Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Day of Rest

It's an hour before the 9am service. As usual I am running late. As usual the 11-year-old is insisting on a lie-in. And as usual I still haven't finished working out how to illumine the toddler minds in the Sunday School. 'It's the feast day of St Peter,' says the Vicar helpfully. 'Tell them Jesus called him from his fishing boat to be a rock on which to build his church and warned him he would deny his Lord three times before the cock crowed. He was told he would hold the keys to the God's kingdom so you could do something with a key, a net, a rock and a cock.'

The 9 year-old is still shrilling delightedly over the cock when, with five minutes to spare, we sprint into the church hall to set up. The 11-year-old seizes the rock I've grabbed from the garden and pretends to be passing a giant stool. I shout at her. The 9-year-old appears to be holding a gynaecological consultation with an imaginary patient involving the net I've wrestled off a tub of nectarines. I shout at him. The church bells stop ringing as I attempt to speed-draw a cockerel which looks more like a blood hound and the 11-year-old practises twerking manoeuvres round the prie dieu.

As we attempt a short-cut into church through the vestry we hear the congregation is already half way through the first hymn. 'You're not allowed to say that word on a Sunday!' scolds the 9-year-old as we turn tail and dash round the building to a more discreet entrance.

We arrive, breathless, one hymn-verse before the children are led out to Sunday School. I've prepared for the usual tribe of toddlers. Instead I'm confronted by two 9-year-old boys and two mutinous adolescents who'd left the service in hopes of touching up their eye liner in the church hall toilets. Quailingly, I exhibit the nectarine net and the garden rock and the Vicar's spare keys that I've nicked from his study. I don't mention the cock. The adolescents gaze at me unblinkingly.

I produce a collection of Felix boxes and a Domino's pizza carton salvaged from the recycling bin and invite them to construct the Church on a cereal-box 'rock'. They help themselves to stick-on jewels from my Sunday School basket and improvise facial piercings.

The bell summons us back into church and my charges are invited to explain the teetering tower of cat-food cartons to the faithful. I murmur my first prayer of the day - that noone will mention cocks.

And then the service is over with ten minutes to spare to transfer the children to a laser shoot-out party across town. 'You're not allowed to say that word on a Sunday!' repeats the 9-year-old as I search for the car key. 'And you shouldn't be so stressy because Sunday is a Day of Rest.'

Monday, 23 June 2014


Two years of toil have toil have managed to instil most of the times tables in my children. And two years of nagging have taught them to change a duvet cover. On the matter of etiquette, however, I have dismally failed.

I endeavour yet again to show the 11-year-old how to place her knife and fork when she has finished eating. 'Wake up, Mum, and step out of your time machine!' she says, arranging them defiantly in a cross.

I remind the 9-year-old to say 'I beg your pardon?' instead of 'Uh?' when he fails to hear strangers. 'Uh?' he replies.

But it's in matters of telephone and doorbell etiquette that my failings are most mortifying. 'Hello my little pink and white butterfly!' trills my son on answering the phone to a caller I fear is from HMRC. Next time, my daughter grabs the receiver first. 'Yes?' she barks, then, 'Mum, it's some man!'

When the doorbell shrills, the 9-year-old likes to be first on the scene. Some natural instinct has taught him that vicarages should be places of welcome, but he's unsure how to pitch it. 'Coming my angel!' he pipes and exposes, on the doorstep, a bemused clergyman that none of us has met before.

I ask both children how they should greet strangers who arrive at our door for meetings or succour. 'Easy,' drawls the 11-year-old, 'Tell 'em to bog off!'

I am wary, therefore, when I am approached in Waitrose by a grandmother that the 9-year-old nearly felled with a shopping trolley. I start to berate him anew so that she should know that that it is his innate character, not my lack of discipline, that caused such uncouthness. But the lady is beaming radiantly. 'I just wanted to tell you what a polite son you have,' she says. 'He said sorry so charmingly he can run me over with a trolley any time!'

Do your children's manners shame you in public?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Last Word

'What's the last word you'll say when you die?' the 11-year-old asks from the back seat of the Skoda. 'Mine will be 'me'! Or maybe 'shopping'.'

'Mine will be 'f***!' shrieks the 9-year-old, gleefully envisaging a scenario where there can be no comeuppance.

'Dad's will be 'Jesus',' says the 11-year-old with withering scorn. 'What'll be yours, Mum?'

Over the steering wheel I ponder. I've given much thought to my preferred Apocalypse meal (boiled eggs), companion (the Vicar) and venue (Waterperry Gardens), but none at all to my parting shot. I'd like to think it would be 'sorry' for the distressing number of things I meant to do but didn't. And the distressing number of things I did that I didn't mean to. More likely it would be my catch-all for every unexpected circumstance: 'blimey!'

The children have tired of waiting for my answer. 'I bet yours will be 'minute',' prompts the 9-year-old grinning at his sister. 'How come?' I reply. 'Because when God decides your time's up, you'll say what you're always saying...' and there comes a sing-song chorus from behind me:

'Will you just wait a minute!'

What will be your last word?

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Some things in life are obvious. Such as prancing out in your underwear when the heavens open:

And executing the reverent ritual of a Saucepan Dance during the Sunday lunch wash up:

But maybe I take too much for granted. For my children, logic is an elusive concept. Years of training have given them some idea of the urgency of rain prancing and both have learnt to belt ballads over the soap suds with a potato masher mic. But when it comes to the realities of every day life, the blindingly obvious is lost on them.

They have a fastidious fear of germs, but it never occurs to them to flush the lavatory.

Their school calls me on frigid winter days to point out that they've forgotten to bring their coats. 

Each week they receive with fresh outrage  the news that they have not earned their pocket money, yet each week they ignore the qualifying requirement to tidy their rooms. 

They have yet to make the connection between their lack of clean tops and the backlog of dirty laundry growing under their duvets. 

Loud are their howls when they don't know that morning's spellings, but it doesn't cross their mind to learn them beforehand. 

There is a daily panic when the 11-year-old can't find an essential fashion item, but it never occurs to her to order her wardrobe.

This disconnect exasperates me. It's wearing to have to remind nine-year-olds to put both shoes on before walking to school. But then as once again I discover I've forgotten to pay the bills that I stashed for safekeeping under the guest room bed, I realise that the blindingly obvious is lost on me too.

The weekly ordeal of scraping items glued to the gunk at the bottom of the recycling bin fails to teach me to rinse beer bottles and baked bean tins before chucking them.

Tense journeys through wilderness with the empty tank light on are a frequent result of my dislike of interrupting Belinda Carlisle to fill up beforehand.

The solid back crusts lining the vicarage saucepans have yet to remind me to boil rice in water.

Keen as I am to celebrate the first summer day in a deckchair, it never occurs to me to buy a new lawnmower. 

My children blame their tender years for their obtuseness. I attribute middle age to mine. I appeal, therefore, to wiser readers: at what age can we expect Enlightenment?