Si won’t stay for supper. He’s done the wall and needs to get back to Wiltshire – he has a big day tomorrow. He starts to tell me all about it but I zone out after the first military acronym…
I smell my seven-month old’s bottom. “Jesus! (To him) Sounds great, Simon. (To the kids) Right, bath time everyone.”
“I’ll help,” says Si getting the hint.
He washes Sienna’s hair while I dunk Baby Beelzebub. These are the precious moments of family time, but now he has to rush off again to serve Queen and Country and for once I actually feel sorry for him. We make a good team and I love him deeply even though he annoys me to the stars and back. (I know the feeling is mutual).
He dries and dresses Vita, while Sienna continues to play mermaids in the bath. She has a new game of late where she sits on the edge and uses the side as a slide, creating a tidal wave of soapy water.
“No, Sienna!” we both say smiling at each other fully cognisant of the fact that mixing our genes and character traits was always going to to be a dangerous and devious experiment.
“She’s got your genes,” I say.
“No, it’s your Jock genes,” says Simon
He suddenly looks grey and weary. “Sorry I can’t stay,” he says. “I can’t wait for the time when we are all living together in the same house.” We kiss again. All this time I’ve been complaining about staying with the mini-psychopaths, when actually, it’s a greater wrench to leave. (That is until you get to where you’re going, free, unburdened, able to finish a sentence and concentrate, without vast changing bags of rice cakes, snacks and wet wipes weighing you down or the sudden palpable fear that you don’t know where The-One-That-Can-Walk IS!)
“Wish me luck,” he says descending the stairs.
“Good luck,” I say not having the faintest idea what for. “Knock ‘em dead.” I add. Si grabs his Army hold-all, black rucksack and is gone.
It’s only when both tots are finally in their pyjamas I realise I haven’t seen Vita’s Bunny or Sienna’s two hedgehogs, Tiggy & Taggy. I secure my feral creatures in Vita’s cot with some pop-up books and search downstairs for the cuddly toys. I’m not going to panic they are here somewhere. I look in the Chinese vase where bricks, magnets, and remotes are hidden. No. In the Ikea circus tent? Nope. Under the kitchen table? No.
I return upstairs and search the rooms, but the toys are nowhere to be seen and what’s worse, I can’t find a dummy for baby Vita to such, either.
Sienna laughs with excitement as I lift the cot up to see if Bunny or the dummies are underneath. Nothing. This is getting serious. I ask Sienna if has she’s seen Tiggy & Taggy.
Sienna: “Maybe they’re on holiday.”
Not a-f***ing-gain! Why has everything got to go on holiday? Except us!
I snap. “Where the hell have you hidden them?” The impending horror of what is to come for the next ten hours starts to close in on me: the broken sleep, the incessant wailing, the bloodcurdling screams. No, no, no! They must be somewhere!
I look Sienna in the eye, my face almost touching hers, “I’m going to ask you one more time, where is Bunny and the fricking hedgehogs?”
“I don’t know,” she says unblinking.
Me: “Yes, you bloody do.”
“No, I bloody don’t.” She shouts in my face. “Maybe they’re in the woods with Piglet.” (Another animal enjoying a ‘holiday’.)
I take a big breath.
I run downstairs and Vita starts to howl. Sienna joins in for good measure, shouting “Tiggy and Taggy are lost in the woods and a fox is coming! And they are lonely!” She cries harder moved by her own story.
And I KNOW that two-year-old sod-ette is responsible for their loneliness and terror and I need to find them to avoid the same terrible fate. I tear downstairs apart, I tear upstairs apart; I run out into the Close like a woman-possessed, look on the trampoline, under it, in the Wendy House, under the cherry tree. I put out a message on the Patch Facebook Page. I Whatsapp my neighbours. And…. NOTHING.
And suddenly I’m in the middle of the Close, in the descending darkness looking this way and that, because there is no solution Taggy WAS Tiggy’s back up and Bunny doesn’t have an understudy. I am screwed.
I phone Si. It goes to voicemail. It’s not his fault, don’t yell at him. Breathe, breathe.
Me: “Hi honey, have you seen Bunny or Tiggy and Taggy? They are missing. Call me when you can.”
But he doesn’t call back and it’s midnight before the screams and wails stop and the small people finally fall asleep and so do I. And then the night terrors begin with the baby passing the sleep-killing baton to the toddler and back again so I barely have any sleep.
By dawn I am broken, my teeth feel too big for my mouth and my face is numb because I’ve been sleeping on my phone waiting for Si to call.
And then Sienna, lying next to me in my bed, whispers conspiratorially. “Maybe our toys jumped in Daddy’s rucksack?”
