Remember me? Your hapless descendant? I wrote to you a while ago to ask how you managed with your twenty-two children when I struggle to distinguish my arse from my elbow with just two.
Well I thought I had figured out how you did it. Clearly you managed by never, ever going anywhere. This little revelation came around midday yesterday when it occurred to me that my life would be a good deal easier if I never even attempted to leave the house. Or even better, the bed.
Things have been a little fraught over the last two days, mainly due to some complicated logistical issues involving cars and carseats which led to me needing to get myself, Thomas and Ben from London to Bath by public transport in twenty-four degree heat. I started a lengthy, blow-by-blow explanation of exactly why this was a Bad Thing but by halfway through, I had even lost interest myself, so I can’t possibly imagine that anyone else would make it to the end. So instead, let me present you with a few of my personal highlights from the last forty-eight hours.
- Picking up Thomas from nursery and getting to the bust-stop to discover that the road to the tube station was at a complete standstill. Heading off with Ben in his car-seat on top of the buggy and Thomas balanced precariously on the front of the buggy with his legs stuck straight out in front of him out of the way of the wheels. Getting about a hundred yards before the inevitable happened and he fell off and I ran him over with the buggy.
- The perfect-parent performance that I was forced to put on for the benefit of the rest of our train carriage when a very tired Thomas started rolling about on the floor, laughing like a Batman villain whenever I tried to move him. You know the type of thing I mean – the gritted teeth and “Darling, I know you are tired but this type of behaviour really isn’t acceptable” followed up by a hissed undertone of “If you don’t stop it right this minute I will take away every sodding sticker you have in your good behaviour book and throw them out of the train window, you utter bugger of a child.”
- The howl of “I’m weeeeeeing” halfway down the passage at Bath station followed by the loud tannoy announcement of “Will the station cleaner please make their way to the passage where a small child has had an accident”, as we attempted to sidle out unobtrusively. Something which was rendered impossible due to the dripping, squelching and wails of “I’ve got weeeeeee on meeeeeee!”
- The sudden realisation that my hands were covered in blood leading me to wonder if I had actually murdered some unfortunate fellow traveller and blocked it out along with various other particularly traumatic parts of the journey. The relief of the discovery that the ridiculous amount of blood had in fact come from a microscopic cut on Thomas’s leg
- Ben projectile vomiting curdled milk all over Thomas on the little local minibus, just to add to the general mess and smell.
- Getting off the bus in our village some seven hours after setting off and meeting one of our neighbours as we trudged home, Ben on my back, Thomas wailing behind me, grocery bags hanging from the buggy handles and clothes and nappies spilling out of the car-seat, a smell of wee and baby-sick hanging over us like a noxious cloud. “Been for a nice walk?” asked our neighbour.
- Arriving home to find a note from the decorators requesting three more tins of assorted pain and two square metres of tiles. Attempting to leave the house and finding that the key was missing from the door. Thomas informing me that he had taken it and put it in the terracotta pot of broccoli seedlings. Digging up said seedlings and finding no key. Continuing to find no key in the kitchen, patch of lilies, metal trough of herbs or any of the other places he told me he had put it. Eventually finding it in the living room where I had almost certainly put it myself.
- Arriving at B&Q to find their pant scanner broken and their tile department closed for reordering. Considering sitting down and refusing to move until they did something about it.
You might think that things couldn’t get much worse.
You would be very, very wrong.
After Ben and Thomas were in bed and the house was quiet I became aware of a buzzing noise. I had seen a few bees flying around the back of the house while I was frantically digging up broccoli, and there were a couple of dead ones on the floor of the hall. I looked into the downstairs toilet and wondered why “Dody and Teeve”, the decorators, had decided to paint the walls and window sill bee-coloured. After I finished making little muffled shrieks of panic, I decided I would just close the door and deal with it in the morning.
There was no door.
Dody and Teeve had removed it for painting. I therefore had to prop it back in the frame and plug the gaps with clothes, before wedging the whole thing in place with a table and ringing the local 24 hour pest control service. A very nice man explained that we probably had an offshoot of a honey bee swarm in the cavity wall. Apparently a swarm will land on a house and a small group will go exploring to see if there are any suitable new homes. Sometimes the swarm will leave without them.
By now I was actually feeling sorry for the bees. I had visions of them sticking their heads out of the wall, shouting “Guyzzz, Guyzzz. This plazzzzze is brilliant. It’s even got an enzzzuite. Guyzzz? Guyzzz?”
We agreed to leave it till the following day to see if they headed off before embarking on bee murder.
The next day dawned, bright and sunny and full of hope that the coming hours would be better.
