IMG_7901 (1)There’s a whole new world to discover thanks to having to do without for a while. The car has been dropping hints for a few months now. Little warnings. We can’t say that she didn’t try. Lovely loyal car. She may start or just make a clicking sound when the key turns in the ignition. Then if we jiggle and wiggle the keys about a bit she jumps into life. On Christmas Eve I pop to Tesco’s for a last minute thing. The neighbours. We’ve forgotten to buy chocolates for them. So I zoom up, get them, jump back into the car, turn the key, nothing. I jiggle and wiggle and curse myself for taking this last trip. I’ll be stuck in Tesco’s for Christmas now. I’m talking to myself, obviously. It’s dark out and it’s cold and the car is going click and the dash is lighting up but that’s it. Then a very large round bellied man appears. He’s walking towards the car with his trolley looking very concerned. I roll the window down.
‘Is the battery flat?’ he asks.
‘Ah no, it’s just the ignition barrel or the starter motor’ I say bamboozling myself with my lingo.
‘It’ll start any second now. You see all I have to do is wiggle the keys a bit’. He’s looking even more worried and incredulous now. Poor deluded woman he seems to be saying.
‘I think you’ll need a push to get out of here’ he says.
‘But you’re not in a great position there’ he says looking at the shop window and how it’s a bit close for comfort. Typical. I can’t even get myself into the right position for a push. I jiggle and I wiggle. I think of the consequences of it not starting. Tonight of all nights. With the collecting, stashing, ferrying and dispersing yet to be done. I think of the kind, large, round bellied man standing beside me, patiently, waiting to lend a hand. I whip the keys out, shove them back in again and presto. We’re off. I wave at him. He winks back. Santa Claus, without his suit and beard.

We learn not a jot from it. We cheekily head off in the storms, Westwards, for New Years’s Eve. Wiggling, jiggling. On beaches in the freezing cold. Launching Christmas drones into the sky. Building a bridge, all five, team working it into existence. Clinking glasses, all seven of us, at midnight in the hotel bar.

What happens in the end could’ve happened at any stage and mucked things up royally for us. But she waits until it’s not going to have maximum impact. She doesn’t leave us stranded on a remote beach, frozen to the bone. Nor in an underground carpark with the kids waiting at the school gate. It’s Friday night. We’re all home safely. The briquettes are bought and the fire is lit. I’m heading out to meet an old friend. I’m being given a lift. She chooses this moment to say no. No I can’t do this anymore. I’ve been telling you and telling you. And I know you’re so busy and it’s hard to be without me but it’s time. I need some attention. I’m no spring chicken and things are beginning to ceaze. Somebody has to fix me. Please. I hear you, I say, heading off on foot, getting the phone out to text my ever punctual pal about a slight tardiness. Until a dimly lit taxi zooms me down quicker than I can say shagging starter motor.

It’s a birthday weekend and that’s just fine because I have everything done before the car goes kaput. Down to the flowers. I always buy bunches of flowers for my birthday boys, in the colours that I think they are. Yellow roses and fresh daffodils pepper the sitting room for marque 3. Today he gets his first shot at symmetry. The big 11. He wakes up though with a headache. Ah god. The excitement I think, until he says he feels a bit sick too and carts himself bathroom-wards for the inevitable. It’s with a bit of a sinking feeling that we go about cancelling things. It’s all done by lunch time. We’ve asked that no-one calls in, in case he’s infectious. We cancel the little party for the next day. Then he wakes from a doze and starts to chat and doesn’t stop. He is chirpy as hell from that moment on. No sign of a bug. Maybe it was the excitement after all.
The weekly shop turns into a walk, one bag a piece. They rise to it, all hands on deck, bantering and noticing the little things along the way. Early turf fire smells perfume the Sunday evening air. The town is alive and well and we shop thriftily so as not to over burden the young arms. We shop, as it happens, far better than usual. Selecting only what we will need. We bus home, buzzing all the way.

Their nanny offers to come over for the school run on Monday morning. She arrives at six o’clock and narrowly misses setting off the house alarm. I can hear her handbrake being wrenched up in my slumber and get to the door before she can. Such is the novelty of going in nanny’s car to school that I only have to whisper to wake them. They jump out of bed and get ready in jig time. We arrive at the school before the doors open. A rare treat for us all.