I squint at her from under the covers and she says with a shrug. “Maybe they wanted to go to Wiltshire.”
I load my protesting toddler and screaming baby (still without a dummy) into the back of the Volvo and finish packing up all the crap that two children under three require.
I lock up the house, jump in the driver’s seat and exit the Close, travelling up through West London to hit the M4 to Wiltshire. I know Simon is doing something near Salisbury this morning. Jesus, maybe he’s dealing with Russians and Novichok? Should I turn around? I’m not really sure I want the kids as extras in McMafia. And then I remember he mentioned Salisbury Plain, so type it into the Satnav.
My mission is clear: I need to get Bunny and Tiggy & Taggy back and that’s it. And I KNOW they are in his rucksack because it’s the only logical explanation. Yes, Sienna will have put them in there, but he should have checked. He should have checked.
After several hours on the road, my iPhone tells me to turn right through a gateway in the middle of the plains. It looks like I’m in the right place, there’s the obligatory razor wire and loads of signs saying ‘KEEP OUT’, ‘MOD PROPERTY’ ‘DANGER’. I try to call Simon as I drive up the dusty track but the phone is switched off. I curse him as I hit pothole after pothole. Why the hell would you take Bunny and the hedgehogs? Why?! Are you chronically stupid, Simon? No, I have married someone terminally stupid!!!!!
MEANWHILE, AT THE TOP OF SALISBURY PLAIN
Simon is preparing to host a Field Firing Exercise with live ammunition.
General Jeremy Smith is in a supervisory capacity, waiting for any slip-ups because after all the contretemps on the Patch he wants to see Simon fail.
Simon has been planning the exercise for months. He takes out a map and explains to the adjudicators what is going to happen and what they intend to achieve.
My ancient Volvo is coming to the brow of the hill. The children stare out of the window uncertain of their new surroundings.
Sienna: “But I thought we were going to Granny’s?”
Me: “We are. Later.”
I can see people waving at me, I wave back. They wave more enthusiastically. So do I, driving past them. One man even walks in front of the car causing me to swerve – I think he is also terminally stupid.
I can see Simon across the Plain in front of me and I can see his black rucksack in the front seat of an army Land Rover. I abandon the car and am drawn towards the rucksack like a woman-possessed in a strange twilight world. I duck under the barbwire, crawl through the scrub and run towards the Army Land Rover.
Simon, oblivious to the breach of security, shouts “FIRE” and suddenly – URGH! I am rugby tackled from both sides and now I am having a heart attack. URGH! So this is what it feels like. I’ve often wondered and now I KNOW. Urgh. The. Pain.
Whistles are blown. Alarms sound.
“Check Fire!!!!!” shouts Simon.
“Heart attack,” I say flailing about.
“You’re winded,” says a man in pan-stick and camouflage (my neighbour and Mandy’s husband).
Buck: “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
I can’t speak.
Buck: “Just breathe. Breathe.”
Me: “Heart attack.”
Simon peers down at me his eyes obsidian, his face beetroot from shouting. The General gets a good butchers, too.
“Bunny. Rucksack,” I say wheezing. I sit up and point shaking at the Army Land Rover.
Simon retrieves the rucksack and opens it as he walks back. He pulls out Bunny, Tiggy, and Taggy. I am still struggling to breathe but tears of joy run down my face at seeing them; and then the overwhelming realisation I have interrupted Simon’s big day – which happens to be a live firing exercise hits home. I look to the car, frantic. They’ll take my kids away. They’ll take them. “The children.”
Buck: “Corporal Bone and Private Smethick are entertaining them.”
Buck puts his hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Once Mrs. Wilde is safely back in the car, and in a different county we will re-start the exercise, Sir.”
“Yes,” says Simon flabbergasted. He pulls himself together. “We often coordinated a breach of security at the start of the exercise to ensure we can deal with any nuisance ramblers. The naked one is a persistent offender.”
“Really?” says the General. “Naked rambling. Hmmm. (pause) Of course, I will be reporting the incident.”
Si: “Of course, Sir. There is a website.”
I am given a once over by Doctor Nick – who shakes his head and asks how many units a week I really drink – before I am escorted off the MoD site by armed guard who follow me all the way to Granny & Grandpa Roger’s house.
Granny puts her arm around me.
Me: “I’ve f***ed up his career. His life. And all for some cuddly toys.”
Roger: “Come on Frog Face, it’s not all bad. I mean getting onto the Plain AND under the wire – that’s pretty good going. When I was in the RAF I only managed to shin a radio mast and put a ‘We Sell Green Shield Stamps’ sign over the NAAFI”.
“Thanks Dad.” I say beginning to feel a tiny bit better. Maybe it’s in the genes?