59 seconds…

The features of modern technology recently allowed me to eavesdrop a valuable and insightful conversation between my little one, and his four year old cousin as they walked hand in hand through a National Trust forest.

They pragmatically and succinctly discussed parental mortality; and still had time for an enlightening chat about dinosaurs – in all of 59 seconds

I’d be sad if my mama died, I’d be, in fact I’d just cry if my mummy died, and I wouldn’t stop until my mummy…”

“Our mums will die. Sometime. But only old ladies died.”

“Yes, really, really old ladies. Old ladies that are…”

“Is that your jumper?”

Yes, it’s a stegosaurus, actually it’s a gigantosaurus.”

“Oh..”

“Gigantosauruses are a meat-eating dinosaur that are really huge. They have to bend down to eat !”

“There’s a gate over there! Let’s run!”

I wonder if there’s a leaf to be extracted from their delightfully naive storybook…

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Pediculus…

It’s not quite a full ‘banshee’ morning but it’s not far off. My voice has been raised for at least the last 20 minutes as my unresponsive children are systematically ignoring me. Shouting is having little impact; but the reflex is too strong to resist nevertheless.

The little one whines “Can I have the TV on?” which I choose to ignore. I am distracted as my daughter is absently scratching again; in irritation I flick her hand away from her scalp, and reach for her comb and hair bobbles. As I tug her head backwards, accompanied by the inevitable squawks, I notice something.

This has been a deep worry for me over the last year; would I notice if something was wrong with my children? What if I couldn’t see it? Could I miss some crucial clue? My instinct is on high alert; I just know something is not quite right.

As I slowly comb through her fine pale hair something catches my attention. Angling the comb a little and causing a yelp in the process, I scrape up a small black speck. I slowly transfer the comb closer to my face only to see the black spec….move.

In amused horror I realise my instinct was right, but my bemusement is interrupted again;

“Can I have the TV on?”

“No!” I hear myself yell again, “you can’t; your sister has nits!”

Thankfully my children are curious creatures, and indeed small creatures living in my daughter’s hair are suitably fascinating and exciting; that is until I mention the fact that we need to shampoo their hair. Now.

Shampoo is my children’s archenemy; so this is not good news.

“Can I have the TV on?” follows me about as I muster the big one into the shower room. She succumbs to the showering and rubbing in of repellent Lyclear in good humour; wrinkling up her nose in mock distaste.

The little one is mischievous and instinctively winds her up, unaware of his own fate. I side step furtively in his direction but he catches the look in my eye, and before “Can I have the TV on?” falls out of his mouth again he is running down the hallway shrieking. I manage to rugby tackle him at the bottom of the stairs and the next 7 minutes are wet, noisy and highly satisfying.

As my weary husband ambles through the door that evening I greet him with a fine toothcomb and the bottle of Lyclear; a salacious smile on my face.

Of course I can see nits.

 

The in-patients

The taxi curves around a walled courtyard and I hear the tyres crunch on expensive gravel beneath us. A modern glass frontage titivates a nineteenth century house; typical of many boutique hotels I’ve seen before.

Mum and I attempt to extract ourselves from the back of the cab in a ladylike manner; but fail miserably. The height of the chassis is such that it means I end up hobbling on my knees doing an inappropriate dwarf impression whilst dragging our cases behind me; only to then explode out of the door in an untidy heap. The gravel is decidedly uncomfortable.

It’s not the most salubrious of starts.

We are sniggering children as we finally flounce backwards onto our co-joined single beds, piled high with unnecessary pillows and cushions. After we have inspected all of the cupboards in the room, and of course tried on the fluffy towelling robes over our clothes (why do people always do that?) we venture out into the sun, and across to the lavish spa building.

I am never particularly happy in these environments; I feel that everyone I pass is entirely aware of the protocols; except me. Do you wear the dressing gown and risk looking like a mental health in-patient, or do you rebel and stick to normal clothes?

Shoulders pushed back and chins out, we silently rebel.

That evening, the main hotel dining room provides a logistical nightmare for me. Dimly lit chandeliers combined with dark oak panelling leave me very little available light to play with. My eyes swiftly scan the room, not to assess my fellow guests (as they might be hoping), but to work out the room’s edges, where walls end, the gaps between the tables and the foulest of menaces – the hidden step. This duplicitous hazard is one of my worst foes, lurking in dark secret places, ready to make my teeth bite violently and my knees buckle should I miss a sneaky step down. Going up is an entirely different kind of jeopardy; here I risk sprawling unceremoniously underneath a table canopy, or even worse; on top of one. I can hear the imaginary china crashing to the ground as I gingerly follow the maître d’.

