“Have you phoned your parents yet? We need childcare,” I say surfing babysitting websites in bed, still unable to drag my sorry hung-over carcass out of it. My head is throbbing and my breasts feel like they’ve done work experience at Yeo Valley.
I look at Si. He still can’t quite look me in the eye, having found me spooning with Doctor Nick in the small hours, after returning with Sienna from A&E.
“You never do that with me,” says Simon sitting on the bed, Vita in his arms.
Me: “Do what?”
Si: “Cuddle up like you did with Doctor Nick. You don’t. I try to spoon you and all I get is thanks, now f*ck off and goodnight.”
Si: “It’s not funny. I’ve done my best to be sensitive to your needs but you’ve shut up shop and I need sex. We need sex.”
“That’s why we are going on a two and half thousand pound holiday to Italy – doh – to have SEX.” Sienna walks in and looks quizzically at us both. We hold our breath waiting for her to say the s-word. She doesn’t. Instead she climbs into bed with me for a cuddle.
Simon is pole-axed. “Two and a half grand? TWO AND A HALF GRAND?! We don’t have any money!”
I cuddle Sienna a little too tightly. “Ow!”
Me: “Lower your voice, Si.”
Si: “Lower your expectations.”
Me: “That’s why I married you.”
Me: “Unlike the holiday which is about us being together and reconnecting.”
Si: “I get that but why does it have to be so expensive.”
Me: “Because I think we’re worth it but we’re not going anywhere unless we can find someone to look after the girls.”
Sienna: “Mummy, my arm really hurts.”
Me: “My poor little poppet. What else is Daddy going to do? You put athlete’s foot cream on her fandango, take their toys to a war zone, lock us out of the house, don’t put her bed rail up so she falls out and now you begrudge us our first holiday in nearly three years.” I say, tears welling up as I move myself with my own heartfelt words.
“Naughty Daddy!” Shouts Sienna and Vita trumps on his hand.
“Jesus! Of course, Mummy’s perfect even though she went binge drinking with her friends and was found cuddling the bloody neighbour!”
I try to stifle a snort. Si and I look at each other, our eyes twinkling. We burst into laughter. “Bring on Italy,” he says clambering onto the bed to kiss me. “You’re right – sod it. How many days?”
Si: “What for two and a half grand?”
Me: “Let it go.”
Si: “Where are we staying – a palace?”
Me: “Yes. Call your parents. We need childcare,” I say handing him the phone.
Si: “Okay, okay. But what about your Mum?”
I shake my head. He sighs and dials his parents’ number. It rings out so he leaves a message. “I’m not holding my breath,” he says.
“And I’m not taking the girls to Positano,” I say.
Si: “Well, you’re going to have to work on my Dad.”
I groan, putting a pillow over my head. Sienna jumps on top of it. I will do anything to get to Italy. Anything! Even sweet-talk Simon’s father who Si would describe as a straight-talking, paternal Jock (Scot). I, however, would suggest tricky and reminiscent of the Dickensian patriarch Mr M’Choakumchild in Hard Times is more accurate.
Habitually I am able to charm the elderly into submission (having dated a few Saga-louts in my twenties, including Humphery Hurtwood, a naughty equestrian with hands the size of dinner plates), with a little saucy humour and the heave of my ample bosom it’s been enough to make any sanguine crusty crack a smile, but not Edwin Kettle. He has a steadfast immunity to my wiles and is deeply suspicious of anyone who hasn’t put their hand up a cow’s backside. And I’ve done a lot of things in my time but that particular pleasure has eluded me.
“Right, I’ve left a message; your turn. Try your Ma again.”
I call Granny and Roge who been angry since the Salisbury incident (not Nobuchok, the other crisis involving soft toys on The Plains). In fact, it’s more that I left them alone to cope with the children in order to go drinking with my wayward older sister, which they find unforgivable.
“Hello Granny,” I say upbeat.
“Hello,” she says coolly.
I tell her about Sienna’s green-stick fracture to her wrist and Granny defrosts in seconds, wanting to know how her little sunbeam is. I tell her I was out with some girlfriends at the time.
She groans. “Did you drink too much?”
Granny; “You’ve got to stop this, you’re nearly 40.”
“I’m 34! Si was looking after them and forgot to put up her bedrail.” I say, throwing him under the bus.
Me: “I know, he does one night and she ends up in A & E.”
Si rolls his eyes and leaves the room. I imagine he’s sneaked off for an hour visit to the loo with the newspapers but miraculously he returns having folded the washing.
“We’re not all bad, Granny,” he says loudly.
I tell her he’s folded the laundry. She says I don’t know I’m born, Roge hasn’t lifted a finger for the past 49 years, which I know isn’t true but it makes me laugh. Si is laughing that now Roge is getting it in the neck instead of him. I am glad to be back on good terms with Granny, we clash from time to time but it’s never for very long because we love each other dearly.
I’m just about to ask about next week when she reads my mind, “Listen, your father and I have spoken and now we’re feeling a bit stronger – we think we can manage the little ones.”
And instead of saying thank you, I say. “I think it might be a bit much so why don’t you just have Sienna and I’ll ask Edwin and Penny if they’ll have Vita in Parracombe (the farm in Devon).”
Granny likes the sound of this plan very much. “Because Sienna doesn’t wake up as early as Vita, does she?”
Me: “No, not ’til 7.30.”
Granny: “That’s still very early but Roge can do the morning shift until I’m ready at 10.” (Granny doesn’t do mornings).
We organise the drops off plan and I hang up. “One down. One to go.”
Si: “You lied and are going to hell.”
Me: “If I told her Sienna gets up at 5 she wouldn’t do it.”
My phone pings; it’s Mandy WhatsApping me: “I just drank your f***ing b milk in my coffee!!!!! I didn’t put it on Buck’s cornflakes cos I realised it was gross but he used it in my coffee (he takes his black). Just made myself sick. Hate you – all your fault. [PUKE FACE]
Some hours later, Simon’s father calls. Si spends 15 minutes buttering him up and I am supposed to close the deal. “Well, I’m glad the bull’s performing well, Dad.”
Si: “Wish this one was.”
Si: “Just handing you over to Nessa.”
I take the phone and he says: “Now let’s not beat around the bush I know why you’re calling. Penelope and I will have the children on one condition.”
Edwin: “I’m after some publicity for my new Limousin genomics programme so I’m laying down a Country Matters challenge for you.”
Edwin: “I want you to collect semen from Shakin’ Stevens and I have a feeling you’ll be very good at it.” Bizarrely Edwin names all his bulls after 80s pop stars. I accept his challenge and hang up.
W*nking off Shakin’ Stevens – talk about taking one for the team.
Si is still chuckling about Shakin’ Stevens at bedtime when we fall into our love nest, me, dog tired from my hangover, Simon, dead, from looking after the kids for a whole 24 hour period. Weak.
We cuddle up and start to kiss. My phone pings and we break apart. It’s Mandy on What’sApp. Si sighs. “Parking Nazi is back on Facebook.” And the sad truth is, instead of having sex I swipe to the page and read out the latest missive from Queen Fiona, more excited by Miss Julie calling The General a ‘pr*ck’ and ‘giving him the middle finger’ than the prospect of sex with my husband. Poor Simon.
Still, we’ll always have Italy….