January 4th 2007
“Yes. It’s fine. No problem,” I say.
“Are you listening?” Polly says.
“WHAT?” I am trying to read Jon Ronson’s column.
“Stop reading the paper and listen,” says Polly.
I close the paper dramatically, sigh, sit up in my chair, sigh, say “Right Polly, What?” and sigh.
“Are you sure that it’s O.K. for Elly to go to the party?”
“Yes, it’s fine,”
“I won’t be here,”
“It’s at Cheeky Monkeys,”
“I know, look, Polly, I don’t know why you’re going on and on about this. I said it’s fine, I just have to drop her off at three thirty and pick her up at five thirty yeah?”
“Yes,” says Polly.
“Yes,” says Polly
“Because remember?” I say.
Last time I took Elly to a party I came home fuming and went into a fit about how come I was the only man at the party and how come I had to go and look at the heavy metal oldest son’s guitar and drumkit and how come none of the other adults at the party spoke to me and how come I keep having to do this shit?
Then I saw some photos of me at the Party. I thought I’d done well at the party, pretending to have a good time, doing my best false smiles.
I looked suicidal.
Upon seeing myself in these pictures I said “That’s IT, I am NEVER, EVER, EVER going to another party with Elly again in my life, YOU are THE MUM, YOU can go, I’m going to stay at home and be A PROPER MAN.”
“I’ll email them to check,” says Polly.
Polly calls me “I’ve left you a note on the table, don’t forget the party, Tomorrow, three…”
“Yes yes, I know, three thirty ‘till five thirty, Cheeky Monkeys, I just take her and drop her off, that’s definite isn’t it?”
“I emailed them,” says Polly.
“O.K. Bye then,” I say, quite agressively. I am pissed off with Polly. I am pissed off for 2 reasons.
Reason 1 - Polly didn’t listen to my interesting thing that I had to tell her at breakfast all about how brilliantly I performed in a conversation with another person.
It is so unfair.
How can getting the children fed, washed, dressed, eczema creamed, medicated and homeworked be as interesting as hearing the exact things I said to Jim Smallman and the exact things he said back to me?
Doesn’t she realise that she should be saying “Wow, that sounds like an excellent 10 minute chat you had with Jim Smallman, I am sure that this chat you had with Jim Smallman will one day mean that you will be equal in comedy skills to Jim Smallman,” instead of saying “Can you just hold Mick a second?”
She is well out of order.
Reason 2 – Polly laid a guilt trip on me for, saying that I am pissed off because she is going away for 3 days and leaving me with the kids.
This is totally unfair.
It is true, but it is totally unfair for her to mention it.
She is supposed to pretend that my explosive intolerance isn’t happening and that I am the easy going relaxed ideal husband that I like to picture myself as when I grit my teeth and say “That’s fine Polly,” after she says “Do you mind if I go walking with my sister in the Peak District for 3 days?”
“Hope you cheer up soon, see you on Sunday,” Polly says.
“Shut up,” I say, but only after I have put the phone down.
I pick up Elly from school and she starts crying straight away.
“OH DADDY, FLY WAS IN MUMMY’S CAR AND MUMMY HAS DRIVED AWAY WITH HER AND I WANT FLY PLEASE DADDY PLEASE YOU HAVE TO PHONE MUMMY, YOU HAVE TO GET FLY BACK, PLEASE,”
Fly is Elly’s toy sheepdog.
“But Elly, Mummy can’t come back tonight, she’s gone far away for the weekend with Auntie Sam, It’s OK, Fly will have a nice holiday and then come home on Sunday,”
“NO DADDY, NO, PLEASE PHONE HER AND TELL HER TO SEND FLY BACK TO ME, DADDY, I MISS FLY,”
I am absolutely livid. How could Polly have driven off with Fly in the car? What an absolute idiot. This is untenable. I can’t believe Polly has deliberately set me up to have a shit weekend with the children. I hate her.
