Tag Archives: Relationships

number 1- the hairdressers husband.

Number 1 – The hairdresser’s husband.

And yes, they have see the charming French film and yes, they would, if they knew any one was writing about them, get the almost filmic reference in the title.

He is the hairdressers husband, happy to accept this label,not threatened when people don’t know his name, comfortable enough in his skin for his absent identity not to be an issue.
As it happens, he’s a teacher. In a secondary school. A teacher of humanities, which to his ears is a great improvement than being a teacher of geography.
Which is what he really is.
Their house is one of the nicest on the street, three storeys, extended kitchen, hallway and lots of carefully restored period bits and bobs.
The hairdresser gets bored with colour quickly, likes to redecorate every couple of years, stay on trend, update with quirky accessories.
The hairdressers husband is beginning to find all this change, the constant painting and stripping and waxing and shopping just a little exhausting.
He hasn’t mentioned the niggle in his left knee, the way his shoulder aches at night,keeps him awake, makes him grumpy in the mornings.
The hairdressers husband will be 49 next birthday, she will be 33, so, he doesn’t mention the knee, the fact that the optician has upgraded his prescription twice in the last year, he doesn’t mention that he’s started to read those viagra emails more carefully, has filed away a couple of web addresses that might come in useful.
One day.
The hairdressers husband has begun to hate bars which play loud music, bars that serve chips in witty containers, bars which have ironic 1970s wallpaper or 80s black and chrome furniture.
He hates the fact that his history, his own history,the wallpaper his mother hung in their lounge, the madly uncomfortable low slung leather deck chair which he saved up for are not just quirky, vintage,but objects that he has owned,touched, looked at so often that he stopped even seeing them,certainly never expected to see them featured in magazines, displayed as icons, statements of design.
The hairdressers husband does not feel vintage,but he does feel almost 49.
The hairdressers husband also hates;
Men in skinny jeans
Men in Uggs
Men with beards so luxuriant that it seems quite possible that their owners have actually slept for 100 years and woken unshaven after a century.
The hairdressers husband does not hate being 49, but he does hate being 49 whilst the hairdresser is barely 32.
He has rejoined the gym,but this time it’s different, he stays away from the free weights section,avoids the mirrors and discovers that his kindred spirits, his people are not the 30somethings with their buff chests, their tight butts, their extravagant hair dos, instead he hangs out with the slightly older than him women, basks in their covert approving glances, measuring eyes running up and down his body.
The hairdressers husband also hates;
Artisan bread
Farmers markets and organic veg boxes, although a box arrives on the doorstep every Friday.
Sometimes when the hairdresser is busy with a wedding or a local fashion shoot, she is a very successful hairdresser, he finds himself in a proper greasy spoon café, ordering fried bread and cheap sausages and streaky, fatty bacon and eating it with a guilty relish.
The hairdressers husband hates festivals and mud and witty wellingtons and bands so horribly knowing, so arch that they seem almost too fay to manage the weight of their guitars.
He has retuned the car stereo to Gold FM and sings along to his favourite tracks on the way to school.
He likes that, the right song can put him in a good mood for the whole day.
He does not hate the hairdresser,he loves the hairdresser, loves her wild enthusiasms, her emotional investment in the lame dog dancers on Strictly.
He loves her energy, even when it leaves him exhausted, physically and mentally drained, but game for anything, giving it his best shot.
He loves her soft, buttery skin, her flat stomach, pert breasts, the tattooed bluebirds on her left shoulder.
He loves to look at her, especially when she doesn’t know that he is looking, best of all when she is sleeping and he, feeling every month of his almost 49 years is awake before the dawn, takes comfort in her body spooning into his.
The hairdressers husband is so full of hate that he is terrified that the hairdresser will find out,that the hate will begin to leak out, pull his features downwards, finish off the job that gravity has begun,make his face become that of his own father.
The hairdressers husband hates this most of all, hates that he is becoming as 49 creeps nearer and nearer, that he is becoming his own father.
He hates and fears that moment , which he knows will come, must come when one day, the hairdresser will look at him and see his own father staring adoringly at her.

He looks at his watch, 4.45, the hairdresser will be home soon,an explosion of bags and flowers and still talking on her phone, but stopping for long enough to blow him a kiss, pull a silly face, leave a trail of shoes and coat and scarf and oversized earrings from the front door to the kettle.
The hairdressers husband smiles, fights back the wave of hatred which threatens to engulf him and reminds himself that he is still only 48, only 48.

