Wednesday, 14 September 2011

In which the Infant Phenomenon is almost late

The Infant Phenomenon has started school. You never saw anything so pretty as she looked in her brand new uniform (strange to think that school uniforms started life to mark out 'charity children'). Her little curly, Titian-coloured head on top of the navy blue school uniform (which was a little too large) and the beaming smile which accompanied it were a sight to make any parent proud.

As my own Mamma puts it, she has been 'ready' for school for some time now. This has manifested itself in the previously unheard but now frequently used words 'bored' and 'boring'. Also in the oft-asked question 'What are we doing next?'. This can be somewhat daunting to a fond, but busy, parent, as come the weekend, I seldom want to have any particular plans and would like to just spend some pleasant time together, following the inspiration of the moment.

The day before she started was somewhat chaotic, as we were actually returning from my cousin's wedding, which I mentioned in my previous episode. We arrived back in the house at a civilised time of day, it is true, but with all the unpacking to be done and the Phenomenon's school uniform to prepare. And of course, I couldn't find the laundry marker pen. I am afraid that I did not spend hours sewing Cash's woven name tapes onto her every sock; I am not as old fashioned as all that.

She has been tremendously excited about the whole idea of going to 'big school' and we have had many conversations. I have been careful to point out that she must listen to the teacher (a skill which she frequently discards for the far more interesting one of talking) and do as she is told.

I did have a disappointment on the actual day. I had envisaged that we would walk hand in hand, having a somehow memorable conversation (conversations with the Phenomenon are often memorable, simply because of her quaint way of expressing herself). However, the weather was inimical to conversation of any kind and we battled our way along against the wind and the rain, unable to hear each other.

I had thought on that memorable Tuesday morning - as I dare say happens to other parents on a regular basis - that I had allowed more than sufficient time. I was in this, as in so many matters, mistaken. We were just about to leave when the weather which had been inclement but not actively hostile, took a violent turn for the worse, necessitating a change to stout boots. We then had to take the Inexhaustible Baby to nursery. To be frank, after two weeks with Mamma, Papa and the Phenomenon he was reluctant to return, and I was somewhat put out of countenance at being pursued by his roars of outrage as I descended the staircase.

Consequently, in spite of my mania for punctuality, we were almost late on her very first day. For shame!

Those of you who are acquainted with her will not be surprise to hear that she settled in very well and enjoyed herself. I must confess that my pride was mingled with trepidation when at 3.15 I was greeted with the comment 'She's very bright, isn't she?'. I couldn't help wondering what unanswerable questions she had been putting to the staff, or which of my opinions she had been advancing as her own.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

In which I suffer an attack of stage fright

We are but just returned from the wedding of one of my cousins in Ireland. We all had a thoroughly splendid time most of the time. Mr B and I had a few uncomfortable moments during the day, frequently caused by the behaviour of the Inexhaustible who is now extremely hard to contain.

Luckily, I did manage to postpone his nap until the ceremony, and he slept in his buggy throughout the entire service, looking perfectly angelic and allowing his fond mamma to thoroughly enjoy her emotional self. It had meant an extremely wearing half hour keeping him going beforehand, but it was worth it (especially as that was Mr B's job), else he was perfectly capable of shouting with glee throughout, or attempting to rival the charming singer. As it was, the ceremony was undisturbed by his entirely natural, but not really suited to a formal situation, antics.

The harder moments were during dinner. From the toddler point of view, a wedding is an extremely long affair (unlike for most of the adult guests at this one, who would be happily continuing the event even now). I had therefore, cunningly as I thought, decided to withdraw the children for a snack in the bar for the first hour after the ceremony, thinking that this would make the interval easier until dinner and prevent the Infant Phenomenon from staging one of her favourite performances: the Hysteria of Hunger; not to mention preventing the Inexhaustible Baby from actually biting his fellow guests.

Up to a point this ruse succeeded. They behaved tolerably well until dinner. However at this point, it all went (if you will forgive me for stepping out of character for a moment) Pete Tong. The Infant Phenomenon (who had staged a different drama entitled 'Who is going to cut up my sausages?' during her snack) had eaten so many of the said sausages that her interest in the frankly delicious looking dinner set before her was at best tepid. This may have been aggravated by excessive consumption of bread during the adults' first two courses. However, she played fast and loose with the gravy and simply spent most of her time demanding ice cream.

The Inexhaustible meanwhile started off well. In spite of the bread gambit, he appeared to be pursuing the virtuous course by eating all his broccoli and his sister's. However, that was simply guile and he went on to give a virtuoso interpretation of the babyhood of King Henry VIII of England & Wales. Instead of eating nicely with spoon and fork, he grabbed his breast of chicken by the piece of protruding bone and proceeded to tear lumps off it with his teeth, all the while looking at me with defiance in his eye. He wanted but a flagon of mead to complete the picture.

Seated between these two and attempting to make the one eat with some semblance of decency and to make the other eat at all, you can imagine that this was hardly an ideal experience of haute cuisine.

Added to this was anxiety on my own account. I am very close to all my cousins of the F family; Mrs F is in fact my aunt - I hope I will be permitted a mild literary digression here when I say that this phrase reminds of two of Mr Dickens's comic creations of rare genius: Flora Finching and Mr F's aunt in Little Dorrit.

Anyway, to continue. My cousins, the Fs are all very dear to me, particularly Miss F and her husband Mr C (Miss F, being a strong-minded female amongst her other many good points, rather despises changing of names on marriage. She prefers Ms F, but I hope that for the sake of my rather shaky authenticity she will endure Miss). I have frequently been staying with them, as have they with us.

The younger Mr F, on announcing his engagement, approached me to ask whether I would be willing to sing for them. Of course nothing could give me greater pleasure. On the other hand, to be asked to sing for the first dance is a task of considerable moment and I must confess that I was extremely nervous. As the day got nearer, I became increasingly panic stricken and had dreams of arriving in Ireland without my frock, my shoes, my voice, my music or my memory.

To add to this, the song chosen was not that easy, and the definitive version by a bona-fide soul/blues diva was frankly daunting. I kept telling myself that I would feel more confident once I'd been able to rehearse with the band. Yet again, I found myself mistaken. It took me a full 45 minutes to achieve a passable rendition - a luxury unavailable to me on the actual night.


Thus with every nerve jangling that could possibly jangle, came the nuptial day and the necessity for donning our fine apparel. Again, trying to keep calm and think ahead, I decided that once the children were dressed, I would put on the television in our hotel room, to try to keep them quiet while I concentrated on my toilette and tried to do some vocal exercises. We pressed the button and the screen sprang into life. What was on it? A staggeringly beautiful and very, very slender pop star singing the same song at a recent famous occasion. This, I felt, was rather like the proverbial straw, to remind me on the very day of the comparisons the other guests were likely to be making while I very likely did the song a terrible injustice.

It would be unfair of me to have gone on at this length without pointing out that the bride and groom both asserted, truly I am sure, that they simply didn't care what sort of job I made of it; nonetheless, I cared. I cared very much. I wanted to sing really well. The moment came and I did my best. It is difficult not to 'give it soul' as one kindly person said I had done, when you see two people so happy together surrounded by loving family and friends.

I cannot remember the last time I was so relieved as I was when the song was done, I knew that whatever I had done, I hadn't murdered it and Mr B procured me an extremely large glass of wine.