After a day spent running between Homebase and B&Q, one of which had a functional paint scanner and the other of which had the ability to mix the actual type of paint I needed, I collected Thomas from nursery and took him down to the millstream for a picnic tea. I had it all planned. We would sit on the nice bench and eat the nice food and look at the nice view. After the picnic Thomas could paddle in the stream and I could have some nice quiet time while Ben lay on a mat in the nice sunshine. It was going to be so nice.
Unfortunately, the general aura of niceness was somewhat shattered by Thomas falling into the biggest, meanest patch of nettles he could find and screaming blue murder about the “white bubbles” on his arms. Equally unfortunately he decided that what he really needed to make him feel better was a cuddle with Ben. This meant that Ben was rudely awakened from a fairly solid sleep by his brother hurling himself on top of him, wailing “Beeeeenjamin”. This did not improve the situation. Now, instead of one screaming child, I had two.
Fortunately, we created so much noise that one of our neighbours came out to see what was going on. Even more fortunately, she is an experienced grandmother with a tube of Benadryl to hand. Within five minutes Thomas had been slathered with cream and silenced with strawberries and icecream, while I had been installed in an armchair to placate the red-faced, angry baby.
They even fed me wine.
We eventually arrived home and I managed to get two tired children straight into bed. A friend called round for a cup of tea and HWSNBN joined the party via Skype. Things were looking up. Unfortunately, I then discovered that our bees are some kind of super-psycho-mutant-bee, capable of eating their way through layers of sealant to get back to where they want to be. Despite Dody and Teeve blocking the hole, they had managed to get back into the house.
Now, I am starting to feel that people could be a bit more sympathetic to my trials and tribulations. Some time ago, Thomas and I got stranded on a narrow strip of grass beside the M4 after the car decided to disintegrate around junction 3. When I posted my plight on Facebook, all anyone was interested in was the colony of mutant ladybirds that I had discovered. Pictures were demanded. Bee-gate prompted a similar reaction, as HWSNBN, his Olympics-lodger and her other half all hung over the screen demanding close-up views of the bees, ooh-ing and ah-ing appreciatively as our friend took them on a virtual tour of the bees’ current location. Clearly insect behaviour is considerably more interesting than the fact that my life is going tits up once again.
It grew dark. Another fairly disastrous day was drawing to a close. I decided to have a bath. Unfortunately, we are currently retaining the services of the world’s flakiest electrician. Let’s call him Bob. On a scale of reliability, with 10 being the speaking clock and 2 being the British weather, Bob the Electrician is occupying the number 1 spot. He takes things apart and then disappears for weeks and cannot be tracked down to finish the job. Strange things also happen after he has been working on something. He “fixed” our security lights last year. We now have really useful lights which, when triggered, fuse the entire downstairs of the house. I can only assume that he was aiming for one of these high-tec security systems that you see on action films, where the presence of an intruder plunges the whole building into darkness and silence ready to repel invaders. I am not sure what sort of security risk we are likely to have in rural Somerset. Perhaps an invasion of ninja farmers? Or a horde of psychotic shepherds?
Anyway, Bob has been again. We therefore have no functioning upstairs lights. And I know it is supposed to be all romantic and relaxing, but a bath by candlelight really isn’t all it is cracked up to be. You can’t see to shave your legs for a start.
But back to my original thoughts about life with children, Great-Great-Granny Kate and Great-Great-Granny Margaret. I really thought I had figured it out. I thought you must have avoided ever venturing further than 10 feet from your house in order to keep your vast swarm of children under control. But over the last couple of days I have realised how you actually managed.
It’s all about the kindness of strangers. And the kindness of neighbours for that matter. You lived in a community where everyone would have known you and a time when people would have looked out for you. The last couple of days have shown that there are still people looking out for those who need help. Things have been pretty fraught, but they could have been a lot worse without the man who carried the buggy down the tube station steps and the one who lifted it off the train for us, or Ali, the lovely manager of our favourite London café who plied me with large quantities of water when I arrived sweaty and red-faced, and entertained Ben by pulling daft faces, or the man on the train who moved so I could sit near the buggy and Thomas could have space to lie down for a nap, or the businessman who carried a protesting Thomas onto the platform at Bath, or the driver of our local minibus service who loaded all our stuff onto the bus and off again in the village, or the bee-man who gave me free advice on the telephone at 10pm and, of course, our lovely neighbours who rescued the panicking woman and the screaming children.
So I am guessing that is how you managed your twenty-two children. You did it by way of the kindness of strangers and neighbours. And I’m still relying on that kindness a century later.
Your slightly-less-frazzled-today great-great-grandaughter