I’ve got my baby to take a bottle and I want to celebrate. I look in the fridge at a bottle of white wine and rub my forehead anxiously. No, I mustn’t. I can’t risk liver wind or another flare up of the ‘rash of death’ on my face, not to mention the overwhelming remorse and self-loathing. I close the fridge door and decide what I actually need is a holiday.
I call Simon.
Me: “Hi, where are you? The pub?”
Si: “Just having a swift pint after a lovely hack.”
I take a full nappy bag in my mind and swing at his right testicle. I want to ride horses. In fact, I just want to leave the house without an effing child. And every week he goes cycling and swimming and horse riding and has a normal job and a full night’s sleep. I hate him.
I tell him we need a holiday together, just the two of us. “We’re like flatmates bound together by children. We need to see if we even like each other anymore. It’s make or break time.”
Si: “Why do you have to be so bloody dramatic?”
Me: “How dare you call me dramatic. I want a divorce.” (I always want a divorce but not really.)
Si: “Ah the D word – great. And we’ve managed to get through two whole weeks without it.”
Me: (shrill) I need a holiday!
Si: “Okay okay. We’ll go somewhere.”
So I get straight onto my laptop and Google luxury holidays we can’t afford. And then I look at my debit account online just to double check that I haven’t somehow managed to earn vast amounts of money in my sleep or someone’s accidentally put £20k in. Nope, nicely up to my overdraft limit as usual, being charged weird amounts a day like, £7.48 or £3.96.
I open a filing cabinet drawer and take out my black iCapital credit card. We’ve been partners in crime for over 15 years, ever since I managed to use my parents’ address to gain 13k of credit as an impoverished post grad. And when the Magic Kingdom beckons and I can no longer deny myself a necessity, such as a holiday, I pretend that I can really afford it, put it on the plastic and forget all about it until the letters start coming. However, I’m paperless now.
I haven’t used my iCapital card for two whole years (and Si thinks I cut it up). As I type in the long number into Thomas Cook’s payment page I get a rush like when your favourite tune comes on and you hit the dance floor with wild abandon and a crowd starts to clap as you bust your moves.
Yes it’s 200% APR or whatever but I just don’t care – I feel exhilarated. This is what WE need. This is important for MY sanity and OUR relationship.
And then the doorbell goes before I can press CONTINUE and panic courses through my veins, because whoever’s at the door will wake the effing children and my evening will be over. Who would do that?? I thunder down the stairs, rip the chain off and open the door. It’s the General. I look for his Pitbull wife. She’s not with him – must be a dogfight on.
He gestures languidly at his demolished wall.
General: “I asked your husband and Sergeant Warren to rebuild the wall by sundown.”
By sundown? WTF
Me: He’s not here, he’s in Swindon.” I go to close the door. I don’t have time for this. I have a holiday to book.
He holds up the invoice for the bloody ‘throne’ Granny shattered at the Dinner Party. “We were going to leave it but seeing as no one is going to build my wall… I would like remuneration for the chair.”
Me: “You knocked down your own wall!”
And then I have a brainwave. “If we rebuild your wall does that mean we don’t need to pay for the throne? We’d love to, but we have two small children and Si’s only a Captain and…”
He narrows his eyes and nods. “Yes.” We shake hands and then the Pitbull is suddenly at his side, back from her evening marathon.
General: “It’s all settled, darling. They are going to rebuild the wall and we’re going to forget about the chair.”
Fiona: “Throne. Very generous of us darling, don’t you think?”
“Very,” I say waving as I close the door, perhaps a little too early.
I run upstairs and book five nights at a top hotel in Positano in June because I once read it was Sophia Loren’s favourite place, Beyonce goes there and because I’m ‘worth it’. Besides I’ve killed the £800 throne bill AND I have a cunning plan about how to make some quick cash. Things are looking up.
Louis, the Irish stonewaller, has come up from a job in Beaconsfield to help me this morning. I’m instantly reminded of the joke about an Irish man standing at the bar in a country pub. He turns to a walker who’s sheltering from the rain and says, “You see this bar? I built this bar with my bare hands. I cut the tree down, worked the wood, sanded and polished it to perfection but do they call me O’Leary the bar builder? No.”
