City Break

My husband sighs to himself as we crawl along the M40 behind a caravan perched on the back of a lorry. 

It’s as if he is the only one confined to a small stuffy box on an upright seat with “stories for four-year-olds” playing on a loop.

Actually we have all been in this situation for three hours, on the way to Birmingham for half term. 

My husband holds the “I’m driving” card, so I become a snack and drink dispenser, head of diplomatic relations and a fountain of knowledge on all things to do with cars, distances and alarmingly, how an armchair can fall off a Land Rover roof at speed without breaking into pieces.

“Can I have an ice-cream?” Midnight asks for the 14th time. 

“I don’t have one,” I try to keep my voice light, when really I want to lean forward and scream into the glove box.

Maybe Midnight thinks our Transporter is an ice-cream van. Maybe he likes to ask the impossible of his mother ALL DAY LONG. Maybe he’s just a four-year-old who wants an ice-cream. 

“Can two cars have the same number plate?” asks Mayhem, passing me the crusts from his service station sandwich.

“No. That’s why they have a number plate, so they are different.” I say confidently.

“But they are already different colours and different sizes…” Milk points out.

“… and different types of cars…” adds Mayhem. “Like a Lamborghini or a Mini.”

“And trucks aren’t cars,” says Midnight with gusto.

Milk nods. “So if you had a yellow Mini and a red truck with the same number plate, you won’t exactly get them muddled up will you?” 

“Or a digger and a butt crack” squeals Midnight.

All of this is true. “Anyone want a Jaffa cake?” I say.

My husband is unable to distribute snacks, but he is able to eat them. 

“We’re nearly in Mordor,” he says to the children with his mouth full. “You’ll see orcs and everything up here”.

“And grandma and grandpa,” pipes up Midnight.

Tolkein lived across the park from where I grew up and I feel unusually sensitive about orcs and Mordor. “You haven’t actually read Lord of the Rings have you?” 

“Don’t need to read it, I’ve seen the film,” the love of my life replies, holding out his sticky hand for a drink. 

We approach my parents’ neighbourhood and Midnight is glued to the window. “Look at that stinky dirty tower!” he shouts with glee as we pass a block of flats. 

“We really need to get them out more,” I say. “They think everyone lives in cottages with a white picket fences.”

Midnight shrieks. “Look at that man! He is shouting at that wall. Why is he shouting at a wall mummy?”

“I don’t know, maybe no one is listening to him…” I say. 

“Can I have an ice-cream?”

I lean forward and open the glove box.

The fridge raider

“I’m being naughty in the kitchen mummy!” Midnight shouts.

He is torturing me. He knows I can’t come. I have been on hold to HMRC for 25 minutes but if I step out of the dining room I will lose reception and get cut off. I can hear ice cubes skidding across the kitchen floor as I wait to see if I have any gaps in my National Insurance contributions. 

I find myself wondering if a hole in my pension is worth the cost of a packet of half thawed chicken Kievs. 

When my call has finished the kitchen is quiet except for my husband who is washing up. This is not an unusual event but I do consider how he has managed to miss the food raiding activity.

There are little puddles on the floor where the ice cubes have perished, and a trail of peas leading out of the kitchen and upstairs. I open the freezer gingerly and an ice cream tub falls onto my foot.


My husband jumps. “You gave me a fright.” 

I hop about a bit and put the ice cream back and shove a bag of peas closed. Nothing else seems to be missing. I open the fridge. 

I am met with a trail of devastation. Midnight has taken several bites out of three apples and then balanced them precariously on top of a few regurgitated mushrooms.

The eggs are out of reach but he has managed to eat half a box of grapes leaving the skeleton of their buds quivering in the plastic container. There is humus smeared across one shelf and some cherry tomatoes have been released from their bag and have collected in a huddle in a puddle of milk.

I notice a chunk of cheese with teeth marks.

“He’s been at the cheese too,” I say exasperated.

My husband looks a little sheepish.

“You’ve been at the cheese.” 

“No no…” He seems keen to scrub the roasting tin.

“This is why he doesn’t eat his dinner.”

“And why our food bills are so high,” says my husband grumpily.

“I don’t think we can blame a four year old for the Tories…”

“But he must be the only one in the country who is wasting food.”

“He never goes for the tofu.” I observe.

“No one goes for the tofu,” says my husband.

I look at the tofu sitting there neatly in its square packet, all healthy and smug. Your time will come, I think quietly. 

Milk appears at the door. “Mayhem is crying about dinosaurs and Midnight is spitting food over my lego police station.” He sounds as if he has given up on ever saying a normal sentence again.

I stomp upstairs picking up detritus on the way.

I find Mayhem sobbing under his covers. “I was reading about dinosaurs and I got a paper cut and it’s the worst day EVER.”

I find it hard to see what is wrong with his thumb but I know I am on thin ice. If I don’t pay enough attention to the invisible injury, Mayhem will say I don’t care about him at all and that I love the other two more than him. He’s the middle one. He carries this baton fiercely.

Midnight catches wind of the situation. “Mayhem’s a baby,” he squeals gleefully.

And that’s when I notice Midnight is eating a red pepper as if it’s an apple, and the little white seeds are spilling into the lego box.

I wonder if anyone has invented a machine to remove pepper seeds from a box of Lego. Surely this isn’t just happening to us? Surely it is happening in millions of houses across the country at exactly this moment. Google suggests otherwise.

That night as I slide into bed my husband shrieks and kicks the covers off as if he is trying to escape.

“There’s something in the bed!”

“I’m a person. Not a something.” I sigh.

He fumbles around and then I hear a rare chuckle as he reveals three ice packs Midnight has stashed under the duvet. 

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