NANOWRIMO 2014- day 16- The blue leather bible continued

A leather bound bible …..continued.

Whenever they leave his family home, laden after a visit with home made jams and cakes and flowers, she feels a weight drop from her as they get nearer and nearer to home.
It as if the weight of history in his every family possession has been pushing down on her. Nothing comes without a narrative, a back story, a reference to somebody or something or somewhere that she knows nothing about.
She longs for objects that have no history and often finds herself in children’s clothes shops, picking up armful of girls dresses and tights and t shirts that smell of unused fabric and haven’t been bent or twisted to the shape of a long procession of other children.
The girls don’t need these clothes, but their lightness, their simplicity….just a t shirt, just a head band make her feel As light and clean and straightforward as the pile of rustling garments too.

It drives Nick mad, this constant buying of new when old, well made, serviceable exists and can be easily excavated from home, dusted down and used again by a new generation.
He sees her shopping, her interest in the new, the shiny as a little common, a little suburban, a little off.
She only knows this because of one row, one terrible row, when words were thrown like hand grenades and where ever after there remains a bad taste, a sense of language that can never be undone, sentences that cannot be put back, a Pandora’s box of hurt and truth, honesty and lies.

Over the years, objects travel from his parents home to theirs, luckily, at least for her, the differing scale of the houses means that no one seriously expects them to give a good home to furniture so vast that it would be a simple choice of furniture in and the family out, perhaps living in a tent in the garden, but small objects slip in when she’s not looking, a carved mirror, an ancient, but of course, still functioning weighing scale, lamp shades, pictures, boxes of photographs, a rocking horse, this at least had a shabby beauty and is much loved by the girls until sadly outgrown and shipped off to younger, smaller cousins.

She begins to understand that she is far more her mothers’ daughter than she would like to believe, that she has her mothers’ instinctive dislike of the old, the hand me down. For her husband these are heirlooms, proof of his family’s’ longevity, their sense of continuing generation after generation, but for her they smack of making do, of hard times, of taking what you’re given and being grateful.

The shabby, serviceable, sensible stuff reminds her of those tough years after college, still living in terrible houses, still eating potato curry and learning to live with challenging wallpaper, while trying to ignore the voices that whisper how everyone else is doing so much better, is exhibiting, has an agent, is selling, is up for an award…..sneaky voices late at night or in that time between day and night when everything seems so much worse.

The bible is something else though.
It belongs to her, has been passed onto her and there is an expectation that she will conform, will pass it on to her first born daughter and so on and so on.

The bible has only come to her by default, given her husbands’ family and their inability to produce enough female heirs to ensure that the blue leather bible owned by a great, great, great, great grandmother and always passed onto the firstborn daughter.

Her mother in law presents it to her one wet November evening, trying for but missing light, not a big deal, nothing important.
Just a silly family superstition, but she can hear the tone, the need to keep this line going and as she has already produced one girl for the family and is busy cooking another one, she guesses that her mother in law feels secure enough to pass the book on now.

She has never really managed to find a home for the bible, it isn’t grand enough, quite old enough to be displayed, but is clearly too old to be left to fight for survival on the plain wooden shelves that fill every alcove in this final house and besides this book needs the gravitas of a library, a long line of leather bound worthies, not really ever expected to be read but simply there, in its right and proper place.

The bible has lived in boxes, in the back of cupboards, was part of an installation piece in the late 90s, has been photographed and used to dress an small shaker style table and more recently has ended up at the bottom of her bedside table, not quite forgotten, but part of the detritus of a home and a marriage.

It only leaves this resting place on Wednesday night because she is knocked sidewards by a migraine, can hardly see when desperately searching by touch for painkillers, she manages to empty the bedside table onto the floor and leaves a muddle of books and tissues and lip sticks and random sheet of paper and unfortunately no pain killers at all, but, surfacing the next day, she sees the bible and because her eyes are sharp after the darkness of her head ache, she notices properly, for the first time, the subtlety of the binding, the attractiveness of the shade of blue.

She looks at the book more carefully, notes the tiny crabbed notes all over the text, the yellowed slips of paper that threaten to fall out.

It is she decides a beautiful shade of blue, she will have another nap and once she had fully recovered from this migraine, she will take the bible to B&Q and get them to paint match the shade, it will , she decides look just fantastic on an accent wall.

