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. 

Stranger Things

My husband has spent the day at a snowboarding show, collecting key rings and drinking schnapps, while entering multiple competitions in the hope he will win a dream drop-off for backcountry boarding in the Japanese Alps.

“Can you pick me up from the station?” 

My husband has spent the day at a snowboarding show, collecting key rings and drinking schnapps, while entering multiple competitions in the hope he will win a dream drop-off for backcountry boarding in the Japanese Alps.

I stuff the children into the car with the promise of some “stuff” from daddy and we park up, watching train passengers spill out into the car park and disperse into the night. 

I don’t see my husband at first but when I do I find my mouth dropping open.

He is walking down the ramp from the platform like a Zombie, his head tilted on one side, his arms outstretched. 

“Look it’s Daddy” squeals Midnight kicking the back of my seat in excitement.

Milk and Mayhem lean forwards to watch their father. 

I look at my husband limping like an extra in Night of the Living Dead. Maybe he’s had too many peach schnapps or perhaps his head got trapped in the train doors as they opened and closed – either way it is definitely my husband limping towards a car which is not ours.

To be fair the car he is approaching is exactly the same model and strange gold colour as ours – but it does not contain his family. It contains someone else’s. 

“Where is daddy going?” Milk asks.

“Has he turned into a real Zombie? Mayhem says, looking worried.

I still have my mouth open and although I want to speak I also just want to see what happens next.

My husband is a few steps from the wrong gold car when the doors open and a whole family jumps out, the parents nervously eyeing my husband and guiding their children around him to catch their train. 

My husband drops his outstretched Zombie arms and looks a little flustered. I flash my lights to show him where we are parked.

“I totally thought that was our car,” he chuckles as he passes his exhibition paraphernalia to the children. They dive into the bags and giggle with glee at all the stickers, pens, postcards and other “stuff”, which will soon be sprawled across the house and forgotten about.

“I think I freaked that family out.”

“I think so too”, I say, wondering if he is having a delayed midlife crisis. The other day we had an argument about how ill he was when he took the day off work, but then decided he wanted to come with me to pick up Milk and Mayhem from their Halloween Disco.

“I’m going to hide in the boot and scare the kids when they get in,” he declared.

“But I thought you were too ill to do anything?” 

“All I’m doing is lying down in a car instead of a bed,” he replied gruffly.

I drag Midnight up the road to pick up the other two from the school disco.

My artist friend asks me how my husband is. “Is he “ill ill?”  she says. “Tucked up in bed?”

“Errr…”  I look at her and then at Midnight. If I say anything about how actually my husband is outside a school hiding in the boot of a car, Midnight will remember and spoil the surprise, but also my husband may be arrested. I weigh it all up not wanting to deceive my good friend.

“Errr.. he’s definitely not very well,” I say diplomatically.

I am greeted by a dripping wet Werewolf and a Swamp Zombie clutching sweets and buzzing with songs and halloween dance off stories. Midnight gets given a lolly and we head back to the car. I realise it’s been 40 minutes. 

I let the kids into the car and walk around to the driving seat. Before I can open the door the whole vehicle starts rocking with high pitched screams. People walking past with their children are staring at our car. 

There is a man hiding in the boot scaring my children and I am standing outside on the road paralysed with the realisation I am married to this strange human being. And the rain begins to fall.

The Day Trip

Photo by Brianna Martinez on

‘I’ve booked for us to go to Wisley’ says my husband.

This is our first day trip in nearly a year. I am so excited I immediately jump in the car to buy supplies. In my haste I forget my mask. 

I scrabble around in the boot and find every conceivable combination of clothing. I could even dress up as a birdwatching snowboarder with plastic spiders attached to my knees. 

But there is no face mask.

I consider attaching a nappy to my face, but decide it will look odd and I’m not convinced it’s clean. Instead I find one of Midnight’s wooly hats with little strings at the side. Perfect. I pull the hat over my mouth and tie the string round the back of my head. 

I check myself in the car window. The pom pom is hanging down from my chin but I am pleased with my creativity, and head inside. A member of staff approaches me. 

‘Would you like a mask?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I feel myself going red and nod enthusiastically. The bobble nods with me.

‘We have spare masks for people who’…  she regards my hat face ‘…For people who forget…’

I accept the socially normal mask. But I have tied my hat too tightly to my head and I can’t undo the knot so I weave through the aisles with a face mask over my mouth and the bobble hat around my throat. It is a sweaty trip.

At home my husband sighs as he removes the hat from my neck with a snip of the scissors. ‘I just don’t know how you will ever manage to return to the adult world.’

I agree with him.

We tell the children where we are going. ‘It’s like a magical adventure park with a big glass house,’ my husband waves his arms around enthusiastically.

‘Do you mean a garden with a greenhouse?’ asks Milk not even looking up from his complicated lego assembly.

‘Kind of…’ we concede ‘ but it has a shop at the end’.