I’m walking and busing and paying attention to things that when cosseted in the car I’d miss. Strangers open up and chat when they bump into you walking, slightly weighed down with groceries. They sidle over at crossing lights to share snippets. A grandmother pushing a buggy. Slim, permed puffy 80s long hair, drawn on eyebrows, bright red lips, smiling at me. She mentions how cold it is and then laughs.
‘She wanted choc-ices in the shops just now. That’s all she wanted. Nothing else. In this weather’ she says pointing to the toddler in the buggy and laughing. We cross the road and she veers off diagonally to the house where the ice-creams will be devoured. A mini heart-warming interaction that I’d have otherwise driven past.

Then there’s a mini heart-breaking scene. I’m early for the school pick-up. I’m sauntering along as a deep green Jaguar XType slides past me. I think of how my eldest son would love the sight of it. By the time I reach the school this car is in the middle of the road and the elderly owner – a man in his seventies – is shouting at another man. The other man is out of his old small silver car. He has a walking stick and he is much older than the shouting man. Older. Smaller. Frailer. Heading for ninety. He has, it seems, clipped the side of the Jag. It’ll need painting the Jag man shouts. Spray paint? the ninety year old man enquires, quietly, shaking in the cold and with the shock of it all. No, not spray paint the Jag man says, tutting, shaking his head. I need your name and details. The road is getting choked up with parents in cars. The old old man makes towards his car. I live just down here, opposite the school, come to the house to get my details, the older old man says. I will, I will, I’ll get in with you, the old man says, nodding ferociously. As if he thinks the old old man is about to do a runner. He jumps into the silver car, all fury and indignation. Leave him alone, I want to shout out. The older old man is so shaken and shocked that he doesn’t seem to know how to drive off. With full force fury sitting beside him, he makes his car screech out in pain.

Being wide awake to all around me, good and bad, sends me into a sort of peaceful euphoria. Accidentally paying attention to the present moment and all that’s going on has lulling appeal. More than that, my own interactions with others are sharper, more focused. I’m no longer forcing myself out of the car, half asleep, and trudging around to the school with my eye firmly on just getting them all back home. By the time I reach the school I’ve had a myriad of mini encounters, engagements with an array of other fully awake non slumbering types. It feels as if I’ve just worked out the benefits of exercise (an unlikely scenario) and I want to convert. I’m walking around in wide-eyed wonder, as if I’ve just been let out of an institution. The 46A bus driver is coincidentally the same each
day. He gets to know us, smiles at us as we run to catch the bus, waits patiently, undercharges. He gets it. This wide awake kids on an adventure thing. He winks at us to let us know. When we get home we feel we have achieved something. The mood in the house reflects it back to us.

So we resolve to ditch the car every so often in the future. It’s not a green thing. It’s about the necessity to be fully awake once in a while. There’s a lot to be said for sudden exposure to the elements, walking on numb toes and holding bags with crumpled blue white fingers. There’s so much more of ourselves and others to be experienced when we’re not cosseted in old metal.