The Moustache

with huge thanks to the lovely barista in Cafe Nero, Nottingham [ the one next to TK Maxx, should you wish to see the original in all its glory].
the moustache is real, this story is fiction.

He looks around the drawing room, they are all here, all ready to hear him, see him point the accusing finger, unmask the murderer.
There are nervous coughs, a young girl, with hidden sorrow in her face, anxiously smokes a cigarette, the dowager duchess clutches a lap dog to her chest.
He touches the moustache, feels its neat symmetry and then turn to the assembled group.

Emma is talking, has, he realizes, been talking for some time, he tries to adopt that listening, paying attention face, thinks he may have got away with it and tries to look involved and then realizes that it is only Conversation 27a – “Why don’t men – ie him- ever tidy the bathroom”. She is into the home straight, the ” and you never put the tops back on the shower gels” rift. He knows the correct response, mumbled sorry, head ducked and offer of a cup of tea and wandering into the kitchen, Conversation 34c ” Don’t put dirty cups in with the clean stuff in the dishwasher”, he feels himself drifting again.

“It’s a tough spot, chaps, but we’ve been in tougher”, he grins encouragingly at the others, Snowy, best chum a chap could have, Vince, working class, but a good cove in ruck and Boysie, faithful dog.
“so, we’ve got a snake pit to the right of us, the Mau Mau are getting restive outside and we’re tied to these chairs waiting for the return of Count Black and his swarthy henchmen, best see what I can do”
Vince, his face battered from a beating, smiles his cheeky cockney smile and Snowy is waiting for the plan.
He closes his eyes, touches his moustache, worn in memory of all those who fell at Paschendale and with one bound, he is free.

There is no milk, Conversation 11a – “there are shops, you know, they sell milk and bread and everything, why don’t you try them sometime”, he wonders if she will settle for flat lemonade or a slightly battered chamomile tea bag.
He can hear her on the phone, Conversations 1, 2, 4 8, 98c, 114a – “Why boy friends are useless”

Diary Entry
My darling Helena, the snows are closing in fast now, we shot the last husky today, we could no longer bear to see him trudging behind us, eyes half closed against the snow. It is a 3 day march to the next food dump and I wonder if we will make it.
I think of you often, in that pretty white muslin dress on the chamomile lawn at Orchard House , a jug of ice cold lemonade at your elbow and the children playing in front of you.
Simpson is fading in front of us, he doesn’t say anything of course, just trudges along, but last night, I heard him crying, terrible thing to hear an Englishman cry.
Tell Edward that he is the man of the house now and must behave like a gentleman.
I miss you, my darling, damn these Scandinavians, we must push on to have any chance of beating them.
I must attend to supper now, the husky did not die in vain, I may boil some snow for a shave, there is no reason to let standards slip, we are Englishmen after all and my tasche needs attention.

He ambles back into the sitting room empty-handed, the conversation has moved onto Daniel Craig, he knows from bitter experience that his opinions on Bond films will not be needed, now or at any time in the future.
He wonders if he can get away with playing COD with the sound down, Conversation 27d – “You’re 29 years old for gods sake, turn off the playstation and talk to me”
He turns on the TV, hopes for a film, something to head off Conversation 6b – “Why can’t you just be different” and all the emotional fall-out that will follow.

The sun is shining as he turns the Packard into the studio lot,there are the usual lines of hopeful would be extras in line at the gates. The women are quick to notice him and he smiles,a lazy devil may care smile, one finger grazing his mustache, as per his most recent publicity stills.
The women surge forward, but the gate guys are quick to open the gates and let him in, he pulls up and not bothering to open the car door vaults out, tossing the car keys over his shoulder
“Park this baby for me” he calls out to the gate guard and starts to walk briskly towards the set.
He passes a group of gladiators, recognizes a couple of them from his own extra days and smiles generously, he is not out of touch with the ordinary folk in the dream factory and then hubba bubba, a group of slave girls, gauzy, almost see through trousers, tiny sequinned tops, he zeros in on the prettiest, catches her eye, holds it and watches the color flood into her face.
He nods to himself, yeah, he’s still got it.

It takes him a few seconds to understand that Emma is talking to him and not Bekki/Sammi/Suzie or some other girl whose names end in eee and then it takes him even longer to actually understand what she is saying, to actually process what is being said to him
“It’s the moustache, it make you look like an idiot, everybody laughs at it and it’s itchy,like kissing a pet, I wish you’d shave it off” and then she is gone, out the door, a whirlwind of phone, bag,keys and he is left, sitting on the sofa.

