts them to bed for once. But I’m shackled to my duties because I am the only one who can feed Vita because I have mammaries and he doesn’t! Urff.
Granny and I creep backwards out of the girls’ rooms, practically bumping bottoms on the tiny landing. They are both asleep. She sits and talks to me whilst I put on my war paint, squish my plump form into a Spanx girdle-cum-cycling shorts, cloak myself in a black jumpsuit that makes me look two sizes smaller, stuff my bingo-wings into a black bolero cardigan, slip on a pair of heels and the façade is complete. I look ten times better than I did and I feel better too. Maybe dinner this evening won’t be so bad.
And then the doorbell goes. Again.
GRRRR. WHO WOULD RING THE BELL AT BEDTIME?
Blagorodna is standing in the doorway dressed in paint-splattered jeans, a slashed T-shirt exposing her cleavage and a biker jacket. “Hello!! It’s the best babysitter in the world!”
Oh god. I run down the stairs. “Hi Blagorodna.”
“Where is my Princess?” She demands.
Me: “In bed.”
Blagorodna: “But it is early. I wake her up.”
Me: “No! Please don’t.”
The baby starts crying, woken by the bell. Simon volunteers to settle her knowing the baby is a much better option than explaining to Blagorodna that I have monumentally cocked up. He also thinks Blagorodna fancies him.
“Hello Daddy. You lucky, he is very good man.” She says to me. “My husband in Bulgaria, he watch TV and does nothing. Simon is amazing.”
She bustles through to the sitting room with a plastic bag with her pizza supper in and a big furry blanket because ‘it’s cold, like Russia in your house.’ My parents have met her before but they struggle with her name. I grit my teeth.
“Hello Blogodovka, how are you?” Says Granny with confidence.
“Hello Granny, hello Roge,” she says with a twinkle.
My father shakes her hand. “Blogaradno,” he mutters quietly.
I am scrolling down my text messages as I tell her there’s been a mistake. I tell her she never replied to my text. But there in blue is her reply saying: <Yes I come. See you x>
She shakes her head and there is an awkward silence as I tell her to stay, offer to pay her the full amount, £20 for the travel, something. “Oh dear, silly Mammy.” I bung cash in her handbag. I feel terrible but she says, “No, next time. I go back home and watch good Bulgarian TV with my son, not rubbish like on BBC.” She pretends to spit at the floor.
Simon hands her a glass of elderflower (she doesn’t like alcohol). “You must stay for a drink,” he says and we all clink glasses at the same moment the front door opens with a light knock. It’s Fiona.
Fiona :“Oh! Didn’t know you were having your own party. How nice. But now you’re late; our invitation was 7, NOT 7.30.”
Granny rises from her chair slowly. She doesn’t like the cut of Fiona’s jib one bit. She wants to ask her who exactly she thinks she is. I tell Granny to sit down, we can handle this. She raises an eyebrow, riled by such an entrance. I blow Blagorodna a kiss, grab my handbag and Simon and I follow in Fiona’s wake, our heads bowed like death row prisoners resigned to their fate.
And then I suddenly remember Sienna’s tummy ache. I can use that. I MUST use that.
(To be continued…)