Sienna gently shakes me awake, before shining my iPhone torch into both retinas. Argh! I grab the phone. It’s 5.48am. “Go back to bed,” I say but she is wide awake. “It’s morning,” she replies. I swipe to the Cebeebies App, select ‘Hey Duggee’ and give her the phone to take back to bed. My head is pounding, my mouth furry and I just want to go home, to get back to normality and forget about the last few days. I look at Simon, he is staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. He is not going to let any of this go easily.
Si: “Vita’s been up all night while you were snoring your head off.”
Me: “Sorry. I’ll feed her.”
Si: “Is it safe?”
Me: “I didn’t smoke anything.” Then I remember all the Marlboro Reds. Oh, God. Still, they are legal.
Si: “You’re still over the limit,” he grunts.
In the small kitchenette of the Granny annexe, built over Roge’s workshop for my mother’s mother, I defrost a pouch of expressed breast milk in the ancient microwave my Granny once used. I pour the milk into a MAM bottle and stir it with an 80s Royal wedding teaspoon. Apparently, Vita’s refusing to take the bottle again and hasn’t been eating much at all. I open the door to check on her, she is awake so I try to feed her from the bottle. She punches it away and nuzzles into my boobs. Oh god, I’m back where I started. I take a breath, cuddle her and mercifully she starts to drink from the bottle. She is hungry and gulps down the contents.
Si is cleaning his teeth with Sienna when I suggest we all head back to London and enjoy the weekend together there. “We can potter in the garden or go to Kew…”
Si: “Can’t, Army 100k cycle today.”
Me: “Not again.”
Si: “It’s been in the iCal for ages.”
Si: “This isn’t about cycling, it’s about repairing my career. I need to show my face at everything, do everything right from now on, not get pulled out of work by your parents because you’ve gone AWOL and left them with the kids. General Smith is gunning for me.”
Me: “Can we come and watch? The cycling, not the gunning, I mean.”
Si: “Not exactly a spectators sport,” he says curtly.
Me: “I think we’ll head back to London then.”
Si: “You need to apologise to your parents first.” I nod.
Si heads off and I get the children their breakfast. When they are both happily munching I call Granny. “Hello,” she says in a strained voice.
Me: “Can we come for coffee?”
Granny: “We are not receiving before 10 o’clock.”
“Oh, right. Okay,” I say, knowing I am firmly in the pooh.
So I decide to take the girls out on a country ramble instead, the sunshine will do us all good. I put Vita in a sling, help Sienna into her red wellies and open the door. Except it’s locked. I yank the handle down again. I then start looking for the key, but it’s nowhere to be found and in my heart, I already know what the problem is. Simon’s locked us in.
I call him but he doesn’t answer, so I call Granny back, knowing I will get both barrels.
Granny: “What now?” She says out of breath. “I keep putting a foot in the bath and then the phone rings.”
Me: “I’m locked in the flat, Si’s taken the key.”
Granny: “What’s wrong with you all?”
Roge opens the door with his key. He looks cross.
Roge: “You’ve broken me and your mother. You said the day.” He looks at me. “Eyes like piss holes in the snow. Why do you do it to yourself?” He gives me a hug.
Me: “I don’t know. Don’t worry we’re going back to London.”
Roge: “How? Your car’s in Cheltenham.”
Oh, bugger. I’d forgotten about that bit. And Granny’s not taking me back to the car until after lunch, because she’s brought in all our favourites and we are going to have to eat it, all of it.
Granny: “I can cope with the girls when you’re here but not on our own.” She says tossing a salad. The girls munch happily on olives and breadsticks, enjoying eating outside in their grandparents’ beautiful garden. Vita has thankfully found her appetite.
Granny: “We were so worried, she didn’t eat anything and wouldn’t stop crying and screaming and grandpa was brilliant because you know I can’t deal with crying babies but it almost pushed him over the edge.”
Me: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but Granny….”
“I haven’t finished. We love our grandchildren with every fibre of our being but yesterday was a nightmare and you’re not doing that to us again. So we have decided – and I’m sorry daring – we are not having them when you go to Italy. We just can’t. You’ll have to see if Si’s parents will have them in Devon – they’re much younger than us.”
Me: “The same age.”
Granny: “Vanessa I don’t think you realise how ill I am. I look okay on the outside but inside I’m 92. Would you like to see the amount of tablets I’m on?”
Me: “Dad said you could cope.”
Granny: “He says a lot of things.”
Roge: “I said for the day, not the whole night.”
Me: “But Simon came back in the afternoon.”
Granny: “None of us could cope.”
Me: “Well if three of you couldn’t, how do you think I do?”
Granny: “We are in our 70s and they’re YOUR children.”
Me: “I needed a day to myself.”
Granny: “Going to smoke wacky backy with your sister is not the answer.”
Me: “I didn’t.”
Granny: “But she’s still on it?”
Sienna: “On what Granny?”
Granny: “Eat your ham.”
Me: “She seems in a much better space.”
Granny: “Still with that appalling man, Brian the gorilla?”
Me: “Dog. They seem pretty close.”
Granny: “Until he goes back to his other wife and children.”
Me: “She’s touring with the West Country circus this summer I think we should go.”
Granny and Roge exchange uncomfortable glances.
We drive en-masse to pick up my stranded Volvo, me in the back again like a child between my own children. It shouldn’t feel humiliating but it does.
Granny: “Let’s see if there are any wheels on it.”
Me: “It’s Cheltenham.”
Granny: “The wrong side.”
The car is, of course, intact and mercifully Steph and Brian are out. Roge and Granny look disappointed; they haven’t seen Steph in over six months.
My car is finally packed with children, the beloved cuddly toys: Bunny, Tiggy, Taggy and all the other accoutrements. As I motor down the M4 back to London, I start to feel better, which is strange considering I’ve never wanted to live in a city, now I am leaving this recent blip behind me, I feel I can start anew. I will be better at this marriage and motherhood stuff. No more ball dropping.
I park up in our drive and wave at Mandy & Buck sitting on their picnic bench watching the children play in our close. And that’s when I realise I don’t have a front door key.
I turn my handbag upside down, the nappy bag and its contents are emptied over the lawn, just as Fiona returns from running her tits off again. She scowls at me and disappears into her house.
SIMON HAS TAKEN THE KEY.
This is too much. First the toys, then locking me in, now this. No wonder I went on a fricking bender. He’s driving me to it.
I call him and this time he answers. “Si you locked me in the Granny flat this morning and now you’ve taken the effing house key!”
“What?” he says out of breath. “Cycling. Big hill.”
Me: “House key!”
Si: “Oh.” He says. “Spare?”
Me: “Course we don’t have a spare, that would mean we were organised! (pause) Now we’re even.” I hang up before he can reply and saunter over to Mandy and Buck.
Me: “Hi guys. Enjoying the sunshine?”
“Listen, I’ve got a slight problem….”