His hand reaches up and touches the waxed tips and he wonders what Errol Flynn would do now.


Phoenix Writers… weekly writing task

150 words, including the phrase

…if she waits five minutes longer….

If she waits 5 minutes longer, he may have least have got his pants on

If she waits 5 minutes longer, the other woman in their bed may have taken her dresing gown off

If she waits 5 minutes longer, she may not have to hear the grunting, animal noises as she drops her car keys into the fruit bowl on the kitchen table

If she waits 5 minutes longer, they may have uncoupled and be able to at least look her in the eye

If she waits 5 minutes longer she may not need to follow the trail of clothes up the cord carpetted stairs

If she waits 5 minutes longer she may miss the exit of the neat black sports car from her gravelled drive

If she waits 5 minutes longer she may meet, head on, the car loosing control on the tight bend just before she turns for home.

Just a walking the dog- On the night-bus 3

It’s a funny thing,developing a habit-you do something once,twice,three times and then it’s a habit, part of the landscape of your day or if I’m being accurate and hey,lets be accurate, my night.

The dog got left behind,along with the sofa no-one sat on and the ugly crockery and two pairs of F*** me shoes and a mountain of unpaid bills, stuffed into a cupboard drawer.

I’m not sure which was supposed to upset me most, the dog, small, snappy,leaving a trail of fine white hair all over the house. The shoes, I’d never seen them before, was I supposed to torture myself, wonder who exactly she had worn them for?.
On balance and yes,the pun is intentional, it’s the bills, all those unpaid balances, just laziness,muddled thinking. She knew, god knows I’d told her often enough, pay off the balance, don’t give the banks a penny.

So, a month down the line, its me, the sofa and now I know why no-one ever sat on it, the ugly crockery and the dog and let’s face it, lumpy sofas, overly patterned plates – ironic, she called them, well you can live with them, but the dog is a problem.
It wanders around the house, always just under my feet, i remember to feed it, change its water bowl, walk it round the block twice a day, but clearly, it wants, needs something else and one night, I just snap, grab its lead and start walking.

The first night, we manage half an hour, but I stick at it and within a couple of weeks, we’re striding out, an hour, 90 minutes, even longer sometimes.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not some sort of bonding thing, but, the animal is tired now, less bothersome and when I finally manage to persuade the dry cleaners to give up my summer weight suit without the ticket, i discover that I have lost some weight.
I also re-instate the designated space on the kitchen cork board for shoe repair, dry cleaning and other important stubs of paper. The system worked before she came and there is a tangible relief in returning the notice board to function rather than as a space for random postcards, take away menus, bits of paper, even odd earrings stuck into the tiles.
I take a step back and admire my handiwork and then I rattle the lead and we leave the house and maybe because tonight is the first time that I’ve tried to re-introduce order, form, put her ” artistic” clutter behind me, but I find myself still walking 3 hours later and then the dog stops, sits down and refuses to move any further.

It’s late, gone midnight and although I could carry the dog easily enough, I’m wearing my favorite Sweater Shop jumper, the one she said was beyond irony, the one with the little jaunty golfer on the front and I don’t fancy getting it covered in dog hair.

For a second or two, I consider getting a cab, but that would involve an entry under the special expenses heading on the spreadsheet and that causes havoc with the spacing and I’m not even sure if cabs take dogs, even small ones.

And then, in the distance, I see a bus, all light up, packed and as it gets closer, I put my hand out and it stops and we get on.

I’m half expecting some sort of kerfuffle about the dog, but the driver doesn’t even seem to notice and when I look around I can see why.

The bus is full of young people, all looking the way she would have liked to look, if she hadn’t been 37 and worked in Information Technology and had a weakness for cheese and onion crisps and fun sized mars bars.

I sit up straight and don’t make eye contact, but these children are loud and suddenly the dog barks and the girls two seats down notice him and before I can say anything, they have scooped him up, wrapped a pink feather boa around him and taken his photo.

It’s a great relief, I cam tell you, when the bus gets near enough to home to justify a quick exit. As I leave, the girls call out
“Bye Bye doggie, Bye Bye dog man”.

I don’t look back and when I get home I choose my tie and shirt for the morning and hang then up in the bathroom all ready for the day ahead.

