Here’s a preview of a portion of one of the chapters from my new novel called, 52. (Bear in mind that this is a first draft)
As a treat last week, my daughter took me to the theatre; ‘As You Like It.’ You know the one; persecution, wrestling and cross-dressing; but that’s Shakespeare for you and just let me say, that had the Bard been born a Maureen and not a William, there’d have been fewer plays written and more washing up done.
Anyway, we got to the point where Jacques’ recites the famous, seven ages of man speech, and I was sat in the gloom listening to the actor waffle on about mewling, puking and pantaloons, when I thought; what about the three ages of motherhood. First we’re life-giver and nurturer, then best friend and confidant until finally we become unpaid help.
Now nothing illustrates this more than when your progeny have offspring of their own. When my daughter gave birth, I was on hand to administer words of comfort and advice. Months passed, and during this time I was required to listen to the minutiae of daily drudgery and keep secrets. Until finally; when teething’s replaced with tantrums, the occasional spot of baby-sitting becomes a career move. You see, my daughter’s got a part-time job, so the task of childcare now falls upon my shoulders.
Well, one day recently she dropped off my charge, and I’m left with specific instructions: The child must be fed at twelve-thirty to maintain routine. Television viewing must be limited to just one hour and under no circumstances am I allowed to administer sweets, as the e numbers facilitate bad behaviour.
So, on this particular morning, I’m watching as my living room begins to bear a resemblance to a primary school obstacle course, when the telephone rings. Now I’m a firm believer that BT should invest in a range of ring-tones that indicate the mood of the incoming call. And let me say, if the service were available then this one would have been heralded by something akin to Stravinsky’s, The Rite of Spring.
I pick up the receiver and there on the other end of the line is my sister; she’s frantic; bleating on about the price of blown vinyl wall covering and Harold’s fall down the stairs that morning.
I say stairs quite glibly as she lives in a converted bungalow and the sum total of risers in her home number five. Apparently Harold had tried to descend the aforementioned stairs without assistance, had toppled over and broken his walnut pipe. Now I can hear you all thinking, a broken smoking utensil hardly constitutes a disaster; well let me tell you, it does when at the time it’s clenched firmly between your dentures as you tumble head first onto the shag pile.
Anyhow, the upshot is Harold has broken his top plate, grazed his cheek and singed the carpet in a place that’s virtually impossible to mask; add to this the fact that my sister has plans to meet friends in Milford Haven and the whole fiasco becomes a disaster on epic proportions; second only to the destruction of Pompeii.
So I gather up the child related paraphernalia, button the grand-daughter into a duffle coat and navigate my way up the high street. I’m just passing that well known shop that sells everything for a pound, when I’m stopped by a lad in a kagool. He flashes his photo i.d. card at me and says “Would you like to join the fight to save whales?”
“No,” I say, “I spent a weekend in Llandudno last year and it seemed positively thriving to me.”
I try to push past; but he’s obviously well versed in the art of paramilitary chugging; he side-stepped and the baby changing sack over my shoulder wedged me between him and a lamppost.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t think you understood, have you ever heard of CAJWO?”
“Didn’t they have a hit single called Too Shy?” I asked.
“No madam, you’re thinking about Kajagoogoo. I represent CAJWO, the Campaign against Japanese Whaling Organisations. Can we count on your support?”
“Look, love,” I told him, “You’re joking if you think I’ve got time to chat about aquatic mammals whilst lugging around half my body weight in, Barbie dolls, wet wipes and Peppa Pig DVDs.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but I think he thought better of it and he just smiled and moved on to bother some poor woman in a tangerine topcoat.
Two buses and a short walk later, I’m spotted by my sister’s neighbour, Stanley, and he offers me a lift in his Austin Allegro, complete with faulty heater that spews forth like Etna. Apparently, despite attention it won’t switch off, which must be a nightmare during an Indian summer: Are we still allowed to say that, or in this climate of political correctness is it now a summer of ethnic origin?
So, I arrive at my sisters; she opens the front door and says, “You look moist.” I toss her a cursory glance and say, “Yes, and you have the social skills of Benito Mussolini.” So I push past, trying not to scuff the wallpaper with the baby-changing bag, and ask if there’s any chance of a brew.
I settle the child in front of my sister’s ancient television; how she’ll cope with the digital changeover I dare not think; she firmly believes that remote controls were designed by the devil: idle hands and all that malarkey.
I decide its best I call my daughter; to let her know where I am, so I rummage through my handbag for my mobile phone. I eventually find it with a half chomped dog chew stuck to the screen. I remove it and pop it onto a side table, then send a text as she can’t take calls during work hours.
With the grand-daughter happily watching the box, I pop into Harold’s room to see how he is. He tells me he’s fine apart from the fact that it’s taken him three hours to eat his breakfast. Ever-likely, what sane person would give a gummy old man, muesli? I’m about to have words with my sister when he tells me, he insisted on having it. “And what do you want for a mid-morning snack,” I say, “Peanuts?”
My sister pops her head around the door; she’s now changed into a frothy two piece. She blows us both a kiss, saying she has a train to catch, and should the child really be gnawing on a piece of dried pig’s ear?
I tear into the living room and begin to wrestle the dog chew from her. She howls like a demented parakeet causing Harold to question my actions. “It’s all right,” I call, deciding to let go of the chew; no doubt like the dog, she’ll get bored when her jaws ache. Who knows, it may help with her bad breath; well, they’ve done wonders for the dog’s tartar. Oh I know it sounds cruel, but if you can’t be honest about your own, then it’s time to stop buying ready-made pastry and lock yourself away in the coal shed.
(C) Barry Lillie 2012