After 5 hours of intensive counselling Elly and Mick fall asleep and I fume in front of the computer until my bedtime, which is about 10 minutes after their bed time.
Saturday arrives. I buy a new dalmation dog for Elly, I buy loads of meat but the cooker breaks, we go to Mcdonalds and Nandos and then we get ready for the party.
“Daddy, I want to wear my dress for the party, my pink dress, my beautiful pink dress, OK?”
“Ummm, Elly, the party is at Cheeky Monkeys – you can’t really wear a dress at Cheeky Monkeys, they don’t let people in the cage with dresses on,”
Elly’s thumb is in her mouth and once again she is crying and crying and crying, but I insist.
I’m tense but keep telling myself it’s O.K. because soon she’ll be off my hands for a couple of hours and I can stand next to a slide and watch Mick climb up it and slide down it for 2 hours. Life isn’t all tedium.“OK Elly, I’m going to drop you off at the party and then pick you up later, OK?”
We jump in the car.
We drive to Cheeky Monkeys.
Lots of other cars pull up. They are all Renault Picassos or Jeeps or BMW’s or Audis. We have a Hyundai atoz. All the other kids jump out with presents wrapped in shiny paper. Elly’s presents are wrapped in a copy of the Guardian.
I stroll towards Cheeky Monkeys and consider saying to one of the other parents “So how does this work, we just dump ‘em and pick ‘em up in a couple of hours yeah?” but think better of it because no-one is making eye contact with me. I feel a bit anxious and insecure because I’ve not managed to get onto speaking terms with any of the mums in the playground and the lack of eye contact or tight but friendly smiles confirms my lack of schoolyard popularity. I often stand in the playground waiting for Elly and feel sad and isolated.
We walk slowly across the gravel drive towards Cheeky Monkeys and I take care not to fall into step with any of the other mother / child combos walking across the drive so as not to have to converse with anyone. I am successful and Mick, Elly and I arrive at the door as a neatly segregated unit.
I turn the handle on the door of Cheeky Monkeys and pull. Nothing happens. The door is locked. I look at the door and notice another handle up at head level.
My heart sinks.
I suddenly realise that this place has to employ really strict safety measures. That on one occaision I saw the manager running around with a child shouting “They’ve just left him here, they’ve just left him,” and then really telling the child off because his parents aren’t allowed to leave him there.
That you have to sign a register when you come in.
That there are locks everywhere and signs telling you what to do and how to behave.
There is no way that I’m going to be dropping Elly here and coming back in a couple of hours.
I start to panic. I want to cry. I think I am actually going to cry.
“CHEEKY MONKEYS, CHEEKY MONKEYS,” Elly says.
“CHEEE MAYS, CHEEE MAYS,” Mick says.
I hate Cheeky Monkeys.
The child who is having a birthday is called Alex. Alex’s mum greets me with the following words,
“Hello, it’s an hour and a half free play and then we go to eat some tea in the barn out the back. Meanwhile take a seat,”
She points at a table where all the people who I’ve never spoken to in the playground are all sitting in silence, staring at the cage of childly fun things and avoiding eye contact with each other despite the fact that they are all sitting uncomfortably close to each other.
I want to be sick.
I am overwhelmingly aware that I haven’t even brushed my teeth today.
We go and get our shoes off and I ask Elly to go into the cage of “fun”. Cheeky Monkeys is basically a big old converted barn which has a massive cage in the middle of it. The cage is padded and has loads of different ways for children to hurt each other or to hurt themselves in. It is really really loud and really really hot. In front of the cage are about 20 tables where exhausted, dead eyed parents silently sit with thousand yard stares while they wait for their child to emerge from the pandemonium of the cage.
Elly refuses to go into the cage. She wants to come and sit with me. I take her and Mick to the more sedate “toddler” part of the ball park. I put Mick down and he instantly falls to his knees and starts crying.
Three seven year old girls with lollies in their mouths instantly appear from no-where. “Why’s he crying?” they ask.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s because he can feel every second of his life trickling away as he approaches the inevitable moment of his death?” I say.