It’s the kitchen cupboards that do it next time, tins and packets by size and type and all the labels facing outwards. She used to say that there was no point
“who would ever look in our cupboards ?”

But when I pass the pastas, sauces and casserole materials area later, I pat the cupboard door with a sense of a job well done and then I shake the lead and we head of into the night.

I can’t say I’m looking for the night-bus, it’s not a plan or anything, but, but, when 2 hours later, the dog does the sit down thing again and I check my watch.
Another bone of contention
“Why do you wear a watch ?” she would ask, a pseudo-question, asked seconds before she would deliver her answer, the answer,
“No-body wears a watch anymore, what don’t you just check the time on your phone, like everybody else”
I wanted to point out that the time she wasted, rooting in her large variety of possession eating bags to find said phone was actually far more time consuming and onerous that simply tilting my wrist, but at that point, when perhaps we both believed that the relationship was worth saving, I was keeping my mouth firmly zipped a lot of the time, so I said nothing.

i tilt the watch face towards me again, just for the pleasure of this simple task, gone midnight and in my head I justify something, the dog is tired, i am tired, it will be good to sit down, get home safely.

The bus comes, we get on and immediately there’s a shout
“its the little doggie and the dog man”
– the same girls, four, five seats down the bus and they’re waving and maybe because it’s late or because I’m remembering another of her pseudo questions
“why do you never take any risks, do anything you haven’t planned for weeks and weeks?”
but, i walk down the bus and slide into the seat in front of them and they’re leaning forward, hands outstretched to grab the dog and they’re smiling and the blond is doing that women rooting in bag thing and pulling out a phone and then she’s leaning towards me and showing me a photo of the dog, my dog, wearing a ridiculous pink feather thing and she’s smiling, grinning really and the dog looks like it’s smiling and I can’t help myself, I’m smiling too and I realize that the movement feels strange across my face and just for a second I wonder when I last smiled.

And then we’re all staring at each-other and I don’t really know what to say, but the dog fills the gap and then I notice where we are and I can’t help myself
“well, this is me then”
and even as I say it, I think – you’re 39 years old and you talk like your dad, but the words get me and the dog out of the seat and towards the doors and as we go the girls shout out
“see you again dog man” and I can’t help it, I smile again.

I decide to re-order the books and CDs, not just alphabetically, but into sub divisions of genre, it’s a big job, takes several evenings, but eventually, it’s finished and I sit on the sofa that no-one ever sat on and survey the ordered shelves and feel a deep sense of calm. I’m even considering really pushing the boat out, a small whiskey on a work night, even get as far as the kitchen, when the dogs lead catches my eye and without too much analysis, we’re out the door and up the road into the night.

So, three times, consider it a habit now, part of the weeks routines, patterns.

Thursday, Friday nights, long walk, 12.08 night bus. They’re always there, the blond and the other one, her hair has been pink, purple, blue over the last 9 weeks. Students, just starting their night when all sensible people, people like me, are tucked up in bed.

We’ve got a thing going, they pet the dog, take pictures, they say he’s got a Facebook page.
They’ve started petting me too, patting my arm, draping mad bit of clothes over me.
They say they want to take me clubbing.
They say I should wear me Sweater Shop jumper.
They say it’s retro – cool.
They say it would be a laugh.

And we smile, a lot.

I’m not mad, I’m not loosing my mind.

I know I’m a nearly 40 year old data analysis clerk who likes order, neatness, structure.

But one night, I’m going to get on that night-bus without the dog and I’m going to do something without planning, without preparation.

That’ll show her.

One night.

The Kiss

I remember the very first time we kissed, walking me home, i could feel his unease, his anxiety.
This was our third date and even we, shy, socially awkward, a little plain, knew the rules, the expectations.
This date and the walk home, free of the social chaperone of the ever present friend, meant only one thing, a kiss.

I was 19 and this would be my first kiss and looking up at his face, serious, a little worried, I wondered if it was the first time for him too.

We stopped on the corner, a decorous distance from my home, lights still on in the front room, unheard of extravagance but I knew my father would be standing by the window, watching out, waiting for me to come home, checking his watch every 2 or 3 minutes.

We were not a going out family, my plain parents had produced 3 plain children and we had followed their lead, their social unease and stayed close to home. Happy enough in a routine of quiet meals, regular church attendance and steady jobs, our teenage years drifted by as we waited for something to happen.