Even in these trying circumstances I lead the way. It’s how it has always been with Mum and I. Aside from her being vertically challenged and therefore slower paced, I have always donned my safari hat and played the trailblazer. These days though, it’s my own boundaries I am challenging, not hers.

At our crisp white clothed table, we survey the room, tummies growling. We have worked out that it is the extortionately priced drinks that achieve this hotel’s margins. Although idyllically nestled in the Cheshire countryside, this is not Mayfair, and even a Michelin star restaurant would blush at the numbers printed on the menu in front of us. It’s as if omitting the pound sign somehow softens the blow.

I have already spluttered my disapproval at the cost of a bottle of fizzy water earlier in the day, so my Northern frugality is tightly zipped behind my lips tonight. That is, until dinner arrived. At least I think my dinner arrived, but the portion was so small I did a double take at the plate. My immediate response was to hunt out the bread lady to wield her tongs again. I was acutely aware that my own children left at home with their father were probably consuming larger meals that I was.

Of course a considerable quantity of rose and a lack of sustenance soon led to much tittering and childish behaviour on my part. When offered my choice of a dessert some time later, I couldn’t resist the inappropriate reply of; “I’ll have the biggest one.”

Mr Smiley

The evening entertainment is a bawdy affair. Swarms of sweaty children weave in and out of chairs and tables whilst bored parents sit torpidly nursing glasses of tart local wine.

Nobody knows about me: Mrs NMO.

We have only engaged with a few families, smiling absently when our children have crossed paths briefly, never divulging more than which airport we flew out of. In the dim light human puppet shadows streak across the walls, bulging shapes emphasized by the fluorescent spotlights. Diabetes and heart disease slide awkwardly into the chairs next to us, flesh cascading over the arm rests. The movement causes the residue of cigarettes, after shave and stale beer to meander our way; my nose twitches its disapproval.

Loud music snaps my head back up and I find myself sniggering quietly into my warm glass. A moment of pure joy is about to play out in front of me….again.

I can only assume it is one of the male staff members that dons the shabby dog suit every evening at 8pm. Playing the pied piper he collects frenzied small people and leads a fevered trail around the room. Swaggering in an animal suit is challenging but I give him credit for trying to maintain some cool.

My son is at the other side of the dated ballroom but spots Mr Smiley as he snakes back around. Grinning inanely he lowers his blonde head ready to charge. It makes me smile how for the last 6 nights Mr Smiley has not seen my son coming; and when the moment of impact arrives he still never manages to deflect the highly accurate right hook to his groin.

I can only imagine the grimace and muttered Arabic oaths inside that furry dog head.

Tattoo

Although the pool is warm the cold wetness as it soaks into my hair makes me shudder. I ease myself back and push off the side leisurely rotating my arms in a slow backstroke. I keep things unhurried so as not to let any water droplets blur my goggles. The echoing shrieks are muffled as the water laps around my ears, cutting me off from the outside world.

As I traverse the pool I stare up through the glass ceiling noticing that several long hairline cracks have spread like an intricate spiders web. Some of the glass has yellowed with time, and there is that greenish growth you often get around swimming pools collecting in the seams.
But even here in Tunisia the sky is a vivid blue through the steamy outlook, I always acknowledge to myself how that is something that has never changed; the sky still looks exactly the same as it always has, infinite limitless, and blue.

The kids are buzzing around us like flies, interrupting each other to tell tales from kid’s club. I play eye spy with the little one, drawing out just a little longer on the sun lounger before his fizzing energy becomes too much and propels us off.

“T is for tree”, I suggest, glancing at the tall palm trees swaying in the light breeze on the horizon, wondering if he would categorize them as such. A shake of the head provokes a comedy furrowing of my brow. “T is for towel then.” I offer triumphantly patting the sun lounger beneath me, secretly pleased at my guess.
“Nope.” Is his blunt reply. I now know to shrug and give in; his delight in beating me is palpable.

T is for tattoo Mummy !” he shrieks, pointing wildly over my shoulder.

I try to suppress my smile but it climbs up onto my face anyway. I delight not only in his innocent and astute observations of our hotel companions, but also in his total lack of social awareness.

That is something which at the grand age of four, I have no intention of correcting.