“Oh,” they say and run off.
I plonk Mick into the ball pond, sit back and watch him for a while. Elly joins him in the pond and they start to have fun. I am leaning against the cage, and try to focus on the toddler ball pond in the vain hope that I can tune out the absolute mayhem of the cage.
All of a sudden a child pops up from the ball pool, stares at me with a malevolent grin and smashes a ball into my face.
“Ha Ha,” I say.
“Ha ha,” he laughs hysterically. Within two minutes all the kids in the ball pool are smashing balls in my face, pointing at me and laughing over and over again. This includes Mick and Elly.
“FUCK OFF,” I think.
“I HATE EVERYONE ELSE’S CHILDREN,” I think.
“Ha Ha,” I say.
I look off into the distance and catch a woman sitting at a table with her arms folded around her stomach, rocking.
At 3.56 I look at my watch and notice that I have another hour and a half to go before I can go home. I can’t believe it. I try to start a conversation with another parent.
“Hi, Are you Kiera’s Mum?” I say.
“No, I am Michael’s Mum.” She says.
“Oh, sorry. Is Michael in Elly’s class? Or, I guess from your perspective, is Elly in Michael’s class?” I say
“Ha ha ha, yes, Elly is in Michael’s class,” She says.
“Ok. Great!” I say.
I smile and nod.
She smiles and nod.
We both look at our children.We glance at each other but there is nothing else to say.
Another mum smiles and nods at both of us.
I really really really want to kill myself.
“WHO WANTS TO GO OUTSIDE?” I shout at my kids.
“MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” they both shout.
“We’re going outside,” I say, but Michael’s mum now has her back turned to me.
Outside there is a big Combine Harvester. I spot a couple of kids who I teach. Mick plays on the combine harvester and I go and sit with the mothers of the children who I teach so as not to feel so lonely. Elly plays with Mick.
After about 30 minutes I look up from where I’m sitting and see Mick standing at the edge of the combine harvester. It is a straight drop down. I am about 25 metres away from him. This horrific noise comes out of my mouth, the same noise I made as I watched Mick’s pushchair roll towards the River Wye when my friend Jo let go of it to pick up some leaves 2 years ago on new years day.
It is a really loud, powerful scream of protection.
The playground goes silent.
Everyone stares at me except for Mick, who shouts “SLY, SLY, SLY,” and waddles back into the middle of the combine harvester to play on the slide that has been built into it.
I am utterly humiliated.
This is the worst day of my life.
“I think it’s nearly tea time, come on,” I say, and drag the children inside to the “barn” where the tea is being served.
I gatecrash a place at the table for Mick, even though he hasn’t been invited, and I stand at the edge of the room with the rest of the adults. The children eat their crisps and sandwiches and there is an explosion of digital flashlights as all the other parents run around the room capturing every possible nuance of their children shoving food into their gobs. I am momentarily proud of myself for not having a camera, then glance at Mick and notice that MICK IS POSING FOR PHOTOS.
He is looking at cameras and screwing up his face to smile. A flash explodes in his face and he drops his sandwich on his plate.
The lights dim and the birthday cake comes out. We all start singing happy birthday. I am a great believer in singing happy birthday really loudly as a role model to my children.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR ALEX,” I sing.
At this point though, everyone else is singing “DEAR WILLIAM”
I laugh. Apparently Elly’s friend is not called Alex. He is called William.
I am laughing alone. All the other parents look at me as if I am disgusting.
Later, as we walk to the car I shout goodbye to another parent who is climbing into her car.
She just slams her door.
“Daddy,” says Elly as we climb into the car.
“Yes Elly,” I say. My forehead is bruning in the way that it does when I've been supressing the urge to cry for a long time like when I watched "A Beautiful Mind". I am very, very weary.
“We had a lovely party at Cheeky Monkeys didn’t we?”
“Yes Elly,” I say.
“Can we go back to Cheeky Monkeys for a party another day?” says Elly.
“Yes Elly,” I say.