The children roll their eyes. ‘That sounds boring,’ says Mayhem.

Midnight copies. ‘That’s borin’!’, he shouts. ‘That’s borin’ Mummy.’

I’m surprised at my two-year-old’s attitude, considering the most exciting thing he has done is buy some underpants in a supermarket. 

And then we hit the motorway. 

‘Lorry!! Midnight screeches. ‘Transporter! Lorry again, Mummy! Lorry again, car, car, car, car. ‘Ment Mixer!, Lorry!’

We get an hour long inventory of the vehicles using the M25. 

Unfortunately my husband took the wrong week off work and the great glass house with the man-eating plants and giant lily pads is still closed. We press our noses against the glass, allow the children to terrorise other garden-users for an hour and then buy expensive organic yoghurt lollies from the shop, which the boys quickly realise have no sugar in them.

‘Tastes weird’, says Milk. Mayhem nods and hands his to my husband.

Midnight is inhaling the lolly through the sleeves of his jumper. ‘Cold hands.’ He starts to cry.

At home my husband eases his day-trip disappointment by watching football. 

There is a mixed reaction to this event. Milk slinks off to play Lego. Midnight squeals every time my husband yells at the TV, and Mayhem seeks me out in the kitchen.

‘I hopped all the way from the television to here,’ he says a little out of breath. ‘It was 38 hops.’

‘See if you can hop back,’ I say sipping from a glass of wine while online shopping.

‘Blow your whistle! Blow your whistle! Blow your whistle!’ My husband is incensed. 

‘Blow your whistle Ref!’

‘He can’t hear you, darling,’ I call from the kitchen and buy ten face-masks and a tub of ice-cream.


art art materials color colored pens
Photo by Pixabay on

It occurred to me, as I let my husband cut my hair, while Milk and Mayhem ran around the kitchen screaming ‘macaroni cheese!’, that I might find lockdown a little bit challenging.

‘It looks quite good actually,’ says my husband putting down the scissors, gingerly.

‘But you’ve only been doing it for five minutes. Most people spend hours at the hairdressers. I haven’t even had a cup of tea.’

I eye the scissors he has been using. He said he couldn’t find the ones we use for the boys’ hair, so he chose the big blue kitchen scissors, which we sometimes use to cut up pizzas or raw chicken.

My husband looks a little afraid as I jump up from my chair to look in the mirror.

My hair looks absolutely fine – if you’re not seeing anyone for 12 weeks – which is lucky because the whole country is only seeing people through computer screens or over the garden fence for the next three months and counting.

‘At least you don’t have to do the school run with it…’ offers my husband sheepishly.

It’s true. The schools have closed, and after the initial shock, everyone is now printing out maths worksheets and ordering glitter glue and pipe cleaners online, in an effort to be home schooling heroes.

It was something we all knew was coming, but we didn’t believe would happen. Like dawn, when you stay up too late with a glass of wine. Dawn always comes too soon.

My first ‘home-schooling’ dawn arrived with Mayhem crawling over my head to drink from my glass of water on my bedside table.

‘Is my hair made of circles or lines? Why is this water a bit warm? How do I make a triangle with my foot?’ he fires the questions at me as if I am on a quiz show against the clock.

I look at the time. It is 5am.

‘The thing is,’ I say to Mayhem, removing him from our bed, ‘the thing is I’m not starting the home school thing yet. Not quite yet.’

‘When are we starting the school at home thing?’ says Milk bounding into the room, dressed in jeans and his school jumper.

‘Where’s daddy?’ I ask, trying to distract them. It works. They seem to think it’s a game of hide-and-seek and rush off shouting, ‘we’re coming to get you daddy. Ready or not!’.

I know they will find my husband downstairs with Midnight, feeding him blueberries and playing cars on the carpet, which has recently also become a picnic mat.

Later I am sitting down at the kitchen table while Milk and Mayhem stare at me in expectation.

‘Are you OK teacher?’ they say.

‘Please,’ I say resting my head on the table. ‘I’m not a teacher.’

‘Are you OK?’ Asks my husband returning from his lockdown run.

‘I’m not sure PE with Joe is meant to be done with a one year old throwing soft toys and fruit at participants,’ I say.

The boys want to play Star Wars in the garden while Midnight sleeps in his buggy, so I write and drink tea. My husband opens the fridge and closes it again.

‘There’s nothing to nibble’ he says grumpily.

‘I guess nibbles don’t count as essentials.’

‘I guess so.’ He says. ‘I’ll ask the neighbours if they can get some chocolate.’

‘You can’t ask people to risk their lives for you to have some chocolate.’ I say.

But my husband can.

We spend the evening gawping at the news in disbelief and eating essential chocolate.

‘Life will never be the same again. Everything has changed.’ says my husband popping another piece of chocolate in his mouth.

The baby wakes up.

‘Not everything,’ I say heading upstairs for a sleepy cuddle.

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