The whisk

IMG_8019It’s Sunday morning and marque 1 has asked if he can make the pancakes. A heavenly request which signals my escape back upstairs with two mugs of freshly brewed coffee.
‘Don’t forget the strawberries’ I say to him, but he’s already on it, washing and chopping, ready to throw them into the mix.
‘Can I help?’ marque 5 enquires and marque 1 hands him an egg to crack. I can’t watch. Let them at it. A little egg shell never did anyone a bit of harm.
‘I think I’ll use the new whisk this time’ marque 1 announces.
‘Would that be ok Mum?’
Ah yes, the new whisk.
He sets about getting it out of the box. It’s something he spotted in Power City one evening and he told me we really needed it. I couldn’t imagine why.
Then he starts to laugh.
‘It was so funny in class the other day’ he says.
‘We were watching ads from the 50s and there was an ad about an electric whisk and at the end it said
WOMEN, KNOW YOUR LIMITS’, and he chuckles on, as I do now too.
‘Yeah Mum, know your limits’ marque 5 says, joining in, thinking he’s adding to the joke. On cue, the blood begins to simmer.
‘Can you explain the ad to your 6 year old brother, why it’s funny now and why what he’s just said certainly is not?’ I say, huffing off, leaving marque 1, whisk in hand, with that indecipherable task.
I’ve a foot on the stairs.
‘You mustn’t ever say ‘know you limits’ to Mum or any other woman’ he says.
‘Why not?’
‘Because it’s sexism’.
Good man.
‘What does sexism mean?’
‘You’ll have to ask mummy about that’.
Darn. He was doing so well.
‘Mu-um, what’s sexism?’ he shouts after me. It doesn’t seem right now, all of a sudden, to be delving into hot debates with small children on a Sunday morning. Even his uttering the word sexism. I’m a little uncomfortable with that. And if I get started now who’s to say I’ll be able to stop? Then where will my sneaky luxurious read in bed be? Gone for another week.
‘Just get on with making the pancakes’ I say, scarpering up the stairs.

It’s tricky, the sexism thing. I was lucky to be brought up by an independently minded gender equality campaigning mother. By a father who loved to cook magnificent garlic fuelled dinners and always did our school lunches. I studied sociology with feminist critiques and deconstructions of everything. Now we’re raising an all male family and I’ve noticed something that my background didn’t prepare me for. A sort of benign aesthetic societal sexism towards boys. The flip-side of a benign aesthetic societal bias towards girls. Benign but irritating all the same. And it’s the kids that are picking up on it. Promoting it even. Marque 5 for example.
‘Why do women have much nicer voices than boys?’ he asks as we walk down Killiney Hill.
‘They don’t’ I say, gruffly, to prove the point.
‘But why do women have much longer eye-lashes than boys?’
‘They don’t’ I say, eyeing his sweep the floor dark lashes. They just cheat a little, that’s all, I think, batting my mascara clumps in the wind.
‘Yeah, but why do women have longer hair than boys?’
‘Some do, some don’t’ I say, throwing a couple of my cropped friends at him as examples. Then pointing at his brothers walking ahead of us, their hair flowing back, just a tad, behind them.
‘Yeah, but why do women wear dresses and boys don’t?’
So I find myself wittering on about Scottish men in their skirts.
‘Yeah, but in our world they don’t do skirts for boys so guess what?’
‘This world is never going to do skirts for boys, they won’t allow it’.
Who’s the they? How come he’s feeling restricted by an invisible they already. He’s only six. I’m wondering if it’s too soon to introduce the notion of trannies. Offer a little flexibility on his horizon. As he interprets the world, there’s a fairer sex amongst us and it’s not, well, fair. Not in his book. He appreciates aesthetically, but he wants to join in.

We’re at a party and the theme being trumpeted at the kids table is that girls are better than boys. By a girl. Amidst a load of boys. Brazen enough. She makes her points, chantingly. Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Enlightened stuff. The boys listen or half listen, politely or disinterestedly, not sure really, until one little boy can contain himself no longer.
‘Have you read the Bible?’
‘God made Eve out of a rib from Adam. So if it wasn’t for boys, girls wouldn’t exist’. Uncomfortable silence. Time for an adult to intervene and encourage a neutral stance? Or stand back and let it emerge, our usual mode, which is much more fun.
‘Jesus was a boy. Jesus died for us. God is a boy’. He seems to think think that will be an end to the chanting, and takes another fork full of food.
‘Mary’ she says. ‘Mary’s a girl’.
‘Mary?’ he asks with an are you kidding me look about his raised brow.
‘Sure she didn’t even know who the father was’. Oh dear. I sweep in distracting them with ‘more 7up anyone?’. The silly game dissipates for now, but it plays on societally as it always has. As parents and guides to our children it’s incumbent upon us to demonstrate an appreciation of both sexes, and to hurl a few grenades at the sugar & spice /slugs & snails stereotypes when possible. I take a slurp of my coffee and wonder how he’s getting on downstairs with the new whisk. Perhaps he’ll show me how to use it some day.