My brother met a girl at church, steadily they saved for marriage and the inevitable arrival of another generation of plain, steady people.

My sister, casting a final despairing glance in the bedroom mirror made a different decision, became one of a new breed, a career girl with impeccable typing and shorthand qualifications and secretly, quietly, she too started saving and would at 25 amaze our parents by buying a tiny house and moving out.

At 19, I expected little and was generally proved right. There were boys of course, at church and in the neighborhood, boys my parents felt suitable, sensible, reliable, with good prospects and obedient daughter that I was, I accompanied them on visits to the cinema, the tea shops, the church hall dances but none had shown enough interest to make it to this landmark, the third date.

He was different, no more attractive than me, a hint of a stutter, a hesitancy in conversation but he noticed me, paid me attention, made me feel if not quite beautiful, then at least passable.

Walking home that evening, I realized something, I realized that I wanted him to kiss me and it was I that slowed at the corner, pivoted on my heels and stepped in front of him, forcing him to stop, forcing him to do something as I tilted my face up towards him.

The kiss, when it came though, was a surprise, passionate, warm, exciting and I felt myself melt for the first time into his arms and for the first time, but thank you god, not the last, I felt beautiful.

[For lovers of accuracy, I do know who the people in this photograph are, but wanted to write a piece unhampered by historical weight]



Chapter 26 – Landrover Freelander

Despite the Land Rover badge, which should have conferred supreme off-road ability, the first Freelander compact soft-roader was not blessed with greatness. It was plagued by mechanical dramas, including a V6 petrol engine with an appetite for head gaskets.

When the time came in 2004 to give the vehicle a makeover, Land Rover had the opportunity to exorcise a few demons but it didn’t work out that way.

Rather than address reliability issues, Land Rover gave the car a mostly cosmetic styling makeover.

Mechanically, Freelander buyers received fewer, not more, choices, as the troublesome petrol V6 was dumped. That meant the only engine became the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel. The base-model S had the option of a manual gearbox but the SE and HSE models were automatic only. The auto suited the vehicle better anyway and fuel economy was pretty good.

With just 82kW of power and about 1700 kilograms to haul around, it was anything but overpowered. Handling was disappointing, too, with limited grip on the bitumen.

For all the hoopla about it being a new model, the Freelander’s reliability was not the great leap forward it should have been.

“Stop it” I say, my voice sharper than maybe I intended, but it’s just annoying and he knows it and still bloody does it.
I turn round to glare at him, I’ve got plenty of time, the bypass is completely gridlocked, no chance of the car moving, no chance of me getting him there on time now.
He stops, for a moment anyway, although I know from bitter experience,that this is only a respite.The moment he thinks my attention is diverted, he will start again and then I will shout and the morning commute will end in tears,again.

I stare at the unmoving traffic, we are going to be late, seriously late, I will be judged and found wanting, again.

I’m so wound up that I find my teeth biting down on a nail and only just manage to stop myself in time, the last thing I need is ragged, chewed finger nails.
I think longinly about the packet of Marlboro Lights hiden in the depths of the glove compartment. The moment I drop him off and have driven safely out of sight, I will light one.It is probabaly the highpoint of my day.

“Dog” says Ben, ” Big Dog, mummy, look” and he’s right, in the tiny car next to us are three of the biggest dogs I have ever seen, the car is 90% dog, windows steamed up with doggy breath, paw prints everywhere, god, it must stink in there, but the woman,the driver looks madly happy, she’s singing along to the radio, absently patting the biggest dog, the one in the front seat, actually the one filling most of the front of the car.
It’s one of the good things about the 4×4, you can really look down on people, have a good nose in their cars, their lives.
Simon said that it was the perfect car for me, but then Simon said a lot.

“Brum, brum, car goes into the garage,brum brum”,he’s started doing it again, running his toy car up and down the back of my seat. It’s one of those sensations that starts off as nothing, but the longer it continues, the more annoying it gets until finally you just want to scream
“Stop it”, so I do and then of course there’s tears and then, then he pulls the flanker
“I want my daddy………………I want my daddy”

So then, I’ve got instant guilt, guilt AND lateness, great, so I start rummaging in the glove compartment, hoping the ciggies don’t fall out, and bingo, sugar free chewing gum. Ben is placated with the lure of grown up sweeties and the tears dry up
“Look ,look at the doggies,lets wave to them”

