When Ray was about three months old, I left him for the first time to go to the dentists. I was so relieved to be on my own, sans bebe, that I sat back in the dentists chair as though I was on the deck of a cruise ship and even as the dentist came at me with a drill, I was relishing my freedom too much to mind.
I have the same feeling when I leave the house to go to a Macmillan Coffee morning that my friend is holding in her husband’s estate agency. I think, my goodness, look how far you’ve come getting all excited about a coffee morning. And by far I mean not very far at all. I used to dream of living in Paris, writing novels that would set the world alight, and if not that, then definitely sleeping with poets. Now, I am getting all whoop de doo about a coffee morning. No one could say that I didn’t stay near.
There is a superb display of cakes that I can’t eat, and my friend’s mother in law goes to get me a tea. I follow her in to the kitchen. There are china cups and plastic cups. She gives me a plastic cup. I pull a face but she doesn’t notice. I’m not keen on my friend’s mother-in-law. I wonder what makes me a plastic cup person and not a china cup one.
I see another friend and she has two children with her and every time someone looks at them, she says, “It’s ok, it’s an inset day, they’re not contagious or anything.”
She says, “so how’s your dad?” and I say, “oof, its all a bit difficult with him staying,” etc, etc, and she laughs and says “that’s why I have a bad relationship with my parents.”
I say, “I thought I had a bad relationship with Dad, but he’s still with me though.”
The local MP appears. He stands at the door posing and then shakes hands with some people. Not me. I wonder what makes me a person who does not get a politician’s hand-shake and whatever it is, I’m glad of it. He wants to be photographed against the superb display of cakes.
“She’s from a French newspaper,” he announces, gesturing the photographer. “So you all have to take your clothes off.”
The guests with a combined age of 780, (they do that for prison sentences, don’t they?) blink at him. This seems such an bizare thing to say, that I can only stare at him open mouthed. Later when I tell husband, unpredictably, he says “I think its quite funny actually.” And when I say no, “it makes him a moron,” he says, “it’s a reference to the Kate topless shots, surely? How very topical of him.” I never know what husband is going to say and this is another reason I like living with him. He keeps me on my toes.
The MP is also unpredictable but I don’t think its the same.
I decline to be in the photos. I don’t want to bulk out the picture and my hair looks terrible. I listen to the photographer though. She is, by the way, definitely not French. “Over ‘ere, please, you guys look triffic.”
After the fake smiles and flashes, the MP then comes over to where my friend and I are standing.
“Are you a natural blond?” he asks friend. “You and your children are so fair. That’s so rare,” he says and I feel like saying, What? Do you actually know this area you claim to represent? We are full of blonds, natural and otherwise, we must have the highest count of golden highlights in the Western Hemisphere!”
But the weirdest thing is, I’ve heard him say this before. Once, at a pre-school bazaar, (yes, it’s rocking round here!) I heard him have this exact conversation, word for word, with someone else. It is clearly his script. He is carrying on. “Where are your family from originally? Scandinavia?”
“Dagenham,” friend says. I can hear her thinking, shall I tell him it’s an inset day or not bring it up?
“What beautiful blond girls!” he says. “So extraordinary.”
I feel insulted on behalf of my ordinary mousy children. Only I don’t say anything 1. because I am dark and hairy and it will look like sour grapes and 2. because I quite agree with this MP on the airport issue. And in politics, as in family, it’s supposedly better the devil you know and 3. Because the MP has already gone. He’s told us to take our clothes off, he’s complimented the mothers, he’s been photographed so his work here is done.
If he has stayed I would have given him my most withering look. He is a man wanting to be seen doing the right thing but who clearly doesn’t give a shit about the right thing. He is so going through the motions, its transparent. But I suppose I recognise something in him as well: I spend much of the day doing things I don’t want to do, repeating meaningless things too. It takes it’s toll sometimes and maybe, maybe, you have to pretend a bit to get by.
I imagine the MP dreamed of being an MP for years and years, perhaps he too wanted to make a difference, and then, when he came in power, maybe he found it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
I get myself a tea in a china cup this time and my friend who is hosting the coffee morning wakes up her baby and we all have a poke and say nice things. My other friend comes over with her Swedish beautys and repeats, “Oh, it’s an inset day, they’re not contagious or anything” and we laugh. And I am glad I came because its moments like these, that remind me of who I am and who I want to be, now that I’m a grown up.