Today is the first day of the “summer” holidays when, according to all songs, novels, advertising and recovered memories it is supposed to be about barefoot gossoons playing in the brook, bees buzzing about picnics where mothers laugh warmly as their offspring dangle from trees in nicely laundered linens.
Actually, it has rained and rained and rained (“And the people all said sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat” the songs strikes up in my head) through the Wimbledon tennis championships, through the end of school sports day and now, apparently, through the coming summer holidays.
The look on mothers’ faces at pick up at the school gates yesterday was raw naked fear. We have six weeks ahead – that is roughly 30 days (if you discount weekends) of single-handed entertainment to provide with no let up. That means not one minute of peace until bedtime Every Day. And here’s the best part. As the rain dictates that most outdoor play is pretty much off, the indoor alternatives which are mostly in central London are also out of bounds due to the *@%@*^% Olympic Games due to start here next week. Crap security arrangements (the company actually admitted this, so I have no fear of a libel suit) and sheer volume of people in the capital have made the prospect of venturing to our favourite haunts – the Science Museum, the Transport Museum, the South Bank, Greenwich … er anywhere around here really, pretty daunting.
People looked at each other in desperation yesterday casting about for good ideas to engage their four year olds for at least some of the approximately 200 hours of free time ahead.
“There’s a bee-keeping course on at the local library this week if you fancy that. Maybe the hats will keep them going for a while…”
“I’ve booked a cab to drive us around and around the M25 for the next three Fridays. I’m taking my iPad and a pair of headphones…”
I have arranged and then unarranged three organised activities for Snooks, thinking each time for one blind stupid second that he might Join In With Stuff if I paid a lot of money and threw him at it.
The Engineer each time has brought me back to my senses. ‘Remember Playball,” he says ruefully. The vision of carrying Snooks kicking and screaming into a French class, a swimming class and a gymnastics class - and paying for the privilege swam up before my eyes and I cancelled each one with a sigh.
Instead we set off today at 8.45am in pursuit of our latest obsession – watching real steam engines fly through local stations on their way from London to the coast. We have managed to see two so far and each time it has been a huge success. The uncertainty combined with the inconvenient hour leads to a level of excitement which makes the fleeting appearance of the treasured locomotives all the more worth waiting for. The early start also served two further purposes – to wear Snooks out and to practise for when we have to get to school for 9am each day come September, a discipline Snooks has yet to encounter.
Unfortunately, this time I got the details slightly wrong and the train did not appear leaving us deflated on a railway bridge at rush hour. Luckily I had a back-up plan (I thought this through) and had our swimming togs in the boot ready for an emergency trip to the local baths, somewhere I hope to provide a regular safe haven during the rain-and-Olympics-soaked weeks ahead.
However en route Snooks spotted a playground we used to frequent in his pre-preschool days and asked to go there. My first thought was to say no. We were on our way somewhere. I had it all mapped out. Swim, beans on toast, asleep in the car on the way home. But like many of the unorthodox decisions I have taken in motherhood, an excessive amount of being told ‘no’ for no good reason in my own childhood, inclines me to say yes to Snooks, despite the disruption it may cause, unless there is a very good reason not to. (Indeed this is how we came to be flying a “UFO” frisbee on the Common yesterday dressed in shorts and wellies as the monsoon rain poured down and everyone else ran for cover).
So we headed for the playground where who should run up to Snooks calling his name with delight than the apple of his eye - a girl from his nursery class whom he once likened famously to a pretty daisy. The two played solidly for almost two hours until my bladder and their repertoire of shared games reached their limit.
Snooks and I lunched at a very chi chi Italian place we found in the nice part of town (he ate half the excellent penne and a tiny cake while I half a panini and the rest of his penne) and he fell asleep in the car on the way home.
In the words of the marvellous Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow is another day.