a.m. Tuesday 9th January 2007
Tuesday morning, start of term, and I’m already plagued by the school run which has to be planned and clock-watched like a military operation. And if you finally do manage to reach location, children suitably clothed and fed and on time, you’ve still got this whole stressful parking lark. I am aware, however that I’m at a distinct advantage. I’m not half the size of many of the vehicles here. Some of them are carefully perched on the no-parking lines straight outside the building, blinkers on, where they rapidly disembark well-ironed little boys and immaculately pony-tailed little girls. At times you might catch a lone father trundling his charges distractedly through the gates, blackberry in hand or crowned by cutting-edge contoured earphones, barely pausing to interrupt a strategic deal. But otherwise, it’s motherhood the great leveller. FX traders’ wives or just middle class mums caught in the fray, we’re all at some point late and harassed, dragging our poor kids along, urging and cajoling, balancing babies with school bags. Even some of those with nannies (and there are several who don't work and still 'own' a nanny) still feel the possibly instinctive need to deliver their own offspring to school, 'help' or no 'help' - or so it seems (my friend Natalia being one). Anyway, you’re paying through the nose for schooling so it starts early: at 8.30 we’re already blocking the tree-lined road. Private road or not, plonk too many cars on it like one of Callum and Angel’s ‘matchbox’ car racing competitions, and you get full-on congestion rush-hour style. Tapping my nails against the steering wheel (and noticing they badly need a manicure), I wait patiently for the long queue of cars to pass in the opposite direction, zigzagging between the few empty spaces. Parallel-parked cars line both sides, considerably narrowing an already narrow road (intended at birth to be a leafy lane).
Suddenly, the trickle of cars comes to a halt as a middle-aged woman in pyjamas and a cardigan rushes red-faced out of one of the neighbouring houses. She starts to screech hysterically at one designer-sunglassed mother who’d parked her tank a couple of feet across the driveway. Said house is set back, no high wall, no fences, no electronic gates, no CCTV cameras, old and shabby in contrast with its new-build neo-regency neighbouring villas. A few mothers, early enough not to rush - progeny already safely handed over, faces kissed - huddle in a gossipy group on the grassy verge, muttering commiserations. The Mum-slash-driver-at-fault, embarrassed and keen to escape, stutters an apology and retreats. With the flick of a Louis Vuitton monogrammed bag and the dull thud of German technology, her car door slams shut - with a civilised screech of breaks it three-point turns and is off . I take advantage of the hiatus to signal left, position myself, and reverse back into the space. The mad old woman, her hair sticking up, glares! But my car’s nothing as big as the 4-by-4 and the front wheels fit neatly just within the available space before it slopes down to the forbidden drive. I feel sorry for the old lady though. She’s out of her depth and within her rights.
I bundle both children out of the car, get Kal into class, kiss his chilly little cheeks goodbye, and ruffle that warm brown hair with a pulse of love in my chest. I’m lugging Angel in my arms, she doesn’t want to walk today (a tantrum bubbling below the surface, all I need on the first day of term) and anyway it’s quicker that way, for today - but she's so heavy this is definitely a one-off. Her curly head’s over my shoulder, clutched bunny flopping rhythmically against my arm with every step. I strike up a conversation with Pinki who’s walking alongside (Pinki’s not her real name, it’s been shortened from Priyanka). Her twin daughters are in Callum’s class and two elder ones at Posh Prep School. Pinki has shiny hair, huge dark kohl-rimmed eyes, and a large, very large, creamy diamond on her right hand. She is also herself as physically round and creamy as an old-fashioned Bollywood actress, buxom and fleshy beneath her expensive outfit. With many nurseries and State Schools still on half-term there’s time to chat today, more time with the road network clearer. Within a few minutes we're deep into the subject of, guess what? Schools! There’s no other topic quite like it to break the ice with a private-school mum. Our children may be together in class but they’re not playmates so I can’t opt for the buddy angle, and you can’t walk down the length of a narrow road in silence, or be forever considered a rude cow! So, I find out Pinki’s planned her children’s school career in immaculate detail: even got plans B and C going in case of unfortunate rejections. I dig for information, realising I hadn’t even thought about my second-born while others have been busy filling in application forms since birth. Pinki tells me, with authority, that to register for kindergartens in Kensington most women are planning their Caesareans accordingly. I laugh, suspect she speaks the truth, and secretly wonder how warped that kind of mentality is and why I haven't the courage to say so.
My mobile rings and I mouth goodbye, gesturing apologetically to Pinki who nods her assent and makes off to her car, impossibly groomed bob swinging. It’s my mother, calling my mobile phone, at eight forty-five in the morning, no less: typical! Always up at the crack of dawn, she used to pull the sheets off us with an infuriatingly cheerful ‘Good Morning!’, a bit like I do to my poor son on most school-days, being a sleeper like my husband and unable to wake up without harassment...the feeling of ‘like Mother like daughter’ is half uncomfortable and half reassuring (I make a mental note to buy one of those clock radios for Callum).
‘Hello, darling, how are you? Are the children alright? And how’s Martin? - is everything OK, dear?’ With this avalanche of concern, and the tone in her voice, I realise my mother's still spending her time worrying about me. She’s had wind of my problems with Martin for a while now, through simple motherly intuition combined with my lack of enthusiasm to talk about anything husband-related, and with every phone call wants to reassure herself it’s not serious. As usual, I don’t want to talk and I certainly don’t want to explain so I retreat, tell her everything’s fine and I’ll call her later, but the tone in my voice, defensive, a little too curt, speaks volumes in itself. She’ll probably put down the phone and make a beeline to discuss my marital woes with my father. Result: I’m going to have to take action and spend half-term with them, so they can bond with the kids and see how cheerful I CAN be (Martin doesn’t do half-terms!) Contemplating, I concentrate on picking out a small folded piece of paper just visible between the gear-stick and the passenger seat: Disney characters and cartoon balloons - as I thought, there’s been a rash of birthday party invitations recently, each one more kept-up-with-the-Joneses than the next. I give it a quick eye-over: ‘Cooking Party - Fancy Dress’! Luckily I’ve got six months to plan for my own hostess hell, Callum’s birthday party for twenty-odd four- to five-year old kids and twenty-odd thirty to forty year old mums. And not any old mums: private school mums. A breed apart! (Christ).