“See that stonewall out there? I built that with my own bare hands, stone by stone through the cold, wind and rain, but do they call me O’Leary the wall builder? No.”
“See that pier on the Lough. I built it with my own bare hands, driving each pile down deep into the ground so it would last a lifetime. Do they call me O’Leary the pier builder? No.”
“But ya shag one sheep…”
Louis looks at me deadpan. “So about this wall,” he says ignoring my joke.
Me: “Yes, of course, over here.”
Louis: “So they want a dry stonewall to replace the brick one?”
“Yup,” I say nodding and he sets to work unloading the limestone from his battered blue van.
I am a genius. I’m ticking off one of my Country Matters* challenges, working from home, in London, Vita is having a nap, Sienna is happily scooting around our cul-du-sac, and the money from the article will go towards our decadent Italian holiday. Brilliant.
I take some photos with my old SLR camera and Louis lets me have a go at shaping and placing the stones, which he then replaces with better stones, returning mine to the pile again. Meanwhile Mandy comes out and can’t stop wetting herself with laughter. Literally. “A dry stone wall! My pelvic floor can’t take it. I’ve got to go and change my knickers!”
Louis looks at me and shakes his head. “You’re some wild women.”
Me: “We used to be. Until we got married.”
Many hours later….
Louis has rebuilt the small wall, which looks very alien on the Ministry of Defence’s Bovis built estate. However I think it’s an improvement.
I shake Louis’s hand. He says, “Grand.”
My face falls.
Louis: “Grand. Great! Not, a grand but it wouldn’t be far off.”
I do kids’ tea (fish fingers again) and then it’s bath and bed time, which I am beginning to get a handle on. I leave the 2.5 year old for a longer bath whilst I dry the 7 month old – this is the new routine and it seems to be working. I am organised. In charge. I have a holiday booked, a wall mended. Si is going to be so pleased.
And then I get Vita’s bottle, give it to her gently but this time she punches it away. I take a breath and try again. She launches it across the room. She needs to take a bottle, because otherwise I can’t go to Italy in four weeks time!
Me: “Come on, darling. Come on.”
She turns her head. She will not take it. She starts to root, nuzzling into my bosom. “No. No, not draught baby, bottle. Bottle!” She starts to paw at my shirt. I stick the dummy in her gob and then subtly swap it for the bottle, she punches it away again.
This is not happening.
I try everything: different bottles, a glass, a cup, a sippy cup, emptying my boobs by expressing them until my nipples ache with suction. Rice cakes? They’re the answer to everything. But Vita wants booby and she’s not going down without a fight. I put her in the cot and she screams and screams. And now Sienna’s up again. Urgh!
Si calls. I shriek like a banshee: “She won’t take a bottle. She won’t take a bottle.”
Si: “She will. If she doesn’t, she’ll go hungry.” I hold the phone at Vita’s door for him to hear her blood curdling screams.
Si: “Jesus. She’s eating now, does she need it?”
Me: “She still needs milk at night. What are we going to do about our holiday?”
Si: “Our holiday?”
And then I remember I haven’t told him I’ve booked it.
me: “We’re going to Positano in June. Five nights.”
Si: What? How are we paying for this? We don’t have any money.”
Me: “I have a plan.”
Si: “Oh Jesus.”
The red mist descends and I unleash a can of whoop-ass: “And I stupidly thought you’d be pleased I booked a holiday to save our marriage AND I rebuilt the General’s wall but instead all I get is negativity, when I’m on my own looking after YOUR children, while you’re drinking pints and off horse riding and cycling and swimming and generally indulging yourself like kids never happened TO YOU!”
Me: “Yes, I think we are. Hence Positano, dick cheese.”
Si: “Dick cheese?”
I hang up. Vita’s stopped screaming but my ears are ringing. I walk downstairs and look out of the kitchen window – the Pitbull and her owner are looking at their new stonewall in undisguised horror. They march over towards the house. I duck down behind the sink, crawl across the kitchen floor and reach up to kill the lights.
The knocking eventually stops, but then the phone keeps ringing and the screaming begins once more.