Simon said we should get a dog, said every family should have a dog, said it would be good for Ben, good for us, we could go for lovely long walks in the country when he was home and when he was away, well, the dog would bark, keep us safe, make me feel more secure.
I looked around the house, imported stone floors, cream sofas, nothing out of place and I shuddered, the idea of paw prints,hair, slobber made me feel actually sick and I managed to head that idea off at the pass.
And besides, there was no dog on earth that could keep me feeling secure in those 6 month,9 month stretches.
But these dogs, the giant dogs in the clown car are doing the trick, Ben is smiling, showing them his red sports car and the woman, the woman feels our gazes, looks up and smiles a smile of complete joy and then she picks up the paw of the dog next to her and moves the paw so the he is waving back. Ben is delighted, laughs out loud and I can’t help myself, I laugh out loud too and for a moment,there is complete happiness, a tiny dialogue betweeen the woman with the pets and the fleecey top and us.

But, we’re still going to be late, appallingly, toe curlingly late, again.
Simon said that I had no time management skills, no discipline. When he came home,he would look at the bad habits, the sloppiness that Ben & I had fallen into. Tea on trays in front of the TV, Sunday mornings in bed, Ben watching cartoons while I dozed, dishwasher left half filled for days, hoover standing sentry in the hallway,not back in its proper place in the cupboard under the stairs.
His lips would tighten ,just a little, and I would up my game and Simon would take over the ironing because he said he was better at it than me.

Bugger,bugger , bugger. I turn round to talk to Ben and he’s fallen asleep, this is a disaster, this means that I’ll have to wake him when we get there and then he’ll cry and they will look at me in that way they’ve been looking at me for months and even my cigarette,my favourite smoke of the day won’t take that taste out of my mouth, the taste of failture, again.

I know I should wake him now,prod him ,but I can’t bear to.
Simon said I was too soft on him, let hin get away with too much, had started talking about prep school, common entrance, boarding school, mapping out a future with a terrible militairy precision.
His son following in his footsteps.

And the traffic is still not moving, we’ve advanced maybe 200 yards in 20 minutes, Ben has curled up in his car seat, face pressed against the fabric, but still clutching the little red car in his fist. I’m wondering about a sneaky cigarette,open the window wide, breathe the smoke out. I know it’s bad, but, but, butt, I smile at my own terrible pun.

Simon said that smoking was disgusting, cheap, bad for him, bad for his son and although it felt like a bit of an afterthought, bad for me too.
I smoked when we met and then it was ok,part of who I was,it didn’t seem to be an issue, it changed when we got married.
That’s when I became a secret smoker, inventing journeys so that I could top up my nicotine levels.I didn’t want to give up, it was my final link to my old life, my dirty, urban life and besides, i didn’t want to put on weight.

Simon said that being fat was a sign of laziness, the symptom of disorder,of someone who isn’t trying anymore.

I sigh, check the babba is soundly asleep and then and I sneak, actually sneak in my own car, get the packet and light a cigarette ,it’s not as good as the usual morning one, but it’s OK and then guilt kicks in and I have to throw it out of the window,hoping no-one will notice, judge the bad mother subjecting her tiny child to the dangers of passive smoking.

The car ahead starts moving,the jolt wakes Ben, too abrupt, he is startled,starts to cry and I look around madly for something to distract him, the lighter is probably not great, nor the scrunched up silver paper from the fag packet.
Simon said I was too casual, not careful enough, not a good enough mother, not fit to care for his son.

Finally, the traffic is moving, I can see our exit ahead and breathe a sigh of relief, we will only be averagely late.
I signal, Ben is happier
“Bye bye doggie” he shouts, waving happily as the joyous woman and her huge pets continue up the by-pass.

We are nearly at the nursery, I look in the mirror, arrange my face in an appropriate expression and pull into the car park.
The young women are gentle with me and Ben, careful around us, considerate, quiet. No-one mentions how late we are.

i start the drive home, savoring the pleasure of the proper cigarette and defiantly keep the window closed.

Simon said that this would be the last tour, that everything would be OK, that nothing bad would happen and then Simon said
“we need to talk Fleur, we really need to talk when i get back”.

I think about the house, unwashed breakfast dishes in the sink, an ashtray on the kitchen table, a basket of over due ironing in the utility room, a muddle of my nightie, Ben’s superhero pyjamas in the double bed.
I look at my face in the mirror and I laugh and I laugh and I laugh.